Monday 13 February 2023

Why was Jesus killed, and by crucifixion - a Fourth Gospel perspective

Why was Jesus killed? 

This was, it seems, a big issue for the first Christians - I mean, to explain why Jesus Christ, who claimed to be divine and was regarded as the Messiah, nonetheless died... Very shortly after making this claim; and apparently powerlessly - indeed agonizingly and ignominiously. 

Surely, if He had really been divine, He would not have allowed this? If He had been Messiah he would have led his nation to victory and worldly-bliss?

This is a matter that we modern Christians find it hard to understand - not least, because Jesus's death on the cross is just about the first thing we ever learned about Him; so we see things the other way around from contemporaries. 

Furthermore, it is not clear to us what the Messiah meant to Jews before Jesus - because we see the business from the opposite end, and as Christians. 

But it recently dawned on me, with an unprecedented clarity; how exactly Jesus's death and mode of death reinforced the next-worldly core message of the Fourth Gospel: which is Jesus's offer of resurrected eternal life in Heaven to those who follow Him.

By allowing Himself to die in accordance with the unpredictable contingencies of This World; and yet to return resurrected and ascend to Heaven - Jesus showed that this world cannot affect the salvation He offers. 

It is a teaching by example. By this understanding, the specific mode of Jesus's death is not essential - He might have died in any fashion - the point was that Jesus demonstrated in His own person the ways in which Mortal Man is 'helpless' before the overwhelming influences of human society and The World more generally - yet, ultimately, this does not matter. 

We as individuals cannot stop our fellow Men lying about us, unjustly convicting us; cannot prevent them inflicting horrible torments or killing us - and yet, we can still be resurrected if we choose it; and can still live eternally in Heaven. 

It's not that this-world is un-important - Jesus takes the events of His Mortal life with great seriousness - but that eternal life beyond death is far more important. 

Jesus is asking us to regard as secondary such considerations as a political Messiah setting-up a new, best-ever, religious state. And to recognize that Jesus - using 'divine superpowers' to escape the injustice of his crucifixion, would merely be to delay the inevitable death that awaits us all (i.e. in the absence of Christ's salvation). 

One of the things that Jesus is teaching, via His crucifixion, is something like that: "Even a death as bad as mine - which I did not seek, but patiently endured - neither prevents nor refutes the Good News of salvation I bring to you".  

Christianity is in essence a next-worldly business; and Jesus is showing us how to take a post-mortal, resurrected perspective. 

Yet, at the same time, and especially by his teachings on love and friendship with the disciples - Jesus is making clear that this life matters, and vitally.   

It is still very difficult for people to grasp both aspects of this teaching. In its mainstream public functioning; the modern world is 100% this-worldly and excludes and life beyond life. 

But the 'oneness' spiritualties that some behaviourally-this-worldly Westerners nowadays adopt; goes the the opposite, and equally false, extreme of denying the importance of this life, and regarding it as an illusion (or a 'simulation', in more recent variants). 

Jesus's way is Not any kind of 'middle ground' - but is instead both this-worldly and next-worldly; with this-world as an essential yet temporary phase - en route to the eternal.


laeth said...

'both this-worldly and next-worldly' - the cross, precisely.

Lady Mermaid said...

Excellent post. A lot of people will ask "Why couldn't God just forgive our sins?" However, Jesus did "just forgive" sins throughout His ministry. That's why the Pharisees were so horrified as only God could forgive sins.

What people miss is that forgiveness of sins doesn't save anyone from death. Even David, a man after God's own heart, knew he was going to hell (the grave). He trusted that his soul would not be left in the grave as Jesus would harrow hell and rescue anyone who would be willing to follow Him into eternal life. This is why the cross was necessary.

Bruce Charlton said...

@LM - Good comment.

Ryder said...

“the specific mode of Jesus's death is not essential - He might have died in any fashion - the point was that Jesus demonstrated in His own person the ways in which Mortal Man is 'helpless' before the overwhelming influences of human society and The World more generally - yet, ultimately, this does not matter.”

This may have to do with your specific understanding of how the original texts of the gospels have been altered (must have been in the first century, given the documentary witness to the early text form), but I get the unmistakeable impression from the gospels that Jesus had to die hung on a tree outside the camp—accursed as the scapegoat on whom the sins were laid. Yet he also needed to be offered to God as a sacrifice, a bringing-near-thing (קרב) that was spotless and actually holy, like the goat not sent out of the camp, or the lamb of atonement who was slain in the tabernacle/temple. The sacrifice must be eaten by the holy priests who come near by its blood, just as we partake of the flesh of Christ by commemorating his death, etc. Maybe I’m drawing the wrong point from what you said here.

I think I’m still tracking with you in terms of much of what you’re saying here, but I also believe that Christ is reigning right now over every principality and power “not only in this age, but also in the age to come” (as Paul says), and he will reign, exercising dominion over all creation through his ever-growing congregation of disciples that walks in trust and obedience to him, until he has put all his enemies under his feet, at which point he turns the kingdom over to his father, so that God may be all in all in just this manner. The nations will rage and plot in vain against God and his anointed one, but, as Christ said before ascending, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me, go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them… teaching them to obey everything I have commanded, and behold I am with you always, even until the end of the age.” You were saying something more oriented to the importance of the present ages by the end of the post, and yes, the eternal resurrection will overshadow all the sorrows we now face.

I get the impression you see something of a variegated status in the different texts or parts of texts in the New Testament, which would explain where I’m seeing things differently, if I’m not misunderstanding you. This may be another case of needing to go back and read past posts about John’s Gospel to better understand better where you’re coming from.

Either way, I think you are on to something by emphasizing the subjective effect of our beholding Christ’s death. Despite the objective, epoch-making realities imposed by the crucifixion, it is nevertheless marvellously humbling and strengthening to behold the son of God, naked, shamed, slain, and to recognize that all of the things that drove the primeval Adam into hiding from God have been voluntarily embraced by God through Christ, and now we have no reason to hide from him, for he has forgiven us and welcomed us back to the tree of life forever despite our knowledge of good and evil, and so nothing can ever again separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, whatever providence has appointed for our testing and overcoming in our mortal flesh.

Bruce Charlton said...


I have a much simpler understanding of Christ's work; rooted in the Fourth Gospel - the reasons for which I explain in early part of the referenced text -

After the death of Jesus; (apparently) Christianity rapidly became over-complicated and (at a metaphysical level) incoherent; because early intellectual tried to integrate Jesus's straightforward teachings with prejudicial ideas they already had (e.g. concerning the nature of God, or prophecies) - whether from Judaism and/or from Greco-Roman (Pagan) philosophy.

Plus, it was made into a formal, institutional church religion - whereas the Fourth Gospel describes something much more like a close-knit adoptive family.

Your best bet is just to read some of Lazarus Writes, and see whether you think it has basic validity.