With Easter only days away, a new miniseries featuring dramatizations of stories from the Bible on the air, and the news magazines gearing up for another round of “Who was Jesus” type features, Christians everywhere are going to be facing a couple of big questions:
Did Jesus really have to die?
Did Jesus need to rise from the dead for Christianity to be true?
The answers might seem obvious to some of us, and intimidating for others. But provide an answer we must in a season that provides us with so many opportunities to share our faith.
Whether we realize it or not, the death and resurrection of Jesus is among the most hotly contested issues facing our pluralistic culture. Did Jesus “have” to die—what does it mean? Why does it matter? Why is it so important that He not only died, but rose again?
These are important questions—in fact, they’re the most important questions one could ever ask. To answer them it’s helpful to understand the context and purpose of Jesus’ death.
In the beginning…
The story of the death of Jesus begins with another death—that of our first parents in the garden. God had warned Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Gen. 2:17b).
Naturally, they obeyed—they had no reason not to. Until the serpent entered the garden and tempted them to disobey, promising them, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3:4-5).
Many of us know how the rest of the story goes. They ate the fruit. They disobeyed God and they—and all their descendants after them—were plunged into sin. Human relationships were fractured, work became fruitless toil and God’s warning that death would come through their disobedience came true, first spiritually and then physically (Gen. 3:6-19).
But even in the midst of this, God gave our first parents reason to hope—some day, a son of Eve would do battle with the serpent and destroy him (Gen. 3:15).