Why Was Jesus Christ Crucified? (The Reason for the Cross)


The crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth is one of the most pivotal moments in world history. The death of a poor Jewish carpenter during the days of the Roman Empire wouldn’t ordinarily have garnered such attention. Yet, Jesus was anything but ordinary. A key question many people ask about him is why he was crucified.

The ultimate reason Jesus Christ was crucified was (1) to earn salvation for sinners, (2) to reveal God to people, especially his holy love, and (3) to conquer evil. The immediate reason was that the Jewish leaders accused him of blasphemy and perjury, while the Roman authorities charged him with treason.

Who was in control when Jesus died? God or Jesus’ enemies? What charges did Jewish leaders bring against Jesus and why? What charges did the Romans bring against Jesus and why? (Also, see 50 purposes of Jesus’ crucifixion listed at the end of the article.) Keep reading to learn answers to these questions and others.

Also see Where Was Jesus Christ crucified? to learn more.

Jesus Christ crucifixion
What does propitiation mean? See below

Jesus Christ was crucified to save sinners

The Gospels reveal that at the end of Jesus’ life, Jewish and Roman authorities went to great lengths to stop the movement he started. They even broke their own laws in the process because they were so desperate to end Jesus’ life (more below).

The authorities bribed one of his followers to betray him (Judas); arrested him with great cowardice; treated him unjustly when they tried him; and beat him severely before crucifying him. Yet there was more to the story than meets the eye.

Was Jesus in control the whole time? Yes. Jesus said, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:18, emphasis added)

Like Jesus said that crucifixion was the charge given to him, the prophet Isaiah also reveals that dying was the Father’s plan for him: “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt.” (53:10)

The theological reason for Jesus’ crucifixion is multifaceted. The New Testament teaches that he died (1) to earn salvation for sinners, (2) to reveal God to people, especially his holy love, and (3) to conquer evil.

Jesus died to earn salvation for sinners

Jesus was crucified to earn salvation for sinners. It’s impossible for sinners to save themselves. If it was possible through doing good works or “being a good person” then God didn’t have to become a man in the person of Jesus (John 1:1, 14) and die a sacrificial death for sinners.

Jesus dying on the cross as the substitute for sinners and bearing the penalty for their sin, which was death, was the only way that sinners could be saved (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). Jesus defeated death when he rose from the grave three days later (e.g. Matt. 28:1-10).

Propitiation, redemption, justification, and reconciliation are the key aspects of Jesus earning salvation for sinners. The New Testament is clear that each concept is important to understand the crucifixion.

PropitiationThe crucifixion appeased the wrath of God against sinners by pouring it out on Christ as their substitute
Key Verse“He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 John 2:2 (cf. Lev. 16:11-17)
RedemptionThe crucifixion freed people from slavery to sin
Key Verse“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” Ephesians 1:7 (cf. Mark 10:45)
JustificationThe crucifixion transfers Jesus’ righteousness to sinners
Key Verse“Therefore, since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from wrath through Him!” Romans 5:9 (cf. Rom. 3:25; 5:18-19)
ReconciliationThe crucifixion removes hostility between God and sinners
Key Verse“and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” Colossians 1:20 (cf. 2 Cor. 5:18-21)

Also see When Year Jesus Christ Crucified? to learn more.

Jesus died to reveal God to people

Jesus was crucified, in part, to reveal truth about God. The realities listed below were already evident in God’s works in history as they are recorded in the Old Testament; however, the crucifixion was a unique demonstration of them.

Jesus’ crucifixion — for those who have the faith to see — showcases God’s glory, justice, love, and wisdom. Other attributes of God are evident, too, such as his holiness.

The glory of GodThe crucifixion reveals God’s beauty, goodness, majesty, holiness, and worth
Key Verse“When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” John 17:1
The justice of GodThe crucifixion reveals that sin deserves punishment
Key Verse“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood.” Romans 3:23-25a
The love of GodThe crucifixion reveals God’s affection and care for sinners
Key Verse“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” 1 John 3:16 (cf 1 John 4:10)
The wisdom of GodThe crucifixion reveals that God’s will and ways are best
Key Verse“We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:23-24
The power of GodThe crucifixion reveals that God is able to overcome sin and death
Key Verse“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Romans 1:16 (cf. 1 Cor. 1:17)

Jesus died to conquer evil

The New Testament teaches that Jesus’ crucifixion conquered sin (1 John 2:2), death (1 Cor. 15:26), and the Law (Rom. 7:10). Another important conquest of the crucifixion was Satan and demons. This was necessary because “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19).

