In a recent conversation someone mentioned that the death of Jesus seemed to be such a waste. This individual wondered that if Jesus was such a great teacher, who taught people to love one another and who did kind deeds for others, wouldn’t God’s plan have been better served by Jesus remaining alive?
Many people understand Jesus’ life and ministry to be all about teaching people to love one another. The author of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, Douglas Adams, said, “(Jesus) had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change.” But what if Jesus was doing something other than trying to convince people to be nice to one another? What if Jesus’ crucifixion was not the interruption of Jesus’ ministry but its purpose? The death of Jesus was not a failure in God’s plan. Jesus’ death was the plan.
A few days before His crucifixion, knowing that His betrayal and death were near, Jesus said, “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.” (John 12:27) Jesus came into this world to die. When He was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told His disciples that He could call down twelve legions of angels to deliver Him from the hands of the Roman soldiers, “But how shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” (Matthew 26:54) The death of Jesus was no accident, no failure in His Divine plan. It was the plan all along.
Jesus did not come to earth to show mankind how to be more loving. Jesus said, “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which is lost.” (Luke 19:10) “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28) “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32) The angel told Joseph that when Mary had given birth, “Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.” The apostle Paul said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” (1 Timothy 1:15)
Jesus became a man that He might save men from sin. The problem of humanity is not unkindness, hate or poor education. The problem of humanity is sin. Mankind’s sin can not be corrected by a valiant effort to be better or by a great example of love. The problem of the world is a deep seated one that can never be rooted out by any person’s effort.
The death of the Son of God for our sin shows how terrible the problem of sin is. God graciously provided a means by which a substitute could take the place of the sinner. The wages of sin is still death, but God made a way for an innocent victim to die in the place of the guilty. Jesus was the innocent One who died in the place of the guilty. Christ’s death was the plan all along because His death is the only way the sin of men can be taken away.
A recent survey conducted by LifeWay Research indicated that over 3/4 of Americans believe “Jesus was the first and greatest being created by God the Father.” This finding is astounding because it shows that many Americans hold to a belief that contradicts one of the most significant tenets of Christianity. The doctrine of the deity is Jesus is shared by all Christian denominations except the Christian cults. From the very earliest days of Christianity, Christians have affirmed that Jesus is the eternal God.
The Athanasian Creed declares, “The Son is uncreated”, “The son is eternal” and “The Son was neither made nor created.” These statement are merely a reflection of the clear New Testament teaching that Jesus is God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1-3) The words of John 1:3 make it impossible for Jesus to be created by God. If nothing was made apart from Jesus making it, then Jesus Himself could not be a creation. He must have eternally existed, as John 1:1 teaches. He was in the beginning with God because He is eternally God.
Why then does Colossians 1:15 describe Jesus as “the firstborn of every creature?” The word “firstborn” in Colossians speaks to rank, not birth order. Paul is saying that Jesus is the chief over all creation. This becomes obvious in the next couple verses as Paul goes on to say, “By Him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth . . . all things were created by Him, and for Him . . . that in all things He might have the preeminence.” Jesus is Creator and He is supreme over His creation. This great position is His so all will know He is most important.
Why then is Jesus called “the only begotten Son” of God? Jesus is the Son of God. He is God the Son, the second person of the Trinity. He is not the Son of God because in eternity past the Father caused the Son to come into existence. Jesus is the Son of God because that is the title given to Him in Scripture which describes the eternal relationship which exists between God the Father and God the Son. Jesus is the only begotten Son of God because He is God the Son who was begotten of God as a human being. The begottenness of Jesus is not a description of how the Son came to exist, but of how the Son became a man.
The New Testament consistently declares that Jesus is God, the Creator of all things and the Savior of men. He is “the beginning and the end, saith the Lord, which is, which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8) Jesus was not created by the Father. He had no beginning and will have no ending.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a city of the province of Judea, under the rule of Herod the Great. Herod was the king of Judea appointed by the Roman government to oversee the region. Jesus was born into a captive nation under the dominion of the mightiest empire the world had known. Why then? Why was Jesus born in the Roman Empire instead of into a Jewish kingdom? Why not earlier in history? Or later?
The Bible says in Galatians 4:4-5, “But when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law that we might receive the adoption of sons.” God’s Word does not give the reasons why Jesus was born when He was. Scripture makes clear, though, that Jesus was born at a very precise time, a time determined and prepared by God for the redemption of men. Jesus was born at exactly the right time.
