Why Was Jesus Crucified?
- Jessica Brodie Contributing Writer
- 2021 9 Mar
Most Christians know the story—how one of Jesus’ closest friends, His disciple Judas, betrayed Him for a sack of silver coins, then arranged for Jesus to be arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. Ridiculed, beaten, and tortured, Jesus was then forced to carry His own cross to the top of Golgotha, or Calvary, where He was nailed and hung to die in a painful and humiliating death like a common criminal. Come down off the cross, the guards taunted. Where’s your God now? Guess you’re not so great after all. And all the while, Jesus endured, finally offering up His last breath and giving His life to the Lord.
But why was Jesus crucified? Was this necessary or even important in the big picture? And how does His death give meaning to my own life?
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Why Was Jesus Crucified?
There are several answers to why Jesus was crucified, from those involving practical, human, and political concerns to the divine.
First, Jesus was crucified—nailed to a cross to die—because that was the way the Roman government typically handled public executions of non-Romans. The NIV Study Bible explains that “only slaves, the basest of criminals, and offenders who were not Roman citizens were executed in this manner” and noted the prisoners were tied to a stake or cross, then heavy wrought-iron nails were driven through their wrists and heel bones. As Jesus was a non-Roman who brought considerable civil unrest to Jerusalem and whose leaders specifically petitioned the Roman leaders to execute him, this was not a surprising manner of execution Jesus was condemned to receive.
As for why the Roman government agreed to crucify—or otherwise execute—Jesus, that seems rooted in politics and popularity. After Jesus' arrest, the religious leaders led him to the governor, Pilate, who questioned him. Luke’s Gospel tells us Pilate then called the religious leaders and people together and said, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore, I will punish him and then release him” (Luke 23:14-16).
But the people disagreed, calling for Jesus’ execution, so Pilate complied. There are various reasons why he ordered the crucifixion. Mark 15:15 says it’s because Pilate was “wanting to satisfy the crowd.” Matthew indicates an uproar was starting over Pilate’s indecision, so he did what they asked. In fact, Matthew tells us, Pilate “took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood,’ he said. ‘It is your responsibility!’” (Matthew 27:24). Whether because of political pressure or crowd control, Pilate did what the people wanted.
And bottom line, from a human perspective, Jesus was crucified because people didn’t believe Jesus was the Son of God. But the deeper “why” is why God would allow His only Son to be crucified: Why was this part of God’s plan? Couldn’t Jesus’ message have been communicated just the same without the crucifixion? Did He really need to be crucified, or executed at all?
The short answer: God, who is good, had a plan to save an otherwise lost people through Jesus, and Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are all a part of that plan on many different levels. Another aspect to consider is that Jesus had to die in order to be resurrected. And indeed, the resurrection is everything.
What Does the Bible Say about Jesus’ Crucifixion?
All four Gospel accounts—Matthew (27:32-56), Mark (15:21-41), Luke (23:26-49), and John (19:17-37)—tell the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and death. As Matthew recounts, “They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. Above his head they placed the written charge against him: This is Jesus, the king of the Jews” (Matthew 27:33-37).
He was crucified with two criminals, the accounts detail, one on his right and the other on his left, and people mocked and insulted him all afternoon. “From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land,” Matthew’s account continues. “About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’)” (Matthew 27:45-46). The people thought Jesus was calling for Elijah. They fetched wine vinegar on a sponge and offered it to Jesus on a long stick.
Then, the Gospel of Matthew continues, “When Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life” (Matthew 27:50-52). All four accounts are roughly the same as to what happened, though there are some differences in tone, details, and what was said. For example, in John’s account, Jesus gives over his mother to the care of his “beloved disciple” (John 19:25-27), but this is not mentioned in the other accounts. Still, the basics of the story match in all Gospel accounts.
How Does Jesus’ Crucified Life Give Meaning to My Life?
In John 1:29, Jesus is called “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
Throughout the Old Testament, animals, particularly lambs, were often sacrificed to God as a thank you, as payment for sin, as an acknowledgment of His mighty power, and more. But our sins are great, and there is nothing we can do to earn a place in heaven. There is also no sacrifice we can make great enough to achieve this. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins, Hebrews 10:4 tells us, nor do they please God.
But Jesus took our place as the sacrifice. “And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all,” Hebrews 10:10 says. That “once for all” concept is significant. Day after day, priests offer blood sacrifices for sins. Jesus, however, is a different kind of priest. “When this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:12-14).
The apostle Paul explains in his letter to the Romans that all receive redemption for our sins in Jesus. His blood was shed on our behalf, as Paul explains, effectively paying our sin-debt. “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:25-26).
All of this means that when we choose Jesus, when we believe in Him and follow His way, our sins are washed away. Jesus himself explains this great gift to the people in John 3 when He says, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him” (John 3:14-15). The chapter goes on to explain how God loved the world so much that He sacrificed His only Son for them so they could be saved and have eternal life. “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18).
Jesus is the path to heaven. He died as a sacrifice for us. For our lives, this means our faith in following Jesus ensures that the death of our earthly bodies is not the end. We get to continue on forever in the spiritual realm with the Father. Jesus’ crucifixion can be upsetting and difficult to comprehend. But we have faith that His death was part of God’s plan, one piece in the grand puzzle of God’s design. God’s own Son—in essence, God Himself, the “Word become flesh” (John 1:14)—willingly chose to die for us. Then He was resurrected.
And one day, if we believe, we too will be resurrected and live forever with Him.
Photo credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/carloscastilla
Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at jessicabrodie.com. She has a weekly YouTube devotional, too. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and more. She’s also produced a free eBook, A God-Centered Life: 10 Faith-Based Practices When You’re Feeling Anxious, Grumpy, or Stressed.
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