Did Jesus have to die?
I once heard a man exclaim that Jesus was the only entity capable of enduring an infinite amount of wrath … in a finite amount of time. Wow! How brilliant a plan. So simple. So true. It occurred to me that God could have performed that feat at any point in human history. Perhaps immediately after Adam disobeyed? Perhaps as Noah left the ark for dry land? Why did God wait until 33 AD? As the song in the movie Jesus Christ Superstar says, “If you’d come today you could have reached a whole nation, Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication”.
Did God attempt the feat before the cross?
Did Jesus have to die?
Early on in Jewish history in the book of Leviticus, God laid out His guidelines for the nation to succeed. In the section relevant to this discussion, God seems to be referencing the agreement He made with Abraham, and more specifically Jacob, to give them certain lands. Among other things, God mentions that after receiving portions of that land, they should let it go fallow every seventh year.
1 The LORD then spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai, saying, 2 “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When you come into the land which I shall give you, then the land shall have a sabbath to the LORD. 3 Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its crop, 4 but during the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath rest, a sabbath to the LORD; you shall not sow your field nor prune your vineyard.
God then indicates that if the Jews kept His directives, He would make sure they thrive … and then some!
3 If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments so as to carry them out, 4 then I shall give you rains in their season, so that the land will yield its produce and the trees of the field will bear their fruit. 5 Indeed, your threshing will last for you until grape gathering, and grape gathering will last until sowing time. You will thus eat your food to the full and live securely in your land. 6 I shall also grant peace in the land, so that you may lie down with no one making you tremble. I shall also eliminate harmful beasts from the land, and no sword will pass through your land. 7 But you will chase your enemies and they will fall before you by the sword; 8 five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall before you by the sword. 9 So I will turn toward you and make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will confirm My covenant with you. 10 You will eat the old supply and clear out the old because of the new. 11 Moreover, I will make My dwelling among you, and My soul will not reject you. 12 I will also walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people. 13 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt so that you would not be their slaves, and I broke the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.
The phrase “I will also walk among you” occurs only here. The next closest reference that I can find is in the Garden.
They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.
After that, the references seem to be of God’s “glory” residing with them.
God then warned the Jews of the consequences of not living up to their end of the bargain.
14 ‘But if you do not obey Me and do not carry out all these commandments, 15 if, instead, you reject My statutes, and if your soul abhors My ordinances so as not to carry out all My commandments, and so break My covenant, 16 I, in turn, will do this to you: I will appoint over you a sudden terror, consumption and fever that will waste away the eyes and cause the soul to pine away; also, you will sow your seed uselessly, for your enemies will eat it up. 17 I will set My face against you so that you will be struck down before your enemies; and those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee when no one is pursuing you.
God told them the context which would set the duration of the consequences.
‘Then the land will enjoy its sabbaths all the days of the desolation, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land will rest and enjoy its sabbaths.
In Jeremiah 25 we learn of the specific time length of the consequence of the rejection of God.
This whole land will be a desolation and a horror, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.
God set the time length for the initial consequence of Juda’s rejection of Him via the disregarded land sabbaths, namely 70 years. One year for every year of no sabbath for the land. God overlooked rebellion and spiritual harlotry and the land not going fallow for 490 years. Wow! In addition to God warning them in advance in Leviticus and via Elijah, He warned them in real time via Jeremiah.
If the invasion of their homeland, the destruction of the temple, and the exile to Babylon still failed to get them to repent, God had further consequences:
18 If also after these things you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins.
God then repeated that theme three more times.
21 ‘If then, you act with hostility against Me and are unwilling to obey Me, I will increase the plague on you seven times according to your sins
23 ‘And if by these things you are not turned to Me, but act with hostility against Me, 24 then I will act with hostility against you; and I, even I, will strike you seven times for your sins.
27 ‘Yet if in spite of this you do not obey Me, but act with hostility against Me, 28 then I will act with wrathful hostility against you, and I, even I, will punish you seven times for your sins
While they were in exile, God used Ezekiel to reveal to them that if they would repent, certain wonderful things would happen. Primarily that God would “dwell” in the rebuilt temple “forever”.
7 He said to me, “Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell among the sons of Israel forever. And the house of Israel will not again defile My holy name, neither they nor their kings, by their harlotry and by the corpses of their kings when they die, 8 by setting their threshold by My threshold and their door post beside My door post, with only the wall between Me and them. And they have defiled My holy name by their abominations which they have committed. So I have consumed them in My anger.9“Now let them put away their harlotry and the corpses of their kings far from Me; and I will dwell among them forever.10“As for you, son of man, describe the temple to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and let them measure the plan.11“If they are ashamed of all that they have done, make known to them the design of the house, its structure, its exits, its entrances, all its designs, all its statutes, and all its laws. And write it in their sight, so that they may observe its whole design and all its statutes and do them.
“If” they repent.
They did not.
That temple was never constructed. God never inhabited it as He had desired.
Some recognize that neither the temple Zerubbabel built, nor Herod’s remodel, came close to the design God dictated. Their reasonable conclusion is that the prescribed temple must therefore be a “third”, one yet to be built. If that’s true, how do we deal with the word “forever”?
How long is “forever”? Consider this verse describing the New Jerusalem:
I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.
In addition to that, here’s a difficult dilemma: At the cross, did Jesus’ act become the final “Atonement” for the sin debt of man? Fairly easy to answer “yes”. The passage in Hebrews seems to corroborate that answer:
10 By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; 12 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, 13 waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET. 14 For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.
That being the case, how do we explain the verse below describing the “proposed” third temple?
“It shall be the prince’s part to provide the burnt offerings, the grain offerings and the drink offerings, at the feasts, on the new moons and on the sabbaths, at all the appointed feasts of the house of Israel; he shall provide the sin offering, the grain offering, the burnt offering and the peace offerings, to make atonement for the house of Israel.”
Interesting that the last time the word “atonement” occurs in the bible is in the book of Daniel. You may be familiar with the passage.
“Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place.
In Leviticus, God laid out the consequence of not repenting after the consequences brought on by God for the prior harlotry. God then explains to Daniel the specifics of the “seven times” consequence. Now, instead of the consequence being one year for every year that the land was not allowed to go fallow, (70 years), seven times that amount is due, 490 years. Seven “weeks” of years.
To me, it’s fascinating that even at the time of the writing of Leviticus, God knew of the 70 years of captivity and the 490 additional year consequence and corresponding prophetic years.
God seemed to offer three eras where He would act to send His Son peacefully. The first being mentioned in Leviticus 26:12 as the wondering Jewish nation was about to habit the land. The second in Ezekiel 43:7 & 9 after the Babylonian captivity when the temple would be rebuilt. Finally, when Jesus presented Himself as the Messiah on the first Palm Sunday. If the Jews had recognized the predicted time, the 70 AD calamity would have been averted.
and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.
How would it have been adverted? Jesus would have stopped it, as He will the total annihilation of mankind at the end of the 1,335 days.
My sense is that God has given mankind three shots at not having the vineyard workers kill the Owners Son. I suspect that when we are finally with Him, He will confirm these and perhaps other possibilities that we missed. As it is, we missed them all … and killed His Son. Even in that murder, His Son gives us the ultimate picture of His love for us, while we were yet sinners … Paul said.
Perhaps this picture is ultimately best for drawing all men to Himself.
To be sure, we killed His Son.
He knew we would … and He allowed it anyway.
Did Jesus have to die?
If only I could take it back.
Oh God … if only I could take it back!
Even so, He welcomes me … chief among sinners.
His grace and patience are astounding.
On the “third day” He arose.
An appropriate song and video to burn the picture into our hearts.