“For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives. Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you.’ Then likewise he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry. And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Hebrews 9:16-22).
Jesus foretold His death several times. He spoke of being lifted up on the cross (John 12:32), of being buried for three days (Matthew 12:40), of giving His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45), and of offering His body and blood for the remission of sins (Matthew 26:28).
As His death drew near, His forewarnings became more frequent and detailed. We’re told in Matthew 16:21, “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.” The Greek word for “must” in this verse means necessary.
It was necessary for Jesus to die in order to redeem us from our sins and to mediate all the redemptive blessings of the New Covenant—indeed, so necessary that, when Peter objected, saying, “This shall not happen to You,” Jesus responded in the strongest terms: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:22-23).
Consequently, the death of Jesus was no accident. He did not die on Good Friday because the religious leaders of Israel lied, or because Pilate chose political correctness over justice, or because the crowd went from singing “hosanna” to shouting “crucify.” These events were instruments, not accidents. God used them to carry out His plan of salvation; as Peter explained in Acts 3:18, “But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled.”
But for the unbelieving Jews, the concept of a crucified Messiah was scandalous (1 Corinthians 1:23). The Messiah they anticipated was to restore Israel’s former glory, oust the hated Romans, and institute social programs: free food, free miracles. And when Jesus made it clear that His kingdom was not of this world, and that saving the world meant dying for it, many Jews rejected Him.
As the first readers of Hebrews wavered between the Old Covenant and the New, they too may have questioned the benefits and necessity of Christ’s death. The writer of Hebrews clearly explains the purpose of Christ’s death throughout the epistle: “that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone” (2:9), “that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (2:14), “this He did once for all when He offered up Himself” (7:27), and “with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (9:12).
In 9:16-22, the author further shows the necessity of Christ’s death by using the analogy of a last will and testament. A will specifies the distribution of an inheritance. Yet, a will is never in force, and an inheritance is never distributed, until the death of the testator.
In the same way, all the blessings of the New Covenant—forgiveness, salvation, peace, joy, eternal life; indeed, everything belonging to Christ Himself, whom the Father “appointed the heir of all things” (1:2)—became ours only through the once-for-all death of Jesus.
When the Old Covenant was dedicated at Sinai, it too required the shedding of blood. But the New Covenant—in a sense, God’s Last Will and Testament—required a far greater sacrifice and far more precious blood; the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, which “cleanses us from all sin”
(1 John 1:7).
Christ’s death was a necessary death. His victorious life guarantees that the blessings of the “will” shall be ours forever.
Mark Weis is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, with locations in North Port and Fort Myers, Florida.