Question: "Why was Jesus crucified?"
Answer: There are both an earthly reason and a heavenly reason Jesus was crucified. Simply put, the earthly reason is that mankind is evil. The heavenly reason is that God is good.
The earthly reason Jesus was crucified: mankind is evil. Wicked men conspired against Him, falsely accused Him, and murdered Him. The leaders of Israel had several reasons they wanted Jesus to be executed. They were envious of His following (Matthew 27:18). They were afraid that Jesus would gather too large a following, which might bring the Roman authorities down on the nation, causing them to lose their positions (John 11:48). They hated the fact that Jesus called out their sin publicly (Matthew 23). And they thought He was blaspheming when He claimed to be the Son of God (Luke 22:66–71). But all these reasons were simply symptoms of their underlying unbelief (John 5:46).
Jesus was crucified, rather than stoned, hanged, drowned, etc., because His execution was carried out by the Romans. Crucifixion was the method of execution employed by the Roman Empire to make an example of someone and to deter others from committing the same offense. It was normal to post the charges against the condemned on the cross. Pilate posted the charge “King of the Jews” on Jesus’ cross (Matthew 27:37). The Jewish leaders had made this accusation to goad the Roman governor into executing Jesus. John 19:12 reports, “From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, ‘If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.’” Pilate could not afford to be seen as tolerating a rival to Caesar.
The heavenly reason Jesus was crucified: God is good. God had a plan to save sinners, and Jesus was the Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Even though the act of crucifying Jesus was evil, the crucifixion was still the plan of God to make atonement for sin. “Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen” (Acts 4:27–28).
The crucifixion was not a case of evil getting out of control. Jesus told Pilate, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:11). The powers of darkness were given divine permission to act (Luke 22:53). God allowed the hatred, the conspiracy, the false accusations, the sham trials, and the murder of His Son. In the crucifixion of Christ, God used the evil desires of evil men to accomplish the greatest good: the provision of salvation for mankind. “It was the LORD’s will to crush Him and to cause Him to suffer” (Isaiah 53:10); the result was glorious: “He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (verse 12).
There is nothing in Old Testament prophecy that explicitly mandates that the Messiah be crucified. At the same time, there are hints of the manner of His death in the Law and the Prophets. In Galatians 3:13, Paul applies Deuteronomy 21:22–23 to the death of Christ. Crucifixion allowed for the “piercing” mentioned in Zechariah 12:10 (cf. John 19:37). Crucifixion results in the shedding of blood, necessary for a sacrifice (Hebrews 9:22; cf. Leviticus 17:11). In crucifixion, the breaking of bones can be avoided (Exodus 12:46; cf. John 19:36). And the crucifixion of Christ perfectly fits the description of the anguish David faced in Psalm 22.
We all have committed sins, and we are all worthy of death, but Christ took our place. He was publicly executed, and His blood was shed on our behalf, as Paul explains in Romans 3:25–26: “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”
In the final analysis, the reason that Jesus was crucified is the answer that each of us must come to understand and embrace by faith: Jesus was crucified to pay for my sin so that I can be forgiven and be made right with God.