And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Phil. 2:8, NKJV)
Having referenced Pilate, the Creed goes on to say that Jesus was crucified, the method of choice for capital crimes by the Roman government. Crucifixion was a particularly horrible way to die, but as horrific as Jesus’ physical agony was, it paled in comparison to the agony of soul he endured. The whole biblical framework gives context for the impact of Jesus’ death. The writer of Hebrews speaks of the temple and the sacrificial system of the Old Testament as previews for the sacrifice to come, looking to Jesus as both the effective Priest and the effective Sacrifice:
For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. (Heb. 7:26–27)
Jesus went to the cross as the sacrifice to deal with sin’s debt. He atoned for sin’s guilt and suffered the penalty demanded by God’s justice, not just by death but by death on a cross. Paul in his letter to the Galatians: “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’)” (Gal. 3:13). The reference Paul makes to a tree is found in the Old Testament and speaks to the just punishment of the one who breaks God’s law. Jesus, however, became accursed that we who proclaim the Creed in faith might know the blessings of His obedience in our place.
Christ’s saving work is testimony to the Father’s love and wisdom. In answer to the question, “Who killed Jesus?,” the ultimate answer is not Judas who betrayed Him, not the Jews who conspired against Him, not the mob that chose Barabbas over Jesus for release, not Pilate who gave Him in His innocence over to death. The answer to the question of who is ultimately responsible for Christ’s death is not even us as sinners, although our sin is certainly at issue. The ultimate answer for who killed Jesus is God Himself, as prophetic word makes clear.
Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand. (Isa. 53:10)
The English Standard Version puts it this way: “It was the will of the Lord to crush him.” While there may be secondary causes, the primary cause of Christ’s death was the will of God. It was not our sin that held Jesus to the cross; it was the redeeming love of God (John 3:16; Rom. 8:5-8) and the love of Christ for His Bride, the Church (Eph. 5:25). (excerpted from The Christian’s Creed, pp. 81-83)
- Why was it necessary that Jesus die by crucifixion?
- To whom does Peter assign responsibility for the death of Jesus in Acts 2:22-23?
“Father, I thank you that You so loved the world that You gave Your only begotten Son. Jesus, I thank You that You loved Your church and gave Yourself for her. Spirit, I thank You for bringing this love home for our salvation.”
Scripture quotations marked NKJV are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, copyright ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Those marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.