If God had decided to send Jesus to Earth now instead of 2000 years ago, would it make any difference to people’s salvation if Jesus was hung, killed on an electric chair or killed by an injection?
Did Jesus have to die on the cross?
Let’s look at what Jesus did and try to see it removed from its historical background, distilled to the essentials of the event:
Jesus, at his death, took the punishment – on our behalf – for our wrongdoing and failure to meet God’s standards.
In doing that, he removed the offence – the spiritual “wall” – which stood between God and us.
This then allowed the restoration of the relationship between God and us.
Then God puts His Holy Spirit within us and starts to make us look like He wants us to look. (This is possible because we surrender to God’s rule when we become Christians, so we effectively give “permission” for God to invade our lives.)
OK, could this have happened today, with modern methods of execution?
Well, yes, in essence, it could, but there is a big BUT!
The BUT is that God had prepared for this particular death, in this particular way, since the dawn of History.
So here’s some examples of preparations for Jesus’s victory on the cross:
We can start in Gen 4:
Gen 4 15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
Here, we see God telling satan about the way he would be conquered: satan would inflict some damage on his conqueror, but he would then be totally crushed.
The Substitutionary Sacrifice
Then we can see the first hint of a sacrifice for sin to come:
Gen 3 21 The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.
Slice it whichever way you like, in Gen 3 we see the first sacrifice of a life, given to “cover up” a sin that had occurred.
(NB. It was the nakedness of Adam and Eve which was covered up, but it was NOT the nakedness which was the sin. It was just that realising they were naked was the SIGN to Adam and Eve that something had gone seriously wrong with their world, and it was their fault!.)
The difference between Cain’s sacrifice (Gen 4 2-5) and Abel’s was that Abel knew the lesson that “life blood” covers sin. God wasn’t pleased with Cain’s plants.
Following this, there’s a really famous sacrifice account in the Bible, as Abraham sacrifices a ram instead of Isaac on Mount Moriah. This story shows us that God is preparing History to recognise the sacrifice of a Son.
The Passover story (Ex 12) taught the world more about God’s plan – a SUBSTITUTIONARY death which brings freedom from captivity and an entry ticket to the promised land for anybody who follows God’s instructions and accepts the sacrifice of the Lamb for himself.
(Substitutionary means that the lamb was substituted for the firstborn son – the death the son would have had was experienced by the lamb, and the life the lamb would have had was experienced by the son.)
This substitutionary sacrifice was the pattern for the Sacrificial System practised by Israel. Check out Ex 29 and Lev 3 for some of God’s instructions for this.
Gen 14 18-20 gives an account of Abraham meeting a “Priest of God most high” called Melchizedek. God was teaching us that he was planning a “priest”, that means a “go-between” – one who could represent man to God and God to man. The theological term for a go-between is a “mediator”. We are told that there is one mediator between God and man. (1 Tim 2 5). Guess who that is?
Jesus’s priesthood followed the pattern (called the “order”) of Melchizedek. You can read about that in Hebrews Ch 5 to Ch 7 and more about the Mediator in Heb Ch 8 and Ch 9.
Of course, Jesus had to be a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, or else the promises God made to these three would not have been able to be fulfilled.
More than this, Jesus was born of a Royal family. Both on his mother’s side and his (adoptive) father’s side, he was directly descended from King David, who was of the Kingly tribe of Judah.
And the fact that we know these genealogies so well tells us that they were preserved because they were the genealogies of very important people, in other words, the rightful heirs to the throne.
If it wasn’t for Roman rule, and the puppet King Herod dynasty, Joseph would have been King Joseph, and Mary would have been Queen Mary.
Now, ask yourself – why was Herod so afraid of a BABY? The only possible reason? If it were to be known that that baby was the rightful King of Israel. THAT would show Herod up for the usurper that he was.
There have only been three times in world history that virtually the whole known world could communicate via one language. The first was before the Tower of Babel incident (Gen 11 1 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech…) when God intervened in Human history in a dramatic way.
The second time was in the time of Jesus, when, due to the successive Empires which had ebbed and flowed across the whole known world, Greek had become the universal trading language.
It wasn’t classical Greek that was spoken, it was a simplified version (called “Koine” or “Common” Greek), and it was used all over the known world to sell and but with.
Joseph would have sold his furniture to passing traders by speaking in Greek, and Jesus would have picked up Greek just by being involved in the family business.
This universal language gave the Gospel a real boost, for when it was written in Koine Greek, wherever it went, there were people who would understand it, and be able to translate it into the local tongue.
Notice that this was another time when God intervened in Human history in a dramatic way.
The third time there was a common language was… NOW!
The use of English as a common communication tongue is spreading across the globe very fast. There are German companies which hold their board meetings in English, because they can express better what they need to say. The Internet has far more English content than any other language, and there are now very few villages around the world where Internet access is unavailable. By default, English is the premier medium to use when you want to gain information, no matter what your own language is.
The stage is set for God to intervene in Human history in a dramatic way!
The World System
Although the Gospel has spread even under persecution, history tells us that the fastest spread occurs when there is stable and effective government, peace, and good transport and communications. Christians can then travel about, and speak freely.
Jesus lived in one of the most stable times of world history. Greek rule had united the known world, then the Romans brought stability and the rule of law.
Jesus often spoke of his “time”, or his “hour”. (`Matt 26 18, Mk 1 15, Jn 2 4, 12 26, 17 1)
God chose a very specific time to send his son, when all the threads of history had come together, uniting in a common cord.
The final answer thus has to be:, “Yes God could have chosen our time and a different mode of death, but he would have had to prepare the whole world in just the same way for whatever he was going to do, to get the environment of the Messiah ‘just right’”.