Why Did Jesus Die? (07) To Justify us - (Not)
Actually, our justification was accomplished by His resurrection, not His death (Romans 4:25) and this point is important. Nevertheless, I am going to include our justification under the reasons Christ died, since His death and resurrection cannot rightly be discussed apart from each other anyway, and since, after all, you can’t be resurrected unless you have first died.
One effect of Jesus’ death was that He thereby escaped from the jurisdiction of the Law. For the Law only “has dominion over a man as long as he lives.” (Romans 7:1) But Christ died. He indeed rose again, but what does the Law know of that?
And the extra wonderful thing for us is that in Holy Baptism, Christ permits us to follow Him through that freeing death and into a whole new realm, His resurrection Life, the Kingdom of God, the realm of the Holy Spirit, heaven.
Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:3-11)
Death has no more dominion over Christ, and no more dominion over us who dwell safely in His bosom. And if death has no more dominion over us, what can the Law do to us? And if we are members, even, of the all-righteous Christ, "of His flesh and of His bones" (Ephesians 5:30), what charge can the Law even bring?
Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man. Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another--to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter. (Romans 7:1-6)
We are sinners; but Christ shares with us His own, righteous Life and the Law cannot even charge us. We deserve to die; but Christ has already given us His own, eternal life and death cannot touch us. This is how Christ justifies us: by giving us Life, by being our Life.
By being the Life of our Life and the righteous Heart of our hearts, He justifies us, at the same time both fulfilling the Law in us and making it all moot.
Christ “wiped out the indictment that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:14) He simply took it out of the way. He cancelled it.
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the *Spirit of life* in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)
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Why Did Jesus Die? (08) To be our High Priest
In the Old Testament, priests had to be the descendants of Levi. There was only one exception, a mysterious figure named Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18) who brought bread and wine to Abraham, or Abram as he was still known then. Melchizedek was “without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God...” (Hebrews 7:3) “Melchizedek” translates to, “King of Righteousness.” Besides being a priest, he was the king of Salem, which means “Peace”. He was therefore the “King of Righteousness” and the “King of Peace.” For all these reasons (and more), he is a type of the Christ. Hence, David, in prophecy, calls Messiah a priest forever according to the order Melchizedek (that is, a non-levitical priest). The Epistle to the Hebrews quotes the verse.
The Lord has sworn
And will not relent,
"You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek."
(Psalm 110:4, Hebrews 5:6, 7:17,21))
Christ is a better high priest than those of the Old Testament, Hebrews argues. He is a better priest because he is a better person, in fact, a perfect man. (5:9) He does not need to offer any sacrifices for sins of his own. (7:27) God himself ordains him. (7:21) He brings a better sacrifice: himself. He comes not offering "the blood of goats and calves, but ... his own blood." (9:12) He only needs to make the sacrifice once for all, and does not have to repeat it over and over. (9:25, 10:12) He offers it not in a man-made temple, but in heaven. (4:14, 8:2, 9:11) He “ever lives to make intercession” for us. (7:25) He is the guarantor of a better covenant. (7:22)
Christ died to become our High Priest forever in a new order of worship, spiritual worship, of a higher order than that prescribed in the Law of Moses. “God [is] a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship [him] in spirit and in truth”. (John 4:24)
Christ Died to Fulfill His Office as Mediator Between God and Man.
Christ is the Mediator between God and Man in more than one sense. He is the Mediator first of all by His incarnation, because in His one Person He united human and divine natures. Next, He is the Mediator because He brings to us the gift from God, the divine, immortal body and blood, and He brings to God the gift from us, perfect obedience, faith, and love. At His crucifixion, He is the Mediator because His death fulfills all the obligations of the Old Covenant, closes the book on it, and ushers in the new covenant. “But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.” (Hebrews 8:6) The Old Covenant was not to be ended until it had first been fulfilled (Matthew 5:18); else God would have instituted it for nothing.
A covenant, in Hebrew history, is sealed with blood. The covenant with Abraham was sealed with the blood of circumcision; the covenant given through Moses was sealed with the blood of animals. The covenant in Christ is sealed in His own blood. “This is My blood of the new covenant,” He says. (Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:24) In this sense, too, He is the Mediator of the new covenant.
We note in passing the vast difference between making intercession for others and being the Mediator. There is, and can only ever be, one Mediator, but there are as many intercessors as Christians. When we, with and in Christ, converse with "dead" saints, (Matthew 17:3, Mark 9:4, Luke 9:30), we are not mistaking them for The Mediator.
