Do you remember the movie The Passion of the Christ? When it came out in 2004, it ignited a dialog about the nature and purpose of Jesus’ death on the cross. Fundamentally, it forced people to wrestle with the question: why did Jesus die on the cross?

Some people argued that Jesus was the victim of circumstances beyond His control, an unfortunate result of Roman oppression. Others argued that Jesus died at the hands of the Jewish religious leaders. Still others claimed that there was a divine purpose behind Jesus’ death on the cross.

To answer the question of, “Why did Jesus die?” we need to look to the Bible. In God’s word, we discover both the true cause and purpose of Jesus’ death.

Why Did Jesus Die?

In Scripture, we discover that Jesus’ death was no accident. He was not the victim of circumstances beyond His control. Rather, Jesus intentionally laid His life down to save His people from their sins.

In John 10:17-18, Jesus told His disciples,

“Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”

In the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we see Jesus intentionally going to Jerusalem even though He knew that it would result in His death. You could even say that Jesus was born in the shadow of the cross. He was born so that He could die.

In Mark 10:32-34, Jesus makes it very clear to His disciples that His death is necessary:

Now they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was going before them; and they were amazed. And as they followed they were afraid. Then He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them the things that would happen to Him: “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles; and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.

But exactly why did Jesus die on the cross? Why was He so intent on getting to Jerusalem even though it would ensure His death?

Jesus Is Our Substitute

First, Jesus died on the cross as our substitute. All of us have sinned against God, both by what we have done and what we have not done. Because God is holy and just, He must punish our sins. He can’t simply sweep them under the rug and pretend they never happened.

But God is also infinitely loving and gracious. In His great love, He sent Jesus to die as our substitute.

When Jesus died on the cross, God punished Him for our sins. Jesus took the wrath that we deserve so that we can experience God’s mercy and grace. Jesus was punished so that we could be free.

Pastor Adrian Rogers put it this way:

"How can He love and forgive the sinner and at the same time punish sin? The answer is: with a substitutionary sacrifice. Someone who takes that punishment on our behalf. A person who has known no sin Himself, righteous enough, holy enough, good enough, to become our substitute. Someone who can suffer in our stead. The only one who could do that was the Son of God. He is God’s substitutionary sacrifice—and our Savior."

2 Corinthians 5:21 says,

“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

Why did Jesus die? So that He could be our substitute.

Helpful Article on Christian Foundations and Priniciples

What Is A Christian? 7 Essential Truths

There is a bit of confusion on what exactly makes a person a Christian. So what is a Christian? Let’s go a bit further by seeing what the Bible has to say.

Learn More >

Jesus Satisfied the Wrath of God

The wages of sin is both physical and spiritual death. When Jesus hung on the cross, He experienced the horror of spiritual death. God poured out His furious wrath against sin on Jesus, punishing Him for all the sins of His people. God treated Jesus as if He had committed all those sins.

In Scripture, darkness is often associated with the wrath of God. As Jesus hung on the cross, the sun literally went dark, symbolizing the incredible spiritual darkness that Jesus was experiencing at the same time.

In Matthew 27:46 we read,

“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’”

The wrath of God was so intense and horrific that Jesus felt as if He had been abandoned by God.

Jesus died on the cross so that He could take the wrath of God for our sins.

Jesus Secured Our Forgiveness

Because Jesus died on the cross, we can be forgiven of all our sins against God. Not some of our sins. Not most of our sins. All of them, even the ones that we think are really “bad”.

In Acts 13:38-39, we read,

“Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.”

We can’t do enough good things to pay for our sins, nor can we stand before God on the merits of our own righteousness. But God has done what we could not. Through Jesus, we receive complete and total forgiveness of sins.

Pastor Adrian Rogers said:

"From sin’s pollution—He cleanses you. You're not just patched up. You're clean, whiter than snow...How much? All. Don’t believe the devil when he says “Yeah, but not yours—yours is a biggie.” This is God's triple detergent. You don't need to carry a load of condemning guilt any more. You can be whiter than snow."

The good news of the gospel is that Jesus died on the cross so that we could be washed whiter than snow.

Jesus Opened the Way To God

Apart from Jesus’ death on the cross, we could never come to God. Our sins cut us off from God because God cannot allow the slightest hint of evil into His presence. If we tried to enter the presence of God on our own we would be destroyed.

But Jesus’ death has opened the way for us into the presence of God. In the Old Testament, the entrance to the Most Holy Place was blocked by a thick curtain.

Only the High Priest was allowed to enter, and that only once per year. When Jesus died, the curtain was ripped in half from top to bottom, signifying that the way to God is open to all who believe in Jesus.

Hebrews 10:19-22 says:

Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

These incredible verses remind us that we can draw near to God without fear of judgment or wrath. We have been washed clean by the blood of Jesus and can enter freely into the presence of God. The veil that prevented entrance into the Most Holy Place has been torn from top to bottom, with God Himself doing the tearing. The way is open and we can draw near.

Delighting In the Love of God

Why did Jesus die on the cross? Ultimately, it was because He loves us. It wasn’t the nails that held Him to the cross, it was His deep, overwhelming, profound love for us.

Romans 5:7-8 says,

“For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Why would Jesus be our substitute and take the wrath that we deserve? Why would the King of Kings willingly lay down His life? Why would the Author of Life submit to death? Because God loves us with a love greater than we could possibly comprehend.

If we are ever tempted to doubt God’s love for, we need only look to the cross.

More Helpful Tools and Resources on Christian Foundations

What Is The Gospel of Jesus Christ?

What is the gospel? It means "good news" and in this article, we’re going to answer the question of why the gospel is such good news.

Learn More

What Is Salvation? 4 Life-Changing Truths

Many people have trouble answering this question with clarity. We’re going to see what the Bible has to say in answer to the question, “What is salvation?”

Learn More

What Is Faith and Why Is It So Important?

Exactly what is faith? In God’s word, we learn what faith is and why it’s so important.

Learn More

Related Articles and Sermons about Jesus on the Cross

Three Challenges to the Cross (1278)

Learn More