Discourse 30 – Why did Jesus have to die on the cross?

Why did Jesus have to die on the cross? / Lecture script, J. Pucher 00, 2001-03-25

The Mosaic background.

Why Jesus really died on the cross.

(Texts in a black frame are quotations from visitors to this site or from other authors.)

(Why did Jesus have to die on the cross? / Lecture script JP00, 2001-03-25)

What did we learn from the catechism on the question why Jesus had to suffer death on the cross? In the fourth of the six fundamental articles of faith, we are told – and I quote the exact words of the catechism – The second Person of the Divine Trinity became man, in order to redeem us through his death on the cross and to make us everlastingly blessed.

This was interpreted in the sense that he had to suffer on the cross in order to redeem us. Only through his death on the cross have we been redeemed from our sins, and saved for eternal blessedness. (…)

What kind of an idea of God lies behind this? A "just" God, in the sense of one who demands satisfaction, who calls for the blood of his own Son to be shed on the cross before he can to forgive. In terms of our present-day feelings, this is rather a God of vengeance. Justice and satisfaction are the most important consideration to him, and for these he even sacrifices his own Son. This is the theology of the Middle Ages, and things are no longer seen quite in this way, nor is the gospel preached like this, but on the level of feeling, for many individuals, especially of the older generation, it is still very much a persisting influence. Most certainly it is not a biblical doctrine, and has nothing to do with the message of Jesus. (…)

Jesus’ death on the cross reveals not a God hungry for atonement, but an infinitely and unconditionally loving God. Jesus did not become man and die on the cross in order to reconcile us to God. God did not need to be reconciled. He had never stopped loving us. Jesus became man in order to bring us runaways back to God after we had strayed, to be for us a pointer to God.

"I am the way and the truth and the life" (John 14,6),

he says of himself.

Because men did not want to go by this way,  they  nailed him to the cross.

+) This extract is taken from the lecture script "Why did Jesus have to die on the cross?" by J. Pucher, Catholic parish priest of St. Nikolaus, Vienna.

Here we have a rather unusual situation – a Catholic priest who wants to refute the Catholic catechism. And this in connection with one of those points on which the statements of the catechism agree rather closely with those made by the Bible. So also the statement made by the author, that the truth of the redeeming sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ is not biblical and has nothing to do with the message of Jesus, can be unambiguously refuted, with relative ease, based on the following scriptural passages. – For anyone who is interested, here are the links:

(Col 1:15-23; 1Cor 15:1-5; Gal 1:1-5; 1Jn 2:1-2; 1Jn 4:9-10; 2Cor 5:18-21; Eph 2:11-16;)

And then the Catholic parish J. Pucher informs us:

"Jesus did NOT become man and die on the cross in order to reconcile us to God."

There are probably few statements in Scripture that are as well attested as the fact that the Son of God died for our sins on the cross, thus providing the redeeming sacrifice for all human beings to the righteous God. From a biblical point of view, no further discussion is needed.

But this priest, who clearly has only ever read the Catholic catechism and has not looked at his Bible, here postulates a completely unbiblical "infinitely and unconditionally loving God". Considering this not from a biblical perspective, but at least from a semantic and logical perspective, we may introduce the following brief argument:

The infinite and unconditional love of God.

If the love of God were to be infinite and unconditional, this God would have to forgive all human beings of all ages (infinite time!!) all their sins, without any conversion or repentance on their part (unconditionally!!). There would then no longer be any need of a redeeming sacrifice – and Jesus Christ would not have had to die on the cross.

Then all criminals, mass murderers, atheists, tyrants and all other kinds of scum, from the begin to the end of the world (infinite time!!) would enter into eternal life without any conversion or repentance on their part (unconditionally!!), along with all rightly believing Christians.

So anyone who speaks of the "infinite" and "unconditional" love of God gives clear evidence of the fact that they have no idea why God permitted his Son to die on the cross. Such people have not even begun to grasp the foundation stone of the Christian faith, and so are completely unqualified to make any kind of statement about any aspect of God’s nature.

So much for that. But now for the actually interesting information on the subject: "Why did Jesus have to die on the cross?"

The Mosaic background.

Christianity – at least biblical Christianity – derives from the Mosaic faith of the people of Israel. Their and our God repeatedly transmitted prophecies to Israel through the prophets of the Old Testament about the behavior of his people and reminded them of the commandments which he once entrusted to Moses. Among them was one of the most important commandments of the Mosaic faith, the belief in "ONE God".

At that point in time, when the Mosaic faith arose, this belief in only one God was an unmistakable and unique selling point. In all other religions of this world, people had invented "gods" at their own convenience, which they then also represented in many ways figuratively as wood or stone carvings. For each area of life people invented another god – the weather god, the god of love, the god of victory in war and so on. And if they needed victory in war, love or beautiful weather, they prayed to these "gods" and, of course, made suitable sacrifices to them.

