Why Jesus Died

Why Jesus Died January 20, 2017

Jesus died to save us quote
The quote comes from my post “Remembering the Needs of the Many at Christmas.”

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TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
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  • Prof. McGrath,

    I don’t think I necessarily want to dispute your interpretation. After all, that was Mahatma Gandhi’s interpretation, also. But Jesus seems to have accepted a common view at the time known as Jewish Apocalyptic, wherein evil forces were temporarily in control of the Earth. It seems that would have meant that humanity was being held hostage. So when the Gospel of Mark has Jesus say that he had come to give his life as a ransom, I think it means a literal ransom – an exchange for people being held hostage by those evil forces. I think this was a common understanding of the meaning of Jesus’ death for the first thousand years or so.

    • That is certainly a possibility that has been considered. Most theologians, however, during that period found the idea of God paying a ransom to Satan to be unacceptable, suggesting a less monotheistic dualism than most Jewish and Christian apocalypticists were willing to embrace.

      • Right. It would have been a ransom that wasn’t understood to be a ransom by those accepting it (1 Corintinians 2:8).

  • John MacDonald

    I think it should be kept in mind that Jesus, fundamentally, didn’t want to have to die (as evidenced by his desperate prayer to God in the Garden of Gethsemane, Mark 14:32-52).

    Jesus also seems to have agreed to go through with the crucifixion because Jesus thought God would intervene in history and miraculously save Jesus from the cross (which is perhaps how God responded to Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane), which is why we later read about Jesus’ terrified cry from the cross when Jesus realized God, contrary to what Jesus had thought, actually wasn’t going to come and save Jesus from the cross (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mark 15:34). The joke was on Jesus, though, because God resurrected Jesus a few days later. So he did in fact save Jesus.

    It should also be kept in mind that the interpretation of Christ’s death as “atoning” is very early, at least as early as the pre-Pauline Corinthian Creed: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor 15:3-8).”

    • Other than Jesus quoting from Psalm 22, is there any other evidence that Jesus thought God would rescue him from the cross?

      • John MacDonald

        “Reconstructing God’s Answer To Jesus’ Prayer In Gethsemane:”

        From Jesus’ desperate prayer in Gethsemane, we learn that Jesus, fundamentally, didn’t want to die, and on top of that did not believe he needed to die for God’s plan/goal to be realized:

        36 “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36)

        Jesus desperately begged God to spare his life. Whatever Jesus thought God said in response to this prayer, Jesus gained the courage to carry out his mission.

        Jesus probably thought God told him that God would send a divine being to save him from the cross. Once he was on the cross, however, Jesus became convinced that God had abandoned him, and called out:

        “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34)

        Jesus was desperate for God to send him a divine rescuer, who he thought might be Elijah, the great prophet of old:

        35When some of the bystanders heard it, they began saying, “Behold, He is calling for Elijah.” 36Someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink, saying, “Let us see whether Elijah will come to take Him down.” (Mark 15:35-36)

        The divine rescuer never showed up and Jesus died. Had God broke his promise to save Jesus? No!

        Just as the masses didn’t understand the message of Jesus because he spoke in parables, Jesus didn’t understand that when God said in answer to his desperate prayer He would save him, it would not be through divine intervention, but rather glorious resurrection.

        • So your further evidence is speculation about what Jesus thought God told him in the garden.

          • John MacDonald

            Hi Bilbo,

            One would assume that if God would answer anyone’s prayer, He would answer Jesus’ prayer. Or, if anyone thought God was answering his prayers, it would be Jesus lol.

            But no, it’s not just that. As I said, Jesus was desperate for God to send him a divine rescuer, who he thought might be Elijah, the great prophet of old:

            35When some of the bystanders heard it, they began saying, “Behold, He is calling for Elijah.” 36Someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink, saying, “Let us see whether Elijah will come to take Him down.” (Mark 15:35-36)

            That makes sense to me. How do you interpret Mark 15:35-36?

            Yours cordially, Darth Didactus

          • I interpret it the way Mark interpreted it: as people mishearing what Jesus actually said. If Mark had wanted us to think that Jesus was actually calling for Elijah, I trust that he would have written it as Jesus actually calling for Elijah.

            Now getting back to the garden. We know that during Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem, he would leave the city in the evening and go back to spend the night at Bethany. He probably did this in the company of many other Galileans and enjoyed the protection it would bring from hostile Temple authorities. Then he would go back to Jerusalem in the morning, again surrounded by a crowd of Galileans, which would act as a deterrence to the Temple authorities who wanted to arrest him.

            Then comes Passover night, when Jesus changes things up and stays in Jerusalem for the evening, no longer surrounded by the Galilean crowd. And after dinner he doesn’t return to the safety of Bethany, but goes to an isolated garden, just outside of the gates to the Temple, and waits. Why? I suggest he was waiting to be arrested.

