Three Levels of Jesus Christ’s Great Sacrifice

by Don Hooser Estimated reading time: 13 minutes. Posted on 6-Mar-2024
Jesus died to redeem us from sin and its penalties. However, the laying down of His life in sacrifice started long before that. Let’s zoom out to a broader perspective.

At  this time of year, spring in the northern hemisphere, including the land of Israel, we give special remembrance to the monumental sacrifice of Jesus Christ—as He died on the day of the biblical Passover as the true fulfillment of the Passover lamb sacrifice (1 Corinthians 5:7).

Jesus laid down His life willingly (John 10:15, 18) to deliver from death and destruction all mankind who are ultimately willing to follow Him. His sacrifice offers everyone the opportunity to have everlasting life in the glorious Kingdom of God.

And we must not forget that this was an offering made by God the Father as well, who “so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).

Christ’s sacrifice to pay the penalty of sin for all humanity concluded in His painful death by crucifixion. But it involved far more than that. As we’ll see, a series of sacrifices led up to this point, the whole of what He willingly gave up and submitted to in His human lifetime being truly mind-boggling in scope. All these elements can be considered aspects of the greatest sacrifice ever made.

We’ll look here at three aspects or levels of the immensity of that sacrifice, standing in awe of what was done to secure our redemption.

The sacrifice of God becoming man

An utterly astounding aspect of Christ’s sacrifice preceded His physical life. It begins with the fact that before anything else existed there were two who existed together as God—the One who became God the Father along with the Word, through whom all things were made, who was made flesh, becoming the Man Jesus Christ (John 1:1-3, 14).

“Before time began” They understood that human beings, yet to be created, would need grace through Christ to redeem them from sin and death upon their choosing to go the wrong way (2 Timothy 1:9; compare 1 Peter 1:20).

So the first level of Jesus’ sacrifice was His willingness to let go of His sublime level of existence to live life in physical flesh. Amazingly, the Word, the Creator of all things, was willing to become a mortal human being.

The Word left behind the spectacular beauty and power of the throne in heaven with God the Father—millions of angels there praising before Them! (see Revelation 4:1-11; 5:11; John 1:1-5, 29). He left that awesome paradise to live as a human being in a small part of one of His small planets for more than 30 years, putting all on the line to save humanity.

He exchanged immortality for mortality. He gave up infinite glory and might for an inglorious life as an earthling. He began a human life as a baby in His mother’s womb. His transition was the ultimate humbling experience.

Philippians 2:5-8 tells us that Jesus very willingly made this ultimate sacrifice!

Once Jesus became a human being, He had to be sustained with water and food. He experienced thirst and hunger, so He had to drink and eat. He felt tiredness and fatigue, so He needed to have regular rest and sleep. He experienced normal pains, soreness, itching and sweating. At times He was uncomfortably hot and at times uncomfortably cold.

During Jesus’ earthly life, no one had the level of modern conveniences so many enjoy today. No indoor plumbing with instant cold and hot running water. None of our modern appliances. No electricity or natural gas. No central heating and air conditioning. No luxurious mattresses. No cars, buses and trains. No supermarkets. No mass-produced inexpensive clothing and shoes. No computers and no phones.

Jesus evidently had a home or residence during His ministry, as we’re told He “dwelt in Capernaum” (Matthew 4:13). This served as a base of operations, but He spent much of His time on the road. He and His disciples traveled mostly by foot—not easy, comfortable or always safe. For example, the distance between Capernaum and Jerusalem was about 85 miles. Jesus referred to the itinerant nature of His work in stating, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Luke 9:58). We wonder about the lives of Jesus and His disciples—about their long treks with camping, cooking, conversations and crises.

Jesus was exposed to dangers of robbers and other criminals. He was exposed to pollutions, foul smells and other objectionable circumstances—a far cry from His former life on the divine plane of existence.

Jesus’ incarnation—becoming mortal human flesh—was the ultimate demotion. He left the glorious spirit life of heaven to live as a vulnerable physical being exposed to all kinds of human suffering.