Besides all these dead idols made of wood, stone or metal or represented in pictures, there is however one – and only one! – really and truly living and acting God. And this one and only God commanded the Israelites through his prophets:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
(Deut 6,4)

This is the "Shma Yisrael", named after the opening words of this section of the Torah (Deut. 6,4-9), which can be called the Jewish confession of faith par excellence. It is familiar to Jews and Gentiles alike. It is preached to the believing Jew daily, almost hourly, from childhood on: The Eternal is our God (Elohim) alone. 

And then, two thousand years ago, a young Jew from Nazareth comes along claiming to be the Son of God. He himself did not demand to be worshipped, but – and this is the curse of any "religion" in this world: everything connected with the "God" (idol) of a religion is automatically worshipped and venerated. Even the bones of deceased idols, even their pieces of clothing and objects associated with them (such as drinking cups for instance), are worshipped and kissed by the faithful as relics, regardless of whether or not this is doctrinally required.

And this brings us to the critical point: the Jews failed to grasp what this statement "the ETERNAL is one and only one" really means. It does not only mean that there is only one God in this world, it also means that this God is unique in this world – because he is not of this world. Our God, in fact, is an "extraterrestrial". As his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, explained to His disciples back then:

"God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth."
Jn 4,23-24;

But even the disciples of Jesus did not understand this at that time. If you try to understand it, however, suddenly all misunderstandings are resolved – not only those of the past, in fact, but also ones continuing into our own modern, technicized, digitalized time, where the quanta do what they want and not what the physicists would like to dictate to them on grounds of physical principle.

So if you honestly try to understand this point, you can see it even in the Old Testament. The Son of God tells us in this connection:

Mt 6, 5 And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the assemblies (Catholic masses) and on the street corners (or in front of the Catholic idol altars ["Mary" and the death cult of the "saints"] and the Jewish "Wailing Wall"! / FH), to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. Mt 6,5;

So, the worldly Christians worship their idols in front of the altars, and the Jews worship a wall. None of them have understood that the one and only God – the only God deserving to be worshipped – cannot be found there. God can be worshipped only where God, who is spirit, can also be found: in the spirit of people.

The explanation of this in the Old Testament:

Deut 4,15 You saw no form of any kind the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully,
4,16 so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman. Deut 4,15-16;

Here, in Deuteronomy (the 5th Book of Moses), God Himself warns the Israelites not to worship and adore Him in an earthly – material – image. When God once spoke to them out of the fire in the desert on Mount Horeb, they saw nothing. No figure, no image, not even an object – only the fire. So, no one saw God, and therefore no one can say what God looks like or try to reproduce him.

And therefore we know of God only – and this is what the Jews think as well – that God is "one". Therefore, the Jews also say: "Where there is ONE, there cannot be two. There cannot be two gods and therefore there is also no Son of God, because he would inevitably have to be also God". But here the Catholics feel obliged to defend the divinity of the Son of God and their own "Trinity", and interpret these words: "the ETERNAL is one!" in such a way that it is supposed to mean: God is the ONLY one who may be called "the ETERNAL". In that they are not exactly wrong either.

The Jewish scribes at the time of Jesus – and not only they – consciously or unconsciously did not scrutinize this statement of the prophets which constituted the instructions of their God. Those passages in their Torah, like the above passage from Deut 4:15-16, they evidently interpreted only in part. They understood the prohibition of images and passed it on to the people, but not the implicit reasoning behind it – because there actually is no "image".

This would not have been necessary if they had actually believed. Because then the spirit of God would have pointed it out to them in their spirit, and they would have understood it. But they too did not seek the glory of God, but rather their own glory, and therefore they did not understand the words of God that there was "no form at all" in the fire at that time: so if there was no visible, material form at all and it still spoke, then it must have been of an invisible, spiritual nature.

If you are a true believer, you trust these words of God. If you have the intellectual ability, then trust comes at the beginning: you don't understand it at first, but you trust that it is right, if these are God's words. And then the search begins and you find the solution. If you don't have these intellectual gifts, then trust is at the end: you don't understand it, but you trust that it is right in its own way.

This is because faith means nothing other than trust. Faith is trust and whoever actually believes – whether they are intelligent or not so intelligent – will also trust and either understand and pass it on(!), or not understand and simply believe.

The Jewish scribes failed at that time, as the whole world knows today. It was a fiasco on the part of the Jewish clerical hierarchy. Not because they were not intelligent enough, but because they were corrupt. It was a case of quite obvious corruption, fraud and murder, as the evangelist Matthew tells us:
But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.

