Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts

Why Did Jesus Have to Die? Introduction

As we approach the season of Lent, and then Holy Week and Easter, I propose to consider the question: “Why did Jesus have to die?” At the outset, I must say that this isn’t an easy question to answer for several reasons. Let me mention three.

crucifixion-menorca-question-5.jpgFirst, when it comes to the death of Jesus, we’re dealing with an historical event concerning which we have limited historical sources. We don’t have some of the sources that would make our task much easier, the diary of Pontius Pilate, for example, or notes from the proceedings of the Jewish council that examined Jesus prior to his crucifixion. Therefore, when I try to explain why Pilate or certain Jewish leaders believed that Jesus had to die, I’ll have to extrapolate from the evidence that is available to us. I do believe, however, that this evidence, both in the New Testament Gospels and in other ancient sources, is strong enough to allow us to formulate likely hypotheses concerning Roman and Jewish motivations for the crucifixion of Jesus.


Second, the question of why Jesus was put to death is a matter of considerable scholarly disagreement. For centuries it was common to put all the blame on “the Jews.” But the horror of the Holocaust combined with new historical insights has led scholars in almost completely the opposite direction. Many claim that “the Jews,” even Jewish leaders, had little or nothing to do with the death of Jesus. In my opinion, as you’ll see, the pendulum that had once swung way too far in the direction of “the Jews” has now swung too far back in the opposite “Romans only” direction. I’ll have more to say about this later.

I should add at this point that I am aware of the shameful history of anti-Semitism and the danger of anti-Semitism that is very much alive today. This does make it tricky to deal with the historical evidence in a straightforward way, because if one concludes that some Jews were somewhat responsible for the death of Jesus, this might fuel anti-Semitic attitudes and actions. So, I will say at the outset that nothing in the historical record justifies hatred of or mistreat of Jews, or any other people, for that matter.


Third, there is not one, simple, obvious answer to the question of why Jesus had to die. From a historical point of view, we have to deal with at least two perspectives, Roman and Jewish. In fact, I’ll show that there was more than one Jewish point of view on Jesus’ death. So it is really too simple to speak of “the Jewish perspective” on the necessity of Jesus’ death.

Furthermore, historical explanation doesn’t exhaust the realm of discourse when it comes to the reason for Jesus’ death. We also need to deal with the whole area of theology. We’ll want to know why, in light of his understanding of God, Jesus himself believed that he needed to die. Moreover, we must also examine early Christian thinking concerning why Jesus’ death was necessary for the salvation of the world. In the end, therefore, the answer to the simple question “Why did Jesus have to die?” will be anything but simple. It will have multiple layers and nuances.


Nevertheless, this is a task well worth the effort, both in the writing and in the reading. No matter what you think about Jesus, you will help yourself and your world if you’re able to discuss his death intelligently. This is especially true given the tendency of this conversation to become terribly anti-Semitic. In a world where hatred of Jews is on the increase, all thoughtful, compassionate human beings need to be informed about just who was responsible for the death of Jesus and why.

Finally, if, like me, you believe that the crucifixion of Jesus stands at the very center of history, then knowing why Jesus had to die is just about the most important bit of knowledge you can have.

In my next post I’ll lay out some basic parameters for the rest of this series: how I’m going to structure the series and some of the foundational facts upon which I’ll build the structure.

  • David Kelley

    Your article should be titled “Who really killed Jesus? And when I say “really” I mean figuratively because no one really knows, it was probably the Romans but it could have been a people group from Israel that were taken over by the Romans, just sayin” I say take it down and start over.

  • Tom

    Why because that should have been Me on that cross
    I desirved what Jesus got
    The thing about that cross and Who died on it or should of. Is that Just because Jesus bore our cross does not forsake the Price we must pay for salvation. That is we must die at Calvary, and be buried that we may rise in the newness of life.
    You are going to explain about our Death, Burial and ressurection as like unto Christ

  • Tom

    A Prayer From Jesus
    Jesus has giving this task to me. For someone has to tell you,
    You ARE, going to hell
    Why? You ask. You believed man instead of what Jesus has established as salvation. For those who do not want to end up in the lake of fire Pray this prayer
    These are the last days, This is your last chance.
    Pray the Prayer from Jesus, and KNOW!
    This prayer is from Jesus that we may hear from Him, that He may speak to our hearts. It only consist of three simple steps.
    1, We need to read one scripture. This will focus us in the word that brings everlasting life.
    2, Since this prayer is from Jesus we need to direct our prayer to Him personally. Too often Christian focuses they’re prayer’s to G_D or Father. Scripture proclaims, that Jesus also should be the focus of our prayer.
    3, The simplest part of this Prayer is to ask Jesus one question. Please, all that is required for this question is that it should be simple. Let Jesus Himself finish the question when He gives you that understanding through this prayer.
    The PRAYER
    A) The scripture that is the focus of this prayer is “ACTS 2:38″. It’s not necessary to do any study into this scripture. Jesus will give you the understanding that will resonate in your heart. Just read Acts 2:38, keep it in your heart and take this one scripture to prayer
    B) The most important part of this prayer is that we need to direct our prayer directly to Jesus. If you normally would say Father in your prayer, change your focus from the Father to Jesus, by lifting Jesus name up every time you would normally use Father in your prayer.
    C) Maybe the hardest part of this prayer is the question that we need to ask Jesus. For man is always trying to understand the question, instead of listening to the answer. The simplest question is all that is required.
    Simply ask Jesus, ‘WHY’?
    For those who are obedient

  • Ray

    This is the internet….you can reach pretty much anybody on earth, and a few extraterrestrials as well. Way to dredge ’em up, Mark!
    Anyway, I’ll take a serious stab at the question. As far as who was responsible for Jesus’ death, I don’t know, and I’m not sure it really matters. As for why he had to die…I think somewhere in Romans Paul repeats the law that was laid down in Genesis: The wages of sin is death. Substitutionary atonement. God loved me enough to become a man and die in my place. At least that’s what I learned in Sunday school.

  • Thomas Buck

    “Way to dredge ’em up, Mark!”
    Hahahahaha! Good one, Ray!
    Ray did respond well to the question, BTW.
    In addition to the Jews of that time and place bearing major responsibility for Jesus’ death, it seems to me that they represented us and our hardened hearts as well. No reason for us to point fingers at anyone – we’re the folks responsible for nailing Jesus to the cross. Praise God and his tremendous mercy!

  • nnmns

    He had to die because it makes a more compelling story, especially when you put in the part about him coming back to life. Together they make a basic part of one of the most financially successful back stories in all of fiction.
    Ask not why Jesus had to die, ask what you can reap out of the belief he came back to life.

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