What was the purpose of Jesus’ death? Translations of the Greek New Testament contain many verses that say Christ died FOR us? But what do those little words translated as “For” mean?
Did He die for us in order to save us from our sin, that is, from our wrongdoing?—from ourselves?
Or did He die for us in the sense of dying in our place, to appease the wrath of an angry God so that His suffering satisfied God’s wrath, and thus God wouldn’t be angry at us anymore?
I looked up as many verses as I could quickly find containing the phrase or similar phrase as “Christ died for us” and found that in nearly every instance, the word “for” is translated by the Greek preposition “ὑπερ” which means “on behalf of” or “for the benefit of” or “for the sake of” or “because of”.
The following verses are from the ESV. I have reddened every “for” that is translated from “ὑπερ”. Try reading them, substituting one of the three phrases I gave above as the meaning of “ὑπερ”.
In one verse, the Greek proposition “περι” is translated as “for”. That word means “concerning”. Jesus died concerning us. We were His concern.
If any of these verses were meant to mean that Jesus died in our place, the writer would have used the preposition “ἀντι”. This word means “instead of” or “in place of”. I believe there is NO VERSE that uses this preposition concerning Jesus’ death for us.
There is one that, at first blush, might be thought to be an instance:
This time, it is the preposition “ἀντι” which is translated as “for”. So am I wrong? Is this a clear case of Jesus having died in our place. No! If we examine the context, we can see that in this case “giving his life” is not a reference to his death, but rather giving his life here on earth to serve others.
So whoever among them wanted to be great, they could not attain greatness by persuading Jesus to let them sit next to Him in His glory—not by lording over other people like the Gentile rulers—but by serving other people. This is how Jesus spent His life, not for Himself, but for others. He came not to be served, but to serve others. He gave His life to serve others. Jesus is not here referring to giving up His life by dying on the cross, but giving up His life while living in this world, by serving others. He gave His life as a ransom in place of many others—living for them. Paying “a ransom” is a means of liberating others from misery. Jesus’ earthly life was the price He paid in order to liberate others.