Furthermore, He came to live in the world that was and is under the powerful influences of the “ruler of this world,” Satan the devil (John 12:31). As a result, He was exposed to the devil’s efforts to influence Him into wrong attitudes and actions (Matthew 4:1-11; Ephesians 2:1-3), being “in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). This experience was essential for Jesus to become our sympathizing High Priest and Savior (same verse; see 2:17-18).

The sacrifice of suffering humiliation and animosity

Another level of Jesus’ great sacrifice was the malicious opposition He increasingly had to endure during His ministry. Behind the scenes was Satan, “the god of this age,” constantly fueling the growing hatred (2 Corinthians 4:4).

After Jesus began preaching His wonderful messages and performing miracles, including divine healings, reactions varied. A controversial teacher, He became loved and adored by many while increasingly hated and opposed by others, especially the Jewish religious leadership. And still many others were simply onlookers unwilling to accept Him and His teachings for various reasons, including fears (see John 7:5-15).

Even most of His admirers didn’t become true followers. As others, they did not yet comprehend Jesus’ mission and messages. “He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him” (John 1:10-11, New Living Translation). Coping through His and others’ troubles, He was “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3)—though He also had great joy in life (Hebrews 1:9).

Jesus’ popularity resulted in envy among many of the Jewish religious leaders and teachers—the scribes and Pharisees, as well as the Sadducees and priesthood. Corrupt human nature lusts for power and prestige, and the Jewish bigwigs were angered that they were losing people’s respect as the supreme religious authorities (compare Mark 1:22; 15:10).

Jesus was increasingly bombarded directly with insults and accusations and indirectly with malicious slander in efforts to damage His reputation and credibility. It’s important to understand why there were so many conflicts between Jesus’ teachings and the teachings of the dominant sects of Judaism. Jesus’ teachings never contradicted Scripture (see Matthew 5:17-20). But Judaism had become a religion exalting manmade traditions above Scripture.

In fact, some of their customs even contradicted Scripture! God had said, “Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it” (Deuteronomy 12:32). The Pharisees and scribes had flagrantly violated that command, and Jesus denounced them powerfully and angrily, calling them hypocrites (see Matthew 15:1-13; Mark 7:1-13). Hence, many of them despised Him.

It’s significant that Jesus waited until just before it was time for Him to be executed before delivering His fiery public condemnation of the Jewish leaders (see Matthew 23:1-39). Strongly confronting them sooner might have provoked them into more forcefully attempting to have Him killed before the preordained time.

Jesus’ enemies hatched several plots to get Him in trouble with the Jewish hierarchy and Roman authorities, seeking to have Him discredited, silenced and even sentenced to death! They confronted Him with trick questions in efforts to entrap Him. He had to choose His words very carefully. There were times when He planned His travel and whereabouts to avoid being arrested prematurely (see John 7:1; 11:53-54). This helps explain why Jesus often asked a person He had just healed to not tell others about it. He knew that when His enemies heard about His miracles, they would become even more determined to destroy Him.

Of course, Jesus also had miraculous protection from the Father to ensure He was not killed before the time it was supposed to happen—at the Passover at the end of His ministry.

Jesus had a very close relationship with the Father, and He enjoyed companionship with other people, especially His followers. But in important respects Jesus lived a somewhat lonely life, humanly speaking, since no one else yet had the Holy Spirit in them and the deep spiritual comprehension that comes with that.

Plus, one can only imagine the constant stress and emotional strain Jesus must have felt because of the increasing animosity, confrontations, threats and dangers from those who became His enemies—especially knowing what was yet to come.

The sacrifice of suffering torture and death

The final level of Jesus’ great sacrifice came at the end of His human life with His traumatic suffering and death. This was necessary to maintain divine justice while also showing unfathomable mercy. It demonstrated both the gravity of sin and the awesome love of the Father and Christ.

The Bible reveals that the penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23). But that is the ultimate penalty. Sin also brings the lesser but still serious consequences of untold miseries of terrible suffering and pain. Christ would thus go through not only death, but also intense suffering leading up to it. For only this great sacrifice of the Creator could atone for all sin for all time.

In choosing the way of sin, disobedience to God’s laws, human beings have come under subjection to the lord of sin and death, the tempter and deceiver, Satan. This evil being was formerly an angel of God who came to hate God and His ways and led many other angels in rebellion against God, these now known as evil spirits or demons (to learn more, download or request our free study guide Is There Really a Devil?).

