Who Did Jesus Die For?
At first glance, the answer to the question 'Who did Jesus die for?', seems obvious--He died for us, of course! The apostle Paul affirms this in Galatians 2:20, where Paul writes, "I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me." Elsewhere, Paul writes, that "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us"(Rom. 5:8).
The fact that Christ died for us is not in question here, what is in question is whether our salvation was the primary end for which Christ died.
We live in a day and age where the secular mindset prevails. And according to the secular mindset, humankind is the centre of reality. The biblical mindset, however, is quite the opposite. The biblical mindset is that God is the centre of reality.
My question for you then, is when you come to a Good Friday service, when you reflect on the meaning of the cross, do you do that with a secular mindset or a biblical mindset? Do you imagine that the cross is all about you? Or do you imagine the cross is all about God? Do you believe that Christ died first, and foremost, to promote your glory? Or do you believe that Christ died first, and foremost, to promote His Father's glory?
The answer the Bible gives, is that, at its core, Jesus died for the glory of God. Or, as John Piper puts it, 'Before the cross can be for our sake, it must be for God's sake.'
Our self-centred nature, I suspect, has trouble comprehending that salvation is not all about us--it is about God. Salvation is about God and the demonstration of His glory . This is not some new concept, it is a truth that is affirmed throughout Scripture. In Psalm 79, verse 9, the psalmist prays, "Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of Thy name; And deliver us, and forgive our sins, for Thy name's sake."
We also find this in Romans 3:21-26, "But now", Paul writes, "apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been manifested". How is the righteousness of God been manifested? Paul's answer is that the righteousness of God has been manifested in the death of Jesus. Paul tells us in verse 25 that "God put forward (Christ) as a sacrifice of atonement by His blood, effective through faith." This was done, Paul writes, "to demonstrate the righteousness of God, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus"(Rom. 3:25, 26).
Notice the frequency of the statement, "the righteousness of God" in these verses. A basic rule of interpretation for finding the meaning of a given passage is to look for repeated phrases. In Romans 3:21-26 we learn that there is more at stake at the cross than our salvation. Paul teaches us here that the righteousness of God is at stake.
'How is the righteousness of God at stake?', you ask. To begin to answer that question we need to begin with the truth that God is just. And, if God is just, He is obligated to punish sin. Can you imagine if a murderer, or a rapist, was to appear before a judge only to have the judge say, 'You seem like a decent person, you are free to go.' Such a judge could never be deemed 'just'.
Now, you may object to this analogy by saying that your sins are hardly comparable to that of a murderer. Yet, in the eyes of a holy God, we are told that even our good deeds are like filthy rags(Isa. 64:6). You see then, if God does not punish sin, He ceases to be what He has always been--perfectly holy and righteous.
Looking at our passage, you will also notice a couple of things Paul says about sin. In verse 23, Paul tells us that "all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God", and then in verse 25 we learn that God "passed over the sins previously committed".
What is Paul referring to here? What are some biblical examples of God passing over "sins previously committed"? We can actually begin with the world's very first sin--in the Garden of Eden. In the Garden, God instructs Adam, "you shall not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for in that day that you eat from it you shall surely die"(Gen. 2:17).
With that command, God identified what constituted sin and warned Adam that the penalty for sin would be death. Yet, we all know Adam did not immediately die when he sinned. But death is precisely what God promised would happen. God did not say, 'if you sin Adam, you will eventually die', He says "in that day that you eat from it you shall surely die".
God passed over Adam's sin in the sense that Adam did not receive the punishment that was due him. And the reality is that, for thousands of years, a just God was giving the rewards of heaven to undeserving men and women without any atonement for their sin, and without any vindication of His justice.
'What about the sacrificial system of the Old Testament?', you ask--'Didn't the blood of the sacrificed animals atone for their sin?'. No. The author of Hebrews teaches us that "it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins"(Heb. 10:4).
The clear message of Romans 3 is that Christ did not merely die for our sake, but for the sake of His Heavenly Father. There is a God-centredness to the cross that I do not want us to miss.
And this theology is not simply something that Paul cooked up on his own--Jesus spoke in these terms as well. In John 17 we hear Jesus praying, "Father, the hour has come; glorify Thy Son, that the Son may glorify Thee . . . I glorified Thee on earth, having accomplished the work which Thou hast given Me to do. And now, glorify Thou Me together with Thyself"(Jn. 17:1,4,5).
Both in His life and in His death, the primary concern of Jesus was for the glory of His Heavenly Father. Where we fit into the equation is that the manner Jesus brought glory to the Father was by taking upon Himself the punishment that was due us. In other words, the vindication of God's glory is the ground of our salvation.
What a blessed equation! By the death of Christ, God gets the glory due His name and we receive the deliverance from sin that we so desperately need.
God's concern for His own glory is our good news . This is an amazing truth. When human beings act in a self-centred fashion it is almost always to the detriment of someone else. This is not the case with God. God's passion for His glory, rather than opposing love, is the foundation of it. God has chosen to manifest His glory by loving us and by giving us His righteousness.
Understanding this equation is critical to properly understanding the gospel. Take, for instance, the well-known verse, "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life"(Jn. 3:16). Let me ask you, 'Why does God love the world?' Does God love the world because it is loveable? No, all of humanity has sinned and has fallen short of the glory of God(Rom. 3:23).
What then, could God find in the world that is worth loving? Could it be that what God finds loveable in humanity is the imprint of His own image? You see, God's passion for Himself is the foundation of His love for us.
God's concern for His glory is our saving grace. And if God is concerned about His glory above all else, I must ask the question: Should we not share this concern?