Why Did Jesus Need to Suffer and Die Publicly?
Good Monday morning, and welcome back to a new week, number 499 in our history. Amazing! And we start week 499 with a question from a listener named Elizabeth, who has an interesting question about the saving work of Christ. “Hi, Pastor John. I am studying 1 Peter, going through your LAB videos, and digging deeper to share with my fellow stay-at-home moms at church. My question pertains to tauta in 1 Peter 1:11, translated ‘subsequent.’ I’m trying to tie together ‘the sufferings of Christ’ and his ‘subsequent glories.’ It does not seem to simply refer to a chronological progression. Peter very often ties suffering and glory together (1 Peter 1:6–7, 10; 2:12; 3:9, 14; 4:12–15; 5:1, 10).
“So, here’s my question: Did Jesus have to suffer in public for God to give him those glories? Couldn’t Jesus have lived a perfect, law-abiding, substitutionary life for us in total isolation or at least in obscurity? I know he underwent his formal temptations alone. So, could he have died serenely, then risen, and defeated death and sin, but not by suffering in public? Or if he had done this, would he have not received the ‘subsequent’ glories? Was it required for him to suffer publicly and die early? So then, again, what’s the ‘subsequent’ relationship between his public sufferings and his eternal glory?”
I’m drawn to answer this question, even though in one sense it’s the kind of a “what if” question that the Bible doesn’t really address directly (“What if Jesus had lived a perfect, sinless life and died a natural death at age 85 — could that life and death save us?”). The Bible doesn’t spend a lot of time reflecting on that possibility. And so, you might think, “Well, why would you even go there?” Nevertheless, in trying to answer this particular question and questions like that, we are led to ponder the wonder that God did it, in fact, a certain way — he planned for his Son to suffer agonizingly, publicly, extremely — and why he did it that way. And that’s worth our serious meditation.
Christ’s Public Payment
So, as I have pondered the question of whether our redemption could have been accomplished by the perfection of Christ without the public suffering of a crucifixion, I see at least six reasons that the Bible gives for why this could not have happened — in other words, why Christ’s public, horrific suffering by crucifixion was absolutely necessary for our salvation.
1. Predestined Plan
The first and perhaps the most obvious reason is that these particular sufferings were predestined by God before the foundation of the world. It was God’s eternal plan that his Son suffer in this way. Acts 4:27: “Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”
So, everything that Herod, Pilate, those Gentile soldiers who drove the nails and the spear, and the crucifying mobs — everything they did to Jesus in those last hours was God’s plan. It had been predestined to take place. It was not up for grabs. The alternative of a leisurely life and an 85-year-old death was not in the plan. That’s the first reason. It couldn’t have happened.
2. Fulfilled Scriptures
Second, these sufferings were prophesied in God’s word — the Old Testament scriptures that cannot be broken. Over and over again in the Gospels, the details of the final sufferings of Christ are said to be “that the Scriptures might be fulfilled” (Matthew 26:56; Luke 22:37, 24:26; John 13:18; 19:36). For example, “He was pierced for our transgressions” (Isaiah 53:5). Pierced. Not cancer, not old age, not cardiac arrest. He was pierced for our transgressions.
“The horrific public shaming and sufferings of Christ were scripted down to the details.”
In other words, the horrific public shaming and sufferings of Christ were scripted down to the details of what would happen to his clothing in the Old Testament. If those writings cannot be broken, then the sufferings could not be avoided.
3. Fitting Sufferings
Third (and this gets closer to the heart of the matter), Hebrews 2:10: “It was fitting [underline that word; put a big red circle around that word; it’s an amazing word] that he for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.”
This is very profound, and it is worth much study and hours of meditation. God’s eternal decision to achieve our salvation through the sufferings of Christ is not arbitrary or whimsical or meaningless, but is owing to a profound fitness, appropriateness, suitableness as God considers all things. It is appropriate; it is suitable; it is ultimately, you might say, beautiful. That is, it’s in perfect harmony with all of God’s other acts and plans. We can spend a lifetime probing into why it is fitting, but let Hebrews 2:10 fly like a great banner over the sufferings of Christ. It was fitting — right, good, suitable, beautiful — in the mind of God for our salvation to be accomplished this way and not another way.
4. Sacrificial Lamb
Fourth, the death of Jesus was an intentional sacrifice given by God similar to the sacrificial offerings of a lamb in the Old Testament. Jesus, Paul says, is “our Passover lamb” (1 Corinthians 5:7). So, just as in the Old Testament, allowing a sheep to get old in the flock and die from mange was not a sacrifice. That’s not the way it worked. You took the sheep and you handed him over with your heart and with an intentionality.
So, Christ growing old in some remote village and dying would not have been a sacrifice of God slitting the throat of the precious Lamb of God. The word slaughter is used in Revelation for what happened to the Lamb and how he accomplished our salvation. There was an intentionality to the sacrifice. Jesus was offered up on the cross as a sacrifice. Hebrews 10:12: “When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.”
5. By His Blood
Fifth, over and over in the New Testament, Christ is said to accomplish his saving work by means of his blood. For example, Romans 5:9: “We have now been justified by his blood.” Hebrews 9:22: “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.” I think that’s another way to draw out the significance of Christ’s death as a sacrifice.
6. Even Death on a Cross
And then finally, number six, Philippians 2 describes the humiliation of Jesus from the highest point of equality with God, to the lowest point of death — and then he adds, “even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8), as the path from the highest to the lowest, as the path that God rewards with the exaltation of Jesus, not only to new life in resurrection, but to the acclamation of all the nations as Lord of lords.
Though he was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death . . .
And then these words are not throwaway words, because it had to be the lowest point to accomplish our redemption:
. . . even death on [the most despicable, shameful, painful instrument of execution] a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him a name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6–11)
“There is, in God’s mind, a path to glory for his Son, and this path was a painful, humiliating death by crucifixion.”
There is, in God’s mind, a path to glory for his Son, and this path was a painful, humiliating death by crucifixion. It was the depth of the suffering, it was the ignominy of the cross that he endured that was the lowest point that he had to reach for God to reward him with the highest office of lordship as a Redeemer.
Worthy to Be Lord
Perhaps one last passage to point to the fact that the slaughter of the Lamb was what made Jesus a fitting ruler of all the peoples of the world — namely, Revelation 5:9–10:
Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals [in other words, “Worthy are you to be the Lord of the unfolding of history”], for you were slaughtered [esphagēs, not died in a remote village at age 85], and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.
So, for those six reasons at least, I would say, we can say that the glorification of Jesus Christ and the achievement of our salvation did indeed require the kind of sufferings he endured, and we will sing the song of the Lamb, the slaughtered Lamb, forever and ever as a tribute to those sufferings and our salvation.