Why Did Christ Die?
(From the website, tentmaker.org)
In the fourth chapter of Ephesians there is set forth that awful descent of Christ "into the lower parts of the earth" (verse 9) preparatory to his ascension "far above all heavens that he might fill all things." (Verse 10). He who "was in the form of God, made himself of no reputation,-[notice the descent, step by step] and took upon him the form of a servant,-and was made in the likeness of men, and being found in fashion as a man he humbled himself,-and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." Behold, how low he stooped! Why was it?
This is a great question; to learn why God does a thing is to learn God's thoughts; this great humiliation of Christ was God's work. "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself." What was the special purpose of this part of the plan, the death of Christ? We should first determine what the death of Christ was. It has already been shown in this paper that Christ's incarnation was his real death; that when he entered into this fallen state he entered into a condition of death, and was in that condition all the time he tabernacled in the flesh, i.e. from his birth to his resurrection. When I speak then of the "death of Christ" I do not mean his physical death on the cross but his real death while he was in this fallen state; and right at this junction I may as well notice two points that may perhaps perplex the reader. First, what is the significance of
of Christ? I understand that the cross is the symbol of God's way of life, i.e. through death. The cross is made very prominent in the New Testament, both by Christ and the apostles. See for example, Matt. 10:38; 16:24; Mark 10:21; Lu. 14:27; also 1 Cor. 1:17-18; Gal. 6:12; Phil. 3:18; Col. 1:20; and many other passages. Now if the reader will look these passages over he will see that the cross is a symbol of something; in these scriptures, and others of the same import the word cross does not refer to the literal piece of wood upon which Christ suffered physical death; that is the letter; but this word has a spiritual meaning like most other Bible words and phrases, and no one who has any spiritual discernment at all can fail of seeing this, viz., that the term cross is used as a symbol of something else, though they might not be able to determine what that something was. I think that Christians use this word in an erroneous, unscriptural sense; they speak of the many crosses that they have to bear. The Bible never speaks of but one cross. Christ and the apostles never speak of crosses but of "the cross," the one thing, whatever it may be. Now it is a great mystery of the Bible that God's way to life is through death. "That which thou sowest is not quickened (made alive) except it die." This is a great truth in nature; it is equally true with God's ways in grace. (compare John 12:23-25). I have referred to this great truth and have explained it to some extent in previous issues of the paper and will refer the reader to those articles in order that he may understand the present point; see 1-6-124, and 1-8-186; also see the article on "Christian Baptism" in the preceding number, page 235. This is God's way of life; through trial, suffering, corruption and death; and the symbol of this way is the Cross. To "bear the cross" is to follow Christ's footsteps in this way of life though death, "knowing the fellowship of his sufferings" and being "made comfortable unto his death," "that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body." Our various trials, afflictions, persecutions, etc., are not so many crosses that we must bear, but all parts of one cross; that is to say, all these are part and parcel of the one only way to life, through self-crucifixion and death, to the same life that Jesus won in this same way. Surely it ought to enable us to endure our trials and afflictions with patience and composure, and even with joy, when we know that thereby we are bearing Christ's cross after him in just as real a sense as did Simon the Cyrenean, bear the literal timber upon which the Savior was crucified; if we are "partakers of his sufferings, we shall also be partakers of the glory that shall be revealed." We saw in the last paper that baptism was also a symbol of this experience; but baptism covers more than the death, it is a symbol of death, burial and resurrection, while the cross is the striking and suggestive symbol of the death to which all must become conformed, if they would ever know the power of Christ's resurrection life; it is a death that involves agony, intense and lingering pain, shame and reproach; all this characterizes literal crucifixion; it is also characteristic of that mystic crucifixion (Gal. 5:24) that every Christian is called upon to endure if he follows Jesus, and which is the price of and the only way to, that life which is "LIFE INDEED." (1 Tim. 6:19, N.V.*). I cannot further dwell upon this point now although much more might be said, for it is one of "the deep things of God," but it was needful that I should refer to it in order that we might understand what was meant by the expression "the death of the cross;" this does not refer to literal crucifixion on a wooden cross as the letter indicates, but to the mystic death referred to above, and which is God's way to life; the forgoing considerations with the scriptures referred to clearly indicate this; see especially Gal. 6:12-17; surely Paul is not referring to literal crucifixion in this passage. See also Heb. 12:2; Jesus "endured the cross;" does not this declaration have a deeper significance than simply a reference to the time when Jesus bore the Roman cross of wood upon which he was crucified? (John 19:17). If the reader would still further see this way of life through death set forth let him examine the following passages; 1 Cor. 4:6-16; 15:29-34; 2 Cor. 4:6-12; 6:1-10. Look these passages out, also the articles in preceding issues of the paper that I have referred to, and I think the reader will readily understand the symbolical import of "the death of the cross."
