Christians at Easter every year celebrate Jesus Christ’s death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. Dear reader, have you wondered about the meaning and importance of this holiday, which talks about what Christ did to redeem mankind, and which is celebrated by millions of Christians every year?
You may have a wrong idea about the meaning of Easter. Or you many have been taught that Christ did not die and did not rise from the dead. You may not know what the death of Christ means, or understand the importance and results of his resurrection from the dead. I urge you to read these papers with an open mind and a sincere heart, free from any prejudices, with a will that seeks to know the truth, because you really want to please God in your life.
The death and resurrection of Christ are the cornerstone of Christianity. The Christian faith is based completely on the death and resurrection of Christ. The death of Christ is mentioned over 150 times in the New Testament. If we deny the resurrection of Christ, the whole Christian faith falls apart, as 1 Corinthians 15:17 says,
“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is useless; you are still in your sins.”
But there cannot be a resurrection unless there has been a death. How can we make sure, then, that Christ died on the cross?
In this article, I will quote from the New Testament of the Bible, first because it is inspired by God. Second, because Jesus promised his disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit to remind them of everything he had said to them. Third, the disciples of Jesus who recorded what is in the New Testament confirmed that they were eye witnesses who recorded what they saw and heard.
There are three truths that we must understand in the beginning of our presentation of the fact of the death of Christ on the cross:
First, the death of Christ was not a random occurrence or a failure, a defeat, or a sign of weakness. It happened by the plan and purpose of God to redeem mankind. This is what the apostle Peter affirmed when he was standing in front of a crowd of Jews, who knew the Old Testament well. He told them in Acts 2:23
“This man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles.”
Peter added in Acts 3:18: “But the things God foretold long ago through all the prophets– that his Christ would suffer– he has fulfilled in this way.”
If Peter’s words were wrong or his quotations of the Old Testament were incorrect, the Jews would have objected, because he was speaking to people who were present when Christ died on the cross. But the opposite happened: more than 3000 people believed after hearing Peter’s words.
Even clearer are the words of Christ himself, when he rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples. He told them,
“Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. … and said to them, “Thus it stands written that the Christ would suffer and would rise from the dead on the third day,”
Christ was speaking to people who knew the law of Moses, the books of the prophets, and the Psalms. It is as if he was telling them, since God promised this thing, it must happen. So the death of Christ is not a mistake or coincidence. It is the fulfillment of what God promised, and in accordance with God’s will.
Second, during Jesus Christ’s life and ministry with his disciples, he continually repeated in their hearing that he came to give himself as a ransom for mankind, and that he would suffer and be killed, and after three days rise from the dead. Because Jesus was honest in his words, and clear, with no doubt or deception, everything that he said was certain to happen. Let us listen to some of what Jesus said was going to happen to him:
From that time on Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. (Matthew 16:21)
Then Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31)
Jesus repeated these truths several times to his disciples. Then he explained to them that he would give himself voluntarily in fulfillment of everything that was written about him, as John 10:18 says:
No one takes it away from me, but I lay it down of my own free will. I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it back again.”
This is another piece of evidence that the death of Christ on the cross is a historical fact, because it is impossible that Christ would have confirmed these things to his disciples if he knew that they would not happen. It is also impossible that Christ was lying about his death and resurrection, since he is the only person who never sinned. That is the reason for his coming into our world, and he knew what was going to happen to him. If we deny the death of Christ on the cross, we are accusing him either of ignorance, or of lying or of being crazy.
In fact, the disciples of Christ did not accept his words about his death on the cross. When Jesus was telling them that he would be killed and rise on the third day, Peter rebuked him and told him, “God forbid, Lord.” But Jesus rebuked him and said, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” Matthew 16:22-23 Nor did the disciples understand Jesus’ words when he spoke to them about the necessity of his death (Luke 9:44).
Third, Jesus Christ was the one who was crucified, and not another person who was made to look like him.
- When the Roman soldier came from the chief priests and Pharisees to arrest Jesus, Jesus went out to them, knowing all that would happen to him, and he asked them, “Whom do you seek?” They replied, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He told them, “I am he.” Then Jesus asked them again, “Who are you looking for?” And they said, “Jesus the Nazarene.” Jesus replied, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, let these men go.” John 18:4-8
He affirmed to them that he was Jesus Christ and not someone who looked like him. He did not deny, nor was he afraid to identify himself. Nor did he ask one of his disciples to take his place on the cross, because he came for that purpose.
