Did Jesus Have to Die?
Was the death of Jesus the only alternative for our salvation? Could God have chosen some other way to save us? What brought about the death of Jesus? Who was ultimately responsible for his death, God or human beings? Did Jesus anticipate his own death, or did it take him by surprise? If he did anticipate it, was it because his message was such that a head-on collision with the political and religious authorities of his day was inevitable? Or did he think that his death was mandated by God for the salvation of humankind?
These are of course extremely complex and difficult questions. Some of these questions are historical in nature. We can, for example, look at Palestinian politics, religion, and nationalism and determine how those factors came together to bring about the death of Jesus. On the other hand, when we ask whether or how the death of Jesus effected the salvation of humankind, we are asking a theological question not a historical one. The answer we give to it is a faith affirmation cannot be historically verified or discredited.
One of the most significant ways that the New Testament speaks of the death of Jesus is that it was for us, for our sake, in our behalf. "For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). "Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures" (1 Cor 15:3). "The Son of God . . . loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:20). But what exactly does this mean? What does "for me," "for our sins," or "ransom for many" really mean? Why was there a need for someone to die for our sins?
John Calvin, the theologian of the Protestant Reformation, basing his theology of the sovereignty of God on the ideas of Augustine, tried to make a case for salvation by grace through faith alone, which of course has a basis in the writings of the Apostle Paul. The Protestant reformers "protested" against the Roman Catholic view that works, or performance of good deeds, were necessary for salvation, which also has a basis in Paul’s writings as well as the Epistle of James. Calvin intended to make as strong a case as possible for the position that salvation was entirely of God. If anyone is saved, it is only because God has decreed this person’s salvation. The human will is so bound by sin that it is not able at all to make any decisions concerning salvation.
Calvin and his followers had to admit, of course, that not everyone was saved. But how can that be? If God alone is the author of salvation and human beings have no say in the matter, how is it that not everyone is saved? Does God not desire to save everyone? That is indeed the case, as Calvin saw it. God elects certain individuals unconditionally to salvation and others to damnation. That led Calvinists to their next theological point, namely, that Christ’s atoning death was not for all of humanity but limited to those who had been elected by God for salvation (see "TULIP" Calvinism Compared to Wesleyan Perspectives). But if God unconditionally elects some to salvation and others to damnation, why is Christ’s death necessary for salvation anyway? The reason, Calvinists answer, is that God cannot simply forgive sins and remain just if there were no punishment for sin. Christ’s death was necessary because it provided the necessary penalty for the sins of the elect.
Given John Calvin’s understanding of the necessity of Christ’s death for salvation and its impact on Protestant theology for so many centuries, is there any other way to look at the death of Jesus in the New Testament without overlaying it with the ideas developed from John Calvin?
The Historical Context of Jesus’ Death
I would like to begin by taking a look at what the gospels tell us about the circumstances that brought about the death of Jesus. There is no question at all that all four gospels see human factors at work in the death of Jesus. Judas is held responsible for betraying Jesus (Luke 22:3). "For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!" (Luke 22:22). At a later point in this essay we will have to deal with the first half of this verse, but for now, it is clear that the second half of the verse holds Judas culpable for his betrayal of Jesus.
The Jewish leaders are also blamed for the death of Jesus. Mark tells us that the chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him (14:1; cf. Matt 26:3-5). Matthew tells us that when Jesus was before Pilate, the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed (27:20).
Pilate himself was not innocent either. Matthew tells us that Pilate washed his hands before the crowd and announced that he was innocent of Jesus’ blood (27:24). But Matthew does not regard that little ritual as an absolution of Pilate’s guilt. A few verses earlier Matthew reports Pilate’s wife sending word to her husband about her dream, which is taken to be a vision from God as a warning to Pilate (27:19). But Pilate heeded the voice of the crowd rather than the voice of his wife or his own conscience. Even after he had decided that Jesus was innocent, he gave in to the public demand and handed Jesus over to the will of the crowd. Pilate’s cowardice is even more explicit in John. When the chief priests say, "We have no king but the emperor," Pilate decided to have Jesus crucified (19:16).
Some scholars have contended that the gospels are anti-Semitic in putting the blame on the Jews and absolving Roman authorities of guilt for the death of Jesus. Others point out that the Gospels find both Jewish and Roman authorities equally blameworthy. The prayer of early Christians in Acts 4:27-28 states that "both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan predestined to take place." There is no question here that the blame is placed not on any single people or nation, but all are equally culpable for the death of Jesus. But this statement in Acts raises the thorny problem of the death of Jesus seemingly being divinely predestined.