The other point I wish to speak of before proceeding with the main subject is the real significance of
CHRIST'S PHYSICAL DEATH
Jesus did die physically on a literal wooden cross; and we have said this was not the real death of Christ; nor was the instrument of his death the real cross. What was the significance then of this physical death, and this literal Cross? I have already noticed the symbolical character of the literal cross; Iet us see if we can determine the significance of his physical death.
In Heb. 13:10-13 we have clearly set forth the significance of Christ's physical death, viz., it was the fulfilment of the type of the disposal of the carcass of the sin offering; see Ex. 29:14; Lev. 4:11,12; 16:27; etc. There can be no doubt about this, for the apostle makes the application himself; we should not feel warranted in applying the type thus, but since the apostle so applies it we accept it unhesitatingly as conclusive. All the law is typical, every jot and tittle of it; and it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for any part of it to fail of fulfillment. The physical death of Christ "without the gate" was the fulfillment at that part of the law that required that the body of the sin offering, after its life had been laid down, should be burned "without the camp;" so Jesus laid down his life and entered into death-this fallen state-and became the sin offering-was "made sin for us"-and "bore our sins" for three and thirty years, when he suffered physical death upon the cross "without the gate," thus fulfilling the last sad and humiliating feature of "the law of the sin offering," which required that the dead carcass should be burned "without the camp." This is a positive scriptural explanation of the significance of Christ's physical death, and plainly shows us its place in the great anti-typical atonement. He who is looking to the physical death of Christ on the literal cross as the means whereby he is reconciled to God, (Rom. 5:10) is committing the same mistake as would the Israelite who should look to the burning of the dead and rejected carcass of the sacrifice "without the camp" as the atonement work, losing sight, and making no account of the real sacrifice and the real atonement.
The particular manner of Christ's physical death, viz., by crucifixion, is significant in that it sets forth, as we have noticed above, the suffering, shame and reproach that invariably befalls those who "know the fellow ship of Christ's sufferings," and are "made comfortable unto his death," his real death. The literal cross, as we have already seen, is a symbol of God's way of life; through weakness to strength, (2 Cor. 12:10) through trial to the crown, (Jas. 1:12) through suffering to perfection (1 Pet. 5:10), through death to life. Christ refers to this significance of the cross when he says, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me;" and the apostle adds, "This he said, signifying what death he should die." There is no real connection between the drawing of all men to Christ and his literal crucifixion; in other words the particular form of his physical death is not the cause of the drawing of all men unto him, as would seem to be indicated by the letter of these words, there is a spirit here that we must discern in order to understand the true meaning. What is the cause of all men being drawn to Christ? The death of Christ, I answer; his real death, i.e. his incarnation. That the world is reconciled to God by the death of Christ is a positive scriptural statement. See 2 Cor. 5:19 with Rom. 5:10. "We are reconciled to God by the death of his Son," is the same as saying that we are drawn to God (or to Jesus, which is the same thing) by the cross of his Son; and this latter is exactly the way the apostle does express this same truth in Eph. 2:16; "That he might reconcile both [Jew and Gentile, i.e. the whole world] unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby." Thus we understand the significance of "the cross of Christ," in which alone the disciple of Jesus is to glory; and thus also we come to the first answer to the question which forms the subject of this article, viz.
