WHY WAS CHRIST CRUCIFIED?
There is no doubt that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified. Apart from the many descriptions of his death in the Bible, there are records outside the Bible that confirm he died by crucifixion. For example, Tacitus (AD 55-117) writes about Nero’s persecution of the Christians, and says: “Christus, founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius”. Also, Lucian, writing in the second century about Jesus, the head of the Christians, talks about: “the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced the new cult”.
But really, we need to ask another question first. Why did Jesus have to die at all, if he was a good man?
A simple answer is that he was a man like us. Jesus constantly referred to himself as ‘the Son of man’. So, he was mortal, and he would have died any way, sooner or later. But that begs another question. Why do we all have to die? The scientists are still not sure, but they seem to think our bodies are programmed to run down and wear out – something to do with chromosomes, and telomeres, and failed repairs to damaged DNA. But were we always like that? That is an interesting question!
The Bible says we die because of what it calls ‘sin’. Sin is defined in two ways in the Bible. One word means ‘to cross over the line’. That is to say, God in heaven has asked us to keep inside a circle drawn on the ground, but if we step over that line, we have sinned. For example, he says it is fine to buy a necklace for your wife, but if you steal a necklace from somebody else to give to your wife, that is sin. The other word used for sin means ‘to miss the mark’. Here was have a picture of an archer aiming for a bullseye on the target, but his arrow goes to one side. In other words, we know what we should be like, but we fail to meet that standard. For example, God says we should always speak the truth and keep our promises. He asks us to put others first, and to be humble. He even says we should not just forgive our enemy, but show love to him. One way or another, we have all sinned. More than once.
The Bible says in the very beginning, Adam, the first man, lived in fellowship with God, in a beautiful garden called Eden. He only had one rule to keep. He was not to eat the fruit of the Tree of knowledge of good and evil. For years, he and Eve his wife kept God’s rule. But one day Eve listened to the bad advice of the serpent, who tempted her to break God’s rule. She persuaded Adam to eat the forbidden fruit, too. They had been plainly told what would happen if they ate the fruit of the Tree of knowledge - they would die! In all justice, God condemned them to die. They did not drop dead on the spot, but gradually, through old age, accident or disease, their life would come to an end. They were programmed to die. However, in that sad day, God gave then a ray of hope. He said Eve would have a ‘seed’ or descendant who would stamp on the serpent’s head. The serpent, that had tricked Eve into sin, had become a symbol for sin. But Eve’s descendant would kill him by trampling on his head. We need to remember this point.
The apostle Paul points out that we do not repeat the exact sin of Adam. There is no Tree of knowledge in our garden. But we all break the many other commandments God has left for us in the Bible. And so we all deserve to die. This is what he says: ‘Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned’. We all sin, even if we have never read the Bible, because we know it is wrong to murder, to commit adultery, to cheat or to bully the poor. But the more we know about God’s rules, the more responsible we become when we break them.
Paul goes on to say Adam was ‘a type of the one who was to come’. A ‘type’ means something or somebody who represents on a small scale something or someone who would later fulfil that pattern in a more complete way. We have a very appropriate example of a ‘type’ in the well-known Bible passage of John 3:15,16. In the account of the Israelites’ wandering in the wilderness, it says they rebelled against God. A plague of snakes struck the people, and many died. But Moses was commanded to make a model of a snake out of bronze and lift it up on a pole. If people dying from snake bite crawled out of their tents and looked up at the bronze snake, they were saved from death. So, the Apostle John says, the bronze snake, nailed to a pole, was a type of Jesus, who would be lifted up on a Roman cross. And if we believe in him, we can be saved from death.
So, in what way was Adam a type of Jesus? Well, Adam was the first man, and he brought death into the world by breaking God’s law. Jesus was God’s son, and he brought eternal life into the world by his obedience to God’s law. Two men, both ‘firsts’.
Let’s read on: “For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous”.
Paul is saying that the sin of one man brought death. Death ‘reigns’ over all of us. But the obedience of one man, Jesus, can lead to life for all, men and women, rich or poor, Jew or Gentile, who believe in him. The essential point is that Jesus was obedient, where Adam was disobedient. Whenever Jesus faced temptation, he resisted it. He always obeyed God’s laws. He was the perfect example of the bullseye we have to aim at.
Jesus, a truly lovely man, wore himself out healing sick people, and giving people hope. He never sought fame or reward. But he was uncompromising in showing the hypocrisy of the leaders of the Jews. They hated him, because he was good, and they were evil. So, after months of plotting, they managed to have him arrested. He made no attempt to escape. After a mockery of a trial, they took him to the Roman governor, and in spite of his innocence, insisted he must die on the Roman cross.
God knew this would happen. Centuries before it ocurred, Bible prophecies had predicted the death of God’s son. This painful situation was part of God’s plan. If a sinless man volunteered to die, and was buried, he had no reason to stay in the grave. He did not deserve to be there. In all justice, God could bring him back from the dead. And that is exactly what happened. On the third day after his crucifixion, Jesus walked out of his tomb in a new, immortal body. He would never die again.
So, Jesus trampled on the head of the serpent of sin. He killed sin in his own life by being one hundred per cent obedient. And he conquered death when God raised him on the third day. Now, says the Christian gospel, if we believe in the resurrection of Jesus, looking up to him lifted high on the cross, like those Israelites bitten by the snakes, we can be raised from death ourselves to eternal life. This was God’s majestic plan to save us. As John says: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” .
For the First Century Christians, the act of baptism marked their desire to say goodbye to Adam and to put on the Lord Jesus. Confessing their sins, they were dipped under water in a symbolic death and resurrection, after which they were counted as members of the church. That call of the gospel still stands today. If we want to be in the Kingdom of God when Jesus comes back to rule over the earth, we need the same faith, and the same baptism. For as Mark concludes his gospel: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned”.
 Genesis 2:16,17
 Genesis 3:15
 Romans 5:12
 Numbers 21:7-9
 Romans 5:17-19
 For example, Isaiah 53:3-9
 John 3:14-16
 Mark 16:16