Thursday, August 11, 2016

Why Did Jesus Die?





The Gospels portray Jesus as deeply upset with the Temple's administration during the last week of his life: a pious and passionate Jew offended by corruption in the house of God. Jesus is said to have "overturned the tables of the money-changers" and even predicted the Temple's destruction, but we never quite find out exactly what Jesus objected to.

The Gospels point to Jesus’ relationship to the Temple for historical and theological reasons: both to describe the historical setting of the final events that led to his death - including his criticism of the Temple's administration, his demonstration in the Temple, and predicting the Temple's destruction - as well as to set the stage for identifying Jesus as a sacrifice that will ultimately replace the Temple’s sacrificial system. 

The idea that Jesus' death was a sacrifice is a pervasive theme in the New Testament (1 Cor 15:3; Rom 8:3; 5:9; 1 Thess 1:10; Gal 1:4; 1 Pet 2:21-25; 1 John 2:2; Heb 7:27; 9:14; John 1:29). Early Christians searched the Scriptures to make sense of their experience, convinced that even the details of Jesus’ death were foretold in them. For them, Jesus did not die because he was a controversial figure who engaged in religious conflicts with his contemporaries; Jesus died because he took on God's wrath as part of God's divine plan: The son of man must suffer and die at the hands of the religious leaders. This explained why Jesus died ("for our sins"), but it did so by combining historical memory and theological innovation while constructing a conspiratorial narrative that implicated "the Jews" (Matt 27:25): setting the Jews against Jesus, and Jesus against Judaism, obscuring the original offenses that led Jesus to the cross in the first place.

A short excerpt ("Why Did Jesus Die?") from my book, Jesus and the Temple: The Crucifixion in its Jewish Context, which further explores these questions, can be read here.