The Latest from Israel: Why Did Jesus Have to Die for Us?
Benjamin Netanyahu seems to be in position to win a fourth consecutive term as prime minister of Israel.
As of this morning, 97 percent of the votes have been counted in Israel’s parliamentarian election. As I explained yesterday, no party has ever won a sixty-one-vote majority in the Knesset (their Parliament). The party leader who seems most likely to form a majority coalition with other parties will be given an opportunity to do so.
So far, that leader appears to be Mr. Netanyahu.
“I know that my Redeemer lives”
Yesterday we asked the question: Why don’t the Jews accept Jesus as their Messiah? There’s a related question that is especially relevant to American culture as well.
Job was confident: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25–26).
While life after death is affirmed in the Old Testament (cf. Isaiah 26:19), Judaism has evolved in its beliefs about the afterlife across the centuries since.
Rabbi Evan Moffic writes: “Heaven has [an] open door policy: Heaven is not a gated community. The righteous of any people and any faith have a place in it. Our actions, not our specific beliefs, determine our fate. No concept of Hell exists in Judaism.”
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman believes that “in the afterlife, the soul is liberated from the body and returns closer to her source than ever before.” During this passage, “the good deeds and wisdom the soul has gained on her mission below serve as a protection for her journey upwards.” Then, “at the final resolution, all souls will return to physical bodies in this world.”
Writing for Haaretz, Elon Gilad notes that “even today, Jews believe in different, often irreconcilable, theories of what life after death is like.” For instance, according to the Talmud (Eruvin 19b), most people go to a place where their sins are purged, then they are ushered by Abraham into heaven.
Additionally, some Jews do not believe in an afterlife at all. They claim that we live on through our influence in the world and in the memories of those who knew us.
Is Mother Teresa in heaven?
To summarize: Some Jews believe that we simply cease to exist at death. Others believe that the “righteous” go to heaven, either because they are considered sufficiently moral or because they pass through a purgatory-type cleansing process.
Either way, Jews are confident that there is no hell to fear and no atonement necessary.
This belief helps explain why Jews do not accept Jesus as their Messiah. As we noted yesterday, they are expecting a Messiah who will be a conquering hero rather than a suffering servant. As we have seen today, they also reject the need for Jesus’ death on the cross.
I make this point not just with regard to Judaism, but also because many Americans feel the same way.
Reportedly, 77 percent of people with no religious affiliation are confident they are good enough to go to heaven. In a poll taken a few months before Mother Teresa died, 79 percent of Americans surveyed thought she would go to heaven. However, 87 percent were confident they would go there.
Apparently, most Americans believe they do not need to trust in Jesus’ atonement for our sins to go to heaven.
What can we say to them?
What Jesus could do that Buddha could not
We know that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Why, then, doesn’t he forgive our sins just because he loves us? Why did he send Jesus to die for us?
God is also “holy, holy, holy” (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8). His heaven is therefore perfect, a place where “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
For us to be granted entrance into God’s perfect presence, our sins must first be removed. The debt we owe for them must be paid.
What is this debt?
“The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23; cf. Ezekiel 18:20). This is because death separates us from the holy God who is the only source of eternal life. It’s like cutting off a flower to place in a vase. It may look healthy, but it is dying and its appeal will soon fade.
Sin leads to death. This is why the payment for sin must be death. It’s why sinners are separated from God for all eternity in hell, a place of living death.
And it’s why we cannot pay this debt for each other. Because I have committed sins, I cannot die for yours. It’s as if I owe the hundred dollars in my pocket to the bank; I cannot use it to pay your debt and mine.
The only person who could pay the debt of our sins would be someone who never committed sins of his own. And only one person in all of human history has lived a sinless life. Not Muhammad, or Confucius, or Buddha, or anyone else. Only Jesus (Hebrews 4:15).
What held Jesus to the cross
This is why Jesus could die on the cross for our sins. And it’s why he had to die on the cross for us to be forgiven for our sins. When we make him our Lord and depend on his sacrifice to pay our debt and purchase our salvation, he gives us eternal life. Guaranteed.
D. A. Carson: “It was not nails that held Jesus to that wretched cross . . . it was his love for sinners like me.”
And you. And me.
For more from the Denison Forum, please visit www.denisonforum.org.
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Publication Date: April 10, 2019
Photo Courtesy: Getty Images/Amir Levy/Stringer