The ultimate defeat of “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4) isn’t when he is thrown into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:10). The crucifixion of Christ sealed Satan’s fate for all eternity.

  • Colossians 2:14-15 says that Jesus canceled “the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”
  • Hebrews 2:14 reads, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.”
  • 1 John 3:8 reads, “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”

Also see What Day Jesus Christ Crucified? to learn more.

Jesus on the cross
Why did the Jewish leaders accuse Jesus of blasphemy? See below

What charges did Jewish leaders bring against Jesus and why?

Matthew informs his readers that the Jewish authorities “plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him” (Matt. 26:4, ESV). Giving Jesus a fair trial was never the plan. The authorities wanted him to die; they just had to figure out how to arrest him and convince the Romans to kill him.

It’s only after Jesus is arrested that the Jewish authorities make up charges against him. They took him to Caiaphas, the high priest and sought “false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward” (Matt. 26:59-60a).

The problem the authorities had was that two witnesses had to agree (cf. Deut. 19:15) or their testimony was inadmissible. In other words, their lies about Jesus contradicted each other.

They accuse Jesus of threatening to destroy the temple

Eventually, the authorities found two people who accused Jesus of the same crime. “At last two came forward and said, This man said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days” (Matt. 26:60b-61).

While two men agreed that Jesus made the statement, it was not true. What Jesus actually said was, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19).

Jesus never used the first person pronoun “I” — as the two false witnesses said he did — but the second person pronoun”[you] destroy this temple.” (The original Greek reflects the second person; the English translation implies it.) Jesus’ arrest was based on lies.

Moreover, Jesus wasn’t speaking about the literal temple anyway, but was referring to his own body (v. 21). The description “destroy” referred to his crucifixion. “Raise it up” referred to his resurrection.

Jesus is accused of blasphemy

The next charge the Jewish authorities brought against Jesus was blasphemy. When Caiaphas asked Jesus if he was the Messiah, he answered, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (v. 64).

Jesus’ description of the Son of Man is an allusion to Daniel’s teaching about the Messiah. “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him” (Dan. 7:13, emphasis added).

In response, Caiaphas accused Jesus of blasphemy and the Sanhedrin sentenced him to death. “Then the high priest tore his robes and said, ‘He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?’ They answered, ‘He deserves death'” (v. 65-66).

Also see Who Killed Jesus Christ? to learn more.

crown of thorns
Why did the Romans accuse Jesus of treason? See below

What charges did the Romans bring against Jesus and why?

The Jewish religious leaders didn’t have the legal right to execute Jesus, so they had to persuade the Romans that he was a threat to them. But the Roman authorities didn’t care about the charge of blasphemy against Jesus. To them, such accusations were internal matters among the Jews.

However, the Romans would have cared if Jesus threatened to destroy the temple. While the temple was a Jewish religious institution, the Romans took pride in it as a structure within the boundaries of their empire. Forecasting its literal destruction would easily result in legal charges.

The Jewish authorities gave Jesus over to the Roman governor, Pilate (Matt. 27:2). When Pilate asked him if he was the king of the Jews, Jesus responded, “So you say” (27:11). The charge started as blasphemy, which was important to the Jews; but it changed to treason, which was important to the Romans.

Pilate knew that the charges that the Jewish authorities rendered against Jesus were based on envy (27:18 and gave the crowd the opportunity to free Jesus. His wife even warned him against killing Jesus (v. 19).

Yet the Jewish authorities convinced the crowds to kill him (v. 20). Pilate asks what Jesus did wrong, but the blood-thirsty crowd simply responded, “Let him be crucified!” (v. 23).

Also see How Old Was Jesus Christ When He Died? to learn more.

Jesus Christ death
What are 50 purposes for Christ’s death? See below

The ultimate and immediate reasons for Jesus’ crucifixion are explained above. Below is a continuation of the Bible’s teaching about the results of his death for sinners. The 50 “purposes” below aren’t the “cause of the crucifixion, but the fruit of it for believers.

50 purposes of the death of Jesus Christ

The list below is adapted from John Piper’s book The Passion of Jesus Christ, which is a great devotional resource for anyone wanting to study the results of Jesus’ crucifixion for sinners. The tables below preview the book’s chapters (“Purpose” column) and the key verse Piper expounds for readers.

