Why Did Jesus Have to Suffer?

This article was written for Women in Apologetics in September of 2022

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, how much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” Romans 5:10

Intentional

The plan to both reconcile and save humanity was a Trinitarian decision from the very beginning. (Ge 3:15; Gal 4:4-7) Jesus, God the Son, the author of life (John 1:1; Acts 3:15; Heb 12:2), and the suffering servant foretold in Isaiah 53, sacrificed his perfect life willingly on our behalf. This was not “cosmic child abuse” as some have suggested, this was Jesus’s will. As Alan Shlemon explains, “Jesus went to the cross because he had full knowledge of His identity, His mission, and the importance of His work…”

“Jesus said, ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11), and again, ‘I lay down My life so that I may take it again.’ Indeed, Jesus clarifies who is in charge of His destiny: ‘No one has taken [My life] away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative’ (Jn 10:18). Jesus’s crucifixion was His mission, and He was in full control. “Or do you not think that I cannot appeal to My Father and He will at once put at My disposal more than 12 legions of angels?” (Mt 26:53) – Shlemon adds, “Despite His access to divine and heavenly powers, Jesus willingly pursued His mission to get arrested, crucified, and rise again because He knew this was the preconceived plan of the Godhead” (Is 53; Jn 1:29; 1 Jn 2:2). Jesus wasn’t a created being subjected to cross without any say in the matter. Quite the opposite! As demonstrated by Greg Koukl, Jesus “is the judge Himself suffering, the One who determines the punishment takes it, the One who passes judgement receives it. It is Jesus, the incarnate God” who willingly fulfills the perfect plan of God (Jn 1:1,14). And this trinitarian plan concerning the cross is the central message the Bible.

Necessary

“These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms MUST be fulfilled…Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the Third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed to all nations, beginning with Jerusalem” (Luke 24:44-47). Jesus made it clear on numerous occasions that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer, to die, and then to be raised (Luke 24:26; Mk 8:31, 9:31; Mt 16:21, 17:23), and that this was written of in the Scriptures (Ps 22; Is 53).

When it was night of the Passover, Jesus and some of His disciples went to a place called, Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed to His Father, “My Father, if possible, let this cup pass from me! Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Matthew records Jesus asking for another way. But as we see from the events that follow, Jesus not only willingly submits His humanness to the plan, but He also demonstrates that suffering was necessary (Jesus 14:6; John 10).

Jesus also identifies with the “Righteous Servant” of Isaiah 53. Composed 700 years earlier by the prophet, Isaiah (“Yahweh is Salvation”), this “golden passional of the Old Testament” (Polycarp), was written “beneath the cross upon Golgotha” (Franz Delitzsch ). John confirms in his gospel account that, “Isaiah said these things because he saw Christ’s glory, and spoke about Him” (John 12:38-41). Jesus was a man despised, intimate with pain and suffering (53:3). He was innocent, yet we judged Him as a guilty sinner (53:4). He was pierced, crushed, and punished for our disobedient ways (53:5), and all of our iniquities were laid upon Him (53:6). Jesus was “cut off from the land of the living”(53:8), buried in a rich man’s tomb (Is 53:9; Mt 28) and did not remain dead (53:10).

The gruesome reality of the cross demonstrates both the severity of sin and the mercy of our just God. Hebrews 9:22 says that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” But God, “for our sake He made Him to be (carry our) sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). And per John Stott, “for a substitute to be effective, it must be an appropriate equivalent.” God’s abundant love for humanity was demonstrated in the atoning work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. It’s only by His wounds on the cross and His resurrection from the death that we are forgiven (Is 53; 1 Co 15:17). And by this, we see that His suffering was necessary.

Conclusion

Friends, it should be a profound comfort that Jesus intimately understands the hardship that often results when obeying God’s will vs our own (following our hearts). Our Savior was “fully human in every way, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God” on our behalf (Heb 2:17).  Jesus knew His mission. He finished the transaction willingly. He made the only way to God for humanity that only a holy God could provide (1 Co 15; Rom 3:21-25; 1 Tim 2:5-6)…even though it meant drinking the cup of suffering.

Resources: 

John Stott, the Cross of Christ

The Moody Handbook of Messianic Prophecy

Greg Koukl, Stand to Reason, Cosmic Child Abuse

Alan Schlemon, Stand to Reason, Christ, Crucifixion, Child Abuse

S. Michael Houdmann, Got Questions Blog

Dr. Doug Groothuis Apologetics, second edition

Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology