The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. The scripture emphasizes the importance of these events in several places. However, the real meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus is captured by apostle Paul when he writes, "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1st Corinthians 15: 3-4). In the verses that follow, he claims that "And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith." Therefore, the Gospel message is entirely anchored in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The death and resurrection of Christ differs from the other resurrections recorded in the Bible, such as that of Lazarus, because Christ is the son of God. Unlike the other deaths, his death was meant to accomplish a higher purpose as prophesied by the prophets of the Old Testament. His death was to serve as an atonement of the sins of humankind. His resurrection, on the other hand, signified the beginning of a new creation, one that was in harmony with the creator. Moreover, His resurrection signifies His power over death and reinforces the belief of Christians that they will rise again even after physical death. The death and resurrection of Christ, therefore, represents God's love and promise for humankind. It is the rock on which the Gospel stands. This paper seeks to explore the necessity of the death of Jesus, as well as how it accomplished atonement and redemption.
The Necessity of the Death of Jesus
Though the issue of the necessity of the death of Jesus may sound simple to a regular Christian, it runs much deeper theologically. The words of Jesus himself will start the discussion in this section. In Luke 24:25, the resurrected Christ says to those accompanying Him on the way to Emmaus, "O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Was it not necessary for Christ to suffer these things, and to enter into his glory?" Jesus is talking about the importance of his suffering and death, which the people had not yet grasped. It is recorded in John 3:14 that "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life." Similar statements are seen throughout the Bible, especially the New Testament. Revelation 1:5 refers to Christ as he who "loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood." According to Hebrews 9:22, "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness."
Moreover, without reconciliation to the Father, the forgiveness of sin could not have happened. Since the fall of man, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit, sin ruined the relationship that had existed between man and God. The penalty for sin, as stated in the Bible, is death. A price, therefore, had to be paid for man's sins. Without the payment of this price, man could not go past the grave. To offer salvation for mankind, sin and death had to be defeated. This was achieved through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Just like in the Old Testament, where the priests reconciled the people to God through offerings, Jesus was offered as an offering/sacrifice to reconcile men to God. This is captured in Ephesians 5:2 where Paul says, "And live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." Saving humankind from sin and establishing a new covenant between man and God, therefore, come across as the primary reasons for the death of Jesus. Moreover, grace, through which repentant people are forgiven, was made possible through the sacrifice that Christ made on the cross. This is necessary for Christians because no one is perfect. Fortunately, if one falls, they can repent and be forgiven through this grace.
How Atonement is Accomplished
Atonement simply refers to reconciliation. It can be described as the state of being one or in harmony with others. In theology, atonement refers to the sacrifice made by Jesus on the cross to reconcile man to God. It can also be taken to describe the covering of sin that was achieved by the blood of Jesus. Several theories have been advanced to explain atonement; the death of Jesus and its importance. The moral influence theory advances that Jesus lived and died to bring a positive change to humanity. By looking at His life and death, people are inspired to follow his example and lead moral lives. The ransom theory advances that Jesus died to pay for man's sins. This theory is criticized in that it seems to advance that the ransom was paid to the devil. The Christus Victor theory holds that Jesus died to defeat evil powers and free humankind from bondage. The satisfaction theory was proposed by Anselm of Canterbury in the 12th century. It holds that Jesus died to pay for the injustice committed by man and hence satisfy the justice required by God. The penal substitutionary theory holds that Jesus took the place of sinners (substitution) and was punished on the cross (penal) to satisfy the justice and legal demands of God regarding sin. Forgiveness was gotten following the punishment. The governmental theory advances that the death of Jesus on the cross served to show God's displeasure towards sin and not just to satisfy his wrath towards man for sin. Finally, the scapegoat theory advances that Jesus died as humanity's scapegoat. Jesus is seen as the victim rather than a sacrifice.
I identify most with the satisfaction theory. It also concurs with the scriptures discussed earlier in this paper. Unlike the ransom theory that states that Satan was owed, this theory holds that it is humankind who owed God. The injustice committed through sin is the debt than man owed God. Since God requires justice from humankind, this debt had to be paid. The death of Jesus Christ on the cross pays this debt. This theory also closely relates to the penal substitutionary theory. Just like in the Old Testament where animal sacrifices were substitutes for sinners, Jesus died as a substitute for sinners. As seen in the scripture, through the blood of Jesus, the sins of humankind were forgiven. His death also satisfied God's justice and the demands of the law. Moreover, his death reconciled man back to God. Therefore, redemption was accomplished.
How Resurrection Completes Redemption
As Jesus breathed His last, He said, "It is finished" (John 19:30). Therefore, one might wonder why the resurrection was necessary if redemption was finished at His death. This section seeks to answer this question from a theological perspective. While the death of Jesus on the cross signified the forgiveness of mankind's sins, his resurrection signified the triumph of believers over death. It served as the visible proof of the completion of the redemption process. The empty grave was a sign that God had accepted and approved the sacrifice offered by Jesus on the cross. Therefore, resurrection is an integral part of the redemption process. However, resurrection means much more than that for Christians, and hence, all emphasis should not be placed on the cross and the suffering that Christ underwent for man's sake. The resurrection should be given enough attention, as well.
Just before His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told his disciples, "Because I live, you also will live" (John 14:19). He was arrested a little later, suffered a horrible death, was buried for three days and nights, and then He was raised from the dead. Therefore, since Christ rose from the dead, all believers are assured that they will overcome death, rise, and enjoy eternal life in God's kingdom. This was the message that the apostles proclaimed after they had been filled with the Holy Spirit. It is also the message that is preached by thousands of believers across the world today. The dynamic relationship between the cross (death) and the empty tomb (resurrection) must be well understood by all Christians. Whatever was finished at the cross, as Jesus said, was applied at the resurrection. The redemption of mankind was accomplished through the righteous life and death of Christ. However, it is through His resurrection that the redemption was applied.
Redemption can be defined as the act of setting free or buying out of bondage. The purchase occurred when Jesus died on the cross. The act of being set free from the bondage of death was achieved through the resurrection of Christ. Everyone, therefore, who believes that Christ died for them will also be raised from the dead. Though the death and resurrection of Christ cannot be separated while discussing the redemption process, full redemption could not have been achieved without resurrection. As captured in Ephesians 2:4-5 and 1st Peter 1:3, mankind would not have acquired regeneration without resurrection. Repentance, sanctification, and justification could also not have been gotten without the resurrection, as stated in Acts 5:30-31 and Romans 4:24-25. Finally, without the resurrection, glorification could not have been acquired as it is written in Philippians 3:20 and Colossians 3:3-4.
This discussion has extensively discussed the death and resurrection of Jesus from a theological perspective. The atonement of sin and reconciliation of man back to God have been cited as the primary reasons for the death of Jesus. By taking the place of man, as advanced in the penal substitutionary theory, and paying for man's injustice according to the satisfaction theory, atonement was accomplished. However, without resurrection, forgiveness, justification, sanctification, and glorification of mankind would not have been achieved. Therefore, resurrection completes the redemption process. It also gives believers the hope of triumphing over death, like Jesus did and entering God's eternal kingdom. The discussion has also revealed that the death and resurrection are equally crucial in the redemption process and hence should be given equal attention by believers and churches around the world.
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