Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the second person of the trinity, the physical manifestation of the Godhead, and our Savior, came to the world with a purpose: to buy salvation for those who would believe through His perfect life, death and resurrection. He took on the form of a man, lived a life without sin – one not deserving of death – but died in our place so that we might be forgiven. Many times when we share the Gospel, however, we leave out the most crucial part: The resurrection.
If Jesus only died, then there is no hope. This is true for no less than two reasons: 1) He promised to raise again, and if He did not keep His word then He was a false prophet and a liar. 2) Just dying does not solve the problem of death, He had to raise again and conquer death.
Secular anthropologists and researchers have often studied methods of torture and the Roman cross is regularly listed as the most terrible way to die. Jesus suffered on that most terrible device of men. But at the risk of sounding callous, so did thousands of other people. Many Christians, in fact, were executed and left to rot on crosses, guilty of no crime deserving death. Jesus did not come to Earth simply to die, He came to Earth to raise again, to conquer death, and to establish our forgiveness and salvation.
After Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with the disciples, they went up to the garden at Gethsemane and He prayed that God would allow this cup to pass from Him. He dreaded what was coming, to the point that He begged God for hours to find another way. When God offered no alternative, Jesus set His face to the cross and was led silently, as a lamb to the slaughter (Is 53.7). Jesus suffered unthinkable physical torture, was nailed to the cross, and hung there for six hours. Before He died, however, in the final moments, God turned Jesus into sin.
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
– 2 Cor 5.21
Jesus was not just taking our place, He literally became sin. Isaiah says,
All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.
– Is 53.6
All of the sins of all of those who would believe were laid on Jesus in such a way that Jesus became sin in His very nature. Jesus was still God. He was still loved by God. He still had the Holy Spirit on Him. But God turned Him into sin and poured out His wrath against Him. God forsook Jesus. He Himself sent Jesus to the cross (Acts 2.23). This only began to happen in the final moment Jesus was on the cross. The final three hours that Jesus was on the cross, the sky was black (Matt 27.45). God sent Jesus to the cross, turned Him into sin, and turned His back to Him. In that moment, Jesus cried out:
“ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?” that is, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?”
– Matt 27.46
Jesus no longer used the affectionate term for God, Abba, that He regularly used. He switched to the respectful, “Almighty” term. And then He breathed His last and entered into the second phase of the the purchasing of salvation: He went to Hell. This is a point of confusion in today’s church that has never been a point of confusion since the foundation of the Church. The Apostle’s Creed proclaims it boldly, and Acts 2 teaches is shamelessly. When the women found Jesus on Easter Sunday, Jesus told them to not cling to Him because He had not yet been to the Father (John 20.17). But why does it matter?
Jesus was not fearful or dreading of physical death. He was dreading being separated from God. He was dreading the true punishment that we deserve for death: Spiritual separation from God. Jesus went into the pits of death, having been made sin, and then, three days later, He conquered it!
It is said, when Jonah was cast into the sea, the sea ceased from her raging: so, when once Christ was swallowed up in God’s wrath, his wrath ceased from raging towards the church. The words of Jonah’s song, chap. ii. make the thing more apparent. He calls the belly of the fish, the belly of hell, or the belly of the grave, 2d and 4th verses. “I cried by reason of mine affliction, then said I, I am cast out of thy sight.” So Christ said, My God! my God! why hast thou forsaken me?” Ver. 3. “The floods compassed me about, all thy waves and thy billows passed over me,” (the words of the psalmist, Psal. xlii. 7. also Lam. iii. 4, 5.) to signify the great sorrow and distress that God brought upon him. Ver. 5. “The waters compassed me about, even to the soul,” (the words of the psalmist, for great trouble and anguish, Psal. lxix. 1.) Ver. 6. “Yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption,” agreeable to what is said of Christ, Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, nor suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.”
– Jonathan Edwards
Jesus was in the belly of death, in Hell, and yet God did not allow His body to see decay. God had the plan of conquering death in play. And it was when Jesus arose from the dead, when He left Hell and tore down its gates, when He took the keys from Lucifer (Rev 1.18), He came back to life as the first born of the resurrection and thus He established our hope.
He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.
– Col 1.18
When Jesus died, the Earth shook. The curtain in the temple was torn in half. God boldly exemplified that He no longer resides in the Holy of Holies and people can no longer approach His presence through the priests there. But until Jesus was raised from the dead, there was no intercessor to approach God. He removed His presence to Heaven, left no plan in place to appease Him, and Jesus was dead. For three days there was no hope.
But then Jesus arose. He was given the highest name, He was bestowed the highest honor. He shed the sin that He became in Hell and left it there, having appeased the wrath of God for the sins of believers. He was raised to eternal life, and He took His place in the holy courtroom of God as our High Priest, our intercessor.
If Jesus only died, we have no hope.
The glory of the Gospel is not that Jesus died, it is that He became sin, suffered death, defeated death and rose victorious over it!
Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
– 1 Cor 15.12-19