June 19, 2011 Q & A

Why did Christ's death have to be painful and miserable?


Why did Christ's death have to be painful and miserable?


Thank you for your question.

Death—the death of those created, body and soul, in God's image—is the "wages of sin" (Rom. 6:23). Human death, as God's justly deserved curse on our sin, is deeply unnatural (not as human beings were created to be and to live in undisturbed fellowship with God). Especially as death involves the dissolution of soul and body, it is inevitably more or less painful and miserable; there is no human death that is not to some degree painful and miserable.

This, I think, is a key point to be kept in mind in answer to your question. For the salvation of sinners, it was necessary that Christ, the eternal Son of God, humble himself by becoming a man and that in his state of humiliation, which continued from his birth until his resurrection, he share fully in the conditions of fallen humanity and our sin-cursed world, without himself personally being a sinner. Specifically, to atone for our sins (Mark 10:45; 1 Peter 2:24) it was necessary that he "died for our sins" (1 Cor. 15:3 and many other passages). And so, because of what was pointed out in the preceding paragraph, his death was bound to be painful and miserable.

Moreover, because he did not personally deserve to die, because he "suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh ..." (1 Peter 3:18) and because those who were involved in putting him to death as a criminal did so unjustly, arrogantly and hatefully, it was inevitable that the pain and misery of his death was heightened and attended, as the Gospel records indicate, with much cruelty.

With that said, it should be noted that the Gospel accounts of Jesus' arrest and death are restrained and do not go into gruesome detail (in that regard the movie The Passion of the Christ is questionable, if for no other reason). The important point about Christ's death, however inevitably painful and miserable it was, is that it is the once-for-all sacrifice that accomplishes the salvation of sinners, that his "obedience unto death, even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:8) has "abolished death and brought life and immortality to light" (2 Tim. 1:10).

Rather than my saying more, just below I've appended the pertinent question and answer in the Westminster Larger Catechism, excellent for its fullness and with supporting Scripture citations.

Q. 49. How did Christ humble himself in his death?
A. Christ humbled himself in his death, in that having been betrayed by Judas,m forsaken by his disciples,n scorned and rejected by the world,o condemned by Pilate, and tormented by his persecutors;p having also conflicted with the terrors of death, and the powers of darkness, felt and borne the weight of God's wrath,q he laid down his life an offering for sin,r enduring the painful, shameful, and cursed death of the cross.s

m. Matt. 27:4. ... saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that.

n. Matt. 26:56. But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled.

o. Isa. 53:2–3. For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

p. Matt. 27:26–50. Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.... John 19:34. But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. See Luke 22:63–64.

q. Luke 22:44. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. Matt. 27:46. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

r. Isa. 53:10. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt 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. Matt. 20:28. ... even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give hislife a ransom for many. See Mark 10:45.

s. Phil. 2:8. And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Heb. 12:2. ... looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. Gal. 3:13. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.



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