Although Christ’s death took place at a specific time in history, I want to make a clear distinction between the historical events surrounding His death, and the spiritual significance that His death has for every one of us. The fact that He died on a cross is not, in and of itself, unusual, for the Romans crucified many people. However, unlike all others, Christ died for our sins, and that is why His death is important for us, and for every man, woman, or child on earth (1Corinthians 15:3). At the same time, because His death is a fact of history, its spiritual significance is not deep and mysterious. While there may be many things about it that we do not understand, the fact that He died for our sins is a simple historical truth that can be understood by anyone (Psalm 19:7).
Since the Bible was written to testify of Christ, to the end that we might know that we have eternal life in Him, there are a number of ways in which it describes the spiritual significance of His death (John 5:39, 1John 5:13). For example: By describing Christ as the “the Lamb of God, that takes away the sin of the world,” it lets us know that His death was a sin offering, and an atonement for our sin (John 1:29). At the same time, by telling us that “there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved,” it makes it clear that there is no forgiveness apart from faith in Him (Acts 4:12).
While the law required animal sacrifice, those sacrifices were instituted for our benefit, as a way of helping us to understand the significance of Christ’s death. Nevertheless, because those sacrifices pointed forward to Christ’s sacrifice, all who offered them received God’s promise of forgiveness in Christ. And, as Paul explained in the third chapter of Galatians, it was faith in that promise (not the blood of bulls and goats) that brought forgiveness and salvation (Hebrews 10:4, Galatians 3:6-22).
Another way in which the Bible describes Christ’s sacrifice, is as a “propitiation” (Romans 3:25, 1 John 4:10). In case you are not familiar with that term: If two parties are hostile, whatever removes that hostility and brings about reconciliation is a “propitiation.” Therefore, the Bible’s use of that word tells us that Christ’s death appeased God’s wrath, that we might be reconciled to Him through faith in Christ (2Corinthians 5:18, Colossians 1:20). At the same time, the Bible also makes it clear that without that reconciliation, we are by nature enemies of God and the children of wrath (Romans 8:7, Ephesians 2:3,14).
The Bible also describes Christ’s sacrifice as a “redemption” (Colossians 1:14, Hebrews 9:12). And, since the word “redeem” has to do with buying back something that was lost, the idea being expressed is that we were sold under sin, slaves of Satan who were destined to accompany him to hell (Romans 7:14, Leviticus 25:25). Yet, by taking our sins upon Himself, and dying in our place, Christ ransomed us, not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and by His innocent suffering and death. [1Peter 1:18,19, Hosea 13:14, Revelations 5:9, Ephesians 1:7, Colossians 1:13:14, 2Timothy 1:10, Hebrews 9:12,15, Hebrews 2:14, 1John 3:14, John 5:24, 1Corinthians 7:23, 1Corinthians 6:19:20.]
Finally, because Christ has ransomed us by His blood, thereby reconciling us to God, there is nothing that we need to do to save ourselves. He has done it all. He took our sins upon Himself, and because He suffered the punishment that we deserved, divine justice has been satisfied. As a result, all who trust in Him are forgiven, exonerated of all blame, and delivered from death, hell, and the devil. [Romans 5:1-2 and 8:1, Ephesians 1:7 and 2:8-9, John 3:16, 2Corinthians 5:14,19, Galatians 3:6-22, Hebrews 10:10,16-23, 1Timothy 2:6, Romans 6:23.]
Because the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us of all sin, the forgiveness that we have in Him not only saves us, but also removes every guilty stain, so that God sees no spot or blemish in us (Hebrews 10:10,14, 1John 1:7). To better understand what I am saying, try to visualize yourself as a sinner soiled within and without by sin. Then, picture the blood of Christ flowing all around you (as if you were in a flood) washing away all of that sin until you shine with the beauty of Christ’s own righteousness. That cleansing is the effect of Christ’s death on the cross, and it belongs to all who trust in Him (1John 1:9, Galatians 3:6,22).
Without that forgiveness, God sees no good in us (Isaiah 64:6). In fact, because “there is none righteous,” the only way that we can ever hope to be righteous in the sight of God is to have our sins forgiven (Romans 3:10-28). The good news is, that because of Christ’s death that forgiveness is given as a free gift to all who trust in Him. [Psalm 14:1-3, Ecclesiastes 7:20, Genesis 6:5, Genesis 8:21, 1Kings 8:46, Psalm 5:9, Psalm 140:3, Psalm 10:7, Isaiah 59:7,8, Psalm 36:1, Romans 4:1-8, Ephesians 2:8,9, Acts 4:12, John 3, Titus 3:3-7, Galatians 2:16-21, Galatians 3, Hebrews 10:10,14, Romans 11:6, Romans 10:10, Romans 9:30-33, Psalm 32:1-5, 1Corinthians 6:11, 1Corinthians 1:2.]
Since the Bible makes numerous references to Christ’s death on the cross (many of which explicitly tell us the spiritual significance of His death) you might wonder why so many people fail to understand what is being said. How can they possibly miss something that is clearly stated, in plain language, time and time again? The only answer I can give to that question is that they compromise everything that the Bible says about Christ’s death on the cross, in a vain attempt to make it agree with God’s law, and with the delusion that works make us righteous (Romans 3:19-20). What they fail to understand is that the law and gospel are two separate messages that are intended for two entirely different groups of people. In other words, because the law cannot make us righteous, its purpose is not to make us righteous, but to point us to Christ by showing us our sin and need for the forgiveness that He obtained for us by His death (Romans 3:10-20, Galatians 3:24). That being the case, the law is God’s warning to the unrepentant, while the gospel is God’s promise of forgiveness in Christ to all who repent (1Timothy 1:9, 1Corinthians 15:1-4, Galatians 3:6-22). Through the law, God shows the unrepentant their sin, while reminding them that they will someday have to account for those sins. Through the gospel, on the other hand, He comforts those who are sorry for their sins, while assuring them of forgiveness in Christ. For that reason, God never intended for the gospel to agree with the law. On the contrary, the law must be proclaimed in a way that makes it clear that there is none righteous, while the gospel is preached in a way that makes it clear that salvation is through Christ alone, without the works of the law (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 3:10-28 and 11:6, Galatians 3:6-22 and 5:4).