If the death of Jesus was because of God’s determination, it was God who orchestrated human beings and events and used them as pawns to bring about Jesus’ death. Judas cannot be blamed for betraying Jesus. Caiaphas cannot be blamed for finding Jesus guilty of blasphemy. Pilate cannot be blamed for condemning him to the cross. The crowd cannot be blamed for yelling, "Crucify him!"
If God long ago decided that Jesus must die in order for God to redeem a sinful humanity, then God is really responsible for the death of Jesus. It was God who engineered human conditions and manipulated human beings like puppets on a string to make them do what he intended. That would be a diabolical way to speak about God. Scripture teaches very clearly that God allows human beings to choose, to make decisions. Human beings, from Jewish leaders to Roman authorities, chose the path of political expediency, which meant that it was for the best interests of the politically powerful for Jesus to be put to death. Human beings killed Jesus.
But did it have to be that way? Were people like Judas, Caiaphas and Pilate locked into that path and could do nothing else? Could they have acted in a noble and courageous way? Could they have responded in faith and love and have become life-long disciples of Jesus? Did they have that choice? Could they have chosen a path that would have saved Jesus from the cross? But if Jesus had not been crucified, could God have redeemed the world some other way? Or was the death of Jesus the only alternative for our salvation and therefore predestined, leaving human beings no choice but to kill him?
We will look at Acts 4:27-28 and related passages in greater detail a bit later. But here it must be noted that human responsibility for the death of Jesus is not muted. Historical contingencies brought about the death of Jesus. What then were the historical circumstances in Jerusalem and the activities and words of Jesus there that led to his death? The evidence seems to point to a single event that precipitated the conditions leading to the arrest and execution of Jesus. That event is the so-called cleansing of the temple. I say "so-called" because it was not exactly a cleansing. It was instead a flagrant act of vandalism and sacrilege, as viewed from the perspective of the temple authorities. It would be like some fanatical social activist entering the Westminster Abby and overturning tables and pews and threatening people in order to make a point. It would not take long for security guards to overpower him.
But why would Jesus cause such a disturbance? He intended it as an acted out parable that pronounced judgment on the institution of the temple, the sacred place of worship. Jesus then left the temple and went into hiding, first to an upper room to celebrate the Passover with his disciples, then to Gethsemane, which was a place he must have used before. John gives us an intriguing piece of information about the place. He says, "Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples" (18:2). Apparently Jesus used the place as a secret hideout, a safe haven, except that there was a spy who knew where Jesus would be. It did not take the police very long to find him and arrest him. Caiaphas, the high priest, and other religious leaders questioned Jesus first. Then they took him to Pilate, who pronounced the death sentence and had him crucified.
Jesus’ Understanding of His Own Mission
Did Jesus think that his only mission in the world was to die for the sins of the world? Did he go to Jerusalem for the express purpose of dying? If not, did he at least anticipate the possibility of death? Did he know all along that he would die and he simply let the events take their course? If that is not the case, was there a point in his life when it did become clear to him that he would have to face death?
Some would say very quickly and emphatically that Jesus definitely knew everything from the beginning. He knew where, when, and how he would die. After all, he was the Son of God, and even before he was born he knew that the only reason for his coming into the world was to die for us and to save us from sin. He is the Lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). How many times did he predict that the Son of Man would be betrayed and handed over into the hands of sinners, that he would suffer and be mocked, and that he would be flogged and killed, and after three days he would rise again? The death of Jesus had been predetermined by a divine decree, and Jesus knew it all along, the argument goes. God's plan for him was to die for the sins of the world, and so Jesus went to Jerusalem to let it happen.
The problem with the above scenario is that there are some other things about Jesus in the New Testament that would be simply inexplicable. Take, for instance, the Gethsemane story. If Jesus knew with utmost certainty that his only mission in Jerusalem was to die, what do we make of his prayer in Gethsemane recorded in Mark 14:32-42? Mark tells us that Jesus began to be distressed and agitated and he says to his disciples, "I am deeply grieved." The words that Mark uses here to describe Jesus’ mood mean troubled, disturbed, stirred up, disquieted, perplexed, unsettled.
Then Jesus prays this prayer: "Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want." With a possible reference to the Gethsemane story, Hebrews 5:7-8 tells us: "In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission." If he already knew with utter certainty that his death was his only mission in the world, why such prayers, supplications, loud cries, and tears? Why pray that God remove this cup from him? We should at least consider the possibility that Jesus understood his mission in a more inclusive way than death alone.
