The mission of our Lord Jesus Christ involved more than His coming to die on the Cross. As central, and as important as the Cross is to the salvation of His people, Christ’s mission required more than His sacrificial death. If that was the sole purpose in the coming of Jesus, why did He not descend from heaven on a cloud of glory, go straight to Jerusalem to be crucified, rise from the dead, and ascend into glory? Why did He come into the world as a baby, rather than a full-grown man like the first Adam? If His purpose was only to die as the perfect sacrifice for our sins, could not the baby Jesus have fulfilled that role? Wasn’t the baby Jesus fully human and divine? Would the atonement of the Christ child been any less efficacious than that of the adult Christ?
It is important that we understand the full scope of Christ’s mission. The Apostle Paul tells us that He came as the “last Adam” (I Cor. 15:45-49). Although there are apparent contrasts between the two Adams, there are also some important similarities. Both Adams were put to the test. Both were exposed to full assault of Satan. The first Adam failed the test, yielding to temptation, and disobeyed the Father. Jesus, the last Adam, triumphed over Satan by His faith and obedience to the Father.
It was critical for Jesus, our Mediator, to spend time on earth before His atoning death. Our salvation rests not only upon the death of Christ, but also upon His life (Rom. 5:10), past and present. At the Cross, Jesus took the curse of God on sin upon Himself. He paid the full penalty that we deserve. That took care of our guilt before God (Gal. 3:13). However, that only “wiped our slate clean.” It did nothing to solve our lack of righteousness or merit before God. For this reason, there is a two-fold imputation in our salvation. According to the Scripture, God not only imputes our guilt to Christ, He imputes His righteousness to us (II Cor. 5:21). The righteousness of Christ was His achievement, gained by His obedience to the law of God at every point during His earthly life. Throughout His earthly life Jesus fulfilled all righteousness (Matt. 3:15).
“To fulfill all righteousness” included more than Jesus going to the Cross. In theology, we distinguish between the passive obedience of Christ (suffering God’s wrath on the cross) and His active obedience (His perfect fulfillment of the law). Both are necessary for our salvation. Jesus did what no one had been able to do; He obeyed the law of God perfectly (Rom. 8:3). This explains why Jesus did not descend out of heaven, go to Jerusalem and submit Himself to crucifixion. There had to be a period of active obedience to satisfy the demands of God’s law. It is also important that we understand that Christ’s perfect obedience was a result of His perfect faith. In fact, His surrendering of His life on the Cross was a supreme act of faith, as He trusted the Father to raise Him up from the dead (Acts 2:30-32; 13:33-34).