What Does Life After the Cross Look Like?

“For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.”  — Galatians 5:5

How often have you encountered times of waiting?  It could be specific situations or even seasons that seem to never end. We loathe waiting. Our culture even demands double drive-thrus at restaurants with pleasant employees holding iPads in the rain to speed up our orders of chicken sandwiches. Oh, we may not admit it, but the struggle is real. I’m currently in a season of waiting that has challenged my faith and grown me in ways I likely won’t see until this season is over. But let’s look at how the gospel is permeated with seasons of waiting.

We’re all familiar with the story of Adam and Eve in the garden. Life was a paradise. Then the serpent came, and man fell prey to his ways, causing the original sin. In Genesis 3:15, we hear God deliver the consequences to the serpent, Satan, “I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” Adam and Eve heard this—as they were also receiving from God the consequences of their sin. Even then, they surely thought “how long before this serpent’s head will be crushed?” God was speaking of a future Rescuer, and likely, Adam and Eve longed and waited for that glorious day.

Since we have the Scriptures, we know that the Rescuer wouldn’t come quickly but thousands of years later. Isaiah 11 prophesies of the “shoot that will grow from the stump of Jesse.” This Shoot was to be a banner for His people, and His resting place was to be glorious. If you read the Old Testament, you’ll learn of God’s chosen people—the Israelites. They went from captivity to freedom led by a stuttering leader, crossed the Red Sea on dry land, and eventually entered the Promised Land. Continually they were disobedient, yet God was faithful. He had a plan of rescue. But His people had to wait. The prophets, like Isaiah, foretold this Rescuer’s coming yet surely those disobedient chosen ones wondered, “how long?” The wait was arduous, and some doubted a Messiah would ever come.

Then, just as God had promised, when the fullness of time had come, Jesus was born. Born in a smelly barn with the animals, the Rescuer had arrived. But as a baby? How unconventional for a King. Yet after all the waiting, God’s Plan was unfolding just as He designed it. One person who had waited excitedly for this day was Simeon. When he held the baby Jesus, he said, “For my eyes have seen Your salvation. You have prepared it in the presence of all peoples — a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory to Your people Israel.” Simeon’s waiting was over.

For the next 33 years, Jesus would minister on this earth, culminating in what we celebrate as Easter—His death and resurrection. How can this be? The Rescuer had come and now was gone. . . but not dead. He is risen!! Jesus had told His disciples, “if I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also.”

Lots of questions followed. Yet over time, even after Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples came to understand Jesus’ words, and the gospel spread. But another wait began. The wait for Christ’s return.

Today as believers we are still waiting for His return. Many a day we may utter “even so, Lord Jesus come quickly.” We wait. But not without hope. Life after the cross brings us hope and waiting. Yet we see the thread of waiting through the gospel story. As we wait with anticipation, may we be bold in sharing the good news that brings the hope of Christ.

Why Did Jesus Die?

Why did Jesus die?1 Our question is not about the manner of his death (in what way?), the means of his death (how?), nor its circumstances (when?)2; It is about the reason and intended results of his death. Although we cannot exhaustively answer this question, we can nevertheless answer it truly.3 In order to do this briefly, we will consider just one of the ancient eyewitness sources written about Jesus’ life and death—namely, the Gospel of John.4

There are several places in John where Jesus says that he “came” or “does [x, y, or z]” for a reason or purpose.5 Some of these relate most closely with the ultimate purpose for which Jesus died (14:31; 18:37), while others address the results or entailments of that purpose. In this post, we will first consider Jesus’ ultimate purpose in dying and then the results entailed in his accomplishment of that purpose.

In John 14, Jesus prepares his disciples for the time when he departs (i.e., in death), and he says, “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father” (14:31, ESV).6 Here Jesus describes his voluntary death as obedience to the Father, and that obedience is purposed to display the love of God the Son for God the Father.7 In John 18, Pilate interrogates Jesus, and Pilate storms out after Jesus says the following: “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (18:37).8 In light of Jesus’ repeated testimony about himself (e.g., 8:12–14) and his singular statement of John 14:6 that “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” we ought to conclude with D. A. Carson that “in this context, truth . . . is nothing less than the self-disclosure of God in his Son.”9 Therefore, Jesus came to die as the unique God (1:18)—God’s unique Son (3:16)—in order to uniquely reveal the glorious character of the triune God (1:14–17). This may strike you as unexpected! Yet, what Jesus reveals and his purpose to reveal are inseparable10, so we turn to Jesus’ intended results.