Mt 27,11 Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ ‘‘You have said so,’ Jesus replied. 27,12 When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. 27,13 Then Pilate asked him, ‘Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?’ 27,14 But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge – to the great amazement of the governor. 27,15 Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. 27,16 At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. 27,17 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, ‘Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?’

27,18 For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him. 27,19 While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: ‘Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.’ 27,20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.

27,21 ‘Which of the two do you want me to release to you?’ asked the governor. ‘Barabbas,’ they answered. 27,22 ‘What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?’ Pilate asked. They all answered, ‘Crucify him!’ 27,23 ‘Why? What crime has he committed?’ asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, ‘Crucify him!’ 27,24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood,’ he said. ‘It is your responsibility!’ 27,25 All the people answered, ‘His blood is on us and on our children!’ 27,26 Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. Mt 27,11-26;

So, as we read in verse 18, Pilate knew that the religious leaders of Israel, the high priest Caiaphas and the councilors in the Sanhedrin, delivered the Son of God to the cross out of self-interest. These murderers had realized that if Jesus really came to rule, they would no longer be religious leaders of Israel and all their glory and honor would be gone.

In verse 20 we then also read, logically enough, that it was the high priest and his councilors who persuaded the crowd to release the criminal Barabbas and to kill the Son of God. And when Pilate, who saw the real state of affairs and was well aware of Jesus' complete innocence, tried to bring the Jewish people to their senses, they only roared all the louder and confirmed their resolve by cursing themselves:

"Crucify him!His blood is on us and on our children!" Mt 27,23-25;

This curse laid by the Israelite people on themselves two thousand years ago, was to become, in later times, the sad reality of the Diaspora and the Holocaust. But in the latter case, Nazis cannot be absolved of guilt any more than Jews can be absolved of murdering the Son of God by "saving the world". The overwhelming majority of today's Jews are religionless (all Jews are God-less for since two thousand years, except for those who converted to Jesus Christ!). And the few Israelis of the Mosaic faith insult their Messiah today, just as his murderers did two thousand years ago, as a "blasphemer and deceiver".

Juden verhöhnen Jesus
(Real Jew News)

Why Jesus really died on the cross.

Coming to Israel today, one can see that this former crime against the Son of God, in our present godless era, is neither considered nor acknowledged in any way. What is certainly given a high degree of prominence is the Holocaust and its 6 million murdered Jews. Only in groups of believers – Jews as well as Christians – do we sometimes find an exchange of opinions about the crucifixion.

And when the Christians bring up the issue of "deicide", the Jews usually have no problem. Because they simply quote Paul and his letter to the Romans, leaving a trail of "scorched earth" for the Christians who are involved in the discussion. They are not quoting just anyone, either, but after Christ (who is the content of the gospel), Paul – as the "founding father" of Christianity for the non-Jewish peoples.

 For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?

Rom 11,1 I ask then: did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. 11,2 God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’ t you know what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah – how he appealed to God against Israel: 11,3 ‘Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me’? 11,4 And what was God’s answer to him? ‘I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’ 11,5 So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. 11,6 And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. 11,7 What then? What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened, 11,8 as it is written: ‘God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear, to this very day.’ 11,9 And David says: ‘May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling-block and a retribution for them. 11,10 May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent for ever.’

11,11 Again I ask: did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. 11,12 But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring! 11,13 I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry 11,14 in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them.

11,15 For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 11,16 If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches. 11,17 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 11,18 do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: you do not support the root, but the root supports you. 11,19 You will say then,‘ ‘Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.’ ’ 11,20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. 11,21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Röm 11,1-21;

And Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, 11.15:"For if their rejection (the rejection of the Jews) brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?" With this simple sentence Paul brings together – at least from a biblical Christian point of view – three world-encompassing events:


1. He confirms the "rejection" of the Jews two thousand years ago by their God, and thus their godlessness since that time.

The "reconciliation of the world" refers to the vicarious death on the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, and thus also to the fact that Christians are now the people of God; and

3. by "their (the Jews') acceptance" Paul means the readoption of a small remnant (stump Isa 6:13;) of the people of Israel in the Millennium under the reign of the Son of God.

However, some of today's Jewish "scribes" reckon that the secularized Christian churches do not know or understand the content of their faith so well, and argue as follows: Actually, the whole world should be grateful to the Jews, because if Jesus Christ had not died on the cross – and only on the cross – mankind would have missed out on this one opportunity to be saved for eternal life.

This is of course only an isolated opinion among the Jews, but it seems to be in accordance with the Scriptures and is therefore worth considering. And here it is very helpful to check the whole story of Jesus as it appears in scripture. Mostly only the life and death of the Lord is spoken about, and people think they know what his mission was. Rarely does anyone wonder if the sacrifice on the cross was actually God's plan for His Son.