Indeed, he understood his mission as part of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God may or may not include death. His commitment is to the kingdom of God, the will of God, the purposes of God. If it means death, so be it. But it is not the death itself that is primary. He was not seeking death; he certainly was not suicidal. He was seeking the reign and rule of God in everything he did and in everything he said. He could pray that the cup of death be removed; that was negotiable. The kingdom of God is not negotiable. He could recoil from the thought of death; he could not recoil from the kingdom of God and the will of God.
Perhaps one of Jesus’ parables could best illustrate how he understood his mission and its possible consequences. It is the parable of the wicked tenants found in Mark 12:1-12 and its parallels in Matthew 21:33-46 and Luke 20:9-19. All three gospels place this parable after the cleansing of the temple and the questioning of Jesus by the chief priests, scribes and elders as to what gave him the authority to cause such a disturbance at the temple. Jesus refused to answer their question. It was to this group in this context that Jesus told this parable.
The story is about a vineyard owner who leased his vineyard to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest season arrived, he sent a servant to collect his share of the produce. But the tenants beat him up and sent him away empty-handed. The owner kept sending other servants, but they all received the same abuse and some of them were killed. Finally he sent his own son thinking that they would respect him. Instead they killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. All three gospels conclude the parable with the statement that when the religious leaders heard this they wanted to arrest him but were afraid of the people.
The point that I wish to make is that when the vineyard owner sent those servants and finally his son, he certainly did not expect, let alone intend, to have them abused or killed. He expected the tenants to recognize the servants and respect his son. The mission of the son was to collect the produce. The mission of Jesus in Jerusalem was the same as in Galilee, namely, to proclaim the message of the kingdom of God and call this very center of Judaism to repentance. But the religious hierarchy was in no mood to lend an ear to a fanatical prophet from Galilee.
One must not conclude from this discussion, however, that Jesus was caught off guard in Jerusalem. At the midpoint of the Gospel of Mark, the reader begins to hear Jesus repeatedly foretelling his own suffering and death (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34). Even if these announcements reflect the later theological perspective and experience of the post-Easter church and the gospel writers, there is no need to dismiss them entirely as vaticinuum ex eventu, prophecy written after the predicted event. Jesus no doubt had a sense of what the national, political and religious climate of Jerusalem was like. Even while in Galilee he faced several threats on his life. The synagogue crowd in Nazareth wanted to hurl him off a cliff (Luke 4:29). Mark tells us that the Pharisees conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him (3:6). At one point during his ministry in Galilee some Pharisees came and said to him, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you" (Luke 13:31). Jesus knew that Herod Antipas had earlier executed John the Baptist (Luke 9:7-9). Therefore it is highly probable that Jesus anticipated the same fate that had befallen John.
If that is the case, there is no reason to doubt that Jesus reflected on the meaning and the direction of his mission in light of the possibility of his own death. His original message as summarized in Mark 1:15 was: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." But it was not long before the storm of controversy grew. Jesus came to the realization that in order for him to remain faithful to his mission in the world, he might very well face death. And it may be that it was precisely through his own death that the kingdom of God would come.
Now Jesus had the difficult task of teaching his disciples the meaning of all of this. The Caesarea Philippi episode is highly significant. This is the occasion at which Peter declared to Jesus, "You are the Messiah" (Mark 8:29). Immediately after that Jesus made the first of his three passion predictions.
"Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again."
Peter was aghast and began to rebuke Jesus. Jesus in turn rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things" (Mark 8:33). Then Jesus taught the crowd and his disciples that "
if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it."
The second passion prediction is similar to the first. The third prediction, ironically, is right before the request of James and John to Jesus that they sit on his right and left in his glory. No wonder Jesus said, "You do not know what you are asking." When the other ten disciples heard that these two brothers were conspiring to get ahead, they were indignant. Jesus called them and said to them, "
You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:42-45).
What Jesus demanded of others, he himself practiced. His understanding of the kingdom of God was that one must deny oneself, take up the cross and follow him. The radical demands he made on his disciples were to be the result of one’s response to the kingdom of God that he himself accepted for his own life and mission. Again, it is not that God demanded the death of Jesus as a payment for sin. It is rather that Jesus came to the realization that his faithfulness to the kingdom of God would likely mean his own death. His death was the result of the conflict that the kingdom of God creates in the world. God does not necessarily mandate it.