If the death of Jesus intends to uniquely reveal God’s glorious character, then what precisely does the death of God the Son make known? In short, Jesus’ death reveals God as the Lamblike Servant whose humble substitution and sacrifice on the cross is the only way for sinners to have eternal life.

John narrates that truth in the following ways: After taking on flesh (1:14), God himself as Jesus is identified as the Lamb (1:29 cf. Isa 53:7), who takes away the sin of fallen humanity.11 Apart from this divine intervention, humanity would only love the darkness (3:19–21) with the wrath of righteous judgment awaiting them (3:36).12 Jesus indicates that believing and knowing that “I Am He” is the only way not to die in your sins (8:24–28 cf. Isa 43:10–11).13 With that deplorable and desperate condition of his sheep in view, God the Son is revealed as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:15–18), dying in their place. Substituting himself for them, Jesus dies bearing the judgment for their sins about the time the Passover lamb was slain (19:14), without a broken bone (19:33, 36 cf. Exod 12:46), and his body was not left to the morning (John 19:31 cf. Exod 12:10).14

Therefore, Jesus’ death, by saving sinners as a substitutionary sacrifice and providing them with eternal life, accomplishes its ultimate purpose of uniquely revealing God Himself for “this is eternal life, that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

[1] Given the brevity of this post and the importance of the topic, I also recommend John Piper, Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006).

[2] It is also not about whether he must die; for the eyewitness accounts of the Gospels are replete with the times Jesus said he must. See, for example, Matt 16:21; Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22, 17:25, 22:37, 24:7, 26; John 3:14 cf. 12:32–34.

[3] I am alluding to D. A. Carson’s adage against post-modern thinking: “Although we cannot know anything absolutely (i.e., exhaustively) like God knows it, we can know some things truly (i.e., really).” Andrew David Naselli, “D. A. Carson’s Theological Method,” SETS 29.2 (2011): 252.

[4] On the Gospels as eyewitness testimony, see Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017); on the trustworthiness of the Gospels as ancient accounts, see Peter J. Williams, Can We Trust the Gospels? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018).

[5] So, for example, John 3:16, 17 cf. 12:46, 47; 5:34; 6:38; 9:39; 10:10; 14:13, 31 cf. 17:4; 18:37.

[6] In Greek, the purpose clause is placed first for emphasis: “in order that the world would know that I love the Father, just as the Father commanded me, thus I do.”

[7] On the voluntary nature of Jesus’ death, one should recall John 10:18; Jesus says, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up.” That John believes Jesus voluntarily died is clear from his description of Jesus’ death in 19:30, where Jesus “bowed his head and handed over his spirit.” The description recalls the authority of Jesus to lay down or hand over his own life.

[8] We should hear John 10:16, 27 in that reply. There Jesus says that his sheep listen to his voice. Therefore, all sheep are those who are “of the truth”—vitally connected to him who is the truth, Jesus. Seen in this light, Being a sheep and being of the truth are parallel to being a branch in the True Vine (John 15:1–11).

[9] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991), 595.

[10] This is to say that if Jesus desires to display the character of God, then that desire has an object or content that is meant for display also. That object or content is inseparably included within the ultimate purpose of his death.

[11] John later describes this as the giving of God the Son so that all who believe would have eternal life and thus be saved (3:16–17).

[12] This is due to spiritual blindness (9:39–41).

[13] Thus, “no one comes to the Father except through me” (14:6).

[14] These three details along with John 1:29 confirm that John views Jesus’ death as that of the Passover Lamb of the new exodus. For more on the Passover and Servant connections, see Paul M. Hoskins, That Scripture Might Be Fulfilled: Typology and the Death of Christ (Longwood, FL: Xulon Press, 2009).