We believe there is a plan and a destiny for every life, but that was true of Jesus in a way unlike anyone else. As Jesus taught, made disciples, healed, confronted corruption, and performed miracles, He lived a life like no other. Yet, the life of Jesus was directed towards one goal greater than any of those remarkable things He did: His destiny was to die in obedience to His God and Father. The work of Jesus on the cross becomes the center of all history. Everything before it looked ahead to what God the Son would accomplish on the cross. Everything after it looks back to the work that had to happen. In the season of Easter and Resurrection, it’s good for us to think deeply about how Jesus had to live, had to die, and had to rise again.
Here are a few thoughts on why Jesus had to die and die on the cross. It’s a short and incomplete list - feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments.
Jesus had to die to fulfill all the types, promises, and prophecies of the Old Testament.
From God’s promise to provide a sacrifice (Genesis 22:8-14), to the prophecy that the Messiah would be cut off (Daniel 9:26), to almost innumerable promises and prophecies in-between, it all had to be fulfilled in the death of Jesus. Even the way Jesus would die was prophesied hundreds of years before it happened (Psalm 22:11-18, Zechariah 12:10).
Jesus had to die to finish all the sacrifices and ceremonies of the priesthood.
Everything that Israel’s priests did pointed to the perfect atonement that Jesus would accomplish in His death on the cross. Every animal sacrifice the priests of Israel offered was like a bank check that would be paid out at the cross.
Jesus had to die to completely identify with humanity.
Man is born to trouble (Job 5:7), and that trouble ends in death. As children of Adam and Eve, we are born to die, and death has spread to all (Romans 5:12). Through His life, Jesus identified with the misery of humanity. He was born in danger and humility, lived most of His life in obscurity and hidden obedience, and Jesus experienced the temptations and challenges we all face. When He voluntarily laid down His life at the cross, He tasted death for all humanity (Hebrews 2:9).
Jesus had to die to complete His perfect obedience.
Jesus lived His entire life in obedience to God the Father, but it was important for Him to remain faithful unto death. In John 12:27-28 Jesus said shortly before He went to the cross: "Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.”
Jesus had to die to satisfy the justice of God.
All the sin of humanity made a debt greater than any mere man or woman could pay. It took the God-Man, Jesus Messiah, to pay the price of our collective and individual debt to God. Just before He gave up His life on the cross, Jesus cried out, “It is finished!” (John 19:30) - which has the sense, paid in full. Jesus paid every obligation that God’s justice requires.
Jesus had to die to defeat the power of Satan, sin, and death.
Humanity’s debt of sin may be our greatest problem, but it isn’t our only problem. We also face the adversary of Satan, the power of sin and death, and the bitter reward of sin. The work of Jesus disarmed Satan and his evil associates (Colossians 2:15), triumphed over the power of sin (Romans 6:10-11), and defeated death (2 Timothy 1:10).
Jesus had to die to demonstrate the love of God.
God’s love is written on every page of the Bible, yet the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross is the ultimate demonstration of God’s love (Romans 5:8, John 3:16). Alexander Maclaren said this about the necessity of Jesus’ death: "He must die because He would save, and He would save because He did love."
In light of the greatness of God’s love demonstrated at the cross, we should not ask God to prove His love for us - He already has, and He can give us no greater proof. It’s fine to ask God for fresh demonstrations of His love, but the greatest proof was given once and for all. Now we can, “… Walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Ephesians 5:2).