2009 Photo by Lambert Wolterbeek Muller, flickr

This is Holy Week, Passion Week, the last week of Lent, the week of reflection on Christ’s suffering and death, the week before we begin the celebration – praise God! – of Christ’s resurrection, the conquering of Death, and the entry of His Kingdom. It’s only appropriate to reflect here then, theologically, on Christ’s suffering and death.

Christ’s death was necessary to provide atonement for sin, of course – the book of Romans (Romans 5, in particular) makes that clear. And the reasons are so familiar (partly because of Passion Week sermons!) that there’s no need to rehash them here. Yes, Christ’s death was necessary to provide a substitutionary, atoning sacrifice.   

But there’s nothing in the atonement that required the kind of death Jesus died. Any death, given Jesus’ total innocence, would have done it. Theoretically, he could have died in His sleep at a ripe old age and that would have done it insofar as an atoning sacrifice for sin; that still would have been enduring the “capital punishment” for sin when He was guilty of no sin.  

So why did He go through all that? And by “all that” I mean the tortures and humiliations so horrific that their very depiction and memory are feared to be to this day inflammatory of prejudicial backlash. Recall the controversies along this line with which Mel Gibson’s Passion of Christ was greeted.

The closest thing to an explanation we get in the entire New Testament is Hebrews 2:10:

“For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings.”

Notice that the writer of Hebrews does not say “necessary.” It was necessary for there to be a sacrifice of death (Heb. 8:3); it was necessary for the “Heavenly Temple” to be “cleansed” with a blood sacrifice (Heb. 9:23) – so OK, “blood” sacrifice sounds inherently violent.  But the level of Christ’s suffering – the beating, the torture, the mockery . . . only “fitting.”

How so?

(I’m going to need another blog for that one. . . . Stay tuned Good Friday.) 

           

Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.

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