            And while he waits, he is tempted to leave and seek the safety of Bethany. And so he prays. But meanwhile, he continues to wait in the garden. There is no promise from God of being rescued from the cross. Just silence. But Jesus continues to obey what he knew to be God’s will: wait in the garden.

          • John MacDonald

            My last two questions are: What is your evidence that the crowd misunderstood what Jesus actually said? What is your evidence that this is Mark’s interpretation? Mark simply wrote:

            33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). 35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”
            36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.
            37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

            There is nothing here to suggest the crowd misunderstood Jesus. Jesus was desperately begging and pleading for divine intervention, and that is how the crowd understood him. Your bizarre, baseless accusation that the crowd misunderstood Jesus has no basis in the text.

          • Mark tells us exactly what Jesus said: “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachtani?” It was not a call for Elijah. But since Elijah in Hebrew (and I suppose in Aramaic) would sound similar to Eloi, and since Elijah is associated with the coming of the Messiah, one can understand why some people might think Jesus was calling for him. But since Mark already told us what Jesus actually said – Eloi and not Elijah – it’s clear that those people misheard what Jesus said.

            Now why did Jesus quote the first line of Psalm 22? There have been many answers offered. Yours is that he “was desperately begging and pleading for divine intervention.” Maybe you’re right. Or maybe he was wondering why the sense of God’s presence had been withdrawn from him. Or maybe he had memorized the Psalms, and used them as prayers (not an uncommon practice), and was praying the Psalm that was most appropriate for that occasion. I’m sure there are lots of other interpretations.

            But I think Mark made it clear that whatever the reason Jesus had for saying those words, he wasn’t calling for Elijah.

          • John MacDonald

            Jesus’ last actions in Mark also speak against the idea that Jesus was welcoming of his death so he could calmly complete his mission: “With a LOUD CRY, Jesus breathed his last (Mark 15:37).”

          • Yes, Mark’s Jesus certainly did not go quietly into that good night.

          • John MacDonald

            When Mark places the words “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” on Jesus’ lips, he is citing Psalm 22. This does NOT mean that Mark’s use of the words of Psalm 22 necessarily need to be interpreted in the exact sense that the words were in the original Psalm 22. The gospel writers were not necessarily staying with the “original sense” of bible passages when they cited them. For example, in Matthew 2:15, Matthew cites Hosea 11:1 (“Out of Egypt I have called my son”) to give pedigree to his story of Jesus’ childhood time in Egypt. But in Hosea, the word “son” refers to Israel, not to a child (let alone Jesus). So we need to look beyond the literal meaning of cited passages by gospel writers to determine what those citations meant to them.

          • I think there’s a difference between the author interpreting a passage (the meaning of “son” in Hosea), and an author putting certain words in a person’s mouth. Now if “Eloi” had an ambiguous meaning – either “my God” or “Elijah,” then I think you would have a good point.

          • John MacDonald

            Since, under my reconstruction, Jesus is appealing to God to divinely intervene (either by sending Elijah, or in some other way), I think I am making a good point. lol

          • John MacDonald

            My point about Hosea wasn’t about an ambiguity of the word “son” that could alternatively mean, on the one hand, “The Jewish People,” and on the other, “Jesus.” My point is that the New Testament writers sometimes knowingly cited the Hebrew Scriptures in a way that deviated from the original sense of those Hebrew Scriptures. Take the example of Paul:

            Paul supposedly quotes from the book of Deuteronomy:

            Romans 10:5-9

            Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: “The man who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?'” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?'” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

            Below, is the actual passage:

            Deuteronomy 30:10-14

            Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

            Anyone can clearly see what Paul is doing. He takes statements being attributed to the Law in Deuteronomy and instead in Romans he is making it to be attributed to faith (clearly he is trying to strengthen his pro faith alone – anti law position). These words are not properly a citation of (Deuteronomy 30:12,13) ; but the apostle makes use of some phrases which are there, with his own explications of them.

            My point is just that our hermeneutic of “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” does not need to be restricted to the original sense of Psalm 22, but rather Mark might just be lending religious clout to Jesus’ last words which in fact were terrifyingly calling out to God for divine intervention (by God sending Elijah to save him, or something like that).

            Keep in mind there were probably many more words between Jesus and the crowd than Mark recorded, so the crowd would have interpreted the cry of dereliction in that context.

            Dennis Bratcher makes the point that the “traditional” interpretation of Jesus’ so-called “Cry of Dereliction” from the cross explains the cry of Jesus as a statement of reality related to Jesus’ role in atonement. From this perspective, at his death Jesus took upon himself the sins of the world to redeem humanity (Isaiah 53:4-6 and 1 Peter 2:24). Yet God is too holy to look upon sin (Habakkuk 1:13a). In the presence of so much sin, God could not bear to look upon Jesus and so turned his face away from Jesus as he died. So Jesus’ cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, reflects the reality of this turning away and abandonment by God.

