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As we have seen, Jesus not only predicted his death, but also spoke of it as being necessary (e.g. Mark 8:31). Why? Why did Jesus think he needed to die?
Jesus provides several different answers to this question. They include:
- Jesus believed that his death was the will of his Heavenly Father, so he chose to obey the Father’s will (John 10:17-18; Mark 14:36).
- Jesus believed it was his calling to “drink the cup” of God’s judgment, taking upon himself the righteous judgment of God upon the sin of Israel (and, indeed, all humanity) (Mark 10:38; 14:36).
- Jesus believed that his mission as the Son of Man was to serve rather than to be served, and in fact to give his life as a “ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Thus he combined the Old Testament visions of the Son of Man (Daniel 7) and the suffering Servant of God (Isaiah 52-53).
- Jesus believed that his death was at the center of God’s plan for salvation, even as the exodus from Egypt was central to Old Testament salvation. Through his broken body and shed blood the new covenant would be inaugurated (Mark 14:22-25).
From a historical point of view, one can argue that Jesus died as the victim of Roman oppression or the machinations of Jewish leaders, or both. But from Jesus’ point of view, he was no victim at all. As the Good Shepherd, he chose to “lay down [his] life for the sheep” (John 10:15). “No one takes it from me,” Jesus said, “but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18).
After the death and resurrection of Jesus, the earliest Christians reflected upon the meaning of his death. Basing their reflection upon what Jesus himself had taught, they saw his death as the crux of God’s plan for the salvation, not only of Israel, but also of the world. To the early Christian reflections I’ll turn in my next post.