WHY DID CHRIST DIE?
To reconcile the world unto God, is the answer we have now arrived at; we must study this answer a little further.
First we should notice that in this purpose of the death of Christ, the Bible speaks of "things that are not as though they were." (Rom. V 10; 1-1-17). "When we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son." The apostle speaks as though it were a thing already done, although such is not the actual fact. The world reconciled to God is not as yet a realized experience, though we may speak of it as done because it is certain that all will be reconciled ultimately; (see Col. I. 19. 20) this is God's purpose, and, as we have before noticed (1-2-40) what God purposes to do is as good as done, and may be so spoken of. That this is the correct view of the passage is indicated by the wording of the passage itself; "When we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son:" not as a universally realized experience, but the full provision for our reconciliation was made and the work is reckoned done on the ground of God's finished work; each individual of the race is not yet reconciled to God; but each one may be, so far as God's part of the work is concerned and each one will be just as fast, and just in proportion as he becomes acquainted with God. This view is still further confirmed by 2 Cor. V. 19, 20. "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself;" that work of God was accomplished, finished; and yet the apostle continues, "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us, we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God;" although the world is already reconciled to God so far as God's work is concerned, yet individually the mass of mankind is still unreconciled, and must become so by personally receiving the testimony of this great work of reconciliation in God's "due time." (I Tim. II.6).
We should also bear in mind in considering this answer, the real death of Christ. "Reconciled to God by the death of his Son." If we think merely of Christ's physical death on the Roman cross we shall fail to see the full significance of this declaration. We were not reconciled to God by Christ's physical death. Any one who maintained such a view would have to hold also that the atonement (or reconciliation) under the Iaw was made by burning the dead carcass of the sin offering "without the camp;" we have seen that this was really the significance of the physical death of Christ, and it certainly is not the ground of our reconciliation to God. Let it be noticed also in this connection that this is really another proof of that view of the reaI death of Christ that has been advanced in this paper. "We are reconciled to God by the death of his Son." Are we reconciled to God by Christ's physical death? No, surely not. Then the death of Christ, i.e. the real, atoning death, was not his death on the literal cross, but the death he entered into when he "was made flesh," as we have explained.
Now with this correct idea of death I think each one will see at once how the death of Christ reconciles us to God. The whole purpose and work of Christ's incarnation (1-3-50) is included in the death of Christ. In this work as our Forerunner, Christ certainly laid the groundwork of the sinner's reconciliation to God; thereby, man is reconciled, i.e "changed from enmity to friendship" (1-10-217) in his relationship to God. There are
spoken of in the New Testament which Christ removes; the Law, (Eph. 2:15) and the Carnal Mind. (Rom. 8:7). That the law is an enmity between man and God, a stumbling block in the way of man's salvation, bringing death and not life, and that Christ delivers us from this hopeless condition, under the guilt (Rom. 3:19) and penalty (death) of the law, "having slain the enmity," (Eph. 2:16) "blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross" (Col. 2:14), i.e. permanently fixing it by his death (cross) in a place where it can no longer harm the sinner, because by his death he opens up the way of faith which is above and beyond the reach of law, that all this is true, I say, is plainly scriptural, as is fully explained in 1-8-179. That the carnal mind is an enmity, no one can deny, and that Christ removes it, is also a positive scriptural position, since He, by partaking of our fallen nature, ("made sin for us") has opened up the way whereby we may become partakers of his "divine nature;" thus we become possessed of the "mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16; Phil. 2:5) and are "no longer in the flesh but in the spirit, if so be the spirit of Christ dwell in us" (Rom 8:9). Thus the death of Christ reconciles us to God by the removal of the two enmities.