Some Biblical factors shaped when Jesus was born. Following the covenant between God and Israel the Jews constantly rebelled against God. Their rebellion eventually resulted in the nation being conquered and many Jews being taken captive by the Babylonians. The prophet Daniel was one of those taken captives. He knew the writings of the prophet Jeremiah and knew when the time of captivity was coming to an end. As Daniel prayed God showed to him things that were going to happen in the future. God showed Daniel that the Jews were going to be returned to Jerusalem and that the temple would be rebuilt. God said the Messiah would be in Israel 483 years after the command to restore Jerusalem. Jesus was the Messiah and was in Jerusalem 483 years later, just as God had promised. This does not answer the why but it does show that Jesus was born precisely when God intended.
Historically there were advantages to Jesus being born at that time in history. The Middle East and Europe were under the control of the Roman Empire. A large portion of the world’s population was united together by Roman government, Roman peace and Roman roads. This aided the spread of the gospel. This was a rare time for Jerusalem in which Jews were under outside domination but were at relative peace. By 70 AD the city of Jerusalem was besieged, the temple destroyed and the Jews scattered. Nearly two thousand years would pass before the Jews would once again have a kingdom in Palestine. Greek was the common trade language of the Roman Empire, aiding the spread of the gospel across broad regions through the use of a common tongue. God does not tell us that Jesus was born at that time because of these historical advantages, but they help us see some of the wisdom of God’s determination.
God was not showing favoritism to the Roman Empire by sending Jesus at that time. Nor was God arbitrary in determining that Jesus would be born during that era of world history. The birth of Jesus was precisely when God determined it would be. He rules over all things and worked specifically in the world to prepare things for the incarnation of God the Son.
Few historians or religious scholars today deny that Jesus was a real person. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries skeptics attempted to refute the historical reality of Jesus. Every so often a skeptic will pop up who insists Jesus did not really exist. They claim that apart from the Bible no ancient record mentions Jesus. Are there any extra-Biblical references to Jesus of Nazareth?
The oldest mention of Jesus, outside the Bible, was written in the early 90’s AD by a Jewish historian named Josephus. While discussing Pontius Pilate’s governorship of Jerusalem, Jospehus said, “About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.”
The Roman historian Tacitus wrote in 109 AD about the fire in Rome during the reign of Nero. “Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.” Tacitus was not a friend of Christians but he affirmed without question the existence of Jesus and the fact of His execution during the reign of Pilate.
References to Jesus can also be found in other ancient sources from people who were opponents of Christianity. These include Jewish authors and Roman officials. They had no reason support Christian claims about Jesus. The existence of Jesus could not be denied. Extra-Biblical evidence for Jesus remains today and supports the teachings of the Bible.
Ancient history gives a few passing references to Jesus, but to really know who Jesus is and what He did one must read the gospels. The gospels are reliable accounts of Jesus. Two of the gospels were written by close companions of Jesus. At least two of the gospels were written within thirty years of Jesus death while many eyewitnesses of His life were still living. Jesus is real and the Bible’s teachings about Him can be trusted.
The resurrection of Jesus is one of the most important facts of Christianity. IF the resurrection is a muth Christianity has no foundation and no message. The resurrection is also one of the most audacious claims regarding Jesus. This ranks up there with the claim that Jesus is God. If the resurrection is true, then we have unshakeable evidence of the truth of the Bible. If the resurrection is not true, then the entire Bible is a farce and a fraud.
The Bible claims that Jesus died. He was executed on a cross. The Roman soldiers administering the crucifixion were responsible to make sure no convicted man left the cross alive. To make certain Jesus was dead one of the soldiers drove his spear up into Jesus side in a killing thrust. Jesus dead body was taken off the cross, wrapped in grave clothes and sealed into a cave like tomb. Jesus’ body remained in that tomb for three days. The grave was sealed with a Roman seal and guarded by Roman soldiers. Jesus was dead and secured in a guarded tomb.
On the Sunday morning after His death Jesus was restored to life. The Bible’s claim is that Jesus definitely died and just as definitely was restored to life. He was just as alive on Sunday morning as he was dead on Friday evening.
What evidence does the Bible offer for the resurrection? The first evidence is the empty tomb. No one in the earliest days after the resurrection disputed the fact that the tomb was empty. If Christ was still in the tomb, then the claims of the disciples would have been easy to disprove. The very first message preached after the resurrection was preached by Peter. He stood in Jerusalem and preached that Jesus was God, was killed (which many in the crowd saw) and that he rose again. Some of the very ones who had called for Jesus crucifixion were there in the crowd. When Peter claimed Jesus had risen his claim could have been disproved by opening the tomb to show the corpse of Jesus. No one did this! Everyone knew the tomb was empty.
