In the Gospel of John, there are numerous statements by Jesus foretelling his imminent death (see 12:7; 16:16; 16:28; 18:4) and statements describing his loving willingness to give his life in order to follow God’s salvation plan (see 13:1; 15:13). The prophecy of Caiaphas “that it would be good if one man die for the people” (11:50-52; 18:13) indicates that God’s purpose was being fulfilled. Moreover, when Jesus was handed over to Pilate, he says that Pilate would not have the power to crucify him if it were not given to him from above (19:11). Pilate was acting in accordance with the will and authority of God.
Jesus is described in the Gospel of John as the Lamb of God (1:29, 36). This is sacrificial imagery, and so the significance of Jesus’ death is sacrificial in character. Jesus describes his sacrifice further in 6:51f where he is talking about the bread which he gives for the life of the world is his flesh. In 12:24, Jesus explains that “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (ESV). Also, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (10:11 ESV). These statements are using sacrificial imagery; therefore, Jesus is describing the necessary and vicarious sacrifice of his life that he voluntarily gives in order to redeem the world (Guthrie 458). Jesus’ faithful obedience unto death brings forgiveness, sanctification and eternal life.
The Gospel of John describes the significance of Jesus’ death by emphasizing his exaltation. Several places in the Gospel of John Jesus is described as “being lifted up” or “exalted” (see 3:14-15; 8:28; 12:32-33). This has double meaning because on the one hand Jesus is not being lifted up or exalted to a throne but on a cross, and on the other hand, it is his death on the cross that leads to his exalted glorification. Joel Green explains this motif, as it is presented in the Gospel of John, when he writes, “the life of the son of God is best understood as a journey: He comes from his pre-existent state in heaven, dwells among women and men, then returns to heaven. He who descended from glory must ascend to glory” (162). Jesus’ death is the means by which his exalted return to the Father is accomplished, and at the same time, his lifting up to death on a cross is the ultimate expression of the love of God (3:16) (Green 163).
Green, Joel. “Death of Jesus” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, edited by Joel B. Green, et al. Inter-Varsity Press, 2003.
Guthrie, Donald. New Testament Theology. Inter-Varsity Press, 1990.