Nothing is more important than understanding what the Bible teaches about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What we understand and personally believe about this historical and supremely spiritual event determines our eternal destiny. Therefore, there is no room for error on this doctrine. Error will only lead to eternal damnation in hell. Biblical truth is our only hope of heaven.
There is one verse that so completely defines the meaning of the death of Christ that if we had no other verse, it would be enough. It would be enough to tell us why He died, what His death accomplished for sinners, why He only remained dead for three days, and how our guilt can be removed so that we can be restored to God.
The verse I am referring to is 1 Peter 3:18, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.”
Here we discover five truths that explain the meaning of the death of Christ.
It was a sacrificial death (for sins).
Jesus died for sins because death was God’s requirement. God pronounced this death sentence before man ever sinned. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17). That is surely what happened. Adam and Eve disobeyed God and they died. Now, they did not drop dead immediately, but the slow process of physical death began that very moment. More tragic than the slow deterioration of their physical bodies, is the fact that they immediately experienced spiritual death, separation from God. They lost their oneness and fellowship with Him and attempted to hide from His presence because of their guilt. As a result, God pronounced His judgment on their sin, killed an animal and used its skin to make a covering for their shame, and cast them out of the garden to prevent them from eating from the tree of life and forever sealing their doom (Genesis 3:15-24). The consequences of their actions then spread to all men. Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned (Romans 5:12).
Later, in the book of Exodus, God raised up a man by the name of Moses to deliver His people from Egyptian slavery. What was the sign of their deliverance? The blood of a spotless lamb applied to the doorposts of every Jewish home. Passover, still an annual feast of the Jewish people, reminded them of God’s deliverance and prophesied of the one, final Passover Lamb that would give His blood as payment for man’s sin. The New Testament declares, Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed (1 Corinthians 5:7).
While the nation of Israel was in the wilderness, God established a way for their sins to be covered by a sacrifice and for fellowship with Him to be restored. The opening words of Leviticus, which defines the provisions and boundaries of this sacrificial system, established death as its foundational requirement: Then the LORD called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When any man of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of animals from the herd or the flock…that he may be accepted before the LORD’” (Leviticus 1:1-3). Why was the sinner required to bring this offering? That he might be accepted before the Lord. Many people today talk about accepting Jesus as one’s personal Savior. However, the Bible is more concerned with whether or not God accepts us. From the beginning, the Bible established the only means of acceptance with God—the death of a sacrifice. And he shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering [this demonstrated personal responsibility for sin], that it may be accepted for him to make atonement on his behalf (Leviticus 1:4).
The sacrifice was brought for sin and fellowship with God was established on the basis of its death. This is consistent throughout the Bible. So, when we come to 1 Peter 3:18 and read this incredibly simple statement, Christ died for sins, we must look backward and understand what Peter meant. Christ offered Himself as a sin offering though He had no sin of His own to atone for. He died for sins—our sins. In other words, the Old Testament animal sacrifices looked forward to the New Testament “Son sacrifice;” the Son of God who died for our sins.
It was a sufficient death (once for all).
The death of Jesus Christ for sin was so complete that it is the only sacrifice that can ever be offered for sin and does not need to be repeated EVER. This is what Peter meant by three simple words, once for all. The book of Hebrews teaches this same truth. The context of the following verses is the comparison of Christ to human priests that repeatedlyoffered sacrifices for their own sins and the sins of others: For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins [because He had none of His own], and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself [on the cross]. For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever (7:26-28). See also Hebrews 9:11-12 and 10:10-14.
The death of Christ was sufficient to pay the penalty for sin once for all. That means the only way to be accepted by God (saved) is through His death and resurrection. It also means we must never offer to God any sacrifice while thinking that it is even remotely a part of obtaining our salvation. To think that we can add anything to the sacrifice of Christ is an error that leads to hell. Yet many people continue to attempt to pay God back for the bad things they have done. The Apostle Paul addressed this when he wrote, if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly (Galatians 2:21).
It was a substitutionary death (the just for the unjust).
When Jesus died, the innocent died for the guilty. The righteous died for the unrighteous. God died for man. The Creator died for His creatures. The phrase, the just for the unjust, is a summary of Isaiah 53, the most thorough Old Testament prediction of the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. Notice the language of substitution, i.e. someone doing something for someone else.
- Verse 4: Our griefs He Himself bore
- Verse 4: Our sorrows He carried
- Verse 5: He was pierced through for our transgressions
- Verse 5: He was crushed for our iniquities
- Verse 5: The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him
- Verse 6: The Lord caused the iniquity of us to fall on Him
- Verse 11: My Servant, will justify the many
- Verse 12: He was numbered with the transgressors
- Verse 12: He Himself bore the sin of many
Jesus was the Someone doing something for someone else and the something that He did was to meet God’s required punishment for sin—death. So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men (Romans 5:18). The one act of righteousness that saves those who believe is His death on the cross. Adam was our representative for sin, which led to death. Jesus is our representative for righteousness, which leads to life.
It was a saving death (that He might bring us to God).
The death of Christ purchased reconciliation with God. This was its purpose. He died to bring us to God. Think back to the sacrifices of the Old Testament. How were the people brought back to God? By the death of a sacrifice. How are sinners, today, brought back to God? The same way—through the death of the One sacrifice.
For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. Therefore from now on we recognize no man according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministy of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:14-19).
Why has God not counted my sins against me? Because, while Jesus hung on the cross, the Savior assumed punishment for my sins. God was reconciling me back to Himself through Christ. This is the truth that has transformed my life and given me a new purpose to live. As a church-going boy, I knew Jesus was the Savior of the world, but I failed to understand that He was my Savior. Only when I saw the death of Christ as being in my place did the truth of the Gospel set me free from my sin and give me hope of new life in Him.
The message that I am now obligated to tell you is: He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor 5:21). God the Father imputed [placed] the sins of the world on the back of His sinless Son in order to give the righteousness of Jesus Christ to those who trust Him as their Sin-bearer. If we do not understand and believe that Jesus paid for our sin on the cross to give us His righteousness then we are without eternal hope. This is the very heart of the Gospel. This is the Good News!
It was a satisfactory death (but made alive in the spirit).
Jesus was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead was a public demonstration of the satisfaction of God. Jesus predicted this: Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews therefore said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body. When therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had spoken (John 2:19-22).
It was as if the Father verbally spoke: “I am completely, 100% satisfied with the death of My Son on the cross as full payment for man’s sin. There is no need for any more sacrifices for sin. It is finished.” He who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification (Romans 4:25). John 6:37-40 shows how these truths relate to us.
Everyone who beholds the Son (sees Him for Who He is and what He has done) and believes in Him (trusts that what God says about the purpose of His death is true) will be saved. If we apply the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ to our spiritual need then the promise of God is that we will one-day live with Him forever.
What about you?
If you are still wondering how First Peter 3:18 applies to you, here is the clearest answer to your question: if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord [behold the Son], and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead [believe the Son], you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation (Romans 10:9-10).
Have you applied the death of Christ to your own spiritual need by acknowledging your sinfulness to God? Do you believe the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross is the one blood sacrifice you need in order to be made right with God? Have you embraced Jesus Christ as the one-and-only Lord? That is what it means to be a Christian.