When Christians talk about being “saved” what exactly does that mean and how do we gain this salvation? The very heart of Christianity boils down to the doctrine of the atonement, or what Jesus did in his life and death to earn our salvation for us.
Some theologians will say that Jesus’ death was not necessary and that there could have been many other ways for our salvation to be secured, but this simply is not true. The night before he was executed, Jesus even prayed to God the Father asking if there was another way, and there are numerous other verses that attest to him not only having to to die, but the way that it happened was according to the definite plan of God. There simply was not another way.
So how exactly does one man dying a horrible death by being nailed to a tree and dying from asphyxiation pay for our sins? 2 Corinthians 5.21 sums it up best when it says, “For our sake he [God the Father] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” This is called Substitutionary Atonement. Jesus lived a perfect life without sin, dying a death that he did not deserve, on behalf and as a substitute for all those who would put their faith in and believe in Jesus as the only way to heaven.
Many people underestimate exactly how painful this was for him to do. I mean people die all the time for causes that they believe in or for a loved one, what make this so special? The thing is, the physical agony that he suffered was nothing compared to the pain that he bore taking our sin upon himself.
When Jesus hung there, the only perfect and blameless man that ever lived took upon himself the evil that is the antithesis of his very nature. The prophet Isaiah, prophesying about Jesus’ death 500 years before Jesus was ever born, says that God the Father laid on him all of our sins at once when he was crucified, and that it was even his will to crush his own Son out of love for us. Imagine how awful you feel after having done a wrong against another person, or the guilt you have after having cheated on a significant other or stealing something. Jesus took on that feeling billions of times over all at once, after never once having felt that in his life. On top of that, all his friends left him in his last hour, he was beaten to a bloody pulp before carrying his cross on his raw back, he had a crown of thorn spikes driven into his skull, was naked and shamed, spit upon and had his beard pulled out, and the union that he had with the Trinity for eternity past was momentarily severed.
This was all to satisfy the justice that was needed for our sins. After all, a good God would not be good if there was not justice given for the wrong done in this world. And at the end of the day, justice will be completely served to each individual person, whether it be the pain that was bore on the cross by Jesus for the sins of those who would believe in him or sadly it will be paid by those who refuse to receive the grace of God by suffering an eternity of anguish in a physical place called hell.
When Jesus died on the cross he was thinking about each individual person who’s sins he was dying for and truly showed us what true love ultimately looks like. John 15.13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”