“He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:15).
It troubles a lot of people that Christ died to exalt Christ. Boiled down to its essence, 2 Corinthians 5:15 says Christ died for us that we might live for him. In other words, he died for us so that we make much of him. Bluntly, Christ died for Christ.
Now that is true. It’s not a word trick. The very essence of sin is that we have failed to glorify God—which includes failing to glorify his Son (Romans 3:23). But Christ died to bear that sin and to free us from it. So he died to bear the dishonor that we had heaped on him by our sin. He died to turn this around. Christ died for the glory of Christ.
The reason this troubles people is that it sounds vain. It doesn’t seem like a loving thing to do. So it seems to turn the suffering of Christ into the very opposite of what the Bible says it is, namely, the supreme act of love. But in fact it’s both. Christ’s dying for his own glory and his dying to show love are not only both true, they are both the same.
Christ is unique. No one else can act this way and call it love. Christ is the only human in the universe who is also God and therefore infinitely valuable. He is infinitely beautiful in all his moral perfections. He is infinitely wise and just and good and strong. “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). To see him and know him is more satisfying than having all that earth can offer.
Those who knew him best spoke this way:
Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:7-8)
“Christ died that we might live for him” does not mean “that we might help him.” “[God is not] served by human hands, as though he needed anything” (Acts 17:25). Neither is Christ: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). What Christ died for is not that we might help him, but that we might see and savor him as infinitely valuable. He died to wean us from poisonous pleasures and enthrall us with the pleasures of his beauty. In this way we are loved, and he is honored. These are not competing aims. They are one.
Jesus said to his disciples that he had to go away so that he could send the Holy Spirit, the Helper (John 16:7). Then he told them what the Helper would do when he came: “He will glorify me” (John 16:14). Christ died and rose so that we would see and magnify him. This is the greatest help in the world. This is love. The most loving prayer Jesus ever prayed was this: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory” (John 17:24). For this Christ died. This is love—suffering to give us everlasting enjoyment, namely himself.
*This is taken from John Piper’s book “The Passion of Jesus Christ,” which was later released under the name “50 Reasons Jesus Came to Die.” Please visit Desiring God’s Website for more gospel-centered resources from John Piper. You can also download a free PDF of “50 Reasons Jesus Came to Die” here.