OK, here goes. This was presented to me by Tim Gray. It helps me to (begin to) understand the limitless depths of God’s love for us. I hope you enjoy.
In Jesus’ time, Israel was still living under a covenant with God called the Deuteronomic Covenant. In the covenant treaty, which is the entire Book of Deuteronomy, there is a list of blessings for faithfulness and curses for unfaithfulness. The curses describe what will befall Israel when she breaks the covenant. The remaining prophets of the Old Testament simply tell Israel that if they continue to sin, they will suffer these curses, such as disease and illness, famine and plagues, then war and captivity to foreigners, and then after suffering exile at the hands of Gentiles, they would be executed.
To say then that Jesus took Israel's place is to say that Jesus took upon Himself the curses that were upon Israel, as St. Paul says, "***Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us***" (Gal. 3:13). Just as Israel was to be handed over to the Gentiles in exile, and then afflicted and finally executed, so too Jesus' Passion follows the pattern of the Deuteronomy's curses. This is why Jesus must be handed over to Pilate, the Gentile governor, and thus experiencing a symbolic exile that precedes His execution. Jesus becomes accursed so that Israel will be freed from the curse.
Here we come to the core of the question of the Cross: **Why must Jesus die in order to save Israel**? The biblical answer is the Covenant. Israel and Yahweh had made a solemn covenant, and covenants - such as marriage - are permanent. Therefore, the oaths that Israel swore as part of the covenant, which included the curses, could not be taken back. According to the curses, Israel had to be exiled and destroyed for her unfaithfulness - unless one of the parties were to die. For just as in a marriage covenant, only death breaks up a covenant ("*Til death do you part*"). Israel's death would hardly solve the problem, and God couldn't die - or could He?
According to St. Paul, this is exactly what God does through Jesus. God becomes incarnate in Jesus, who then takes upon Himself the curses of the covenant and dies on the Cross. Thus the Old Covenant curses are annulled on the Cross. God has "***forgiven us all our trespasses, having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross***" (Col. 2:13-14)
So Jesus dies to save Israel, but what about the Gentiles?
To be Continued…