After His death the risen Jesus appeared to many different people. One of those was the disciple Thomas. Thomas has become known as Doubting Thomas because he was ready to voice his disbelief about the resurrection. The Sunday evening of His resurrection Jesus visited the disciples. Thomas was not with them when Jesus appeared. The disciples later told Thomas about Jesus resurrection, but Thomas’ response was, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25) Later, Jesus visits the disciples again. This time Thomas was present. Thomas immediately recognized Jesus was alive and confessed Him as, “My Lord and My God.” Skeptical Thomas believed Jesus rose from the dead because he saw the living Jesus.
In the forty days following His resurrection Jesus appeared to over 500 people. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul makes a point of saying many of those were still alive at the time he wrote the letter. Any one who doubted the truth of the resurrection could go and talk to hundreds of people who had seen the risen Jesus. The many people who saw Jesus alive after His death is powerful evidence that Jesus rose from the dead.
Jesus is God. Jesus died on the cross. Did God die on the cross? At times pastors, theologians and the average Christian all say that God died on the cross. This statement is both entirely accurate and entirely inaccurate. In one sense it can be said that God died on the cross. In another, equally important sense, God did not die on the cross.
Understanding what happened on the cross requires an understanding of the Trinity and the hypostatic union. The Bible teaches that God is one God who is Three. God the Father is God. God the Son is God. God the Spirit is God. These three are distinct but not separate. The Father is not the Son. The Son is not the Spirit. God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, became fully human without giving up any part of His deity. Jesus is fully God and fully man. When Jesus died on the cross the God-man died.
Saying God died on the cross becomes a kind of short hand for saying, Jesus, God the Son, died on the cross. When understood this way the statement “God died on the cross” is a helpful way to describe the magnitude of God’s sacrifice for our salvation.
In several important ways God did not die on the cross. Because God is a Trinity and because of the unique nature of the incarnation God the Son endured things that the Father and Spirit did not. God the Father did not hang on the cross. God the Spirit was not buried in a tomb. Only God the Son suffered these things. If the phrase means anything more than God the Son died on the cross it is inaccurate. God did not die on the cross.
If death is a cessation of existence, a loss of ability, or a conclusion of consciousness, then God did not die on the cross. Not only did God the Father and God the Spirit not cease to exist on the cross, neither did God the Son. The Divine portion of the second person of the Trinity did not stop functioning on the cross. No member of the Godhead can cease existing. God the Son is as eternal as the Father and the Spirit. His eternal essence did not dissolve on the cross. He remained fully God and His deity did not cease with the end of His physical life.
This does not mean that Jesus’ death on the cross was purely physical or a solely human act. Jesus died as the God-man. Thus His eternal nature was involved in the suffering and death on the cross. Jesus Christ the Son of God died on the cross. He truly suffered all that death entails, physically and spiritually. God the Son did not cease to exist, even for a brief time, but God the Son endured death for the salvation of men.
The dead body of Jesus was taken off the cross and laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. What happened to His soul? One of the more popular answers to this question is based on a cryptic statement in the book of 1 Peter.
1 Peter 3:18-20 says of Jesus, “Being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah.” (1 Peter 3:18-20) These words have led many to conclude that Jesus’ spirit went into hell while His body was in the tomb. Unfortunately, what this verse is talking about is not at all clear. One author has said there are over 180 different interpretations of 1 Peter 3:19. A clear consensus about the meaning of the phrase “preached unto the spirits in prison” will probably never be reached on this earth.
The words of the Apostles Creed (not actually written by the apostles) imply that Jesus’ spirit went into hell. “I believe in Jesus Christ . . . (He) was crucified, died and was buried, He descended to hell.” The apostles creed is believed to have been written 50 years after the death of the last apostle, but the earliest existing copies of this creed do not contain the phrase, “descended into hell”, leading many to conclude it was not originally in the apostles creed. Whether this phrase is original or not, it cannot be traced back to a direct teaching of the apostles.
A strong case can be made that Jesus went into heaven on the day of His crucifixion. At His death He said, “Father into thy hands I commend my spirit.” Knowing that Jesus is God’s beloved Son who pleased the Father in all things we can reasonably assume that at death He was taken directly into the presence of the Father. This is confirmed by Jesus’ promise to the believing thief, “Today thou shalt be with me in paradise.” Either Jesus was with the thief in heaven that very day or He erred in His promise. Since Jesus is God who cannot lie, the latter option is not possible. After His death Jesus went into heaven. Being the Son of God His spirit was in no way restricted to heaven.
If Jesus did go into hell, though I don’t believe He did, He did not go for the purpose of paying for salvation. Jesus death on the cross did everything necessary to purchase our salvation. His work was finished and the payment fully paid before He died. This is why Jesus said, “It is finished”. Teaching that Jesus had to go to hell to finish the payment for sin diminishes the value of the cross and denies Jesus’ own words.
