Died for us

The question of why Jesus had to die on the cross remains unanswered for many Christians to this day. There are plenty of interpretations, but none of them are conclusive – none are really convincing. So what is the meaning behind the statement that the cruel death of a man 2000 years ago could bring about redemption and forgiveness? The answer to this question is the subject of the following article.

How could our guilt be forgiven through the death of Jesus 2000 years ago?

For the last two millennia, Christians have been content with the statement that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. This statement was regarded as a truth of faith. In other words, it was seen as a statement with a dogmatic claim that could not be questioned, but simply had to be believed. And since this statement is a basic component of the Christian faith, it could not and did not need to be understood in terms of content. It is therefore sufficient for the vast majority of Christians that this statement, where it is believed, has a salvific effect and cancels their own guilt. But is that the case? Is the Christian faith based on such automatism?

The biblical sources

I do not want to say at this point that such a belief is wrong in itself – on the contrary, I consider it to be formally correct. However, today this statement calls for a conclusive explanation – an interpretation that people today can understand mentally, provided they are interested in this topic. In fact, Jesus Himself interpreted His death in this sense. This means that the conscious giving of His life for the redemption of many or for the forgiveness of sins is clearly documented in the New Testament of  the Bible:

The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and  to give His life for the redemption of many.

Matthew 20,28

And he took the cup, gave thanks and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; this is my blood which is shed for many for the remission of sins. 

Matthew 26, 27-28

Jesus’ image of God

In order to understand the meaning of these statements by Jesus, we must first understand Jesus’ image of God.

For Jesus, God is omnipotent, he is the author of all things, everything flows from God and nothing can resist His will.

God is also a single and united God because  everything that is divided or disunited does not endure, is not God. Only that which is one in itself and the only one, which is God Himself, endures. This means that in God there is no contradiction, no counterpart, no alternative, no outside of Himself. In other words, apart from God, there is nothing but nothingness.

But Jesus answered him: “The greatest commandment before all the commandments is this: ‘Hear, Israel, YHWH our God is one God …'”

Mark 12:29


If a kingdom is divided against itself, it cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, it cannot stand …

Mark 3, 24-25

The will of God – the cause of all things

Against this conceptual background that nothing can resist God’s will and that he works all things according to His will, a statement by Jesus takes on a very special significance. He teaches it in the Lord’s Prayer, it reads:

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done …

Matthew 6:10

However, He did not only encourage His listeners to have the inner readiness to want what God wants, but He also showed this attitude Himself immediately before His arrest when He asked that, if it were possible, He be spared    his passion.

Jesus walked a few steps, prostrated Himself and prayed: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me and spare me this suffering! But not what I want, but what you want shall be done.”

Matthew 26:39

In this willingness, this unconditional consent to God’s will, lies the key to our understanding of God and Jesus’ understanding of Himself: “… not what I will, but what you will, shall be done.” Jesus believed, indeed he knew, that God executes all things without exception and that nothing can resist His will. He, therefore, wanted only one thing; complete unity with the will of God, even if this will meant injustice, suffering and death for Him. In this selfless consent to the will of God, Jesus proclaims his gospel, which is: God is life itself and all things, without exception, flow from God, not only beautiful, pleasant and beneficial things, but also ugly, painful and obstructive things.

God constantly produces new life

But all things that God does, He does for one reason only. He does them for His own sake, namely to constantly bring forth new life.

So, to the extent that we become one with the will of God, we become one with God Himself. But if we become one with God, we will also live for His sake.

Even if the will of God means our own death, God must still give us new life again. Why? Because everything that is subject to God’s will necessarily comes to life, since God is life itself. This is the commandment that Jesus received from his Father, as He Himself explained:

… that they all may be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I in you; that they also may be one in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. And I have given them the glory that you have given me, that they may be one, just as we are one, …

John 17:21-22


Therefore, my Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. I have received this commandment from my Father.

John 10:17-18

Redemption for many

So what is the redemption that Jesus brought us through his death? Redemption is based on accepting the attitude of Jesus, who possessed the divine power of the Spirit to recognise God’s will even in injustice, suffering and death. For in all events in which we seek God’s will, God will allow Himself to be found by us. And where we find God, we will necessarily find life itself.

Now one could argue that this is not good news if God wants us to suffer and die. The good news, the gospel, is that through this attitude, our suffering and death, which no one can escape anyway, takes on a deep meaning through which we receive comfort. Why? Because Jesus showed us in an exemplary way in His Passion that His own suffering and death had a deep meaning and for Him, this meaning lay in God. If we now accept His teaching and understand our own lives in the same way that Jesus understood His life, our own suffering and death will also be able to experience the deep meaning that lies in God.

God – spirit in the spiritless

Our redemption is based on the fact that nothing meaningless happens to those who accept and take on the unchangeable according to God’s will. Rather, everything is for the best for those who trustingly seek God’s will in all events but, especially, in the painful, unjust and difficult ones.