- When Jesus was on the cross, his mother stood at the cross, along with the disciple he loved, and Mary Magdalene and some other friends. When Jesus saw his mother and the beloved disciple, standing there, he told his mother, Woman, this is your son. Then he told the disciple, This is your mother. From that hour, the disciple took her to his home. If we were to say that another person was on the cross, we would be saying that his mother did not know him, nor did the disciple who accompanied Jesus for three years. As well, we would imply that his friends were deceived as well as his enemies, both the Romans and the Jewish Pharisees, some of whom had argued with him and knew him personally.
- The saying that God made another person look like Jesus be crucified leads us to many other problems:
- First, this claim, which has no evidence to support it, opens up the door to utter chaos and sophistries. Far be it from God to deceive all those people who knew Jesus well. This is not fitting for the stature and wisdom of God.
- Second, God was able to save him by raising him to heaven, so what use was it to cast his likeness on someone else except for killing an innocent person?
- Third, would not the substitute have been able to defend himself and say that he was not the Jesus, because if that had happened, it would have become known and spread abroad. But we have not heard of this person at all.
- Fourth, since Jesus came to the world for this purpose and to fulfill what was written about him in the Old Testament according to the will of God, why would God deceive those people and go against what he had promised?
What other evidence do we have, which convinced even critics of Christianity and doubters and Jewish and Roman non-Christians of the truth that Jesus died on the cross?
- Unanimity among the historians and Biblical scholars that Jesus died on the cross.
- For example, Jarod Ludman, an anti-Christian German scholar. He said regarding the death of Christ, “The death of Christ as a result of the crucifixion does not need to be discussed, because it is a certainty.”
- John Crousan, a major critic of Christianity, said, “There is not the slightest doubt about the crucifixion of Christ by Pontius Pilate.”
These two scholars and other historians have spoken these words because they have studied the historical evidence, and it led them to this conclusion.
- There are indications of the death of Christ on the cross in the writings of Jewish and Roman historians from the first century, from the year 40 – 90 A.D.
- The Jewish historian Josephus referred to Jesus in his book Antiquities of the Jews XVIII and said, “There was a wise man at that time named Jesus who did wonderful deeds, but Pilate condemned him to death on the cross. But his disciples did not desert him, because he appeared to them on the third day.”
- The Roman historian Tacitus referred in 115 A.D. to the founder of the Christian movement having been executed in the time of Pontius Pilate.
- There are numerous prophecies in the Old Testament that prophesied of the death of Christ:
- Isaiah 53:9 mentions specific details of the death of Christ hundreds of years before it happened. “They intended to bury him with criminals, but he ended up in a rich man’s tomb, because he had committed no violent deeds, nor had he spoken deceitfully.” This prophecy was fulfilled in detail as we read what happened to Jesus in Matthew 27:57-60.
- Psalm 22:18 says, “They are dividing up my clothes among themselves; they are rolling dice for my garments.” This prophecy about Christ was fulfilled exactly in all its details as is mentioned in John 19:23-24.
It is worth mentioning in this regard that the Jews in the first century A.D., who rejected Christ, did not delete or substitute any of these prophecies. So how could they have substituted them or played around with them 600 years after they had been fulfilled?
There are at least twenty prophecies that talk about the reality of the crucifixion of Christ. These prophecies were not made by the prophets themselves, because the New Testament confirms in 2 Peter 1:21 “for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men (Old Testament prophets) carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” All these prophecies that were fulfilled remove any doubt about the crucifixion of Christ. Can we be so bold as to deny these prophecies that were from God?
In this regard, Jesus rebuked two of his disciples with harsh words because they did not understand what the prophets have written about him. “So he said to them, “You foolish people– how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things written about himself in all the scriptures.” Luke 24:25-27
In addition, Paul argued with the Jews from the books of the Old Testament “Paul went to the Jews in the synagogue, as he customarily did, and on three Sabbath days he addressed them from the scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and to rise from the dead, ” (Acts 17:2-3). He was referring to the prophecies that his Jewish listeners knew.
- There are strict Roman procedures that were implemented for the death of a crucified person. So there is no place for saying that Christ was crucified but remained alive after his crucifixion. It was impossible for Christ to remain alive after being crucified, because the Romans were very careful to ensure that the crucified person was dead.
Death on a cross in the time of the Romans and previously was one of the ugliest and worst ways of execution, and the most painful. The brutality and harshness of it was such that there was no way for the victim to remain alive. Christ was beaten and whipped almost to death even before he was crucified. To the Jews, God had cursed the person who was crucified. Therefore, the apostle Paul described the reason Christ had to die on the cross.
