I have written on this subject matter ad nauseam, but Jesus’ death is one of the most talked about events in history though it happened two thousand years ago. It is so important how we talk about why Jesus chose to die on the Cross for relevancy and influential reasons. The traditional atonement theory that suggests Jesus died to appease God’s sense of justice just doesn’t make moral or relational sense for many. Legal atonement explanations cause eyes to glaze over and not allow people to make a personal connection. Suggesting Jesus died for God than for us undermines Jesus’ unimaginable love as evidenced by His tremendous sacrifice.
Theologian John Calvin articulates for many a legal interpretation of Jesus’ death: “as Scripture teaches, that he was estranged from God by sin, an heir of wrath, exposed to the curse of eternal death, excluded from all hope of salvation, a complete alien from the blessing of God… then Christ interposed, took the punishment upon himself and bore what by the just judgment of God was impending over sinners; with his own blood expiated the sins which rendered them hateful to God, by this expiation satisfied and duly propitiated God the Father, by this intercession appeased his anger, on this basis founded peace between God and men, and by this tie secured the Divine benevolence toward them (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, Chapter 16, para.2). Did Jesus die mainly to serve God?
Soldiers die for one another because they believe that the fight for freedom is worth it. Jesus, the miracle worker, could have somehow avoided His crucifixion. Jesus could have simply denied being the Messiah to save His skin. God could have overrun the Roman kingdom with God’s kingdom, but God knows authentic relationships only happen if chosen freely. Jesus was willing to die for a message He felt lead to true freedom. Jesus hoped others would follow in His footsteps in relationships to avoid self-destruction and destruction of others. Parents who believe their guidance is vital “walk the talk” to best influence their children in the long-run. Jesus was willing to die for a cause to gain moral authority to influence lasting world change.
The traditional theory of Jesus’ death doesn’t make moral sense. It was the gods in past history who demanded some type of sacrifice to appease their own desires for power and control. God distanced themselves from the other gods. What does it say about God who requires the blood of the innocent! A loving God only requires confessions of wrongdoings for this is truly what leads to less destruction and healing in relationships.
The traditional theory of Jesus’ death doesn’t make legal sense. Death can never make matters totally right. Death doesn’t resurrect the murdered. Death doesn’t wipe out childhood memories caused by a parent’s abuse. My going to jail for a friend’s wrongdoing doesn’t somehow exonerate my friend. Guilt is not somehow removed by someone else’s confession of a sin they didn’t commit. Why would Jesus say: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” if God thought sacrifice than confession lead to healing? (Mt. 9:13)
The Creator referred to a relationship with those created as a parent with their children. A parent’s greatest desire is simply a change in heart when children disobey. God’s holiness doesn’t require more than what a godly parent would. What is holier than divine forgiveness when one is remorseful? If God cannot forgive except by requiring the blood of an innocent man, why could Jesus forgive sins before He died on the Cross? Why did Jesus say God’s forgives sin when we forgive others (Mt. 6:14)? Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son illustrates a loving father forgives when a child recognizes their wrongdoing (Lk. 15). Jesus died in hopes we would embrace His message to avoid self-destruction and destruction of others in the world we live in.