Continuing in our series of responses to the arguments/questions presented by J.H. McKenna in his post over at Humanist Plus. This post will deal with two arguments that he gives that are rather similar in the argument that they present. He presents them thusly,
If Jesus came to earth in order ‘to suffer’ for our sins, then he should have lived a very long life: he should have endured a crippling decades-long disease; he should have seen his own children predecease him and his wife; he should have contracted dementia to debilitate and hobble his old age; he should have died in mental and physical anguish at age 93 not age 33. As it was, Jesus died in his prime after suffering for three hours on a Friday afternoon and then he hurried back to the paradise from which he came. Many millions of people have suffered more than Jesus did. And many millions would undertake to die in their prime if they knew they could come back to life three days later to report on the afterlife.
If Jesus’s purpose was ‘to die’ for humanity, it would have made no difference how he died. He could have died of smallpox or a fever or from slipping on ice.
Both objections put forward the same premise: if Christ had to die for sins, it doesn’t matter how Christ died be it by accident or incident. Both, however, misunderstand the necessity of Christ to die judicially, as a man condemned, in order for his life to have atoning value for those that he intends to save.
Christ was sinless. Human death, whatever its cause whether by disease or accident, is a result of human sin. In Genesis 2, God linked disobedience to his command to not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil with the punishment of death, that is that man would be cut off from the ultimate source of life, and his existence would be limited in scope. If God had not extended such mercy, the effect of sin would never cease. Indeed, for some, namely the unrepentant rebels who are under God’s just wrath for sin, will always and forevermore experience the effect of sin and the wrath of God against sin. Christ being supernaturally conceived by the Holy Spirit in Mary, though fully human, was unaffected and uncontaminated by human sin, namely the high-handed sin of Adam in eating the fruit. It could be argued that, for all intents and purposes, Jesus was immune to the condemnation of a natural death, but this is highly speculative and otherwise unaddressed in Scripture. It is for that reason that Paul could argue that Christ was the New Adam and so, unlike the First Adam who failed, could stand before God as our federal head and live a life truly pleasing to God. If Christ had died naturally, by disease or accident, then his death would have had no effect on the state of man before God. Christ’s death, therefore, had to be one of a judicial nature.
Christ had to die on the cross, which was the means of judicial punishment for the Roman empire, a kingdom which stretched over the limits of the known world at the time. It was a death reserved for a common criminals. Jesus was declared innocent by the legal authority, thus had done nothing criminal, and so was unworthy of the death of a criminal. To demonstrate this, the legal authority presented one truly worthy of death, a hardened criminal, and the crowds demanded the life of a murder in place of the life of an innocent man. Jesus went without complaint, willingly, knowing that he would face a greater judge, a judge who had already settled his case, the judge of all men. However, his willingly taking the place of one rightfully condemned under a judicial punishment would allow his death to act in a substitutionary manner for all he intended to save, allowing the Apostle Peter to say in his epistle,
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,… and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. (1 Peter 3:18-22, ESV)
Christ had to die a judicial punishment because it was the only means by which his innocent blood could pay for the sins of those who are rightfully condemned.