Here is another guest piece by the inimitable David Austin, this time on the topic of the suicidal Jesus.
Was Jesus on a suicide Mission
There appears to be a contradiction (one of many) in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s life and death. In a few places in the Gospels, Jesus predicts that he will suffer and die when he travels to Jerusalem. This prediction is contradicted in other places in the gospels that seem to indicate Jesus expected God to soon intervene in the world, and set up a new Kingdom on earth, appointing him as King, and the twelve disciples as “Ministers” for the twelve tribes of Israel. Obviously, if Jesus thought he would be installed as “King” in the new Kingdom, he would have expected to be alive to take on this role. Thus, I have always assumed that these predictions, made by Jesus, of his own death were put in his mouth by the Gospel writers, since they knew this divine intervention had not come about, and that Jesus had been crucified by the Romans.
Many Scholars are of the opinion that, Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet, and he probably also thought of himself as a sort of “Messiah”, or at least, specially chosen by God for this purpose.
Apocalypticism was a widespread belief in the early 1st century, mostly resulting from the prophecies of Daniel. In simple terms, it describes the situation, at that time in history, that the world was thought to be under the control of evil forces, which is why the Jews were under the rule of pagan Romans, and were suffering with oppression and harsh taxation. Apocalyptic prophets believed that this situation would reach a critical point, and God would have to intervene, and bring about peace and prosperity to Israel, harsh punishment for evil people, and all those collaborated with them, and good people would be rewarded.
According to the gospel authors. Jesus thought this “apocalypse” would happen during his own & his disciples’ lifetime. “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” Matthew 16:28
When John the Baptist (also an apocalyptic prophet) was executed, Jesus took on the mantle of preaching that God’s kingdom was coming soon, and that people should “get right with God” before this happened, or be destroyed by the wrath of God.
Now, this is where things become strange. If Jesus believed the apocalypse was imminent, why did he not just stay in Galilee (where he could remain in relative safety), and await God’s coming, but instead travel to Jerusalem where he was in considerable danger.
What is more, he really provoked the attention of the Jewish Temple priests, by entering Jerusalem on a donkey. This was a clear signal to the Jewish authorities that he was claiming kingship, by invoking the prophecy of Zechariah:-
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Zechariah 9:9. This would be considered a seditious act, as only Rome was allowed to choose who was “King of the Jews”.
Then, even more shocking, he, supposedly, turned over the tables of the money-changers, and animal sellers in the Temple precinct. This was a clear message to the corrupt Jewish Temple priests that, he was angry that they were exploiting the poor and oppressed and enriching themselves, and also collaborating with the Roman governors. If his actions had the potential to galvanised the crowds at Passover (when Jerusalem was packed with pilgrims), then a full-scale rebellion might ensue. This would definitely spur the authorities to take action, and this would eventually lead to Jesus’s arrest, crucifixion & death.
I would like to present a hypothesis, as to why Jesus decided to travel to Jerusalem, and provoke this reaction:-
I believe Jesus sincerely thought he was chosen by God to be the “Messiah”, and he would be alive to see God’s kingdom come to earth. He expected this to happen very soon, and at that time everybody, living and dead, would be judged. If a person was “right with God” they would be rewarded, but if they had been evil, or sided with the forces of evil, they would be destroyed. He expected to be appointed as “King of the Jews”, after this judgement, and help usher in a time of peace, prosperity & the true worship of God. I do not think that Jesus ever thought of himself as, in any way, divine, just a servant of God, and certainly didn’t expect to die.
It is my contention that, Jesus went to Jerusalem at Passover for symbolic reasons. Passover celebrated God’s intervention to free the Jews enslaved in Egypt. I think Jesus thought that this was the perfect time for God to again intervene to free all “enslaved” Jews who were under the rule of pagan forces (Romans). It would also be a golden opportunity to convince many people of the imminent apocalypse, and impress on them the need to repent & “get right with God”.
I think Jesus deliberately put himself in danger and hoped to be arrested and sentenced to death. Since, he thought he had been especially chosen by God to be “King”, if he was on the point of being executed, God would have no choice, but to intervene to save him, and this would bring about the hoped-for apocalypse. It could also be that, some of the disciples were getting impatient because Jesus was saying the apocalypse was “coming soon”, but never seemed to eventuate, so he decided to take more direct action.
Unfortunately for Jesus, his plan back-fired spectacularly, and he found himself on the cross, close to death with no intervention. This might explain his final words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Of course, this is all speculation, and I welcome comments on this hypothesis, rebuttals, or other scenarios. At the end of the day, we will probably never know what led up to Jesus’s crucifixion (since the gospels cannot be regarded as reliable historical documents), but I doubt he thought he was on a suicide mission, (although it ended that way)!
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