In one of the Bible’s most condensed declarations of Christian truth we read: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (1 Cor. 15:3-5). In this statement, first place is given to the death of Christ, but in addition it shows us the fact that his death is not new; it is a matter anticipated by the Old Testament Scriptures. In Acts 2:23, Peter attests to the fact that Christ’s death is matter of the predetermined plan of God, a plan predetermined in eternity past.
While Scripture gives us the interpretation of the meaning and death of Christ, it does not exactly tell us why God chose this means to deal with man’s sin problem. In the nature of the case we are dependent on what the Bible teaches us for our knowledge concerning the death of Christ according to what God has seen fit to reveal. Man’s philosophy and speculation can contribute zero toward the reason and meaning for his death. The thing we must remember is that God has authenticated the need and importance as well as the accomplishments of His death by means of the resurrection, one of the most well documented facts of history. It was this message of the resurrection that the early church preached beginning in Acts 2 as a proof of the claims of Christ and the meaning of His death.
17:30 Therefore, although God has overlooked such times of ignorance, he now commands all people everywhere to repent, 17:31 because he has set a day on which he is going to judge the world in righteousness, by a man whom he designated, having provided proof to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts. 17:30-31).
In general, Scripture teaches us that the death of Christ was needed because of the fall of man as recorded in Genesis. There we are taught that God created man in His own image that man might have fellowship with Him, undoubtedly through the exercise of that image. With his mind he was to know God, with his emotions he was to respond to God in love and appreciation, and with his will he was to choose for God in obedience and service. In Eden, He provided everything that man needed, but there was a test which was to determine man’s choice to live in dependence on God rather than in rebellious independence. For disobedience to the test of eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he was told that he would die. This was not just the promise of the eventual loss of physical life (for Adam and Eve did not immediately die physically), but the loss of spiritual life and fellowship. It meant spiritual death which would eventually result in eternal death or separation from God.
But immediately God promised the provision of a Savior in seed form in Gen. 3:15. This promise is then gradually developed in the progress of Scripture or God’s special revelation to mankind through the Old Testament. It is seen in the types or shadows of the sacrificial system of the tabernacle, the sacrifices, and the Aaronic priesthood. In addition, see the very specific anticipation of the substitutionary death of the coming Messiah Savior in Isaiah 53:1-11.
The declaration of the Bible is that by man’s own rebellion and disobedience, he not only died spiritually, but this death condition (imputed sin, personal sin, and inherited sin) passed on all man kind. Thus, if this condition of spiritual death is to be rectified, someone must pay the penalty for man’s sin to redeem him from that state. Since by man came sin and death, so by man, but one who is sinless, must come the payment for that sin and the gift of life. So compare the following Scripture from Romans 5:12-21.
5:12 So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all people because all sinned— 5:13 or before the law was given, sin was in the world, but there is no accounting for sin when there is no law. 5:14 Yet death reigned from Adam until Moses even over those who did not sin in the same way that Adam (who is a type of the coming one) transgressed. 5:15 But the gracious gift is not like the transgression. For if the many died through the transgression of the one man, how much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one man Jesus Christ multiply to the many! 5:16 And the gift is not like the one who sinned. For judgment, resulting from the one transgression, led to condemnation, but the gracious gift from the many failures led to justification. 5:17 For if, by the transgression of the one man, death reigned through the one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ! 5:18 Consequently, just as condemnation for all people came through one transgression, so too through the one righteous act came righteousness leading to life for all people. 5:19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man many will be made righteous. 5:20 Now the law came in so that the transgression may increase; but where sin increased, grace multiplied all the more, 5:21 so that just as sin reigned in death, so also grace will reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Questions are sometimes asked like, “Why weren’t the sufferings of Christ in his life enough to deal with the sin problem of man?” Or, “Why did he have to die?” Again, this is beyond the scope of man’s mind and we are brought back to the revelation of the Bible and facts of history.
Regarding the atoning death of Christ by which He paid the penalty for man’s sin, Charles Ryrie explained it this way:
“The sufferings of Christ’s life, though real, were not atoning. Nevertheless, the merit of His atoning death is inseparable from the sinlessness and perfection of His life which was attested to by His life of obedience. Thus while theologians have made this distinction between life and death sufferings (active and passive obedience), it fails to be very significant, since only the sufferings of His death and His obedience in being the sacrificial Lamb were atoning. Strictly speaking, then, only the sufferings on the cross were atoning. It was during the three hours of darkness when God laid on Christ the sins of the world that Atonement was being made. The abuse and scourgings that preceded His time on the cross were part of the sufferings of His life.”
Then, what does the Bible teach us about the interpretation of the death of Christ? Why did Christ die for our sins from the standpoint of the meaning of His death? Ryrie summarizes and points to the four main reasons from the standpoint of man’s sin. I have amplified on this slightly:
“While it is true that the full meaning of the death of Christ cannot be captured in one or two slogan-like statements, it is also true that its central meaning can and must be focused on several very basic ideas. There are four such basic doctrines: 1. Christ’s death was a substitution for sinners (He died in our place), 2. a redemption in relation to sin (to purchase us from the slave market of sin), 3. a reconciliation in relation to man (to reconcile man to God to remove the barrier of separation), and 4. a propitiation in relation to God (to satisfy the holy demands of a holy and just God).”
This is just a summary, but this is the thrust of the teaching of the New Testament.
Finally, the critical issue is man’s need to believe this message and turn from our sources of self-trust or from personal apathy to personally trust in Christ and His death for our sin. As John’s gospel declares,
For this is the way God loved the world: he gave his one and only Son that everyone who believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 3:17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him. 3:18 The one who believes in him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God. 3:19 Now this is the basis for judging: that the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. 3:20 For everyone who does evil deeds hates the light and does not come to the light, so that their deeds will not be exposed. 3:21 But the one who practices the truth comes to the light, so that it may be plainly evident that his deeds have been done in God (John 3:16-21).
So much more could be said on this, but I hope this will answer your question.