Beliefnet
Mark D. Roberts

Where should we start in our effort to discover why Jesus had to die? I propose to begin with some basic historical facts, facts that are affirmed by almost every historian and biblical scholar, even those who approach this question from a highly critical and skeptical starting point. So what are these facts:

el-greco-crucifixion-5.jpgJesus was crucified. There were many ways in the first-century for a criminal to be put to death, including stoning, beheading, being torn apart by beasts, etc. Yet all the earliest sources attest to the crucifixion of Jesus. These sources include, in addition to the New Testament writings, the Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities 18.3.3, A.D. 95) and the Roman historian Tacitus (Annals 15.44, A.D. 109)(Photo: Painting by El Greco, “The Crucifixion,” 1596-1600)

Jesus was crucified during the governorship and under the authority of Pontius Pilate. Once again, this basic fact is confirmed in Josephus and Tacitus in addition to the New Testament.

Pilate placed a sign on Jesus’ cross that read “The King of the Jews.” This fact is found in all four New Testament Gospels and in some later non-canonical gospels as well. This “title” helps to explain the nature of the charges against Jesus.

Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem on or near the Jewish feast of Passover. Again, all New Testament Gospels agree on these basic facts, and there is every reason to believe that they are accurate (though the precise timing of Jesus’ death in relationship to Passover is hard to pin down).

These basic facts, though apparently obvious and unspectacular, will actually prove to be very helpful as we try to figure out the reasons for Jesus’ death.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the question “Why did Jesus have to die?” doesn’t have a simple answer. I propose to address this question from four different perspectives:

• Roman: Why did Pontius Pilate think Jesus had to die?

• Jewish:  Why did some Jewish leaders think Jesus had to die?

• Jesus: Why did Jesus himself think that he had to die?

• Early Christian: Why did early Christians think Jesus had to die?

In my next post I’ll begin with the Roman perspective.

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