Christ’s death for our sins is the most basic fact of the gospel. But, you say, millions of people have died throughout history. In fact, every person who has ever lived has died or will die, with just a few exceptions. Many also were crucified. On the day Christ died on the cross, two other men were crucified, one on each side of Him. What, then, is significant about the death of Christ? Simply, it is that He died for our sins.
We call this concept “substitutionary atonement.” Christ died instead of us. He didn’t die for Himself; He died in our place, as our substitute, to atone for our sins and allow us to enter into a right relationship with a holy God.
The death of Christ as our substitute is the heart of the gospel. It’s not just that He died, but that He died for our sins.
The first thing Jesus said regarding the ministry of the Holy Spirit was that He would convict the world of sin (John 16:8). As a result, we are able to recognize that we are sinners, and can in turn comprehend our need for Christ to die in our place to pay our penalty. “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree” (1 Pet. 2:24). In short, He died for our sins.
Multitudes of people think they are saved because they go to church and do good works. Unfortunately, they just don’t understand the fundamental truth that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). They also don’t understand that someone has to die because the penalty for sin is death (see Rom. 6:23). “Without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22).
This is why Jesus Christ came and died.
The following passages focus on Christ’s substitutionary atonement.
- 2 Corinthians 5:14: “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this that one died for all. Therefore all died.” This verse obviously talks about a substitutionary death—Christ died for us.
- 2 Corinthians 5:21: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Jesus Christ came to pay the penalty for your sin. Until you come to grips with the fact that you are a sinner, separated from God and under His condemnation, you cannot be saved. The penalty for your sin is not church membership, baptism or anything else. It is death.
- Galatians 1:4: The Lord Jesus Christ is the One “who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.” He gave Himself for our sins; He paid the penalty and provided atonement.
- Galatians 3:13: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law.” How did He do it? By “having become a curse for us, because it is written, cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” He came under the condemnation of sin. He became a curse and took the judgment that was due us by paying our penalty.
- Romans 5:6-8: “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” This is the amazing message of the gospel in a nutshell—Christ died for us.
Earlier in this letter, Paul alluded to one such Old Testament passage when he said, “For Christ our Passover has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7). The death of Christ was our Passover lamb being sacrificed.
The concept of a Passover lamb refers back to the Old Testament Book of Exodus. The nation Israel was in bondage in Egypt, and God was going to slay the firstborn of every family in Egypt. He told the Jews to kill a lamb, and then to put the blood of that lamb over the doorposts and on the lintel of the house. Later that night, when He went to slay the firstborn, if He saw blood on the doorposts and lintel of a home, He would pass over it. He would accept that blood as an indication that a death had occurred to take the place of that family’s firstborn (see Ex. 12).
This event foreshadowed the time when God would provide His Son as our Passover lamb. When John the Baptist introduced Jesus to the nation Israel, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). His announcement declared that Jesus is that ultimate sacrificial lamb, the only One who can pay the penalty for sin. Therefore, all the sacrifices of the Old Testament looked forward to the coming of Christ.
The theme of the Book of Hebrews is the superiority of Christ in replacing all the Old Testament systems, sacrifices and ceremonies. The Old Testament sacrifices, under the Law, were a reminder of sin year by year (Heb. 10:3). Hebrews 10:4 says, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Clearly the problem with the sacrifice of animals was that they couldn’t take away sin.
Because of this, the next verse states: “Sacrifice and offering you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me” (Heb. 10:5). The writer, in a fitting summary, explained that Jesus Christ was born into the human race so that He could bear the sins that the animals could not. He is our Passover Lamb.
Lastly, in Isaiah 53:11, the prophet wrote, “By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities.” Then, note the second half of verse 12: “He poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors.”
The purpose of Jesus’ death could not be any clearer.
The message resounds throughout the Old and New Testament.
He died in our place to provide atonement and forgiveness and pay the penalty for our sins 'once and for all.'