(Neither are we, in asking them to pray for us, engaging in necromancy, which is a form of fortune-telling, conjuring of the spirits of the dead to reveal the future – a practice very strictly forbidden among us as being the equivalent of apostasy, forsaking trust in Christ.)
The saints are intercessors. Christ is the “one Mediator between God and Man” (I Timothy 2:5-6), because of the mighty, fearsome, mysterious, cosmic deeds He alone has worked for our salvation.
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Why Did Jesus Die? (09) To Ransom and Redeem Us
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45)
“Ransom” language about the crucifixion emphasizes both our captivity to the devil and the great price Christ paid to set us free.
There is a right way and a very popular but wrong way to think of how He ransomed us. The wrong way is pointed out by St. Gregory Nazianzus:
To whom was that blood offered that was shed for us, and why was it shed? I mean the precious and glorious blood of God, the blood of the High Priest and of the Sacrifice. We were in bondage to the devil and sold under sin, having become corrupt through our concupiscence. Now, since a ransom is paid to him who holds us in his power, I ask to whom such a price was offered and why? If to the devil, it is outrageous! The robber receives the ransom, not only from God, but a ransom consisting of God himself. He demands so exorbitant a payment for his tyranny that it would have been right for him to have freed us altogether. But if the price is offered to the Father, I ask first of all, how? For it was not the Father who held us captive. Why then should be blood of His only begotten Son please the Father, who would not even receive Isaac when he was offered as a whole burnt offering by Abraham, but replaced the human sacrifice with a ram? Is it not evident that the Father accepts the sacrifice not because he demanded it or because He felt any need for it, but on account of economy: because man must be sanctified by the humanity of God, and God Himself must deliver us by overcoming the tyrant through His own power, and drawing us to Himself by the mediation of the Son who effects this all for the honor of God, to whom He was obedient in everything... What remains to be said shall be covered with a reverent silence… (In sanctum Pascha, or. XLV, 22’, P.G., t 36, 653 AB, quoted in Lossky, Mystical Theology, p. 153.)
The wrong way to understand Christ's having ransomed and redeemed us, then, is the overly literal way.
In Orthodox understanding, Christ “paid the price” for our redemption in much the same way a soldier might pay a heavy price, might even “pay the ultimate price”, his life, to free his country. Or when we look at the body of a victorious athlete, sweaty, dehydrated, exhausted, aching, when we consider how much of his life he had to give up for training, and when we say what a stiff price he paid for his victory, we do not mean he bribed the judges or referee or paid off his opponent. We mean he endured a severe ordeal. That is how we mean it when we speak of Christ having ransomed us or having bought us with a price.
We do not mean that God exacted any price, but that the circumstances did. We have seen some of those circumstances in previous posts in this series. One of them was that the Old Covenant remained unfulfilled; and if it was not to have existed all those millennia for nothing, it must be fulfilled, by a sacrifice of perfect obedience, before the New Covenant was instituted. Another circumstance was that the divine, immortality-bearing blood was needed for giving us life. Death must be defeated, satan must be deprived of his subjects, ultimate love and forgiveness must be openly revealed, and so forth. Such tasks, exacting a stiff "price," were left for Jesus to do if we were to be saved. God the Father did not require to be paid off in exchange for being merciful, though; such a notion leaves no room for forgiveness.
Truly, there are whole theologies (almost all heterodox theologies, in fact) that leave no room for actual forgiveness, in fact deny it, and can only offer us the shabby and gloomy alternative of displaced punishment. That is because there are people who think it would be morally wrong for God simply to forgive outright, without taking "just retribution", on the theory that to to so would undermine the moral foundations of the world. To fail to punish, to offer "bare amnesty" would be, they think, conniving in the evil.
But for the Orthodox, the foundation of the world is not a moral code, but a Person, Jesus Christ. And it is perfectly just for Him to do whatever He wants with what is His own. (Matthew 20:15) He is allowed to have mercy, true, free mercy, upon whom He will have mercy. (Exodus 33:19, Romans 9:15,18) He is not required to strike some legal bargain. The law is not the be-all and end-all, Alpha and Omega; Jesus Christ Himself is. (Revelation 1:8, 11; 21:6; 22:13) Nor does forgiving a sin equate to conniving in it. Much to the contrary, forgiveness, bare amnesty, is a major component of how God eradicates sin. Forgiveness is a principal weapon in the arsenal of arms against the devil. And as far as I know or can think, Orthodox Christianity is the only faith that genuinely offers it.
When we speak of Christ having ransomed us or redeemed us, then, we refer to our slavery to satan and how much He gave to liberate us from it. We mean that to get us back from sin and death cost Him a great deal - a price He gladly paid, for love of you and me, "who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2)