Jesus would drink the bitter cup if that were the only way he could remain faithful to the kingdom of God. In this way then Jesus understood his own death to be not only for himself but also for others. How can it be for others? Why is it "a ransom for many"? It is because the power of the kingdom of God is unleashed in the world and would transform history. In this respect Jesus may well have identified himself with the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 and seen his mission as that of dying for others. (see The Servant of the Lord: Verse Commentary on Isaiah 52:13-53:12). His experience with the realities of Palestinian politics brought him to the realization that the kingdom of God cannot come without cost.
But there is still something very puzzling here. When Jesus is on the cross and at the point of death, he cries out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" That sounds as if Jesus died in bitter disillusionment with God. Traditionally that cry on the cross has been interpreted to mean that God did indeed turn his back on his Son when all the sins of the world were heaped up on Jesus. Those words then are taken to be a "cry of dereliction." Jesus was being punished for our sins, and the ultimate punishment was separation from God.
Others insist that God did not really abandon his Son. The cry of Jesus on the cross is really the opening line of Psalm 22, which is a lament psalm. Jesus was saying the words of a lament psalm, which is intended exactly for those dark moments of life when there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Others go so far as to say that when Jesus said the opening line of Psalm 22, he really meant the whole psalm, which turns into praise about half way through. That may be taking it too far. Jesus does not die triumphantly as a heroic martyr. He dies in bitter anguish and turmoil (see Jesus' "Cry of Dereliction" and Psalm 22).
Of the seven words of Jesus on the cross reported in the four gospels, Matthew and Mark give us only this one. Neither Luke nor John report these words. Luke gives us three other words of Jesus from the cross: "Father, forgive them…" (23:34—this, however, is textually uncertain); "today you will be with me in Paradise" (23:43); and "Father, into your hands…" (23:46). John gives us three additional words: the words to his mother and the beloved disciple (19:26-27); "I am thirsty" (19:28); and "It is finished" (19:30). It appears that Luke and John have eliminated the cry of anguish and reported other words that are not quite as troublesome as the one in Mark and Matthew. Mark, the earliest gospel, and Matthew, who used Mark as a source, candidly report what appears to be a despairing cry. The fact that these two gospels give us what appears to be a potentially difficult word from the cross should alert us to the fact that the death of Jesus was truly enigmatic and that later Christian theology has developed various theologies of atonement to make sense of it. We must be careful that we do not facilely opt for an atonement theology that tidies up what appears to be a sense of utter darkness and turmoil experienced by Jesus.
The amazing thing about Jesus is that even in the hour of his greatest darkness, he still turned to God. When he said, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" he was crying a cry of anguish. He probably was not feeling a sense of triumph that God’s purposes were being accomplished. It was a cry of heartache, pain, tears and disappointment (see Lament Psalms). But it was still a cry to God. Jesus was still turning to God.
Jesus died with the conviction that not even his own death was going to put a stop to the kingdom of God, that the kingdom of God is even greater than his own life. In fact, he came to the place where he believed that if the kingdom of God meant his own death, he would accept the bitter cup and drink it. Even though the following saying of Jesus is colored by Johannine theology, it contains an authentic core that goes back to Jesus because it is also attested in the synoptic gospels. Jesus said,
"Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (John 12:24-24; cf. Mark 8:34-36).
Did Jesus expect a resurrection? It is difficult to imagine how Jesus could cry out "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" and yet expect that in less than forty-eight hours he would be alive again. The only way I know how to put this is to say that Jesus died with the confidence that God was able to bring life out of death. He died with the conviction that his own death was not the end of God’s story. Jesus did not die as a disillusioned messiah, contrary to Albert Schweitzer. If the Gospel of Luke is any indication, the last word of Jesus on the cross was, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit" (23:46). The eternal God was still there even if surrounded with complete darkness.
The Early Church’s Interpretation of Jesus' Death
No New Testament writer takes the position that the death of Jesus was accidental or merely due to human selfishness on the part of a treacherous disciple, obstinate Jews, or Roman politicians. The death of Jesus fulfilled a divine purpose in some way. Luke presents this interpretation in a variety of contexts. Earlier we noted the word of Jesus concerning Judas: "For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!" (Luke 22:22).
When the resurrected Jesus appears to the two on the Emmaus road, he interprets to them the scriptures and chides them with these words:
"Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?" (Luke 24:26).
Later, when Jesus appears to his disciples, he says to them,
"Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem" (Luke 24:46-47).
This necessity of Christ’s suffering and death is also reflected in Luke’s account in Acts. In his Pentecost sermon Peter said to the Jewish people gathered in Jerusalem, "This man [that is, Jesus], handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power" (Acts 2:23-24).
