Death Of Jesus Notes
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Gospels & Jesus The Death of Jesus THE CROSS Throughout Christian history no one theological motif has gained unquestioned ascendency, primarily because the context in which salvation is appropriated changes over time. Anselm of Canterbury : Took offence at the traditional motif - The cross' victory was an explanation of how God had tricked Satan into giving up his hold on fallen humanity. Horrified at the thought that God should have to respect Satan in any way, Anselm contended that what was really as issue was the fact that honour was owed to God by a rebellious humanity who had failed to uphold their responsibility in the lord-vassal relationship.
- Death of the Incarnate Son was the only means by which that responsibility could be met - and thus restoring honour lost to God and righting what was wronged. What makes one meaning of the cross right or wrong is not its adherence to previous discussions, but how well it is able to convey the saving truth of the Gospel of Christ to the community with which it is engaged. In the New Testament, what we find expressed is not a reduction of the power of the cross to a single motif but a number of metaphors and images that collectively weave a tapestry of meaning : Jesus' death is, amongst others, the death of the Paschal lamb (1 Cor 5:7), the paid ransom price (Mk 10:45) etc. That there is such diversity of interpretations is perhaps why the Nicene Creed simply states that Jesus died 'for us and for our salvation'. The early church recognised that the meaning of the cross readily transcended any one interpretation. However, since the creed does not specify how salvation is actually effected, theories of atonement are left to describe for themselves how it is that the cross function in the community to which salvation is proclaimed. The task of Theology : Mediate the revelation of God within its own cultural matrix. This is an ongoing task, not one that is done once and for all, and it is this requirement that in large measure prevents the church and its theology from becoming stagnant waters.
- Diversity in existing atonement motifs is just one reflection of how theology has skirted such dangers, adapting its saving message in ways appropriate to its own context and community. The Meaning of Jesus' Death Did Jesus Anticipate a Premature Death ?
The expectation that Jesus did actually constitute meaning for his death requires that Jesus also anticipated that he would die prematurely and therefore had the time to constitute meaning for it. Regardless of how one understands Jesus' mission, the fact that his forerunner, John the Baptist was executed would have alerted Jesus to the possibility that he too could suffer the same fate.
- The close parallels between John's and Jesus' ministries lead scholars to comment that fundamentally, Jesus' own perception of his life and death was anchored in the experience of his mentor. This being the case, John's death would inevitably precipitate Jesus' own reflections, even if to that point in time it was not something he had consciously dwelt upon.
- If then we include the historically defensible position that Jesus saw himself operating within the prophetic tradition, it becomes even more probable that an early death was to be expected. Certainly, by the time of Jesus,
the idea that the prophets suffered to the point of death was common place, evidenced not just by the many logia in the New Testament but by the deep roots going back through the biblical tradition.
- Jesus' prophetic action in the Temple could not have been undertaken without some realisation that he was 'throwing down a gauntlet to the Temple authorities' and he would have been extraordinarily naive if he had not anticipated the likely results of such an action.
- This claim derives from natural inferences that are fully comprehensible within the first century Jewish context.
- It is historically probable that Jesus did in fact predict his death prior to that last week in Jerusalem - and there is no reason why he could not have also created meaning for that death in line with his overall mission. Jesus and the Kingdom : The Incarnate Carrier There are two facts about Jesus that command universal assent among scholars :
1. He was crucified
2. He was baptised by John the Baptist. The importance of John's baptism for Jesus' understanding of his own mission cannot really be over emphasised. Prior to that day at the Jordan, Jesus was an unknown carpenter from an obscure town in Galilee. After his baptism Jesus begins a public ministry, first as disciple of John and then subsequently in his own right. This transition, centred as it is on a purificatory water rite, makes not only Jesus' identification with the sinful Jewish people, but also his identification with the message of John the Baptist. Matthew records that Jesus' initial preaching after his baptism mirrored exactly that of John's ('Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near'), a correlation that provides a recognisable and appropriate starting point. The Coming of the Kingdom When Jesus followed John the Baptist in pronouncing the coming of eschatological judgment he was not referring to some future post-mortem judgment as is prophesied in later Christian texts. Jesus' warnings were about a coming national disaster that would be effected historically and within this generation. The contemporary nature of the warning cannot be over-emphasised. However, if it is true that divine judgment was well known theme in Jewish literatures, so too was the theme of divine restoration. And if the coming of the kingdom would dramatically judge the nation, would it not also restore it?
