Why did Jesus have to die?

· author: Thomas · reading time: ca. 5 min.

Jesus’ death shows us what God is like and how he relates to us humans: it shows His love for us, but also how urgently we have to make a decision. For believing Christians, His death means that they have already been given eternal life.

The death of Jesus Christ on the cross is the center of the Christian faith. Historically, crucifixion was a cruel method of torture. In the Roman Empire, criminals were executed in this way to deter imitators. Dying on the cross was particularly agonizing and could last several days – for Jesus Christ it was six hours (cf. Mark 15:25-37).

Why did God allow His Son, Jesus Christ, to die innocently on the cross? Couldn’t there have been a simpler, gentler way for God, who is all-powerful, to allow people to have access to God again? At first glance, it may seem strange that such a painful moment should form the basis of Christian faith.

In the Bible we do not find a direct answer to the question why God chose exactly this way to give forgiveness of sins to people who believe in Him. I used to ask this question myself as well. By now, I believe that death on the cross says a lot about what God is like and what He has done for us. I share some thoughts about this in this article.

Gravity of the situation

If we first look at death in the abstract, without making a theological interpretation, then it is already apparent at the level of human experience that death is something definite. If a person has finally died, then according to our experience there is no way to bring him or her back to life. Even though it may be a painful experience, we have to accept that death is final.

The fact that the death of a person is the focus of the Christian faith points us to the fact that faith is also about a final decision. Whether we decide for or against faith is a matter of great consequence. The decision regarding faith has consequences that cannot be undone, just as death cannot be undone.

It is an unpopular opinion nowadays, but Jesus Himself preached not only about heaven but also about hell during his time on our earth. In the story of the rich man and the poor Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), Jesus vividly describes how the rich man suffers torments in hell and can no longer cross over to the other side.


In the Old Testament of the Bible – many centuries before Jesus came to earth – it already becomes clear that God had predestined the crucifixion of Jesus. God gave various instructions to His people of Israel, on how they could sacrifice animals to receive forgiveness for the mistakes they kept making. These sacrifices were also a bloody affair in which the Israelites took no pleasure.

These animal sacrifices were only temporary until Jesus became the final sacrifice. Nevertheless, they have certain parallels to Jesus’ death on the cross. The prophet Isaiah wrote as early as the 8th century B.C. that the coming Savior of the world will allow Himself to be led like a sheep (a sacrificial animal) to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7). The many animal sacrifices were a foreshadowing of Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice on the cross.

For the people living at the time of Jesus, the crucifixion made it evident that Jesus was indeed the Savior announced in their Scriptures (today’s Old Testament). The Letter to the Hebrews summarizes: “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22) This is not an explanation, but we can see that the crucifixion was part of God’s long-term plan and was not some kind of accident.


Even Jesus Himself was initially repelled by the idea of dying on the cross. The night before His crucifixion, Jesus prayed to God: “Take this cup from me – but not what I want, but what you want [shall happen].” (Matthew 26:39) The fact that Jesus did allow Himself to be taken away to be crucified shows the great compassion He has for us humans.

From God’s point of view, all people have made mistakes in the past and are not as perfect as He is. With the crucifixion, God holds this mirror up to us once again in a special way: For which people would we be willing to give our lives? Would we be as willing as Jesus to suffer crucifixion for someone else? Most people would probably not give their lives for their enemies.

That God went through this suffering for us shows how much we actually mean to Him (cf. Romans 5:8). Since God is all-powerful, He could just as easily have wiped out humanity and replaced it with new, “better” people. Jesus, too, as the omnipotent Son of God, could have simply sat back in His throne in heaven to escape the death on the cross, but He stayed here on earth and allowed Himself to be crucified.

The crucifixion shows: God loves each and every person despite their faults. Since Jesus Himself went through the great suffering of the crucifixion, we can be sure that He can also understand our suffering very well when we turn to Him in prayer. Conversely, by looking at Jesus’ crucifixion, we can gain the courage to “sacrifice” ourselves for others when necessary.

Eternal Life

As Christians, we believe that if we decide now in this life to live under the guidance of Jesus, we will spend eternity with God in heaven. Where do we get this hope from? Jesus’ death was also necessary to confirm to us that life after death is possible after all: two days after His crucifixion, Jesus rose again from the tomb and met His disciples.

His disciples were so sure that Jesus had truly returned from death to life that they stood by Him even under dire persecution. The apostle Paul once wrote, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) Today, if we, too, personally decide to follow Jesus, His “senseless” death on the cross suddenly becomes a huge gift for us.

With Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, God sends us a universally understandable message: Jesus did everything for us. We need only accept His selfless act. To receive forgiveness of our sins, we do not need to be in a particular place. We do not need to perform any special ritual, because Jesus’ death was already the complete, final sacrifice.