The death of Jesus Christ on the cross is central to the Christian faith. Christians believe that Jesus’ death was a sacrifice that atoned for the sins of humankind. However, some question how Jesus’ death could be considered a true sacrifice if He knew ahead of time that He would be resurrected. What does the Bible say about whether Jesus’ foreknowledge of His resurrection takes away from the meaning of His sacrifice?
There are several reasons from Scripture why Jesus’ foreknowledge of His resurrection does not negate the meaning, worth, or sacrificial nature of His death:
1. Jesus still experienced immense suffering and death
While Jesus knew His death would lead to resurrection, He still experienced extreme human suffering and an excruciating death on the cross. He was beaten, mocked, and nailed to a cross to hang until He died (Matthew 27:27-50). The Gospel accounts emphasize the extreme anguish Jesus experienced – both physical and emotional – in His humanity (Luke 22:44, Matthew 26:38). He fully experienced human death, separation from the Father, and the weight of the sin He bore, even though He trusted God would raise Him up.
2. Jesus laid down His life willingly for others
Jesus said about His life, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.” (John 10:18). Even with foreknowledge of the resurrection, Jesus willingly gave up His life. He deliberately sacrificed Himself out of love for humankind, to pay the penalty for their sins (Romans 5:8). This willingness makes His sacrifice even more meaningful.
3. The immense cost to purchase sinners’ salvation
Scripture teaches that there was an immense spiritual cost for Jesus to sacrifice Himself as payment for the sins of humankind. It required the sinless Son of God to take all sin upon Himself and become separated from the Father (2 Corinthians 5:21, Matthew 27:46). There was a true loss and suffering beyond what humans can fully comprehend. Payment came through His blood – meaning His voluntary death (Hebrews 9:12). His resurrection does not erase that cost.
4. Obedience to the Father’s will to the point of death
Jesus said His purpose was to obey the will of the Father (John 6:38). This meant willingly sacrificing His life, even to death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). He learned obedience through suffering (Hebrews 5:8). Jesus trusted the Father’s promise to raise Him up, but He still had to go through the suffering of the cross and obedience of death first. His commitment is meaningful whether or not He knew the outcome.
5. Resurrection provides proof and hope – not cancellation
The resurrection provides proof that Jesus’ sacrifice was acceptable and effective (Romans 1:4). His rising from the dead provides hope of salvation and eternal life for those who believe in Him (1 Peter 1:3). The resurrection brings triumph out of sacrifice. But it does not erase or invalidate the agony and cost that preceded it. If anything, it amplifies the meaning.
6. The sacrificial system required death
According to the laws God established around sacrifice and atonement, death and the shedding of blood were required (Leviticus 17:11, Hebrews 9:22). Resurrection was not part of the sacrifice itself. For Jesus’ death to accomplish what God intended, it needed to fully fulfill the system God had set up in the Old Testament. Jesus’ resurrection later was the Father’s affirmation of His acceptable sacrifice.
7. Jesus’ sacrifice purchased eternal life for believers
A key purpose of Jesus’ sacrifice was to purchase eternal life and resurrection for those who believe in Him. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). His own resurrection displayed His power to fulfill His promise to raise up those who trust Him (1 Corinthians 15:20). The resurrection is central to the eternal hope His sacrifice offers.
8. Analogies of Christ’s sacrifice involve permanence of death
The New Testament uses multiple analogies to explain the meaning of Jesus’ sacrifice that imply death is permanent. These include the sacrificial lamb (John 1:29), the Passover lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7), and the grain of wheat falling to the ground (John 12:24). In each case, the animal or plant dies and does not come back to life. The permanence of physical death illustrates the severity and cost of Jesus’ sacrificial death.
9. Jesus sacrificed eternal glory to suffer as a man
The book of Hebrews explains that Jesus left behind the glory of heaven to become lower than the angels and experience death as a human (Hebrews 2:9). This humbling to the point of death, even death on a cross, was part of His unique sacrifice. His resurrection restored the glory He had laid aside temporarily to achieve His sacrifice (John 17:5).
In summary, Scripture affirms that Jesus’ sacrificial death for the sins of mankind was extremely costly and meaningful, regardless of His foreknowledge that He would be resurrected. His suffering, separation from the Father, and death were real. The resurrection demonstrates the completeness of His sacrifice and provides eternal hope of life to all who believe in Him. It does not negate or diminish the willing sacrifice Christ made because of His love for the world.