It is expected that the answer is 'yes' - though there is little doubt that Jesus' expectation proved to differ markedly from that of his contemporaries. But as members of the nation of Israel they at least shared the same starting point . When John the Baptist appeared on the banks of the Jordan summoning people to repentance in preparation for the coming of the kingdom, one can sense the excitement that was generated. If the kingdom of God is in fact near, then God is about to return evil will be judged and Israel will finally be restored. The covenantal promise will at last be fulfilled and God's promised new age would begin. That at least would be the corporate Jewish hope; the question is to what extent Jesus appropriated the same understanding. The Kingdom has Come Like John, Jesus expected imminent judgment to befall Israel, and like John he called upon the nation to repent. But as Jesus' ministry progressed, it became increasingly clear that he also expected God to act in such a way that Israel would be restored to its true calling. There is, in other words, a strong sense of restoration in Jesus' actions and preaching but it
must be said that it would be restoration that fundamentally subverted the standard Jewish expectation. This is clear through two simplified themes :
1. In Jesus' preaching there is no escaping the fact that the kingdom of God is already partially realised. Somehow and despite the fact that Israel's historical situation had not changed, the kingdom of God was already breaking into the world even as it remained, at the same time, a future hope. We see this clearly in the third Gospel, because here Jesus beings his ministry with the claim that the time of redemption is now (Luke 4:21) ; the coming of the kingdom is the great divine invitation to the miracle of salvation and it is already being made manifest in and through the ministry of Jesus. This is the essential difference between Jesus and John. Whereas both John and Jesus proclaimed that God's kingdom was imminent, Jesus also insisted to John's disciples that the kingdom was already here (Lk 7:22). The new time of salvation was already effective - the blind see / lame walk / deaf hear / dead are raised. This is not just a future hope but a present reality.
2. Jesus fundamentally subverts the nationalistic expectation by enacting a program that did not lead to political victory over the pagans, but was aimed at making Israel what she was called tone - the light of the world. To be sure, the coming of the kingdom was focused on restoring Israel, but it was not to be at the expense of the nations. Israel was to be the people of God for the world, not in isolation from the world. Jesus not only announced the kingdom to Israel, but embodied it to the world. He did it in in such a way that broke the boundaries and the wineskins of the nationalistic expectation, This does not mean that he abandoned the three-fold eschatological expectation ( return from exile / defeat of evil / return of Yahweh) but that he appropriated it in a way that was totally unlike the meaning corporately intended. Jesus and the Final Ordeal Wright / Meyer / McKnight : The coming of the kingdom also entailed an expectation of the Final Ordeal; that great period of tribulation that would befall the saints prior to the final victory of God. Jesus' expectation of the Final Ordeal begins with the Lord's Prayer. Traditionally the meaning of this has been understood to reflect immediate concerns. The disciples were to ask God to take care of their daily needs / seek God's forgiveness in the present / require God's help in trying situations. Given that Matthew has Jesus prefacing the prayer with a comment about the Father's knowledge of the disciplines needs (Mt 6:8) such an interpretation is certainly warranted. There is also an element of eschatology to the Prayer that should not be ignored. the undisputed first petition 'thy kingdom come' places the entire prayer into an
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation
eschatological framework within which the other petitions functions. It is the sixth 'lead us not into temptation' that is of specific importance here - it is a clear indication that Jesus was looking ahead to a time of imminent testing. The Final Ordeal was not just any kind of trail but the final encounter between God and the evil one, in which the ultimate danger for the believer was to fall away. McKnight : The Sixth petition should be interpreted as a petition of avoidance, it is a prayer of escape from an ordeal that 'will utterly test us'.
- It is likely that Jesus too sought to avoid it. The account of Jesus in Gethsemane seems to indicate this, his apparent anguish about the immediate future provides sufficient evidence to conclude that Jesus sought to avoid or at least postpone his suffering.
Despite its horror, the enduing evil would somehow result in ultimate victory, a victory that was already in evidence - in and through the praxis of Jesus' ministry. The Victory of the Kingdom The Gospels make it very clear that Jesus was not only up against the machinations of humanity but the powers of darkness that operate at a supra-personal level. The exorcisms that were a consistent expression of his ministry were not just random acts of mercy for a few tormented souls but were 'part of the very fabric of his mission'. The inauguration of the kingdom brought with it God's judgment on evil which was already being defeated in and through the events of Jesus' ministry; Satan had already fallen like lightning (Luke 10:18), the strong man bound (Mt 12:29) and the kingdom of God was being made manifest in the lives of those released from the bondage of demonic oppression (Lk 11:20). This brought him into conflict with the authorities, who having already rejected Jesus' redefinition of the kingdom had no choice but to conclude that there was a dark power at work in him (Lk 11:15). Jesus responded with logic (If Satan is divided against himself, how can this kingdom stand) and counter claim (Now if I drive out demons by Beezlebub, by whom do your followers drive them out) : the real conflict was not with the Jewish authorities / Roman occupation - but the power that stood behind them. (Wright) From Jesus' perspective the battle for the kingdom was being classically redefined ... the story was being radically retold, so as to focus on the climatic conflict not with Rome, but with the satan. Jesus had already won a decisive victory in this battle; his exorcisms were the implementation of that victory. Acting on his own authority, he was demonstrating the fact that the kingdom was already in some sense present; ... Israel‟s god was already becoming king, in the events of Jesus‟ ministry. The key question that arises from all this then, is how was Jesus‟ death connected to the conflict with evil? An expectation that Jesus would endure the Final Ordeal is clearly relevant, but from an incarnational perspective there is little more that can be said at this point. In other words, how Jesus understood his death to contribute to the restoration of Israel and the victory of the kingdom requires further investigation into both the linguistic and symbolic carriers of meaning. Conclusion By submitting to John's baptism, Jesus accepts not just John's call for national repentance but also the eschatological tenor of that call. God is about to dramatically judge the nation via the might of Rome if Jesus' proclamation of the kingdom is rejected. But Jesus is also convinced that the coming of the kingdom will bring restoration to the covenant community. But the final victory of God awaited the Final Ordeal, and Jesus soon came to realise that his own suffering and death would be caught up in its coming. What Jesus may have made of this is something to which we will have to return, but for now Jesus' exorcisms and healings are suggestive of an expectation that the ultimate victory had already been won. Evil would not triumph even if it was allowed its day in the sun. So how then, does Jesus‟ death fit within such a context?