PurposeKey Verse
To absorb God’s wrath“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” Galatians 3:13 (cf. Rom. 3:25; 1 John 4:10)
To please the Father“And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:2
To learn obedience and be perfected“Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” Hebrews 5:8 (cf. Heb. 2:10)
To achieve his resurrection from the dead“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” Hebrews 13:20-21
To show the Father’s love and grace for sinners“For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:7-8 (cf. John 3:16; Eph. 1:7)
To show his own love for sinners“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20 (Eph. 5:25)
To cancel the legal demands of the law against sinners“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.” Colossians 2:13
To become a ransom for many“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45
For the forgiveness of sins“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” Ephesians 1:7 (cf. Matt. 26:28)
To provide the basis for the justification of sinners“Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” Romans 5:9 (cf. Rom. 3:24; 3:28)
PurposeKey Verse
To complete the obedience that becomes people’s righteousness“And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:8 (Rom. 5:19; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9)
To take away the condemnation of sinners“Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died— more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” Romans 8:34
To abolish circumcision and all the rituals as the basis for salvation“But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed.” Galatians 5:11 (cf. Gal. 6:12)
To bring people to faith and keep us faithful“And he said to them, This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” Mark 14:24 (cf. Jer. 32:40)
To make people holy, blameless, and perfect“For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” Hebrews 10:14 (cf. Col. 1:22; 1 Cor. 5:7)
To give people a clear conscience“How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” Hebrews 9:14
To obtain for people all things that are good for them“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Romans 8:32
To heal people from moral and physical sickness“He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5 (cf. Matt. 8:16-17)
To give eternal life to all 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
To deliver people from the present evil age“Who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.” Galatians 1:4

Also see What Time Did Jesus Christ Die? to learn more.

PurposeKey Verse
To reconcile people to God“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” Romans 5:10
To bring people to God“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.” 1 Peter 3:18 (cf. Eph. 2:13)
So that people might belong to him“you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another” Romans 7:4 (cf. 1 Cor. 6;19-20; Acts 20:28)
To give people confidence in accessing the holiest place“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus.” Hebrews 10:19
To become for people the place where we meet God“The Jews then said, It has taken forty-six years to build this temple,c and will you raise it up in three days? But he was speaking about the temple of his body.” John 2:20-21
To bring the Old Testament priesthood to an end and become the eternal high priest“He holds his priesthood permanently because he continues forever.” Hebrews v. 24 of 7:23-27 (cf. Heb. 9:24-26; 10:11-12)
To become a sympathetic and helpful priest“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” v. 15 of Hebrews 4:15-16
To free people from the futility of their ancestry“Knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold.” v. 18 of 1 Peter 1:18-19
To free people from the slavery of sin“Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood” v. 5 of Revelation 1:5-6 (cf. Heb. 13:12)
That people might die to sin and live to righteousness“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:24
PurposeKey Verse
So that people would die to the Law and bear fruit for God“You also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.” Romans 7:4
To enable people to live for Christ and not themselves“He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” 2 Cor. 5:15
To make his cross the ground of all boasting“But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Galatians 6:14
To enable people to live by faith in him“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20
To give marriage its deepest meaning“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Ephesians 5:25
To create a people passionate for good worksHe “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” Titus 2:14
To call people to follow his example of lowliness and costly love“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” v. 19 of 1 Peter 2:19-21 (cf. Heb. 12:3-4; Phil. 2:5-8)
To create a band of crucified followers“And he said to all, If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23 (cf. Matt. 10:38)
To free people from the bondage to the fear of death“He himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” Hebrews 2:14b-15
So that people would be with him immediately after deathJesus “died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” 1 Thessalonians 5:10 (cf. Phil. 1:21-23; 2 Cor. 5:8)
PurposeKey Verse
To secure people’s resurrection from the dead“If we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” Romans 6:5 (cf. Rom. 8:11; 2 Tim. 2:11)
To disarm the rulers and authorities“He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” v. 15 of Colossians 2:14-15 (cf. 1 John 3:8)
To unleash the power of God in the gospel“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Cor. 1:18 (cf. Rom. 1:16)
To destroy the hostility between races“By abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace.” v. 15 of Ephesians 2:14-16
To ransom people from every tribe, language, people and nation“you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” Revelation 5:9b
To gather all his sheep from around the world“And not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” v. 52 of John 11:51-52 (cf. John 10:16)
To rescue people from the final judgment“So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” Hebrews 9:28
To gain his joy and peoples’ joy“Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame” Hebrews 12:2a
So that he would be crowned with glory and honor“Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” Hebrews 2:9b (cf. Phil. 2:7-9; Rev. 5:12)
To show that the worst evil is meant by God for good“In this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed… to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” Acts 4:27-28

Also see Did Jesus Claim To Be God? to learn more.

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Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see the About page for details.

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