It was a chilling day-the day Christ died-not so much because of a cool temperature, but because it would prove to be the most sobering event in the history of mankind.
On that day the sky darkened, the earth shook and the great, thick curtain separating the temple's most holy section from its outer compartment suddenly ripped apart from the top down. This miraculous event symbolically indicated that, because of Jesus Christ's sacrifice, direct access to God the Father was now available to mankind (Luke 23:44-45; Hebrews 9:1-12). This remarkable day and the unique events surrounding it changed the course of history.
In the final hours of Jesus' life, He shared some remarkable revelations with His disciples. He spoke freely about their sharing with Him a personal commitment to peace (John 14:27) and the help they would continue to receive from Him through the Holy Spirit (John 16:7). Finally Jesus, His body wracked with pain and knowing the end was near, said that His mission on earth as a human being had been completed (John 19:30).
Most Christians assume they understand the significance of Jesus' death and His shed blood. But do they?
A life of sacrifice for others
For the previous 3 1/2 years Jesus had walked the dusty roads of Judea teaching the gospel of the coming Kingdom of God, healing the sick, feeding the hungry and rebuking evil spirits (Luke 4:14-44). Even as a youth Jesus was thoroughly knowledgeable of Scripture: "And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast [of Passover and Unleavened Bread]. When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem . . . Now so it was that after three days [His parents] found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers" (Luke 2:42-47).
Jesus' life on earth was one of total self-sacrifice. He never sinned, ever (1 Peter 2:22). Yet Jesus took on Himself the sins of the world, "[bearing] our sins in His own body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:24).
In the last moments of His crucifixion, Jesus was left completely alone to bear the sins of mankind (Matthew 27:46). He never failed His duty for He knew the joy beyond it—our justification, our reconciliation. "He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities" (Isaiah 53:11).
The book of Hebrews tells us that "Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame . . ." (Hebrews 12:2). This joy over what lay ahead helped Jesus bear the deep anguish, the suffering and pain. He knew that God, though Him, was beginning the process of creating His own divine family.
Hebrews 2:9-11 explains this: "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers" (New International Version, emphasis added throughout).
The salvation of humanity, with the opportunity for us to enter God's very family, motivated Jesus in His great hour of unconditional sacrifice. This vision supplied Him with the hope, joy and vision He needed to keep His mind focused on the purpose of His death—and subsequent resurrection.
Jesus' blood justifies and reconciles
Christians rightly believe that Jesus died for our sins. But very few understand the meanings or concepts of such important spiritual principles as justification and reconciliation-or even what sin is.
Sin is the transgression of the law of God (1 John 3:4)—which amounts to living contrary to God's way of life, a way of outflowing love and concern for others. God's law is so important that He has decreed the penalty of eternal death for its violation.
All humanity must eventually be justified (have their guilt blotted out through forgiveness) or die. Our holy God says that any "righteousness" we can muster on our own is still tainted with sin; we are still spiritually unclean: "We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away" (Isaiah 64:6, Revised Standard Version).
God's perfect justice demands that the penalty for sin be paid. It is vital that the seriousness of the matter be made that clear. And yet God is supremely merciful—so it was determined that God the Father would give up His only Son (who would Himself lay down His own life) in sacrifice to atone for the sins of all mankind—those who would rightly accept it. The Father, it should be understood, had actually created mankind through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 3:9; John 1:1-3). Thus, as our Creator and God, His life was worth more than that of all humanity. When He died for us, the penalty for all human sin was more than paid.
Christ's blood, if we both repent and believe, justifies us (cancels our guilt) by washing away our filthy sins—our record of lawbreaking (Revelation 1:5; 7:14). At the same time, Jesus' blood also reconciles us to (brings us into a right relationship with) God the Father (Colossians 1:19-20). Before Jesus' death, mankind had lost its path to God. Our sins blocked the way to Him, cutting us off from Him (Isaiah 59:2).
God is a holy God and those who would draw near to Him must be spiritually cleansed. With faith in Jesus as the sacrifice for our sins, His shed blood cleanses us and makes us acceptable to the Father through grace—the gift of God's favor.
But this gift is not without conditions. Although always available, His grace is applied to us individually only if we are called of God, repent from dead works and have faith in Him and His Son, Jesus Christ. This faith must be accompanied by a change of heart that is committed to turning from sin and toward wholeheartedly obeying God, a condition rejected by many "just-as-I-am" Christians and Christian teachers.
God tells us that only those who have His Spirit and are led by it are His true children (Romans 8:9, 14), and that He gives His Spirit to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32)-not to those who continue to defy Him. Only God can empower a person to exercise the level of faith needed to believe from the heart all that He expects from us and has promised to give us.
Many Christians have been incorrectly taught that God sets no conditions for His forgiveness. They have been taught, also incorrectly, that they can come to God and Jesus Christ as and when they desire, with or without God's calling or invitation. But Jesus clearly said, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him" (John 6:44, 65). We must have God's help even to want to repent so that Christ's sacrifice can be applied to us. Acting alone, without God's extra help, we cannot even properly understand, much less come to, real repentance.
Jesus commands us to obey Him just as He obeyed the Father (John 15:10). He rebukes those who teach that keeping God's commandments is no longer necessary: "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:17-19).
The apostle John, the same one who regularly taught about godly love, boldly labels all those who profess that they love God and Christ but don't keep the commandments as liars (1 John 2:4). After all, Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins. To continue in a life of sin is therefore an affront to God's grace.
Those who teach and practice disobedience bring a curse on themselves: "They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work" (Titus 1:16). Paul adds this: "Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?" (Romans 6:16).
Obedience is clearly a requirement for those whom God calls or draws. Though no amount of works can justify us, a repentant, willing heart that is committed to obedience is certainly a prerequisite for those whom God grants the forgiveness needed for salvation (Acts 2:38-42). Also, "We are what God made. In Christ Jesus we have been created for doing good deeds. God prepared these good deeds long ago, so that we could live by them" (Ephesians 2:10, Simple English Translation). These good deeds are the result of living a way of life based on the Ten Commandments (1 John 2:3-5).
Eternal life is a gift of God that no one can earn. But neither is it freely given to those who rebel against God's commands. A true Christian must live a life committed to good works based on the Ten Commandments (Matthew 19:16-19; James 2:14-26). God requires obedience to His law as an integral part of the Christian life.
Again, Jesus' shed, sinless blood covers our "sins that were previously committed" (Romans 3:25). It does not sanction continued disobedience. His blood only justifies us, making us clean, and because of this, reconciles us to the Father (Romans 5:9-10). Without the effects of Jesus' shed blood we would have no direct access to God the Father and He would never hear our prayers for forgiveness (Matthew 6:6, 8-9, 12; John 14:13-15). And if a Christian occasionally commits sin after true conversion, God has also made provision for his or her forgiveness through that same cleansing blood of Christ (see 1 John 1:7-9; 2:1-2).
More to the story
Do you believe that Jesus Christ's blood alone saves you—that that is the end of the story? If you don't understand the ongoing work of the resurrected Christ and His expectations of us, you need to. The apostle Paul counters that idea, saying, ". . . If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!" (1 Corinthians 15:17).
The fact that Christ has been resurrected from the dead is vital to our salvation. Now that you know the details of why Christ died, there is another important question. Do you know how important it is to us that He now lives-that He is our living High Priest?
Be sure to read the accompanying article, "Do You Know Why Christ Lives?"