After Peter and John were released from prison, the community of believers gathered to pray and ask for boldness to speak the word. In this prayer they recited the things that happened to Jesus their Lord:
"For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place" (Acts 4:27-28).
So here we have it: the necessity of Christ’s suffering according to God’s definite plan, foreknowledge and predestination. According to these passages from Luke-Acts, it appears that the death of Jesus was not merely or accidentally the result of human foul play but in some way in accordance with divine purpose and foreknowledge.
We must note, however, that the passage in Acts 4:27-28 does not quite assert that Jesus’ death itself was predestined by God. It states that Herod and Pilate and the rest of the people gathered against Jesus to do whatever "your hand and your plan had predestined to take place." What God predestined was not primarily or exclusively that Jesus would die. The purpose of God was to act redemptively in the world. God is so committed to that purpose that even the worst case scenario, namely, the death of Jesus, could not dissuade God from his redemptive purpose. When human beings had done their worst, God still found a way to be gracious and redemptive, even to the point of turning this dastardly deed of humanity into an act of redemption.
The death of Jesus becomes redemptive because God chooses to make it so. Human beings can kill Jesus, but only God can make his death into an act of salvation. It does not mean that the death of Jesus itself was predestined by God. Rather, the apparent tragedy of Jesus’ death was overcome by God, who vindicated him by raising him from the dead and making him Lord and Savior.
In this respect, note the way 1 Peter states the issue of the predestination of Christ and his death in these two passages:
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours made careful search and inquiry, inquiring about the person or time that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated when it testified in advance to the sufferings [destined] for Christ and the subsequent glory (1:10-11; brackets and emphasis added)
You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake (1:18-20).
It should be noted first that the word "destined" in verse 11 is not in the Greek text. The Greek text simply says "testified in advance to the sufferings for Christ" (emphasis added). Secondly, it is the Spirit of Christ in the prophets that testified in advance to Christ’s sufferings. That the Old Testament bears witness to Christ and his sufferings becomes understandable only after the Christ event itself. Thus it is the early Christians who after their experience of the death and resurrection of Jesus that look back to the prophets and search the Old Testament scriptures to make sense of their own cognitive dissonance relative to the awful enigma of a suffering and dying Messiah. In the Old Testament scriptures they find ample evidence that the vicarious suffering of the innocent for the guilty is very much the way things have been from Abel in Genesis to the suffering servant in Isaiah 53.
Third, the statement in 1 Peter 1:20 clearly states that it is Christ himself who was "destined before the foundation of the world" and not necessarily his death, which is mentioned in the previous verse. The noun cases in the Greek text clearly support this translation in the NRSV. One cannot build a firm case for the idea that the death of Jesus was intended by God before the foundation of the world and predicted by the prophets. It is Christ himself who is in the purposes of God from eternity to eternity.
One final passage to discuss is Revelation 13:8. One cannot be absolutely certain about the translation of this verse. The NIV and NRSV represent two different possibilities. The NIV translates it this way:
"All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast--all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world " (emphasis added).
The NRSV on the other hand renders it this way:
"And all the inhabitants of the earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slaughtered" (emphasis added).
The prepositional phrase "from the creation/foundation of the world" in Greek can be linked either to "Lamb" (NIV) or to "names" (NRSV).
In either case, of course, the issue of predestination is present, whether it is Christ’s death or the name of believers in the book of life. But even if the author’s intention was to say that it is Christ who was slain from the foundation of the world, which is perhaps more likely, what exactly does that mean? How was Christ put to death from the foundation of the world?
Does "from" mean "since" or "at the time of"? If it means "since," there is no issue to grapple with. If it means "at the time of," which is probably the more likely meaning, it would raise some interesting issues. It would mean that as soon as God created the world, the possibility or even the probability of the cross entered into the picture. This is quite understandable from the perspective of biblical theology, whether Old Testament or New Testament. The very nature of God is love that suffers.
God from the beginning has made himself vulnerable when he created humankind in his own image with free will and ability to make independent decisions. God, out of love, took a risk when he created human beings with the freedom and ability to choose to love and obey him or to go against his purposes. At that point God risked the cross. Long before the Son of God was put on the cross, God himself has suffered, wept and agonized over the sinfulness of the human race. In that sense the Lamb of God was slain from the foundation of the world. When the cross of Christ bares the heart of God, we see a heart full of love that is broken and weeping.
Now, back to our original question. Did Jesus have to die? No, he did not have to die. Humankind could have lived in complete obedience and loving relationship with the Creator. Yet when human beings crucified the Son of God, divine love still found another way by turning the cross into a powerful symbol of redemptive grace.