If you trust in Jesus, God looks at you as one who has already died, as one whose sin has already been punished, as one whose life is seen as the perfection that Christ attained. God sees you this way because he sees Jesus in your place. Jesus lived as a substitute for sinners. He lived in your place. He died in your place. He rose from the dead as victor over death. And in the same way, you and I who trust in Jesus will rise from the dead as victors over death.
And he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them—John 19:17–18.
Jesus died. This short sentence shows Christianity as unique among other religions. In the introduction of her book The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus, Fleming Rutledge, an Episcopal priest and lecturer, makes this powerful claim: “The world’s religions have certain traits in common, but until the gospel of Jesus Christ burst upon the Mediterranean world, no one in the history of human imagination had conceived of such a thing as the worship of a crucified man” (1).
Of course, without the resurrection Jesus’ death would have meant nothing more than that a charismatic Jewish leader died at the hands of Roman authorities—a tragedy for friends and family, but hardly enough to ignite a movement that would last for over two millennia to the present day. Still, as important as the resurrection of Jesus Christ is for Christianity, the resurrection must be understood through the death of Jesus. Again, Fleming Rutledge makes this point well:
The resurrection is not a set piece. It is not an isolated demonstration of divine dazzlement. It is not to be detached from its abhorrent first act. The resurrection is, precisely, the vindication of a man who was crucified. Without the cross at the center of the Christian proclamation, the Jesus story can be treated as just another story about a charismatic spiritual figure. It is the crucifixion that marks out Christianity as something definitively different in the history of religion. It is in the crucifixion that the nature of God is truly revealed. (p. 44)
Death and resurrection are two important events in the life of Jesus and the life of the church. Here, I want to show three ways Jesus’ death shapes Christianity.