But furthermore, Christ's death reconciles us to God by revealing Him to us, by making God known to us. Mankind is now unreconciled to God because they do not know him. "God is not in all their thoughts" (Psa. 10:4). The great mass of the world are in the condition that Paul describes when he says, "Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God by the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their hearts." (Eph. 4:8). This is the present condition of the race; dark, ignorant, blind. Now when this darkness is dissipated, when this ignorance is enlightened, when "the eyes of the blind are opened," so that the world becomes acquainted with God, then forthwith they will become reconciled to him, they will begin to love him. (see 1-6-131). "Acquaint now thy thyself with God and be at peace," (Job 22:21); when we become acquainted with God we have peace, "peace with God," reconciliation. Now Jesus Christ is the one perfect revelation and image of God. In his incarnation he comes to man as "Emmanuel, God with us" (Matt. 1:23); through him, God was manifested in the flesh" (1 Tim. 3:16), and thus Christ reveals God to us; knowing the Son we know the Father also (John 8:19 and 1-5-100), and thus are we reconciled to God, i.e. changed from enemies to friends. (1-10-217 and compare John 15:15.) This view is confirmed by 1 John 3:16 and 4:7-11; through the sacrifice and death of Christ, God's love is "manifest," and we are enabled thereby to "perceive" it and so we come to "love him, because he first loved us," (1 John 4:19) and thus are reconciled to him.
The passage under consideration (Rom. 5:10) declares that we are reconciled by his death and saved by his life. We have seen how we are reconciled by his death, I will add a word as to how we are saved by his life. Salvation is the completion or outcome of the work of reconciliation; we are not yet saved, only by faith (Eph. 2:8) and hope (Rom. 8:24), nor shall we be until "delivered from the bondage of corruption." Now then when we are thus saved we shall in the full and perfect sense partake of the "divine nature" or life-we shall be one with the Father and the Son even as they are one (1-5-99); then in the full sense (not by faith but in fact) we shall "eat the flesh and drink the blood" (i.e. partake of the nature and receive the life) of the Son of man. (John 6:53). Now we live by faith (Gal. 2:20) as we are saved by faith; then we shall live in fact and be saved in reality, for salvation is life, the "new creation" (2 Cor. 5:17, N.V.) in its ultimate completion, and we know that we are "made alive in Christ." (1 Cor. 15:22). Thus are we "saved by his life." For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. We will proceed now to notice other Scripture that speaks of the purpose of the death of Christ.
There are several passages that confirm the view already presented of the reason for the death of Christ. Christ himself gives a reason for his death when he says, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die it bringeth forth much fruit (John 12:24); then a little further on he says, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth (i.e. from this earthly, fallen condition) will draw all men unto me;" and the evangelist adds, "This he said signifying what death he should die." I have already noticed in this article the spiritual import of this latter verse, and the whole is simply a declaration of the same truth in another form, as that set forth in 2 Cor. 5:19 and Rom. 5:10, viz., that the death of Christ (his incarnation) is the ground of the reconciliation of the world ("much fruit," "all man") unto God. Jesus is the "first born among many brethren" Rom. 8:29). This same reason for the death of Christ is also especially set forth in Heb. 2:9-15. Jesus Christ "tasted death for every man" in order to "bring many sons unto glory." "Forasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same, that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage." Here again is the idea of Christ dying to destroy the enmity, the devil and his works (1 John 3:8) and to deliver man from bondage to fear; for when we come to know God we are reconciled to him, as we have seen, and we begin to love him, and fear is cast out (I John 4:18).