If we do raise this question, we learn that the Son of God, according to the statements of the Bible, was not born as a man to die on the cross, but to take up his reign as the Messiah of Israel in his millennial kingdom of peace (the "kingdom", "kingdom of heaven", "kingdom of God") on earth, with the people of Israel as "chief among the nations" (Jer 31:7-8; Lk 10:9-12;).

He answered «I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel»

Mt 15,21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 15,22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.’ 15,23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, ‘Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.’ 15,24 He answered, 

«I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.»

15,25 The woman came and knelt before him. ‘Lord, help me!’ she said. Mt 15,21-25;

Only when Jesus and his disciples were then rejected by the Israelites, as Paul told his countrymen: "since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life" (Acts 13,46;), did God change the mission (Mt 22,9): his Son could not take up world dominion with a God-fearing people of God, but now had to die in order to become the Savior for all of godless mankind.

But they paid no attention and went off – one to his field, another to his business.

Mt 22,1 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying:2 2,2 ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 22,3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come. 22,4 ‘Then he sent some more servants and said, “Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.”

22,5‘But they paid no attention and went off – one to his field, another to his business. 22,6 The rest seized his servants, ill-treated them and killed them. 22,7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. 22,8 ‘Then he said to his servants,

«The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come.»

22,9 So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.” 22,10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests. 22,11 ‘But when the king c ame in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 22,12 He asked, “How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?” The man was speechless. 22,13 ‘Then the king told the attendants, “Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 22,14 ‘For many are invited, but few are chosen.’
 Mt 22,1-14;

Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.

Mk 16,9 When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. 16,10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. 16,11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it. 16,12 Afterwards Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. 16,13 These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either. 16,14 Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen. 16,15 He said to them

«Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.».

16,16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. Mk 16,9-16;

(See also Discourse 94: "The Kingdom of God and its Heirs.")

My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.

Mt 26,36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ 26,37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 26,38 Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’ 26,39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’ Mt 26,36-39;

As we can see from the above statements of the Lord, he hoped until the end that God would decide differently, but then obeyed the will of the Father. Instead of converting the godless Israelites, conquering the world with them as the "chief among the nations" and reigning in peace for a thousand years, he now had to die on the cross for the salvation of mankind.

He renounced his own righteousness in our favor. As the perfectly righteous One, he took upon himself the sin of the whole world, allowed himself to be nailed to the cross and killed like a sinner, and thus reconciled this world to its God.

So what we have here, in the crucifixion, is not a "demonstration", a "signpost" for people who are supposed to imitate it, as a Catholic thesis claims. Our Lord Jesus Christ let himself be crucified solely for the reason that there would have been no other way to satisfy both the love and the justice of the Father at the same time.

There is perhaps no better parable to explain God’s actions here than the story of Prince Shamil, an Avar leader of the northern Caucasus in the early 19th century, as reported by the economist Roscher:

"In order to ensure unity and discipline in his tribe, the Prince had issued the strict order that no one was to take anything from the booty, which belonged to the tribe as a whole. Any one who transgressed against this order was to be punished with a hundred lashes of the knout.

Then the order was disobeyed for the first time – by the Prince’s elderly mother. What was now to be done? If the punishment was not carried out, the justice of the Prince would be put in question, and the seriousness of his orders for all future time would be undermined.

Rosher tells us that the Prince shut himself in his tent for a whole day. Then he came out, and gave instructions that the punishment was to be carried out.

But as the first lash came whistling down on the back of his mother, he tore off his coat, threw himself over his mother’s body, and called out to the soldiers, ‘Keep on striking, and not one blow too few!’

And so he had found the solution! His mother was saved, and at the same time the torn and bleeding back of the Prince showed how seriously his commands were to be taken and how important to the tribe were justice and righteousness."

(After Werner de Boor: Der Brief an die Römer [The Epistle to the Romans], WStB Publications, R. Brockhaus Verlag [R. Brockhaus Publishers]).

The consequence of sin and salvation through grace.

Sin is every act that goes against the commandments of God (Ex 20:3-17; Mt 5:21-48). The consequence of every single one of these acts is the death of the perpetrator – and not just the first, physical death, but the second death (Rev 21:8), to which the sinful person will be condemned at the Last Judgment after Resurrection from the dead – the rebirth (Mt 19:28, 25:31) – with his or her new and eternally existing body. Just as the first death is merely a transitional period up till the resurrection, so too the second death is not an extinction of the human person but rather an eternally prolonged existence, distant from God in the darkness of damnation.

In order to meet the righteous demand of God that his commandments be fulfilled, while at the same time offering those human beings who infringe them the possibility of being saved from this eternal damnation, the Son of God died on the cross for every single human individual (1Cor 15:3-5). Thus, all those who accept in faith the redeeming sacrifice of the Son of God in atonement for their own sins can be saved, and as sinners who have been justified by grace can enter eternal life with God (Rom 5:9-11).