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Christian Living

Spiritual Life

Why Did Jesus Have to Die on the Cross?

It isn’t clear why Jesus’ death had to be on a cross, although crucifixion was the cruelest manner of execution in Roman times, a fitting penalty for the sins of all humanity.

It is clear that crucifixion was the only death that would fulfill the Old Testament prophecies, the predictions, of what would happen to the Messiah.

A foreshadowing of Jesus’ crucifixion is recounted in Numbers Chapter 21. God had already delivered the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. He had taken them safely across the Red Sea and drowned the Egyptian army that pursued them. Then He had provided them with water in the desert and miraculous food, called manna, which appeared on the ground like dew in the morning. He even helped them to defeat their enemies.

But the people grew impatient and started speaking against God and Moses, their leader. They complained that Moses had led them out to die. They said they hated the manna God gave them. Even though God had rescued them over and over, they didn’t believe He would help them. They chose hopelessness instead of faith, and they dishonored God’s name.

Then God sent poisonous snakes among them to punish them. Many Israelites were bitten and died. So the people went to Moses and admitted that they had sinned. They pleaded with Moses to ask God to send the snakes away.

In answer, God instructed Moses to make a bronze snake and place it on a pole. People who were bitten and looked at the bronze snake were healed.

Jesus referred to this incident in reference to His own mission. He said that He would have to be lifted up in the same way that Moses lifted a snake in the desert. Jesus would be held up on a pole (the cross) so that people who believed in Him could have eternal life (John 3: 14–15).

Another passage that foreshadowed the manner of Jesus’ death appears in Isaiah. He predicted that the coming Messiah would be “pierced” or “pierced through” for our wrongdoings (Isaiah 53:5).

King David prophesied a horrific death for the Messiah. He wrote that evil men would pierce His hands and feet, His heart would melt like wax within Him, and His life would be poured out like water while people stared and gloated over Him. All His bones would be out of joint, and His tongue would stick to the roof of his mouth (Psalm 22:14–18).  

Psalm 22 describes a crucifixion, yet in David’s time, this manner of execution was unknown. It was only by the inspiration of God that David was able to describe what would later happen to Jesus.

The prophet Zechariah wrote:

The LORD, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the spirit of man within him, declares . . . I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son (Zech. 12: 10 NIV).

This passage not only predicted the manner of the Messiah’s death, but also the person who would die, the Lord God Himself.

Although we cannot be certain why God chose death by crucifixion for His Son, we do know that this manner of death was a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies about the coming Messiah. We also know that through His suffering, Jesus, God’s only Son, paid the penalty for the sins of the whole world, including yours and mine.

Copyright © Jeanne Dennis, used with permission.

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