Did Jesus Die on the Cross?

Crucifix by Alonso Cano, Hermitage Museum
Crucifix by Alonso Cano, Hermitage Museum

There is no more significant question to ask than this. However, a great many are confused about this, and understandably so.

We will attempt to address this most important question, and since we are dealing with revealed truth rather than discoverable truth, may I invite you to join with me to ask God to give us light on this matter as we consider it? This is the kind of truth that can only come from God. Join me in this simple prayer from the Psalms (Zabur):

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer (Psalm 19:14 )

Much of the confusion here is the result of teaching based on passages such as 4:156-159 from the Quran and similar passages.

However, there are two powerful bases for believing Jesus Christ died on the cross.

The Historical Biblical Proof

First, the three eyewitness accounts of Matthew, Mark and John agree:

“And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get” (Mark 15:24 [Injil]).

Second, the entire testimony of the Holy Bible testifies to the coming of Jesus Christ to redeem people of all nations for the living God. All 66 books of the Bible have as their central theme God’s great redemptive plan. The Bible is has as its focal point the cross of Christ. The Old Testament prepares for it, prefigures it and foretells it. Please see the Bible Outline for more details on this. It isn’t just the dozens of scriptures that speak of the crucifixion; it is the entire weight of the whole counsel of God revealed over a period of 1400 years to the great company of prophets.

Some have argued that the Bible has been changed, and that issue has been dealt with in Hasn’t the Bible Been Changed?and Why Do Muslims Believe the Bible Has Been Changed? Consider how absurd it would be to argue that the central message and theme that runs through all 66 books has somehow been added in. Isn’t such a position untenable, given that not a shred of manuscript evidence can be named even though there are thousands of ancient manuscripts of the Bible?

Third, 11 of the 12 Apostles and many others chose death over denying the Good News of Christ’s death and resurrection. Would anyone die for a lie? To believe such a thing would be absurd.

Fourthly, non-Christian historical sources, such as Tacitus, Josephus, Lucian and the Talmud all corroborate the crucifixion.

See Christ’s Crucifixion for more details.

The Theological Proof

As powerful as the biblical and historical proof is, there is an even more powerful proof. It is revealed in the book of Romans:

God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus (Romans 3:25-26 [in the Injil]).

To understand this passage, it is necessary to understand God’s purpose in creating the universe. He created the world for the sake of his own honor and glory, and not merely for our benefit.

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Revelation 22:13 [in the Injil])

For from him and through him and to him are all things.

To him be the glory forever! Amen (Romans 11:36 [Injil])

In these passages and in many others, God reveals he is the first cause and the ultimate end. Specifically, as his infinite moral perfection is the source of all that is good, his praise, glory and honor is the ultimate purpose of all things. If mere sinful men fiercely defend their honor, how much more the infinitely good God of glory!

Given that his glory is the ultimate end of all things, the cross of Christ was first of all to vindicate God’s spotless honor. The passage in Romans 3:25-26 says that he had “left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.” Before the cross, God had suspended his ultimate judgment against all the millions upon millions of sins against his majesty.

This represents a huge problem. Imagine for example, the woman taken in adultery depicted in John 8 . Jesus tells her “neither do I condemn you.” He forgives her and lets her go free!

Now imagine a certain man committed murder, but the judge wanted to let the man go free. The family would be understandably and justifiably outraged and would cry out for justice. A just judge could not simply sweep the dirt under the rug, and tell the offender “you are free to go.” We can see this today in the case of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, who was convicted to murdering 272 people by blowing up a plane over Lockerbie, Scotland. He is suffering from advanced terminal prostate cancer and has applied for compassionate release. The very idea of considering allowing him to go free outrages many of the families who lost their loved ones. The offender had committed great offenses against the honor of these families and the dignity of the state and their honor is at stake, as well as the demands of justice. How much more the outrage would have been if the judge had never punished him in the first place.

God was in a similar position. He had left so much evil, rebellion and wickedness unpunished. His honor and glory were at stake. Only the death of Jesus Christ on the cross was able to vindicate God’s great honor. If the Messiah had been a mere man, even a perfect one, he could have only paid for the sins of one other man. Therefore, the Messiah had to be not only a man, but much more than a mere man. Only the Son of God could pay the awful price.

The cross was absolutely necessary in order to permit God to forgive sins without compromising his integrity or calling his honor into question. The crucifixion of Christ was necessary in order for God’s great redemptive purpose to be fulfilled.

Here also is the insoluble dilemma for all non-Christian religions. Their god must either be without honor, or he must condemn every sinner to hell. In other words, without satisfying the requirements of justice, there can be no just grounds for forgiveness of sins because “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22 [in the Injil]). For God to forgive without just grounds would be deeply dishonorable, and thus impossible for the creator-redeemer God of the Bible.

Thus for every religion that has no cross, the god must either be without honor, and thus not worthy of worship. Or if he does have honor, he must condemn every sinner. This is the inescapable dilemma of all non-Christian religions.

As a side bar, this is why people in non-Christian faiths can never be sure they can go to Paradise; they have no ground to believe they can ever be forgiven their sins. This is also why the Christian is able to be certain of spending eternity with God in heaven. He or she has rock-solid grounds for the assurance of their forgiveness, the perfect character, work and promises of their perfectly holy God. He alone is worthy of all honor, glory and praise for ever and ever. He alone is holy, perfect in both justice and mercy and every knee will bow before him and every tongue will confess he is Lord.

Without the cross, it would be impossible to have both a holy, honorable God who is worthy of worship and the possibility of forgiveness and Paradise. Therefore, we know Christ died on the cross not only because of the biblical historical evidence, but also because the cross is theologically necessary if anyone is to be saved from the just wrath coming on the Day of Judgment.

I want to express my gratitude to Dr. John Piper, whose work in reviving and popularizing the theology of the greatest American theologian, Jonathan Edwards inspired me to realize the theological necessity of the cross for the vindication of God’s glory.
Soli Deo Gloria To God alone be the glory