We will look at one more passage, in Rom. XIV. 9. We have here a specific, direct answer to the question, why did Christ die? "To this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord of both the dead and living." Christ is the Lord, head or chief of the race (compare the use of the word "Lord" in Matt. 22:43-45). He is head over all things (Eph. 1:22); "He is the beginning, the first born from the dead that in all things he might have the preeminence" (Col. 1:18); he is "the beginning of the creation of God" (Rev. 3:14), i.e. the finished creation, the "new creation." Now in order thus to be Lord, first or chief of the dead, as well as the living, it was necessary of course that he should become one of the dead, i.e. he must become one of the dead, fallen race-he must die. We have seen how Christ entered into this fallen condition (1-3-50 &c.) and how while he was in this condition he was chief or head of all mankind; he was the first to pass through the entire process of God's way to life through death (1-2-33), hence he is "Lord of the dead." We know also that he was the first to enter into life, the life of the "perfect man;" he was the "first born from the dead," "the first fruit," "the first that should arise from the dead," and thus he became "Lord of the living," the "Beginning" of a regenerated race so that now he can say (Rev. 1:18, New Version), "I am the first and the last and THE LIVING ONE; and I became [margin] dead, and behold I am alive unto the ages of the ages [margin], and I have the keys of death and of hades." Thus Christ died that he might become Lord, Firstfruit and Beginning of both the dead and the living, and "if the first fruit be holy, the lump is also holy; if the root be holy so are the branches."
There are other scriptures bearing upon the question, but I have noticed, the most important. There is a reason for the death of Christ given in Heb. 9:15, viz. that he dies in order to ratify the new covenant , etc.; this amounts to the same thing as the answers we have already considered, only the conclusion is arrived at through the types and shadows of the Old Testament; we cannot now follow out this line of thought. The subject of the Covenants is very interesting and they will be considered at length in an article in some future issue. We will simply add now a brief
of what we have learned in the present article and then notice a single thought.
If I error not, we have learned the true significance of the Cross of Christ and of his Physical Death. We have seen that his real atoning death was his incarnation, so that the question, Why did Christ Die? Really amounts to, Why "The Word was made flesh." The scriptural answers to this question we have found to be, 1st: To Reconcile the World unto God; and this includes, 2nd: The removal of the Two Enmities, "the Law of Commandments" and the Carnal Mind: 3rd: Making known God to man, through Jesus Christ, "the express image of the invisible God." 4th: The bringing forth of the "Much fruit," the "Many Brethren," the "Many Sons," the "Whole Creation." 5th: The destruction of the works of the devil. 6th: The deliverance of "the Children" from the bondage of fear. 7th: To become Lord of both the dead and the living. 8th: To Ratify the New Covenant.
Now a single thought in closing; in all these answers to the question, Why did Christ die? there is not a particle of substitution, not the least hint at a so-called "Vicarious" atonement. I know of course how some try to make out substitution from some of these texts we have examined. But this is done either by ignorance or thoughtlessness or prejudice; no deliberate impartial examiner of these scriptures can find any substitution in them at all; and yet men insist on this God-dishonoring dogma as though it was one of the main pillars of the eternal throne. Perhaps some will think of the passages, "Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree," and He "suffered for sins the just for the unjust," etc.; these passages seem to some to teach substitution, but this is only because they have been accustomed to so regard them; for instance, here is a paragraph from the writings of one who believes in substitution.
"Christ was our substitute in death; he died the just FOR the unjust. He tasted death FOR every man. This dying for the guilty was substitution."
