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Was Jesus Always Supposed to Die on a Cross?

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It’s hard to fathom Jesus Christ’s final, agonizing hours upon a Roman cross. The floggings, the torture, and the humiliation He had endured were reserved for the worst of criminals. It is no wonder, then, that with His last breath, Jesus cried out in a loud voice “Tetélestai!”—“It is finished” (John 19:30).

Jesus’ final word was actually a cry of victory, a shout of triumphant recognition. He had fully accomplished the work He had come to earth to do.

But what was this cry? Was Jesus announcing His own death? Was it an acknowledgment that the cruelty and pain were now finished? Was it perhaps a cry of defeat?

On this point, the Bible is clear: Jesus’ final word was actually a cry of victory, a shout of triumphant recognition. He had fully accomplished the work He had come to earth to do. In the realm of eternity, in perfect fellowship and harmony with one another, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit determined that this would be the way—and now their purpose was being accomplished.

Christ’s sacrificial death was a part of the Father’s plan. The Son of God was set apart to bear the penalty of mankind’s sins “before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:20). Likewise, Isaiah prophesied concerning the Suffering Servant who was to come, saying, “It was the will of the Lord to crush him” (Isaiah 53:10). The Father did not look in surprise at the state of the world and then determine the necessity of the Son’s death, nor did He contrive a faulty plan in the Old Testament only to offer up His Son as a “correction.” No, the plan was perfect all along. In eternity past, the Father chose the Son to be the one who would provide an atoning sacrifice for the sins of all who believe.

The Father’s plan is paralleled by the Son’s sacrifice_._ When Jesus walked onto the stage of human history, He was clear concerning His role and mission: “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). Yet we must not think of the Father as laying on His Son an order that He was unwilling to bear. The sacrifice of the Lord Jesus in His body was not coerced; rather, He laid down His life in full awareness and submission to the Father’s plan. Nor should we think of the Son extracting from the Father a salvation that He was unwilling to bestow. It is true that the Father gave the Son, but it is equally true that the Son gave Himself.

But why was it necessary for a man to die in this way? And more specifically, why did it have to be Jesus?

We can find the answer to these questions in the opening verse of Hebrews 10, which tells us that “the law” was “but a shadow of the good things to come.” Indeed, the Old Testament sacrificial system was “incapable of perfecting the souls of those who offered their regular annual sacrifices” (Hebrews 10:1, Phillips). The repetition of these sacrifices simply witnessed to their ineffectiveness. All the blood of bulls and goats was fruitful only insofar as it pointed forward to a coming Redeemer and a lasting redemption.

Only God Himself can save sinners. No mere man can mediate between a holy God and sinful humanity. And so it was that in the fullness of time, “Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God … [took] the form of a servant. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5–8).

Fully God. Fully man. Jesus’ atoning work on the cross is unrepeatable because of His very nature.

Yet not only was Jesus’ sacrifice unrepeatable; it was also final. His work is a finished work. On account of His death upon the cross, we who were once “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3), “having no hope and without God in the world” (v. 12), are now accepted, forgiven, ransomed, restored, included in the family of God, and granted the Holy Spirit to fill our lives.

It is on this one sacrifice alone that we can take our stand. And to the extent that we try to make our own little sacrifices in order to present ourselves as more acceptable to God, then we have not fully understood the nature of the Father’s plan and the Son’s sacrifice.

Our sacrifices do not earn God’s mercy. Rather, they are expressions of the fact that we have been laid hold of by God’s mercy.

Perhaps you are thinking, But wait! Doesn’t the Bible teach that we are to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice? (See Rom. 12:1.) Yes, it does!—and not only our bodies but also our lips, gifts, and talents! Such sacrifices do not earn God’s mercy, though. Rather, they are expressions of the fact that we have been laid hold of by God’s mercy.

The truth and reality of Jesus’ finished work on the cross is applied to our lives by the Spirit of God, who testifies to us and renews our hearts through God’s Word. Though Scripture, we are reminded of the wonder of what God has done for us through Jesus, and we are moved far beyond mental assent into an intimate relationship with our Savior—a relationship that will sanctify us and transform us into those “who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14).

The death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ was never plan B. In eternity past, the triune God determined the road to Calvary would be the way of salvation. Today, then, bow under the beauty and wisdom of God’s redemption plan, asking the Holy Spirit to set your heart on fire afresh with love for “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).


This article was adapted from the sermon “It Is Finished!” by Alistair Begg.

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