Christ Died For Us
by Walter Martin
Why did Christ die? A simple question, yes, but the answer is most profound.
We might answer, as a Christian, "Christ died for me." But exactly what does this
mean? Did He die merely to appease God's wrath against us? Did He die only as an
example for us? What does the Atonement really mean? The understanding of this
basic scriptural truth eludes many, but it is vital to the soul's redemption and to our
To understand this doctrine we must go back to the Old Testament and its
sacrificial offerings. The blood of animals, in itself, was never efficacious to cleanse
from sin (Heb. 10:4). Rather, the blood symbolized the element of life offered for
the life of the sinner. God always intended that the entire system of sacrificial
offerings be of expiatory significance (Job 1:5; 42:3, 9; Lev. 17:2-11). The
alienation of man from God through human sin made necessary a reconciliation,
and the form of that reconciliation was ordained to be a cross -- on which the
ultimate sacrifice would be made.
The Jewish sacrificial system with its "covering" offerings (the Hebrew word for
atonement, kaphir, means "covering") made possible man's approach to the
presence of a holy God. The sprinkling of blood upon the mercy seat in the
tabernacle (Lev. 16:15-16) and the sprinkling of the blood of the Passover lamb
(Exod. 12:7) underscored the importance of substitutionary sacrifice under the Old
Covenant made between Jehovah and Israel. In the New Testament, particularly in
the Book of Hebrews, the significance of such sacrifices is revealed in the Lord
Jesus Christ, who is pictured as both officiating Priest and atoning Sacrifice (Heb.
The word "vicarious" comes from the Latin vicar, which literally means "in place of"
or "a substitute." Isaiah 53 is a classic passage on the doctrine of the vicarious
atonement: "Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we
considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced
for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that
brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like
sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has
laid on him the iniquity of us all" (vss. 4-6).
Isaiah repeatedly stresses the vicarious aspects of the messianic offering when he
states, "For the transgression of my people he was stricken...he will bear their
iniquities...he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the
transgressors" (Isa. 53:8, 11, 12). Certainly, the vicarious atonement of the
Messiah of Israel forms one of the great pillars upon which rests the entire
structure of the Christian religion. The Old Testament points like a massive arrow
to the consummation of all sacrifices, an event of immeasurable importance and
In the New Testament, John the Baptist declares, "Look, the Lamb of God, who
takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29). And our Savior Himself declares His
flesh and blood to be the sin offering for the whole world (John 6:51). When
coupled with Paul's declaration that the church of God was "bought with his own
blood" (Acts 20:28), such statements give an incontrovertible answer to the
question, "Why did Jesus die?"
A key Greek word pertinent to understanding the concept of substitutionary
atonement -- the idea that Christ died in our place -- is the word anti. In speaking
of His substitutionary sacrifice, Christ declared, "The Son of Man did not come to
be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for [anti] many" (Matt.
20:28). At the Last Supper, during which Christ emphasized the vicarious nature of
Calvary, He said, "This is my body given for [anti] you" (Luke 22:19).
Another key Greek word is huper. In contexts dealing with the substitutionary
atonement, this word means "in place of." We find this word used in 2 Corinthians
5:21: "Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for
[huperemon] us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." We
likewise read in 1 Peter 3:18, "For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for
[huper] the unrighteous, to bring you to God."
What Christ has done for us is wonderful indeed! Let us resolve to draw closer to
Him who loves us and loosed us from our sins through His own blood -- "the Lamb
of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29) -- Jesus of Nazareth,
"the Son of the Highest" (Luke 1:32).
This article was excerpted from Dr. Martinís book, Essential Christianity. It can be order from
Christian Research Institute.
Taken from the Christian Research Newsletter, Volume 7: November 1, 1994. Copyright © 1994
by the Christian Research Institute, P.O. Box 7000, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688-7000. The
Editor of the Christian Research Newsletter is Ron Rhodes.
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