When the divine Word became a physically vulnerable human being, Satan viewed that as his golden opportunity to inflict terrible torment on Him and to try to overthrow God’s plan to save mankind.  He influenced King Herod to try to kill the infant Jesus. He presented Jesus with major temptations to sin (Matthew 4:1-11) so that Christ would not be the perfect sinless sacrifice He was meant to be. He repeatedly influenced religious leaders to try to get Jesus killed (John 8:37, 40).

Satan poisoned the minds of the hostile religious leaders and eventually led one of Jesus’ disciples, Judas Iscariot, to betray Him. In fact, at Jesus’ last Passover with the disciples, “Satan entered” Judas, and Jesus Himself told him to act quickly (John 13:27). During that night, Judas led the hostile band to where they could arrest Jesus—leading to His unjust trials and execution.

Jesus gave Himself up to be killed by these forces directed by Satan—the Father likewise giving His Son over to that. But for Satan it was not enough to kill Jesus. He wanted to horribly hurt Him, to break Him, to cause Him to fail in the most critically important mission of all time.

Evil people have devised all kinds of horrendously sadistic methods of torture, but crucifixion is one of the cruelest methods for public execution—utterly satanic! For the worst types of pain, people have coined the word “excruciating,” meaning pain that is compared with that of crucifixion—being nailed to a cross to slowly, torturously die. It is horrific to imagine.

God and the Word had for untold eons carried the suffering anticipation of the Word becoming flesh and ultimately sacrificing His life for the sins of mankind. Finally, the time had come. And in the hours just prior to Jesus’ arrest, the agonizing dread of all that He was about to go through bore down heavily on Him.

Satan wanted Jesus to focus on His own well-being and try to flee, to think the divine plan and its necessary suffering and death weren’t worth it, but Jesus committed Himself to His Father’s will.

Jesus then suffered the humiliation of being arrested as if He were a criminal. His disciples fled in fear, magnifying His grief. Soon Jesus was being “tried” before a corrupt, kangaroo court where His sentence had already been decided. The religious leaders had become so full of hate that they were willing to break their own laws and rules to have Him quickly condemned.

We can only imagine how Jesus suffered with each successive sadistic cruelty. He was publicly ridiculed, mocked and spat on. He was punched while blindfolded. Patches of His beard were ripped out. He was stripped of His clothing and severely scourged with whips of cords imbedded with pieces of bone and metal so that each blow ripped away flesh to expose His bones. The mutilation was so bad He became almost unrecognizable. A crown of thorns was pressed down on His head, tearing into His skin. Nails were driven through His wrists and feet. He hung on the cross in agony for six long hours, experiencing stinging pain all over His body, terrible thirst and extreme weakness, constantly struggling to breathe.

Satan may well have relished in the awful torment as He sought to get Jesus to be vengeful in His thoughts against mankind and against His Father. But Jesus never caved. When He was nailed to the cross, He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). What awesome depth of mercy!

Bringing the immense struggle to an end, Jesus was pierced with a spear. He cried out and committed His spirit to God.

Then, Jesus Christ died! The One through whom the universe was made was dead.

Yet there was no victory here for the devil. His efforts to tempt Jesus into sinning or giving up had failed. Jesus died on the Passover as the perfect sinless sacrifice for the redemption of mankind. Yet that was thankfully not the end of the story, for three days after His body was laid in the tomb He would rise again, just as He said He would.

There is so much here to take in—yet not room enough to cover it here. We recommend that you review the detailed prophecies of Christ’s sufferings in Isaiah 52 and 53 and Psalm 22 as well as the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ last week ending in His torture and crucifixion. And truly give thanks.

The magnitude of Jesus’ sacrifice, on its multiple levels, is astounding to contemplate—considering who He was, what He gave up and what He endured. And remember that He suffered all that He went through for each and every one of us who have ever lived or will ever live!

He “loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood” (Revelation 1:5). Amazing sacrifice! Amazing love! Amazing grace!

As the apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:18 (Easy-to-Read Version), “I pray that you and all God’s holy people will have the power to understand the greatness of Christ’s love—how wide, how long, how high, and how deep that love is.”

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