Questions on the nature of Christ’s Death

October 22, 2007    By: Matt W. @ 12:51 pm   Category: Life

Christ died on a cross, killed by the very people he was sent to teach.

Was that a necassary part of the atonement? If so, how so?

What I am asking is could Christ have done whatever it was that he did in Gethsemane(taking upon himself pain, sin, suffering, and other forms of affliction), and then lived a long and happy life in the countryside, to die of old age, and then break the bands of death and be resurrected? Could he have suffered the injustice of being the Son of God, only to then be run over by a careless drunken charioteer?

Is it possible that just as his infinite atonement covered all manner of sin, it also covered all forms and manners of death?

Are there any components you consider essential to the manner in which Christ died? (Must he have been hated? Did he need to be sinned against in death? Did he have to be betrayed?)


  1. I’m not sure, but I would speculate that there are 2 parts to the atonement.

    The first was that he took upon him our sins in the garden. That’s the part we usually talk about when we talk about the atonement.

    The second is that he suffered throughout his life, culiminating with his death. I think the manner in which he died was necessary considering Alma 7:11-12. He had so suffer humiliation, false accusations, physical and emotional pain (think of him seeing his mother that was about to be left alone), pre-mature death, and countless other mortal trials so that he could help us when we have to go through similar (though less severe) trials.

    Again, I’m not an expert, but that’s the way I see it.

    Comment by Mike the Horebite — October 22, 2007 @ 5:38 pm

  2. I think it was so he could get home as quick as possible and let the spirits out of prison. Why would he need to live any longer? If he died a natural death the resurrection would appear less miraculous and he would not appeal to our hearts as much. I don’t know that it was part of the atonement in the deepest sense, I suppose he could have died at any time. Blake, any thoughts?

    Comment by Kent — October 22, 2007 @ 5:43 pm

  3. “To descend below all things” must have been a requirement to meet the demands of justice. If not, then the Father would have certainly allowed the cup to pass from his son.

    In Hebrews we see a mysterious scripture that gives a glimpse into the minds of prophets:

    Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection…

    (New Testament | Hebrews 11:35)

    “Obtaining a better resurrection” was worth being stoned,…sawn asunder, …tempted, …slain with the sword: …wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented..and the like.

    (New Testament | Hebrews 11:37)


    Comment by Jared — October 22, 2007 @ 6:20 pm

  4. Christ knelt alone in Gethsemane, the main audience was the dead, the living could not see him and there was little written about it. The dead already knew that there was life after death, some even having suffered as Christ. But, they were stuck in their sins. This act would have freed a large number of dead in a short period of time…and that is where He went next, to preach to the dead.

    The main audience for the crucifixion was the living to teach life after death.

    Could he have retired in the country? Given man’s nature, I think sacrifice is required to satisfy man’s view of justice. Someone had to play that roll to pull us up out of “an eye for an eye”.

    Comment by Howard — October 22, 2007 @ 6:57 pm

  5. I would say that he had to die on the cross because thats what we demanded. As one of my favorite theologians once said, the cross is not a detour on the path to the kingdom or a roadstop, it is the kingdom come. I think Christ’s death and choice to suffer death rather than call on legions of angels is a testimony as to who God is and what he is about. It is a renunciation of the worlds means (violence) of dealing with conflict. It is the sermon on the mount in practice.

    Comment by joshua madson — October 22, 2007 @ 8:55 pm

  6. I have to agree with Mike the H. I have not doctrinally searched this, but have always felt that the suffering in the Garden was to overcome spiritual death (sin – “Oh, death where is thy sting?“) and the suffering on Calvary was to overcome physical death (mortality – “Oh, grave, where is thy victory?“).

    Comment by mondo cool — October 22, 2007 @ 9:32 pm

  7. Matt W.,

    I have an unorthodox position on this. I do not think the Atonement was accomplished in the Gethsemane or on the cross that we know, but rather that Gethsemane and the cross that we do know are designed to teach us about the Gethsemane and the cross that we do not – a spiritual Gethsemane from the foundation of the world even till now, based on a process view of the Atonement.

    Comment by Mark D. — October 23, 2007 @ 12:05 am

  8. First of all, I’m inclined to agree with the association of Gethsemene with overcoming spiritual death and Calvary with overcoming physical death. Hence, some form of death was necessary. The most important fact about Christ’s death, however, is not the specific manner, but that he was in control of it. From John 10:

    17 Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again.
    18 No man taketh 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. This commandment have I received of my Father.

    So I think there was a purpose to the manner of his death, and the events leading up to it. Otherwise, he would have orchestrated it differently. But that purpose might not have been to accomplish the atonement, but rather to publicize it. Orson Scott Card, in his review of The Passion of the Christ, opined the following:

    Had the death been by lethal injection, the effect on our salvation would have been the same.

    Perhaps. But would anybody have noticed or cared?

    Comment by Last Lemming — October 23, 2007 @ 7:22 am

  9. Mike the Horebite: I am not sure what you are trying to extract from Alma 7- Are you trying to say that he had to take upon himself infirmities, afflictions, sickness, pain, sin, and death all at the same time?

    Kent: If he needed to get home as quick as possible, could he have just ceased living in the garden? I mean, in the LDS tradition, he did lose a lot of blood…

    Jared: I don’t understand how those questions answer the Question of why Chrst must have died the way he did.

