I once looked through the New Testament to find the stated purpose for Christ’s coming. I found not one verse stating that he came primarily to be our example.
Two passages do give two specific ways in which Jesus was an example. One regards service to our brethren and the other regards suffering patiently
John 13:15 “For I have given you an example that ye should do as I have done unto you.”
1 Pet. 2:21 “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for death on Calvary.”
Through the following verses a recurring theme appears, giving a strong indication of the purpose of Jesus’ coming. It was not to be an example, but rather to be the Lamb, the offering for our sin. No doubt that is why we see him portrayed in Revelation as the “Lamb, as it had been slain.” (Rev. 5:6).
Heb. 9:26 “But now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by sacrifice of himself.” (He did this through his death on Calvary.)
Heb. 9:11-12 “Christ being come an high priest of good things to come…by his own blood…obtained eternal redemption for us.” (He did this through his death on Calvary.)
Heb. 10:7, 10 “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all.” (He did this through his death on Calvary.)
Heb. 2:9 “Jesus…was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death…that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” (He did this through his death on Calvary.)
Gal. 4:4-5 “…God sent forth his Son…to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” (He did this through his death on Calvary.)
Matt. 20:28 “…the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (He did this by his death on Calvary.)
John 1:29 “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” (He did this by his death on Calvary.)
Whatever degree of significance might be attached to Jesus’ coming as an example, this example offered no retroactive effect on people who lived before. His effectiveness as an example or role model was felt chiefly by those who lived in the same time, in the same locality and in personal contact with him. His effectiveness as an example or role model is diminished for us who live 2,000 years later, on a different continent and in a different culture.
Even if we were to formulate specific examples of conduct and good deeds from Jesus’ life, and then elevate these examples to the status of law, we would still end up with nothing more than legalism. Such legalism is not salvation by the Grace of God.
If the salvation of men required a perfect example, then one might ask why did not Jesus appear before Cain and Abel were born and continue living here until the last person had left the planet.
On the other hand, the Bible does teach that Jesus’ offering for sin definitely did have a retroactive effect for previous ages. This is made clear in Heb. 9:15 — “And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.”
Scripture also indicates Jesus’ sacrifice had a proactive effect for all future ages, as indicated by such passages as I John 2:2, “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
So, Christian teaching emphasizes that it was a retroactively and proactively effective Redemption that mankind needed — not an example.
Scriptures used above: Rev. 5:6, Heb. 9:26, Heb. 9:11-12, Heb. 10:7, 10, Heb. 2:9, Gal. 4:4-5, Matt. 20:28, John 1:29,
By Paul Abenroth