Sometimes the question, or accusation/criticism maybe, is posed by atheists and critics of Christianity that Jesus didn’t really sacrifice anything because he is God and also because he got his life back three days later. So where’s the sacrifice if you know that what you give up will be given back, and given back even better than you previously had it?
It’s an interesting question, and one that should cause us to stop and think about what we, as Christians, say to non-believers in case the question is ever given to us. Most people will say Jesus gave up his life for us – but is that such a big deal if he knew he’d have it back in three days; and then to be taken up to heaven and resume his Godly-divine status he had before the incarnation?
Well, yes. Obviously all the pain and suffering that Jesus had to endure before his death was a big deal, and it showed, as we can see from the Gospels when Jesus says to his disciples that he is “deeply grieved, even to death” (Matt 26:38).
‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’ Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.
We can see from the quote above that Jesus really wasn’t looking forward to this, despite knowing its purpose. He even needed an angel to come to physically come to him to give him the strength to go on with this plan! Suggesting that this was a walk in the park for Jesus and making light of what he was about to go through is just ignorance of the reality of the situation. There’s also a significant detail in the Luke passage above which gives us a medical insight into what Jesus was going through in these moments: the sweat of blood.
This is actually a rare condition known as Hematidrosis, and in certain conditions of extreme physical or emotional stress and/or mental anxiety, the blood vessels that feed the sweat glands break and result in actual blood seeping through. This in itself shows just how much stress Jesus was under in the lead up to his execution to cause such a thing to happen. Modern day research also shows that this condition still manifests in people awaiting execution today.
So even if you knew that you would be resurrected in a few days time, I am sure that you wouldn’t really want to go through a Roman flogging and crucifixion – some of the most brutal ways to be tortured and executed in human history!
There’s lots of atheist memes on the internet making digs at this idea of what it means that Jesus sacrificed himself. “Jesus came back to life, so he basically sacrificed his weekend for you”, or similar types of jabs, totally missing the point.
So what did Jesus sacrifice if he only lost his life temporarily?
Everything about his pre-incarnate self.
Where once a spirit, now a glorified body.
Where once only divine, now fully God and fully man.
The incarnation had eternal consequences for the Godhead.
Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t just about dying, it was about taking on our humanity eternally. The eternal God now united forever with humanity. Jesus wasn’t only the “visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15) whilst on earth, no; he is forever that now. Like John says in his opening chapter about the coming of the Word into our world: he became flesh (John 1:14) and has stayed that way. This is the “mystery of godliness” (as some translations have it) that Paul talks about in 1 Tim 3:16, where he states that Jesus was “revealed” or “manifested in flesh” and later taken up in glory.
Look at when Jesus was taken up into heaven in Acts 1:11, the angels say to the disciples watching that they will see Jesus “come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” – ie., bodily. But we know from the accounts in the Gospels that Jesus’ body was no longer exactly the same as ours, though he appeared solid and human, he could still appear inside locked rooms (Jn 20:19), disguise himself and then disappear again (Luke 24:30-31).
We can see some glimpses of this in the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. After his death and resurrection, Jesus was raised bodily (and this is what our faith hinges on – 1 Cor 15:14), and was still recognisable by those who knew him. Paul states that he was seen by “five hundred” of his followers after he was raised (1 Cor 15:5-8) as well as the Twelve and Paul himself, and they all knew him. Jesus didn’t just put on a human skin mask for 30 years or so and then shed it once his job was done. No, he was “flesh and bones”, not a spirit or ghost, though flesh in a new way (Luke 24:39; 1 Corinthians 15:50).
This is what Paul goes into some detail about in his epistles: the resurrection and the bodies we will inherit through that. Though we may still look human and recognisable, our old bodies will be transformed into a glorious one like the one Jesus received.
1 Corinthians 15:42-44
So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.
What dies a physical body, is raised a spiritual one; though “spiritual” doesn’t necessarily mean some ethereal floaty mist-like substance, otherwise the disciples wouldn’t have been able to interact with Jesus after his death, nor would he have been able to cook and eat fish with them (Jn 21:9-14). The resurrected bodies we will get are the same type that Jesus now has; he will transform us into the same image of his own body (Philippians 3:21) so that “we will also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:49).
The resurrection is not just about our bodies changing, but about them being changed into the same likeness that Jesus now has!
Jesus is the mediator between God and man because he became man, but not only that, he has stayed a man so that he will forever be our mediator, on our level, but also on the level of God (1 Timothy 2:5). He is the “same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb 13:8) which is why in Revelation 22:4 it tells us that when we are finally there with him in glory, we will “see his face” (cf. 1 Cor 13:12). Jesus the visible image of God for all eternity now.
So what did Jesus sacrifice for us? Everything.
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