In this paragraph the brother emphasizes the for as though of itself it taught substitution. But does it? Is it not possible for one person to do something for another except as the others substitute? O how blind and careless these self-constituted leaders are. The physician prescribes a remedy for his patient, but not instead of him. Christ "died for our sins," (1 Cor. 15:3.), but not instead of them. He died "the just for the unjust," but it does not necessarily follow from this statement, as many think, that he died instead of the unjust. "He bore our sins," but in what capacity? As an associate, or as a substitute? So far as the simple statement is concerned it might be either; but from other scripture, as we have seen, we know that Christ was not our substitute, but our companion and Elder Brother, the Sharer of our woes (1-9-199). I say we know this from scripture, we also know it from fact. Let the reader carefully consider this question-In what death was Christ our substitute? We have seen that there are several kinds of death, physical death, spiritual death (1-3-54) and the second death; now a substitute is one who does something for another which the other does not do; for example, in the time of war if a man was drafted he sometimes hired some other man to go to war in his stead and this man was called a substitute; the substitute went to war while the drafted man did not go. Now then, if Christ died as our substitute he must have died some death that we do not die. What death was it? Man is already dead spiritually (1-9-201); he must die physically, and of course Christ did not die the second death. Even if there were "a death that never dies," as the churches say, Christ died no such death as our substitute or otherwise. In what death then was Christ our substitute? "He tasted death for every man," but it could not have been as a substitute for every man, for the simple reason that man must himself die; we can very readily see how Christ died for man as his associate, "made in all points like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest," we can readily see how he was the first to pass through the whole process of God's way of life through death, as our Forerunner, and the Captain of our salvation, in order to deliver man, not from a death to which they were exposed, but out of a death in which they were already involved.
But it would be impossible to explain, either on a scriptural basis or on the ground of fact and reason, how Christ died as man's substitute; and especially those who believe that the atoning death of Christ was his physical death on the literal cross would find it exceedingly difficult to prove that death was substitutional. Surely man himself must die physically." Dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return," is a penalty that every man must himself bear, with the exception that Paul refers to in 1 Cor. 15:51. The idea then of the substitutional or vicarious character of the atonement is simply and purely a human "tradition," "making the Word of God of none effect." (Mark 7:13).
As this subject is very important, I will add another illustration of the shallow, careless way in which men reason in order to prop up this falsehood of substitution. In order to defend this doctrine from the charge of injustice-the injustice of the innocent suffering, instead of the guilty-it is alleged that this is no more unjust than the vicarious suffering that is allowed in the world all the time; "Do not the innocent suffer for the guilty here in this life," it is asked, "is there not vicarious suffering all around us, the mother suffers for the child, the child suffers for the parent, the wife suffers for the husband, the community suffers for the criminal, etc. Surely if God permits this continual vicarious suffering in the world, should we find fault, and brand it as unjust, because Christ suffers vicariously?" Now is it not a marvel that intelligent, thoughtful men, ministers, editors of religious periodicals, evangelists, etc., that such men as these should reason in this way and not perceive its utter fallacy? It is true that there is a great deal of suffering in this world on the part of the innocent for the guilty, this of course is a certain and a sad fact; but is this suffering vicarious? This last words means "to do or suffer in the place of another." Do the innocent suffer in the place of the guilty in this world? i.e. instead of the guilty, so that the guilty escape the punishment that the innocent suffer in their stead? Will the drunken husband have less punishment because his wife has suffered a part of his punishment in his place? This would be the case if the wife suffered for him vicariously, i.e. as his substitute; but of course no one has any such idea. The fact is there is no vicarious suffering in the world, not a particle; the innocent suffer for the guilty, i.e. on their account, but they do not suffer in their place, or instead of them. No one suffers a single pang that another ought to suffer in that other one's stead; and no one will escape a single pang because someone else has suffered it in his place. "Every man shall bear his own burden," (Gal. 6:5); "Every man shall receive according to his deeds," ( Rom. 2:6); "Every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward." (Heb. 2:2).
Thus on every hand, however we may look at it from the stand point of reason, fact or Scripture, it is seen that the doctrine of substitution is false; let it go with that other lie of endless torments, seeing that it is equally dishonoring to God. We can readily find from Scripture the real reasons for the death of Christ, reasons that commend themselves to an enlightened judgment and that magnify the wisdom and love of God. And now I will add another scriptural answer to the question, why did Christ die? Which has just occurred to me since I sent the first part of this article to my printer; "Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him [in bring may sons unto glory] endured the cross [death], despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God," (Heb. 12:2). Let the reader ponder this reason for himself, comparing it with Heb. 11:24-27., also with 1-10-222.