The meaning in Jesus knowing about His own suffering and death lay for Him in the certainty that it was good for us if He laid down His life. Indeed, He even tells His disciples that they should rejoice when he lays down his life for them.

You have heard that I said to you: I am going away and coming back to you. If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I am.

John 14:28

God is spirit and mind. He alone is able to make spiritual things out of spiritual things – He is able to make meaningful things out of meaningless things. God is the meaning sought and found in the meaningless. Through our consent to His will, God will be able and willing to act on us in the same way as He acted on Jesus Christ. There is no difference but without our consent to God’s will, all suffering and death must remain meaningless for us.

For the forgiveness of sins

But to what extent can our guilt be forgiven through the sacrifice of Jesus? According to Jesus’ teaching, the forgiveness of our guilt is also based on the fact that our human weaknesses are given a deep meaning.

This is the gospel, that everything that is humanly weak and evil ceases to be bad and evil in Christ.

But how is this possible in concrete terms? The only weakness that Jesus had was the weakness of His human body, and He willingly took this weakness upon himself as His cross. In this weakness, He handed Himself over to His enemies, who were only after this weakness because they could not oppose His spiritual strength. In His passion, Jesus thus lived out what He had previously taught so forcefully:

But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, pray for them who spitefully use you and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

Matthew 5:44

Jesus was the Son of God because He recognised the will of God in everything He encountered. In weakness and in strength. In friend and foe alike. In love as in hate, in honour as in insult, in discipleship as in persecution, in life as in death. This realisation made Him a descendant of the Most High – the Son of God.

Childship to God

By adopting this attitude of Jesus, we ourselves can now become sons of God – we can become children of God, and God becomes our Father. In His call to love our enemies, Jesus shows that God is also the cause of our enemies. But we should love what is subject to God’s will so that it can serve us. Only in such an all-encompassing and universal understanding of life, as Jesus taught and lived Himself, can every thought of guilt, punishment and retribution finally come to an end. Only in this faith are we able to forgive in a truly fundamental way. Why? Precisely because God deals with all things without exception. And for those who trust in this, God acts on all things in such a way that they serve Him for good.

If we recognise God’s will and interact even with our enemies, even with injustice, suffering and death, there is no longer any reason to condemn anyone.

Through our consent to God’s will alone, all human guilt is cancelled. For it is undisputed that Jesus recognised and obeyed the will of God in His passion. His consent to what is unjust, difficult and painful is what is meant when we talk about Jesus’ obedience to God.

As a ransom for many

However, Jesus’ statement quoted at the beginning can also be translated differently, in which case it reads:

The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.

Mark 10, 45

Where the term “ransom” has been understood literally, it has caused much confusion and justified head-shaking. It is not the case that God demands a tribute from us humans so that He can be gracious and merciful in return. Especially not from his Son. This idea would also be absurd. For since God is the source of all things, He cannot demand anything other than what He Himself is able to fulfil.

In this respect, the term ransom is to be interpreted in the sense that Jesus accomplished the work that was “necessary” on God’s part so that man would be reunited with God (life) and find his way back to God. What was needed was a sign through which man could see and recognise that God is the author of all things and that all things serve those who trust in Him. Jesus came to give us this sign and to convey this realisation to us.

The prerequisite and condition for this message to reach us humans was that a person should be able to recognise the will even in evil and unrighteousness and take this burden upon himself. But this was not possible for any human being. Only God Himself could do it. That is why He became man in the form of Jesus and gave Himself up for us.

Jesus gave His life so that the message would reach us that God is at work in all events, in which He is trustingly sought and found.


Jesus taught that divine forgiveness would be granted to us if we ourselves were willing to forgive. And he Himself acted in accordance with this teaching when He granted forgiveness to those who had Him executed.

But Jesus said: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Luke 23:34

Jesus was able to forgive in this way because he recognised the will of God in His enemies and in His passion. Jesus knew that everything in which man finds the will of God, he also always finds life, even if this means certain death.

I am the Resurrection and I am life. He who believes in me will live, even if he dies.

John 11:25

Why is that so? Because God influences all things without exception and because nothing but life and spirit can flow from God.

To the extent that we, like Jesus, take upon ourselves all things that we encounter or cling to according to God’s will, be it illness, weakness, injustice, suffering and death, we make God (like Jesus) the reason for our own passion. But where God thus becomes the reason for our passion, there is no enemy, no evil circumstance and no misfortune that hinders us. Rather, everything serves us to live. Only when the reason for my weakness, my illness, my suffering and death no longer lies in this world, but in God, do I myself become free from blame and retribution. But if I become free from accusation, I will be able to forgive just as comprehensively as Jesus forgave.

In order for this message to reach us, Jesus was prepared to take His passion upon Himself so that we, like Him, would be free from accusation and retribution, enabling us to become one with God, who effects all passion without exception only in order to create new life.

Only when we, like Jesus, trust that all things, without exception, serve us for the best, are we redeemed.

Jesus was prepared to set this example of overcoming for us. And it is in this sense that Jesus’ words are to be understood:’

This is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Matthew 26:28

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