Was It Necessary for Christ to Die on the Cross?

Recently, I was involved in a friendly discussion concerning this question, “Was it necessary for Christ to die on the Cross?”  Just in case you miss the heart of this discussion, put the emphasis on the Cross in the question.  The question is not about whether Christ had to die for the salvation of sinners or not.  But did He have to die on the Cross to save sinners?

So, in this post, I want to try and answer this question on the basis of Scripture.  Feel free to interact with me and share your comments using the link at the end of this post.

My answer to the question is an emphatic “YES!”  I believe this to be the teaching of Scripture.  Here is why:  (I am only going to give four reasons although more could be given from Scripture to support the necessity of Christ’s death on the Cross).  Here they are:

1.  The Gravity of Man’s Sin Towards God.  As a side note here, let me begin by pointing out that according to Scripture sin is the transgression of God’s law (1 John 3:4).  Or as the Westminster Shorter Catechism says, “Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God” (WSC, Q & A 14).  Therefore, anyone who has the slightest idea regarding the depth of man’s sin towards God will not have a problem accepting the necessity of the Cross for our redemption for this is the testimony of Scripture.  The Bible tells that after man sinned in the Garden of Eden, curses followed (Genesis 3).  In verse 19 of Genesis 3 the final curse that is pronounced over and against man from the very mouth of God is, “…for you are dust and to dust you shall return.”  This is commensurate with what the Apostle Paul tells us about sin and death in Romans 5:12 and also Romans 6:23.  So, the logic goes like this:  By his sin, man brought a curse upon himself (Deuteronomy 27:26); and death is the ultimate curse that man brought upon himself by his sin (Genesis 3:19; Romans 5:12; Romans 6:23, etc).  In order to remove this curse of death from us, Christ had to die as a cursed on (in our place) – and in biblical terms, that means dying on “a tree” (OT language) which the NT refers to as “the cross” (see Deuteronomy 21:23Galatians 3:13 and Colossians 2:13-15).

2.  The Perfection of God in All His Attributes Especially, His Holiness.  Because God is Perfect in who He is, He cannot wink at sin.  His eyes are too pure to look upon evil (Habakkuk 1:13).  God’s holiness being His superlative attribute (Isaiah 6:3) necessitates that we describe all His other attribute as “holy.”  So, when we talk of His wisdom, it is “holy wisdom;” His power is “holy power;” His love is “holy love;” His justice is “holy justice,” etc.  I am taking the word “holy” here to mean, “perfect, other-worldly, pure, without defect.”  God’s holy/perfect justice is which is our primary concern here, demanded that Christ should die in place of sinners to make atonement for their sins.  Or to put it in another way, it was necessary that Christ should die for sinners in order to satisfy the demands of God’s holy justice.  But Christ death (on behalf of sinners – you and me), could not have satisfied God’s holy justice had He not died on the Cross as a “cursed man” in our place.  Because God the Father “laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6) and “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, in order that we might become the righteousness of God in Him,” the Christ needed to die and His death had to be on the Cross.  Praise the LORD, that Christ was not forced into doing this but He willingly laid His life down for us (John 10:18) in humility and obedience to the Father even unto death yes, “even death on a cross” (see Matthew 26:39; Philippians 2:8; Romans 5:19; Hebrews 12:2).  It is this great exchange that made it necessary that Christ should die as He did, on the cross.  So, I argue that without Christ’s dying on the cross, there would have been no redemption for sinful man.  If it was possible to satisfy divine justice and accomplish salvation for sinful mankind by any other kind of death, then why would the LORD God “crush” His Son and “put Him to grief” subjecting Him to the most cruel death on the cross (Isaiah 53:10)?

3.  The Demonstration of God’s Love Towards Sinners.  On this final point, I want to point us on the basis of Scripture and following the two reasons given above that the death of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross for sinners, was and is the highest demonstration of God’s love for them.  Romans 5:8 & 9 speak to this fact, “But God demonstrates His love towards us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God.”  On the cross, “mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Psalm 85:10).  The cross was not only the highest display of God’s holy justice and wrath towards sin but also, the highest display of His holy love towards sinful men and women.  Perfect justice and perfect love kissed on the cross in the body of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ where in our place He stood condemned before the Holy God.  There, He sealed our pardon with His blood.  Hallelujah!  What a Savior we have!

4.  To Fulfill Scripture.  This is the final reason that I want to give in support of the claim that it was necessary for Christ to die on the cross.  The Scriptures had to be fulfilled.  Any other kind of death could not have satisfied the righteous demands of God’s holy justice.  Any other death could have been a weak display of God’s love for sinners which would have rendered Him less glorious.  Any other kind of death could not have accomplished redemption for sinful man.  But in the end, Christ had to die on the cross in order to fulfill what was said about Him by the prophets of old.  Consider the following Scriptures:

1.  Numbers 21:8-9, And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.”  So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole.  And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.  

2.  John 3:14-15, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so much the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”

3.  John 8:28, “So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught Me.”

4.  John 12:32-33, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.”  He said this to show by what kind of death He was going to die.

5.  Colossians 2:13-15, And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all of our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.  This He set aside, nailing it to the cross.  He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him.”

More reasons could be given on the basis of Scripture as to why it was necessary for Christ to die on the cross.  But I hope that these (given above), will suffice.  However, let me make this one point as I conclude:  Every detail surrounding the death of Christ, especially His dying on the cross, was to fulfill Scripture in order that we might have life in His Name.  Nothing happened to Christ haphazardly.  Everything that happened to Him was foretold by Scripture to the very detail of how and when it would happen.  All was carefully planned and prophesied by the LORD in Scripture before it happened – and indeed, everything happened “according to the Scriptures” (I Corinthians 15:3-5).  I hope to write more about that soon.  Praise the LORD for the Cross!!