We don’t know exactly what Jesus’ spirit was doing in the days between His death and resurrection. What we do know is that Jesus died for our sins and rose again for our justification. He is alive now and forever to give salvation to those who turn to Him for forgiveness.
Christianity stands unique among all the religions of the world. Only Christianity claims that it’s God became human, died and then returned to life. The claim that Jesus rose from the dead is one celebrated and remembered every Sunday of the year by Christian churches all across the world. The resurrection of Jesus is the most important event in all human history. The resurrection of Jesus is the seminal moment in all Christianity. That event changed everything. The New Testament is filled with declarations that Jesus died and then rose again. The resurrection is explained in all four gospels and the book of Acts. Jesus’ resurrection is expressly taught in many of the epistles and in the book of Revelation. The resurrection of Jesus is a crucial truth on which Biblical Christianity is built. Without the resurrection there is no Biblical Christianity. Without the resurrection there is no forgiveness of sin. Without the resurrection there is no eternal life. Without the resurrection, God is a liar, Jesus is a fraud and every gospel preacher is a charlatan.
The resurrection is important because without the resurrection the gospel is a lie. “And if Christ be not dead, your faith is vain; you are yet in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:17)
The resurrection is important because without the resurrection the Christian life is pointless and worthless. “What advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:32)
The resurrection is important because without the resurrection the Christian has no hope of eternal life. “And if Christ be not raised, then they which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.” (1 Corinthians 15:17-18)
The resurrection is important because it is the ultimate display of the power of God that is now at work in the believer. (“And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead.” Ephesians 1:19-20)
The resurrection is important because it is the evidence that Jesus is God the Son and Savior just as He claimed and as the Bible declares. “Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body.” (John 2:18-22)
The resurrection is important because it is the powerful declaration that Jesus is God. “Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; And declared to be the Son of God with power, by the resurrection from the dead:” (Romans 1:3-4)
The resurrection is important because if it is untrue, God’s Word is a lie. “We are false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:15)
The resurrection is the lynchpin on which all the gospel hangs, the certification that all the gospel promises are true and the certainty that God is true. Rejoice every Sunday in the remembrance of the risen Savior.
Imagining history without certain major figures can be an entertaining exercise. What would the world be like if Buddha, Ghandi, Socrates, Einstein or Newton had never lived? Would things be better off? Would someone else have come along to make similar contributions to history? These kinds of questions are ultimately impossible to answer, but attempting to answer them provides insight into the real significance of historical figures
A reasonable argument can be made that the accomplishments of great men and women likely would have been made by others. The philosophy of Buddha was not just the product of his own mind. Buddhism grew out of the philosophy of others and was added to by those who followed Buddha. His ideas are likely to have risen, maybe in a slightly different form, from the mind of another. The genius of Einstein was not limited to Einstein. His discoveries probably would have been made by others. However, Jesus stands alone in history as totally irreplaceable.
Jesus is not another great philosopher like Aristotle or another influential teacher like Ghandi. Jesus is the Son of God who became human. His contribution to history is more than being a great example of compassion or of founding a religion. In His thirty-three years of life Jesus changed the world. By His death on the cross Jesus paid the penalty for sin. All those who trust Jesus for salvation are forgiven, made new in Christ and given the Holy Spirit.
After Jesus was crucified and rose again, God began to make His name known to the world in a new way. For much of recorded history before Jesus’ birth God was working in the world through the nation of Israel. God called the world to come to Israel and see His glory. Because of the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus God sends Christians out into the world to tell all mankind of Him.
Because Jesus died, rose again and returned to heaven He sent God the Spirit to reside in all believers. The Holy Spirit transformed the disciples from a group of terrified men into a bold force that proclaimed the gospel in the face of intense persecution. The gospel they preached spread across the world.
Jesus transformed Saul of Tarsus. Now known by his Greek name Paul of Tarsus traveled the Roman Empire preaching the gospel. The apostle Paul could have been replaced by many other men. Only Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and the promised Messiah, could transform and enable Paul to preach as he did. The history of the western world has been shaped by the gospel of Jesus.
Jesus is not done shaping history. As God He is actively working now to bring history to His intended conclusion. The final thousand years of history will take place after Jesus’ conquers the wicked nations of the world and establishes a worldwide, righteous empire. He will bring history to its God designed conclusion.
Jesus is not another great religious leader. Buddhism would have probably found its entrance into he world, but without Christ there is no Christianity. Other Christ’s rose in Judea before and after Jesus, but none were the true Messiah. They faded off the scene and have left little impact on history. Jesus is the true Messiah, the promised Savior and Son of God, who transforms history. The work Jesus did in bringing salvation to the world cannot be duplicated.