            Yet, Bratcher points out, there is something disturbing in this interpretation. Everywhere else in Scripture we are told that God is with us (Isa 41:10, Matt 28:20, etc.), that he will not abandon us in our time of trial (Isa 43:2, etc.), and that he will be “a very present help in trouble” (Psa 46:1). So, in spite of all the lofty theological claims, the question remains: why would God abandon Jesus at his hour of most desperate need? The question is even more pressing when we realize that the Gospel texts of Mark says nothing about God abandoning Jesus because of sin. This silence suggests that there is better avenue of interpretation.

          • The difference between Mark and Paul is that Paul offers his interpretation of the Hosea passage, while Mark does not offer his interpretation of the Psalm 22 passage. Mark has made previous comments, when he thought it appropriate, to help us understand what was going on. He makes no such comment here. He does record that some people thought Jesus was calling for Elijah. But if Mark had thought that Jesus was calling for Elijah, or that we should interpret it that way, he could have made such a comment. He didn’t.

            Now if you wish to interpret it as Jesus calling for Elijah, or wish to imagine that Jesus said other things, such as actually calling for Elijah, you are welcome to do so. But I see no good reason to accept your view.

            I agree with Bratcher’s point that God would not turn away from Jesus, even if he had absorbed all of our sins. If God did turn away, I think it would be to avoid the sight of his son being tortured to death. But I think it more likely that Jesus is praying the Psalm, which, given it’s details, seemed to be written specifically for him at this time. The Psalm ends in confidence that even if he dies, yet will he live:

            29 “To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
            before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
            and I shall live for him.
            30 Posterity will serve him;
            future generations will be told about the Lord,
            31 and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
            saying that he has done it.”

            Perhaps if Jesus had more to say, as you insist, then the more he had to say was the rest of Psalm 22.

          • John MacDonald

            I just wanted to quote from Dr. Ehrman regarding Jesus’ cry of dereliction, which is somewhat along the lines of what I was trying to argue above:

            “In Mark’s version of the story (Mark 15:16-39), Jesus is condemned to death by Pontius Pilate, mocked and beaten by the Roman soldiers, and taken off to be crucified. Simon of Cyrene carries his cross. Jesus says nothing the entire time. The soldiers crucify Jesus, and he still says nothing. Both of the robbers being crucified with him mock him. Those passing by mock him. The Jewish leaders mock him. Jesus is silent — until the very end, when he utters the wretched cry, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani,” which Mark translates from the Aramaic for his readers, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Someone gives Jesus a sponge with sour wine to drink. He breathes his last and dies. And immediately two things happen: the curtain in the Temple is ripped in half, and the centurion, looking on, confesses “Truly this man was the Son of God.”

            This is a powerful and moving scene, filled with emotion and pathos. Jesus is silent as if in shock the entire time, until his cry, echoing Psalm 22, at the end. I take his question to God to be a genuine one. He genuinely wants to know why God has left him like this. A very popular interpretation of the passage is that since Jesus quotes Psalm 22:1, he is actually thinking of the ending of the Psalm, where God intervenes and vindicates the suffering psalmist. I think this is reading way too much into the passage and robs the “cry of dereliction,” as it is called, of all its power. The point is that Jesus has been rejected by everyone: betrayed by one of his own, denied three times by his closest follower, abandoned by all his disciples, rejected by the Jewish leaders, condemned by the Roman authorities, mocked by the priests, the passers-by, and even by the two others being crucified with him. And at the end, he feels forsaken by God himself. Jesus is absolutely in the depths of despair and in heart-wrenching anguish, and that’s how he dies. Mark is trying to say something by this portrayal. He doesn’t want his readers to take solace in the fact that God was really there providing Jesus with physical comfort. He dies in agony, unsure of the reason.”

            see Ehrman’s blog, here: https://ehrmanblog.org/how-a-non-historical-account-can-be-meaningful-the-death-of-jesus-in-mark/

  • John MacDonald

    Another interesting point that can be derived about Jesus’ death from his desperate prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is that Jesus did not believe it was NECESSARY for Jesus to die for God’s goal/plan to be realized: “Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine. (Mark 14:36)”

    • John, do you know of any other evidence that Jesus believed that God would save him from the cross, besides his quoting from Psalm 22?

  • John MacDonald

    The desperate prayers by Jesus in the Garden Of Gethsemane really speak against a “Trinity” interpretation of Jesus. If Jesus is one with The Father, why would he have to repeat the same desperate petitioning prayer three times in Gethsemane. Why would Jesus need to pray at all?