Why Did Jesus have to die?
Why can’t God just forgive us when we repent? Why did Jesus have to suffer and die the way he did?
Year after year, one can see the Jewish community celebrate and observe the Days of Awe, in which they perform teshuvah, or repentance, to purify oneself for the Day of Atonement, an entire day of fasting, prayer and continued repentance. The prayers are very long and intense, mentioning every sin imaginable, and calling on God for mercy. At the end of the Day, the Jews rejoice in their forgiveness, and feel very close to God.
They do this in confidence, as they were promised thousands of years ago that if they sinned, and they would repent sincerely of their sins, then they could expect their sins forgiven, and their names written in the Book of Life for another year. God Himself established this Day and made it a commandment to be observed for all future generations.
If forgiveness is so readily available through the grace of God, then why did Jesus have to die for our sins, when the sins could be easily forgiven through the Day of Atonement?
To answer this question, one has to understand the holiness of God, His covenants with mankind, and the sinful nature of man.
The holiness of God
In the criteria set for the Jewish priesthood, only a flawless sacrifice, without blemish, could be offered by a priest without blemish. Considerable preparation was required for the high priest, who could only enter the Holy of Holies once a year.
He had to be scrupulous in his own repentance, before he could come before Yahweh God, to offer a sacrifice on behalf of the sins of Israel. The other priests tied a rope to his leg, in case he did not make it, and God found him unworthy, and rejected him. If he entered unworthily, he would die in God’s presence, and they had to pull him out of the inner sanctuary with the rope.
However, if the priest himself was accepted, then he brought the blood of a sacrifice and sprinkled the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant with it. God would see the blood, and if He judged it as worthy, then forgiveness was granted. The blood was only good for that one year, since animal blood could not permanently atone for human wickedness.
God had indicated that “life was in the blood.” The blood was a gruesome reminder of the death penalty for sin. The penalty for sin was almost always death. The blood of the animal substituted for the blood of the penitent, whose blood would have been required for his wickedness.
God was and is holy, and no one with sin on him is allowed to stand in His presence. As the life of even a flawless animal is not equal to the life of a flawed human being, each atonement was temporary. Atonement was an ongoing process, since man continually sinned. Blood was always required for sin offerings and forgiveness:
Lev 4:25 And the priest shall take of the blood of the sin offering with his finger, and put [it] upon the horns of the altar of burnt offering, and shall pour out his blood at the bottom of the altar of burnt offering.
Lev 16:15 Then shall he kill the goat of the sin offering, that [is] for the people, and bring his blood within the vail, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it upon the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat:
What is a covenant?
A covenant is a contract or agreement between two parties. In the Old Testament the Hebrew word “berith” is always thus translated. “Berith” is derived from a root which means “to cut,” and hence a covenant is a “cutting,” with reference to the cutting or dividing of animals into two parts, and the contracting parties passing between them, in making a covenant (19). Gen 15; Jer 34:18,19).
This word is used (1) of a covenant or compact between man and man (Gen 21:32), or between tribes or nations (1Sa 11:1; Jos 9:6,15). In entering into a covenant, Jehovah was solemnly called on to witness the transaction (Gen 31:50), and hence it was called a “covenant of the Lord” (1Sa 20:8). The marriage compact is called “the covenant of God” (Pro 2:17), because the marriage was made in God’s name.
(2.) The word is used with reference to God’s revelation of himself in the way of promise or of favor to men. Thus God’s promise to Noah after the Flood is called a covenant (Jer. 33:20, “my covenant”). We have an account of God’s Gen 9; Jer 33:20, “my covenant”). We have an account of God’s covenant with Abraham (Lev 26:42), of the covenant of the priesthood (Num 25:12,13; Deu 33:9; Neh 13:29), and of the covenant of Sinai (Exd 34:27,28; Lev 26:15), which was afterwards renewed at different times in the history of Israel (Ezra 10; Neh. 9).
Yahweh’s covenant with man
When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, God made a gesture of forgiveness when he made a promise of a future redemption. He sacrificed animals, and used the skins to cover the nakedness of Adam and Eve. (Gen 3:21) This was the first time that blood had been shed to cover what man had done. So, in a sense, this was the first blood covenant with man.
When Yahweh made his covenant with Abraham, He also had animals sacrificed and cut in half. Abraham was put to sleep as Yahweh walked through the 2 halves of the animals. Abraham did not walk through, only Yahweh. This was because Yahweh knew that only He could keep the covenant being agreed upon. Through Abraham all nations would be blessed, and from his seed would come the redeemer of mankind. And all the land of Canaan would be his. In a covenant like this, those responsible for keeping the promises walk through the cut halves. Abraham had no power to fulfill the promises that Yahweh was making, so Yahweh alone walked through. (Gen 15:8-17) This was also a blood covenant.
Interestingly, when Yahweh met with Moses on Mt Sinai, there was no animal sacrifice. (Ex 19:16-17) The meeting was characterized by thunderings, lightening, a thick cloud, smoke, a quake, a trumpet sound. A blood sacrifice was later made by Moses on behalf of the people, as an offering, and a tabernacle system was established for future sacrifices, but the covenant itself was not a blood covenant.
