Why did Jesus die?
1. Who said “no one can see God and live?”
2. Who said “with his stripes we are healed?”
3. Who said “You shall bruise his heel?”
4. Who said “on a colt, the foal of an ass?”
5. Who said “they know not what they do?”
6. Who said “behold your son?”
7. Who said “you will be with me in Paradise?”
8. Who asked God why he had forsaken him?
9. Who said “It is finished?”
10. Who committed his Spirit into his Father’s hands?
Why did Jesus die? In the Old Testament there are several places where we read that “no one can see God and live” (Exodus 33:20, Genesis 16). If the Godhead is “veiled” in Jesus, at least until the transfiguration, perhaps Jesus had to die so that we, all over the world, could see God and live.
The Old Testament mandates different animal sacrifices to preserve the relationship between the people and God. Today we view the sacrifice of animals as somehow barbaric, though these animals died surrounded by sacred ritual and the devoted thanks of the people, whereas today animals might be treated simply as cogs in the factory. Perhaps the Old Testament sacrifices represented a greater reverence than ours for life, as well as prefiguring Christ’s death. And perhaps it’s that recognition that life belongs to God which makes necessary (and sufficient) the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus’ life for ours (Isaiah 53:3). Animal sacrifice in Jewish actually replaced human sacrifice in other cultures, as if the recognition that life is owed to God is somehow wired in to humanity. Genesis 22, where an animal is substituted for Abraham’s son, shows God preserving human life and maybe even ascribing greater value to animal life. But sin and the fall have consequences, and while animals bore those consequences symbolically in Temple sacrifice, Jesus bore and resolved them on the cross.
In Genesis 3, God foretells the fall of Satan under someone born of woman. But if God knew we would fail the test, why did he test Adam and Eve in the first place? Did Adam’s sin change God’s plan? Or could the plan have always been to lift us up, recognizing that first we would fall. A parent’s plan is for the child to learn to ride a bike, even though the child will probably hurt himself. The parent foresees pain, and knows beforehand how to deal with it. And the wound that hurts the child really does hurt the parent more – as Jesus’ death must have hurt God.
Some argue that Jesus was bound to die, because we always destroy that which is most perfect. Perhaps, as creatures of a fallen world, that really is inevitable. Meanwhile some say Jesus would not have had to die if his people, the Jews, had accepted him. But God always knew what would happen, and how to heal. Jews and Romans together led Jesus to the cross, and we all should take the blame.
Some arguments say Jesus chose his death to fulfill the prophecies. While he might perhaps have chosen to ride a donkey into Jerusalem for its symbolic meaning (Zechariah 9:9), it’s hard to see that he would choose crucifixion in fulfillment of Psalm 22, since it wasn’t till the advent of modern science that we saw how closely the psalm parallels the sufferings of the crucified.
The story of Jesus’ death is the most important story in Christianity. It's told prominently in all four gospels, given at least as much space as his life and teaching – clearly not the end of everything but a vital part of the story. It’s the apocryphal gospels, written later, that play it down. Near the time of Christ’s death, the death of a carpenter in a nowhere place really was the biggest news in the world, and really was Good News.