Why did Jesus come to earth?
When Jesus stood on trial before Pilate, he said to Pilate, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” That statement intrigues me because elsewhere Jesus gave other reasons for why he came into our world. In John 10:10, Jesus declared, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” In Mark 10:45 he stated, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Which is it? Did Jesus come into our world to testify to the truth? Or to give us abundant life? Or to give his life as a ransom for many? Or do all three go together?
When Jesus stood before Pilate on trial for his life, Pilate thought that the truth of the matter was that Pilate was in charge of Jesus’ destiny. Indeed, Pilate said so. In John 19:10, Pilate asked Jesus, “Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” But Pilate was wrong. Jesus replied, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11). Pilate was not actually in charge of Jesus’ destiny; God was. The reason Jesus was born—the reason he came into our world—was to give his life as a ransom for many so as to bring to us abundant life. This is the truth that Jesus testified to.
Jesus stressed to Pilate, “If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over” (John 18:36). What followers is Jesus referring to? His motley band of disciples? What good would they be against the soldiers of Rome? If that’s what Jesus had in mind, he would have been delusional. But the truth is that Jesus had a much greater army at hand. When soldiers arrived at the Garden of Gethsemane to arrest Jesus, he announced, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53) And when Jesus calmed a storm at sea, his disciples asked each other, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41) If Jesus wished to prevent his crucifixion, he could have called forth the armies of heaven and/or the forces of nature to protect him. But he didn’t come here to save himself; he came here to give his life as a ransom for many so as to bring to us abundant life. This is the truth that Jesus testified to.
The truth is that death is a calamity that no one is history has been able to overcome. But Jesus came into our world to do just that. He came to overcome death by giving his life as a ransom for many so as to give us abundant life.
Before the Second World War, a grave in Germany had been sealed with a granite slab and bound with strong chains. On the slab an atheist had inscribed, “Not to be opened throughout eternity.” But, somehow, a little acorn had fallen into a crack, and its outer shell had ‘died.’ Years later, everyone who passed by could see a huge oak tree growing up out of that crack, having completely broken apart the granite slab. The arrogant words upon the slab still declared, “Not to be opened throughout eternity,” but a ‘resurrected’ acorn had proven it wrong. Jesus did the same to death.
One of the early church fathers, St. John Chrysostom, expressed it powerfully: “By accepting the body of Christ Death made a great mistake. It thought that it was an ordinary body: a sinful body and mortal just as the others held under its tyrannical authority. But as those who take food that cannot be digested by their stomach, will vomit not only the indigestible food, but whatever else they have eaten, so also with death. Death swallowed the all-pure and immortal body of the Lord, but immortal life was a bitter victual and indigestible for the gluttonous and insatiable Hades. It could not digest it and, therefore, vomited it! Together with the body of Christ, Hades ejected also all the dead held in its stomach from the beginning. The only appropriate and digestible food for death is sin. The sinless body of the Lord was inappropriate food for Hades. It resembled a stone that not only cannot be digested but also, if it remains in the stomach, will destroy it and breach it. When death swallowed the Cornerstone, the all-holy body of the Savior, it was in pain and distress, and lost all of its strength.”
Jesus came into our world to testify to the truth and to give his life as a ransom for many so as to bring to us abundant life.