When considering the nature of these two questions it is important to distinguish between them. The first question, “Why did Jesus have to die?” has to do with the necessity and purpose of Jesus’ death on the cross.It is a theological question that is foundational to the doctrine of salvation. The second question, “Couldn’t it have been done another way?” is a philosophical question that addresses whether God’s plan of redemption is the best of all possible plans. While the two questions are definitely related, and when combined seem to be an attempt to challenge God’s wisdom, let us consider them separately.
WHY DID JESUS HAVE TO DIE?
Jesus did not “have to” die. The Bible is clear that Jesus voluntarily chose to die. Jesus affirms this clearly when He states:
“…I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down myself…” (John 10:17-18, NKJV).
Jesus could have chosen not to die, in which case we would all be lost in our sins and our transgressions and would be separated from God forever.
So, why did Jesus choose to die? Because man had accrued a debt with God that he was unable to pay for. God’s perfect justice demands that all transgressions receive just punishment. The punishment for sin against God is death. Jesus chose to die for us because he loves us and did not want anyone to have to pay the ultimate price for their sins—death. (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). He chose to die for us as payment for our sins. By choosing to die on our behalf, Jesus chose to pay in full the debt of our transgressions (Col. 2:14).
COULDN’T IT HAVE BEEN DONE ANOTHER WAY?
It is foolish of man, from his finite limited perspective, to question the wisdom of God’s plan of redemption. Furthermore, it is extremely arrogant for man to believe that he is capable of coming up with a “better plan” or a “better alternative” to the one God chose. In His omniscience, God will always choose the best possible course of action in any given circumstance to accomplish his perfect will. Had there been a better way, a way that would have kept Christ off the cross, we can be sure God would have chosen it.
A quick survey of the two most common alternatives that have been proposed highlights the foolishness of man in sharp contrast with the wisdom of God. Some have argued that God could have created man without the option to sin and thus Jesus’ death on the cross would have been unnecessary. While this sounds good, careful consideration reveals the folly.God created man perfect. Part of what makes us perfect is that God created us as free beings (as opposed to robots). Had God created us without freedom—that would not have been good—it would have been evil. Yes, it is our freedom that makes sin possible, but it doesn’t make it necessary. We chose to abuse of our freedom and make sin actual. Nevertheless, God’s plan accounted for our abuse of freedom and includes a plan for redeeming man from his fallen state.
Others propose that God could have chosen to forgive everyone, Jesus didn’t have to die on the cross, and everyone would go to heaven. Once again, that sounds great, but upon closer consideration it doesn’t work either. First, forgiveness is impossible when it is not sought by the transgressor. God would not violate man’s freedom to choose to obey or disobey God. When man freely chooses to disobey God and is unrepentant, forgiveness in the true sense of the word, is not possible. Second, the idea seems to suggest that God is unwilling to forgive some people. This is not true! God’s salvation and forgiveness are available to ALL who believe (John 3:16-17), but no one is forced to believe or accept it. Furthermore, everyone going to heaven would be a violation of man’s free will—for there are many who do not want to go to heaven. For those who freely choose to reject God—who affirm that they want nothing to do with Him, being forced to spend an eternity with Him would be worse than hell. C.S. Lewis said it well,
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, `Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end. `Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, chose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell.”
One of the things that sets Christianity apart from all other religions is God’s perfect Justice juxtaposed with God’s perfect Mercy! God’s justice is perfect—every transgression—no matter how small—must be paid for. God does not turn a blind eye on any sin—regardless of who commits it. That is perfect justice! However, God’s mercy is also perfect! God loves mankind with perfect love and does not desire that anyone should perish—so God devised a plan by which HE pays the debt demanded by his justice and makes righteousness available through Jesus Christ to all who believe. That is perfect mercy! That is why Jesus had to die and it could not have been done any other way. There is no greater plan of redemption!