Jesus the Linguistic Carrier Passion predications : There is no explicit theology of atonement in the very context that one would most expect to find it. Jesus simply predicts that he is to suffer / die / be vindicated without actually specifying any particular purpose for those events.
- We cannot then conclude that Jesus understood his death to be meaningless because the Son of Man appellation does provide a clear link to the suffering / vindication motif of Daniel 7 : In which the Son of man suffers of behalf of the
nation prior to the victor of God. The representative element of the Son of man figure strongly suggests that Jesus also saw himself suffering as corporate Israel. In such a case, Jesus suffers on behalf of the nation, enduring the suffering that results from the reign of evil so that the nation may not have to.
- A crucial point is that Jesus understood that suffering to be part of the Final Ordeal, or tribulation that precedes the coming of the kingdom. Hence, while that suffering is a result of the present resign of evil, Jesus also understands it to be the judgment of God against the nation.
- Atoning significance is found in Jesus' decision to endure that judgment as corporate Israel so that she herself may not have to endure it.
P Fredriksen : Why was Jesus Crucified, but his Followers were not?
Meggitt : Earlier efforts to understand Jesus' death in light of two famously contradictory facts : Jesus was put to death as an insurrectionist, but none of his followers was - have failed. By reframing the passion narratives with materials from his broader reading, he reaches a conclusion that 'the Romans executed Jesus because they thought they were disposing of a deluded lunatic'
- The hypothesis that Pilate thought Jesus a madman, Meggitt claims is one possible solution to the challenge of this famous problem that is historically defensible and makes sense within the culture context. But is it?
Efforts to make sense of this problem all have certain resemblances to each other. Meggitt and Fredriksen focus on PIlate's initiative to the point of minimising the involvement of the priests. But all scholarly reconstructs infer from Jesus' Roman death that Pilate played a prime role. Meggitt's strongest resemblance to a vast scholarly majority lies in his view of the proximate cause of this Roman death: The scene in the Temple. This means that he, too, adheres to Mark's chronology when re-imagining Jesus' mission. The majority argues that Jesus' action somehow singled to the priests that he saw himself in a messianic role : His crucifixion as 'king' is Pilate's riposte to such a claim. This is part 1 - Why was he crucified. Part 2 : From the survival of Jesus' followers, scholars infer that Pilate knew that these people posed no real threat; but there is difficulty saying how Pilate knew this.
- On this point, Meggitt has the advantage. For him, the scene in the Temple leads directly to the execution because it convinced Pilate that Jesus is insane : 'From a Roman point of view, Jesus' actions in the Temple would be most easily understood as the ratings of a particular kind of lone madman'. The quality of Jesus' madness, in other words, communicated clearly that he had no real following, and so no broader pursuit ensued. Myriad features from the broader dossier are then pressed into service to re-interpret 'the details of Jesus' execution' as evidence in support of Pilate's 'diagnosis' of madness. Like the mad Carabas, Jesus was mocked as a king, and in any case 'kingship was often closely associated with the insane'. People often spat on the mad, and Jesus too was spat upon. Like the man Jesus son of Ananias, Jesus of Nazareth too was flogged.
- Scourging was part of the protocol of Roman executions, but it was also a known therapy for the insane, and a dismal part of their common experience. Besides, even Jesus' own family and other Jewish contemporaries thought that he might be mad (the 'early tradition' preserved in Mark 3.19-21 - 'He is beside himself'). Meggitt, however, in answering part 2, seems to abandon all serious effort to respond to Part 1 : Why was Jesus killed, quite specifically by crucifixion?.
- Meggitt trivialises the question - why not crucifixion, the governor was known to indulge : 'Under the rule of Pilate, ending up on the cross seems to have been a reasonably easy thing to achieve' ad Gaium.
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