Roughly 2000 years ago, a Jewish man named Jesus of Nazareth died on a cross on a hill outside the city of Jerusalem. On either side of him two criminals shared his fate – a fate reserved only for criminals of the worst kind.
The significance of that day, a day commonly known now as “Good Friday” throughout Christendom, has been debated over the centuries following. For the early Christian church, the death of Jesus was interpreted as a sacrifice for sin that brought people salvation. For others, however, Jesus was deemed a sorcerer and simply got what he deserved (see the Jewish Talmud).
As we reflect anew in the weeks to come on the death of Jesus, how should we understand its meaning? What is the significance of the events that transpired on Good Friday?
One way to answer these questions is to reflect on Jesus’ own interpretation of his death on the night before he died. On this particular evening, Jesus was with his disciples, and together they were celebrating the Passover. In the course of the meal, Jesus took both the bread and the cup and explained them in light of his coming death. The bread represented his broken body, and the cup represented his shed blood. Of the cup, Jesus explained that it represented “the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20) and “my blood of the covenant” (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24).
This explanation refers to the new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34, which promised that God would one day make a new covenant – a new relationship – with his people. This covenant would be better than the previous covenant with Israel, for it would be founded on better promises (Hebrews 8:6). Specifically, the new covenant promised that God would always be with His people – nothing could break this new relationship, for God would see to it that all of His people would love and obey Him, and God would never bring to mind afresh their sin.
Therefore, Jesus interpreted his death to signify the arrival of the new covenant. He considered his death to be the sacrificial means by which the new covenant promises would be brought into effect for God’s people. His death was not an accident but was his divinely ordained mission to establish a new kind of relationship between God and his people – a relationship characterized by obedience from the heart and final forgiveness of sins. Further, these covenant promises were for anyone belonging to Jesus by faith; they were not limited to the Jews alone but included Gentiles who placed their faith and hope in Jesus Christ alone.
As a result, we need no other sacrifice for sin nor can we add or contribute to his finished sacrifice, for it accomplished final forgiveness of sin in full (Hebrews 10:11-18). We need no other covenant between God and humanity, for this new covenant is an everlasting covenant that cannot be broken (Isaiah 54:9-10; Ezekiel 37:26). As you reflect in the coming weeks on the meaning of Jesus’ death, may you come to find your rest and confidence by faith in Jesus alone, and may you, with Christians throughout the ages, celebrate and glory in the power of the cross.
Blessings in Christ,
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