    Mondo: I have heard this idea before. But that leaves us with the question of whether he could have overcome death by resurrecting three days after being killed by being stoned to death, or stabbed by the soldiers after Peter attacked them, or by being allergic to olive trees… etc etc…

    Howard, Joshua, Mark D. LL:
    All four of you are suggesting some form of Exemplar idea in the crucifixtion. This hits the wall for me, especially as Mark D. positions it for me because I don’t think the story can just be a story and still have the same impact. It can’t just be allegorical, or metaphorical, etc etc. This is something Jacob J and Blake have suggested as well, but if it just is a sign to point us to what happened, then why would it need to be real? I can agree with the idea that the atonement perhaps really began when Christ said “Here am I, send me” but don’t know if I can say that the passion is just a piece of divine propaganda…

    Comment by Matt W. — October 23, 2007 @ 7:43 am

  10. Matt W.

    It’s not allegorical nor metaphorical. Its still real. It has to be real and it has to be an innocent man, namely the son of God, and he has to resurrect. Christ came to show us the way and the truth. He taught what it is to be a son of God, invited us to follow him, and then unmasked the religious teachings and practices of his day as not being of God. Absent his resurrection he would likely be another martyr, another dead prophet slain by the people. God sent his son to end the madness.

    Comment by joshua madson — October 23, 2007 @ 8:56 am

  11. Matt,
    Atonement theory? I don’t pretend to have the answer.

    A couple of things have been confirmed to me by way of studying it out in my mind and asking:

    1) Blood sacrifice is required by man for man.
    2) The intended Gethsemane audience was the dead.

    Comment by Howard — October 23, 2007 @ 9:00 am

  12. Matt W.
    I suppose in the great universe of possibilities, the actual method of death may not be that important. “Could it have been by….?” is an entertaining question and I guess it contrastingly highlights the “death by cross” method. There is a very strong tradition in Catholicism and Protestantism about the “blood of the cross.” (Nibley wrote about that.) So, whether over-emphasizing it or minimalizing it, the fact remains that He suffered in Gethsemane and died on the cross. That’s the hand we’re dealt. So, why the suffering and death may be the more important question than the specific manner of the suffering and death.

    Comment by mondo cool — October 23, 2007 @ 9:19 am

  13. My view is that it was necessary only in a very limited sense – due to the fact earlier prophecies made use of it. (I’ll leave the debate about foreknowledge in this regard alone)

    Comment by Clark — October 23, 2007 @ 11:04 am

  14. Matt–see #3 & #9

    The main aspect of the atonement, as I understand it, is suffering-both spiritually and physically. Add to the mix the ability to stop the suffering at anytime, but the will (because of infinite love) not to, and I think we begin to see in a small way what the atonement is about.

    The law of opposition required that the Lord, to become perfect, as his Father is, had to descent below all things, all things having to do with suffering.

    I wonder if that means the total combined suffering of every person that is counted in Fathers family (many, many planets) or if infinite suffering means, like absolute zero, absolute suffering;ie, a point at which more suffering isn’t possible.

    As the scriptures in Hebrews (#3 above) suggest even non-gods obtain a “better resurrection” depending on the depths of suffering experienced in mortality.

    This is the kind of doctrine that causes us to “look away” because it is hard-doctrine.


    Comment by Jared — October 23, 2007 @ 2:00 pm

  15. #9: My point in #1 is just that Jesus did not just come to take upon us his sins. He also came to suffer so that he could help us cope with our trials. That’s what I got from Alma 7.

    He obviously suffered physically in many instances, which I think was necessary. His death on the cross seams to me one of those important times where he suffered.

    Whether it was absolutely necessary, I’m not sure.

    Comment by Mike the Horebite — October 23, 2007 @ 8:16 pm

  16. The law of Moses talks about the manner of Christ’s death. Paul points this out, when he mentions hanging on a tree. There are some interesting connections there.

    Comment by P. Nielsen — October 23, 2007 @ 8:24 pm

  17. Matt W.,

    My theory has a moral influence component, but in most respects is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Moral influence theories do not correlate Christ’s suffering with the consequences of sin. On the contrary I do think that (because of the work he is engaged in) Christ suffers due to sin, on an ongoing basis in heaven more so than during his tenure on earth.

    It is a matter of causality. I do not see how Christ’s suffering in 34 A.D. can have any non-persuasive benefit prior to that time, and I think the redemption of mankind is a rather larger endeavor than can occur in three hours or three days, let alone be reduced to little more than setting a good example.

    Comment by Mark D. — October 23, 2007 @ 8:49 pm

  18. Matt,

    More in answer to your question, I believe that (the true) Gethsemane is in heaven. I believe that Christ’s true cross is born there is well. Far from minimizing the significance of Christ’s suffering, I am suggesting rather it is born across time, and that the scriptures should be read accordingly.

    There is a basic principle here – suffering in and of itself does not have any benefits beyond perhaps increased tolerance for pain. Suffering in active pursuit of worthy objective has benefits.

    Why should there be first class spiritual consequences due to the local and passive experience of pain and death? If the principle were true, we should all become ascetics or masochists. I worship Christ more for what he does, for the pain I believe he bears as a consequence, than for what he did.

    Comment by Mark D. — October 23, 2007 @ 9:24 pm

  19. “killed by the very people he…”
    I don’t believe Christ was “killed.” He being all powerful chose to separate his spirit from his body.

    “die of old age”
    I really don’t think he could have died from old age. At some point he would have had to choose to go through the process of death (separation of the body from the spirit). He is/was after all God the Son.

    Whether manner of death was important I don’t know, but I’m gonna guess that it was. Most of what we do in this gospel is symbolic–I can’t imagine that Heavenly Father would not use Christ’s physical death as a teaching moment.

    What are some of the symbols from the crucifixion? Maybe that’s a good idea for a thread. Off the top of my head–
    1. Christs’ outstretched arms = beckoning to come unto Him
    2. Being lifted up = Reminds us of where we should look in times of suffering–up.
    3. ….

    What are your thoughts?

    Comment by Will F. — December 8, 2007 @ 9:42 pm