Another way of saying this is that the future sacrifices were only complying with the Sinai covenant, which occurred earlier; the sacrifices, carried out by man only, not God, who just received the sacrifices, were actions agreed upon in the covenant. Neither party “walked through the cut animals’ and agreed to death if they broke the contract. The resulting sacrifices were what was agreed upon, but not the actual agreement itself, just as celebrating the Feast days of the Lord, was agreed upon, but not the actual original contract ritual. The covenant is the ritual that seals the agreement.
The Sinai covenant was glorious, but not sealed with blood. It was a conditional “word” agreement instead. The protection and blessings of God were conditional only, and based on obedience, atonements, and offerings of Israel. “If” they did this or that, and “if” they repented, then God would respond. This agreement was based on 2 things: the Word of Yahweh, which was holy and perfect, and the word of man, which was worthless and guaranteed to fail.
Just as animal sacrifices could not possibly cover the wickedness of man, the word of man could not be relied upon to keep the conditional covenant with Yahweh. After the Israelites had whole heartedly agreed to the 10 commandments, they, soon afterwards, set up the golden calf as Moses went back up the mountain for another meeting with God. Throughout the history of Israel, the Israelites repeatedly disobeyed Yahweh’s law. The word and self righteousness of man was just useless in guaranteeing their redemption from their sinful nature. Instead of growing and improving, they just got worse, which resulted in several punishments and exiles. It seemed that as long as the covenant depended on man’s behavior or his word, it was doomed to fail.
What the law did was show man how weak he was, and how he could not accomplish his own redemption through his “good works.” His works were contaminated with his own unrighteous sinful nature, and were not holy enough to please Yahweh. In fact, his works were usually wicked and selfish, and not holy at all.
If Yahweh wanted permanent redemption for mankind, He, again, would have to walk through a sacrifice by Himself.
Yahweh goes back to the blood covenant, but with changes
Yahweh had allowed man to experience centuries of their own failures to achieve righteousness, in accordance with His laws. He allowed them to see that they were unable on their own strength, to live up to the holiness standards required by Him. Their works were unacceptable. They were tainted at best, with their own sinful nature and failures. The 10 commandments were just too hard for them to follow perfectly. With other rules, the total was 613. There was no way man, even when he was trying, could obey every rule all the time. The law was an external force that was too hard to follow. (This also applies to any religion who thinks it can get to God through the works of man. Man is inherently a sinner. His works are corrupt.)
Before the destruction of Jerusalem, Jeremiah prophesied a new covenant that would follow the punishment the nation Israel would experience once more for their disobedience.
What is unique about this predicted new covenant is
1. Yahweh will do everything (again). It will not be a work of man or dependent upon his obedience, since he would fail.
2. Yahweh’s covenant laws will change from an external requirement to an internal experience of the heart.
3. The new covenant will provide a personal relationship with the Lord.
Jer 31:31 Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:
Jer 31:32 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day [that] I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD:
Jer 31:33 But this [shall be] the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Jer 31:34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, says the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
Isaiah also spoke of the Servant who would be the atonement for sin:
Isa 53:8 He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.
Isa 53:9 And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither [was any] deceit in his mouth. (He was innocent- without blemish)
Isa 53:10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put [him] to grief: when thou shall make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see [his] seed, he shall prolong [his] days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
Isa 53:11 He shall see of the travail of his soul, [and] shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.
Isa 53:12 Therefore will I divide him [a portion] with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
The new covenant comes to fulfillment in Jesus (Yashua)
Jesus announced his plans to his disciples. He would lay down his life for them and the sins of the world. He would walk through the sacrifice by Himself, and take the total responsibility of the sin offering. He would be the high priest and sacrifice together. He would be everything required to satisfy the atonement. He was without blemish. He did not have the blood of animals in Him. He had holy, divine blood, which would qualify to cover forever the sins of mankind.
Mat 26:26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed [it], and brake [it], and gave [it] to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.
Mat 26:27 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave [it] to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;
Mat 26:28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
What Jesus did the following day for our atonement:
1. Jesus did everything. It was not a work of man, or dependent upon his obedience, since he would fail. It was the work of the son of God, who walked alone through the cuttings and death of his own flesh.
2. Jesus established the law as the internal experience of the heart.
3. The new covenant provided a personal relationship with the Father.
4. Since Jesus was flawless, and without blemish, his atonement is permanent. Forgiveness is not for one year. It is forever.
Modern times and the faithful Jews:
It is with great respect that the modern Jews are honoring God. I think God will see their efforts, and love them for it. He has promised an everlasting covenant with them, based on the promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He has also promised to redeem, and save, them in the last days, and bring them into the understanding of the new covenant. This is one reason he is inspiring them to return home to Israel now. I hope to see the Jews realize their greatest dream, which is to meet their Messiah. Once this occurs, the redemption will be complete.
Appreciate what Jesus did for you. This is God’s plan. Accept it. No one else’s law, or works, or one day of prayer can substitute for what he did. His offering is holy, without blemish, and permanent. It is waiting for you, if you will freely accept it. If you do, with a humble heart, forgiveness and heaven is yours.