The death of Jesus of Nazareth is truly unique; it is unlike any other death. The Bible tells us that Jesus died in our place, not merely in a physical sense, but He died in our place in the greater spiritual sense. He died the death of a sinner under the wrath of God for the punishment of sin.
The Scriptures teach us that Christ died an atoning death, paying for the sin of the entire world. This is truly a wonderful message but strangely offensive to many. We saw that in the uproar over Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ.
I’ve heard people say that it’s actually immoral to assert that an innocent person could be punished for someone else’s sins. They refuse to believe it. And those who have been a little more influenced by liberal theology might say: This is not what Jesus Himself taught, this is something that was invented later by His followers. Some have gone so far as to say that the idea that God punished Jesus in our place is tantamount to cosmic child abuse!
Actually, there is a whole school of thought that attributes Christianity to Paul, not Jesus. They say things like: Jesus never taught that He would die for the sins of the world; that’s all part of the mythology that was concocted by His followers. To these skeptics, Paul was the greatest culprit. They say that Paul came along and created a completely new religion. They actually believe that Paul and Jesus contradict each other in their teachings, in their outlooks on life, in everything. It is an utterly absurd claim, but that doesn’t seem to matter to these types. They’ve already made up their minds and don’t want to be confused by the facts! All you have to do is read the words of Jesus to find that He and Paul were preaching the same message.
Some years ago, when I was living in London, I met an Englishman who had converted to Islam through the influence of his Middle Eastern wife. As I spoke to him about Christ, he told me that my version of Christianity was not anything that Jesus originally taught, but that Paul had distorted it. He was really offended by the idea of the blood of Christ making atonement for sin. He said that Paul had invented the idea, and one only needed to be a good person to be accepted by God.
So I asked him, “Do you really think Paul invented the Christian faith?”
“Yes,” he answered, “before Paul, no one believed that Jesus died for the sins of the world.”
Atonement for Sin
I replied, “That’s interesting, because Isaiah [written 700 years before Christ’s birth] says, ‘He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all’ [53:5–6]. That’s the Old Testament saying that the Messiah was going to give His life as a sacrifice for sin. Paul didn’t invent the idea of Christ making atonement for sin, God did!”
The promise from the very beginning was that God would send a Redeemer who would crush the head of the serpent (Satan) and in the process bruise His heel (a reference to Christ suffering to save us from sin).
People often say, when reading about the sacrificial system described in the Old Testament, “Why were all of those animals slain, and why all that sacrifice; it’s so bloody, what was God thinking?” God was trying to communicate to us thickheaded, hardhearted people that this is the price for sin—the shed blood of an innocent victim.
“This is what it costs to get you back into a relationship with Me,” God would say, “and all of these animal sacrifices are just a picture that I’m painting for you of the one who will come and give Himself as the ultimate sacrifice—the Lamb of God, who will take away the sin of the world.” Jesus Christ is unique in His death. He and He alone died to pay the ransom set for sinners.
In Revelation 5:9, as a vision of heaven is unveiled before the apostle John, he records what takes place around the throne as all creation breaks forth in praise to the Lamb:
You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.