Maybe this is a silly question, but what exactly was the purpose of Jesus’ death on the cross (and resurrection)? Was something concretely gained by this action? Or was it just a miracle to awe us? Or a symbol that we all must endure suffering in order to reach heavenly bliss? Or is it just a mystery?
It is not a silly question, it is a good and important one.
Here is what St Thomas says:He properly atones for an offense who offers something which the offended one loves equally, or even more than he detested the offense. But by suffering out of love and obedience, Christ gave more to God than was required to compensate for the offense of the whole human race. First of all, because of the exceeding charity from which He suffered; secondly, on account of the dignity of His life which He laid down in atonement, for it was the life of one who was God and man; thirdly, on account of the extent of the Passion, and the greatness of the grief endured, as stated above (46, 6). And therefore Christ’s Passion was not only a sufficient but a superabundant atonement for the sins of the human race; according to 1 John 2:2: "He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world."
Protestants MISTAKENLY think that God the Father PUNISHED Jesus with the punishment we deserved, that is blasphemy and not what the Catholic Church teaches. Christ’s perfect love and obedience on earth turned away the wrath that men deserved and NO innocent party (ie Jesus) was punished.
There are numerous reasons.
One of them is centered on the Mosaic Covenant. In ancient Israel, a Covenant binded two people together in a far greater way than we think of in a contract today. Think of the marriage covenant. According to the words of the priest, what ends a marriage covenant? “Til death do you part”. If one group breaks the rules of the covenants, the covenant is not nullified, that party suffers the punishments of the Covenant. We read of the Mosaic Covenant’s curses toward the end of Deuteronomy. The Israelites were to suffer exile and death due to the curses of the Covenant.
Israel had already suffered the exile. Next, they must suffer death. God didn’t intend to kill Israel. So God had to die instead of Israel. But God can’t die, can He? Unless, God becomes man. Jesus took on the curses of Israel. This is exemplified as Jesus takes on Israel’s sicknesses, their exile, and ultimately their death.
This freed Israel from the Mosaic Covenant and ushered in the New Covenant that Israel could choose to take part in or not.