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (because it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”)” (Galatians 3:13)
To further confirm that Christ died on the cross, I want to mention two other incidents from the New Testament:
- When the soldier came to break the legs of the two men who had been crucified with Jesus to ensure that they would not be able to breathe and thus would die quickly. John 19:33 says, “But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.”
- When a man called Joseph came to ask for the body of Jesus after his crucifixion, “Pilate was surprised that he was already dead. He called the centurion and asked him if he had been dead for some time. When Pilate was informed by the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph.” (Mark 15:44-45). In other words, when he knew that Jesus had died, since the centurion had gone and confirmed that Christ had died.
- There are thousands of Christians who had spread abroad in various groups and who had gone around giving the good news in every place about the historical truth of the death of Christ on the cross. Shall we then reject their testimony and that of those who saw him and heard him? If we deny these testimonies we discredit the unbroken succession of witnesses, and discredit the prophecies of other prophets. How can we deny whole peoples who all agree, despite their differences in other matters, that these testimonies to an important event that was tangible and visible and passed on continually? In addition, not one voice was raised among Christians, Jews, or pagans that would contradict or discredit the testimony of the Christians to the crucifixion of Christ, as we have seen.
In addition, thousands of Christians have been killed as martyrs in the days of the early church because they would not turn back on their testimony about the death of Christ. Can you imagine that these people, especially the disciples of Jesus who during his life resisted the idea of the crucifixion, were ready to die for a falsified or fictional issue? If they were deceived, did God allow them to be deceived? God forbid it!
In addition to this, if we were to say that Christ did not die on the cross, we would be contradicting and denying:
- History in general, which is supported by the testimony of Christians, Jews, and Romans.
- The New Testament, the word of God, which is completely founded on the redemptive event of the crucifixion.
- All the prophesies of the Old Testament, which predicted the death and resurrection of Christ, and which were all fulfilled in Christ.
- Christ in everything he said about the reason and purpose for his coming to the earth.
Is it reasonable and logical to ignore and deny all this evidence to say that Christ did not die on the cross? Should we not believe eyewitnesses who saw the crucifixion of Christ, and who were present when it happened and then faithfully recorded what happened?
After presenting the evidence that confirms the crucifixion of Christ and his death, we must know what the meaning of his death was, and understand it to appreciate this sacrificial love that Christ showed by his death on the cross.
The goal and meaning of the death of Christ according to God’s will was the redemption of mankind through offering himself as a sacrifice to pay for our sins.
- When Jesus Christ was born, the angel of the Lord told Joseph, “She will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21
- And when John, one of the disciples of Christ, saw Jesus coming to him, he said, said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29 This is the lamb acceptable to God because it was sinless, with no fault.
- And the apostle Peter clarified the meaning of the death of Christ when he said in 1 Peter 2:24 “He (Jesus Christ) himself bore our sins in his body on the tree (the cross), that we may cease from sinning and live for righteousness. By his wounds you were healed”
In this manner, Jesus fulfilled the justice of God and his mercy. He showed the justice of God by paying the penalty for our sin, which is death, and he showed the mercy of God which saved everyone who believes in Christ.
If we deny the death of Christ, it is as if we are saying that the plan of God failed, his will was not accomplished, and there is no salvation for mankind from the penalty of sin, but the truth is that he did die, as we have seen above.
To close this section, I want to tell you that Christians look at the cross with boasting. The apostle Paul summarized the view of Christians toward the cross in 1 Corinthians 1:18
“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
Yes, Christ was crucified, “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks.” But in fact, it was the power of God, since it happened according to the wonderful, glorious plan of God to redeem mankind from sin.
The apostle Paul, who had persecuted the Christians before he came to faith, wrote to the church in Galatia:
“But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14)
We also look to the cross with gratefulness and deep thanks to God for his love and his grace which he showed in the death of Christ, as the apostle Paul said in Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
The final word, dear reader, is the wonderful, unimaginable result of the voluntary death of Christ on the cross. Please read and think deeply about these verses that the apostle Paul wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament:
“He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross! As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will 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 2:7-11)
After the death of Christ on the cross and his resurrection from the dead, God gave him a unique, glorious position so that every person would bow down before him. The cross led to being glorified, but it was not the end, because Christ rose from the dead as we will read in the second part of this article.