Is there any reason for good person to die young? Why should someone be sentenced to death when they were declared innocent? Why should one dedicated to doing good suddenly have their life cut short? And how can it be declared God’s will for such to happen?
And yet, this is exactly the scenario that the New Testament proposes. Jesus was a man who did good, who healed many and taught thousands to change from doing evil to doing good. He claimed as a basic principle never to harm another. But the authorities of Jerusalem branded him a rebel whose goal was to overturn their authority. And because of his rebellion, he was killed. And yet, all of this was, according to the New Testament, God’s plan and desire—the God of mercy and justice. How could this be?
We need to understand the underlying reasons for Jesus’ death—which from our perspective is insanity and injustice, but for the purposes of God it is right and good.
I. Historical Reasons for Jesus’ death
Jesus died because he threatened the temple of God.
“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19) Jesus made this statement publicly, right after he cleansed the temple of the impurity of buying and selling. Jesus never said that he would destroy the temple himself, but he did declare it impure, and he said that it would be destroyed by God (Mark 11:11-20; Mark 13:1-2). But the temple was the center of Jewish religion in that day, and the leaders of Jerusalem needed it to remain that way. The temple was the center of the authority of the priesthood and the ruling Council of the Jews. If it was destroyed, then their power would be wiped away immediately. Jesus seemed to threaten the temple (Mark 14:55-58), and so, in the mind of the Jewish authorities of Jerusalem, he must be stopped (John 11:47-57).
Jesus died because he claimed to replace the government of God’s people.
Jesus entered into Jerusalem as a great ruler, which was questioned by the Jewish authorities of Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-9, 23-27). When they questioned him directly about his claims to authority, he agreed that he was the one whom God established as king over God’s people and that he would reign over the priesthood and the ruling Council. That a borderline heretic could rule over them was unacceptable to the Council and they made a final determination that he should die. (Mark 14:55-61).
Jesus died because justice was replaced by mob rule.
Because the Council was under the thumb of the Roman government, they had to ask permission to kill Jesus. They presented Jesus to the Roman governor of Jerusalem as a rebel wanting to replace Caesar as lord of the earth. Pilate questioned Jesus, and while Jesus declared himself to be king, it was clear that he was not king as Caesar was (John 18:29-38). Because he had done nothing rebellious, the governor declared him innocent. But the Jerusalemites listening to this trial demanded that Jesus be killed for sedition. Finally, Pilate was swayed by the crowds, and allowed Jesus to be killed. (Mark 15:12-15).
II. Jesus’ Own Reasons for Dying
Jesus died because he chose to.
But Jesus did not die simply because of the injustice of the Jewish and Roman governments. Jesus declared many times ahead of time that it was God’s plan for him to die at the hands of these governments (Matthew 20:18-19) and he accepted the will of God in this (Mark 14:36). He could have escaped at his arrest, but chose not to (Matthew 26:50-56). He could have phrased his answers to be more acceptable to the Council or to Pilate, but he was being deliberately unhelpful toward his release (John 19:9-10). Jesus was prepared for his death and he did what he could to make sure it happened, even though the final decision was Pilate’s.
Jesus died to make himself king over God’s people.
Why did Jesus make that choice? Why did he act in agreement with his own death? Because he saw his death as a means to an end. He determined that he needed to rule over God’s people. But to be a ruler under God, he couldn’t just be at the head of an army or gain the acclamation of the people. Rather, he had to be appointed by God. To do this, Jesus had to prove to be a perfectly righteous ruler, one who would do God’s will rather than act for his own benefit. Also, Jesus needed to be oppressed by the ruling governments, to prove that they were unworthy to rule. This would cause God himself to act, to put down the unrighteous who raise themselves to power and to raise up the righteous who lowered their own desires (Luke 14:11). In this way, Jesus allowed himself to die to allow God to act for his ambition to rule.
Jesus died to free people from oppressive rule.
But Jesus didn’t want to rule from his own ambition alone. Rather, he desired to rule, because he saw God’s people as being without decent leadership (Mark 6:34). Jesus saw the people as under Satan, needing deliverance from his rule of misery and death (Matthew 12:43-45). Jesus saw the teachers of God’s people as being too ready to judge, and unlearned in the ways of God’s mercy (Matthew 12:7). And Jesus saw the whole priesthood and temple system as impure and idolatrous (Mark 11:15-17). Jesus desired to sacrifice himself for the sake of all those who truly desired to worship and follow God, but had no way to do it (Mark 10:45).
III. What Jesus’ death shows us
Jesus died to display the way of faith.
Jesus knew that the one whom God was pleased with is the one who is so faithful to God that he is willing to sacrifice everything he is and everything he has for him (Luke 14:33). Jesus determined to be a man so wholly devoted to God that he would die. And he also said that anyone who would gain the life that God has to offer must be so completely devoted (Mark 8:31-38). And so Jesus showed—not just taught—that the one who loves God most is the one who would obey God to the very end (Mark 13:13).
Jesus died to demonstrate the result of faith.
Jesus knew that if he died that God would act in certain ways. Whoever, in God’s name, destroyed God’s obedient servant, would be destroyed by God (Mark 12:1-9). Whoever lowered themselves for God’s sake and God’s people would be raised by God to rule (Luke 14:11). And whoever died because of their devotion to God, would be raised from the dead (Mark 8:35). Three days after Jesus’ death, God raised him from the dead to prove the third principle. After showing himself to the disciples for many days, God rose Jesus up to political authority over heaven, under the Father. And in 70AD, the temple and the priesthood and the ruling Council of the Jews were destroyed, even as Jesus predicted.
The power of faith is self-sacrifice for others.
This is the way of freedom.