Why was Jesus killed? Answering this question really gets to the heart of who we believed Jesus to be, what his mission was, and why it matters for us. But too often answering this questions falls into a polemic between two camps.
And Kevin DeYoung’s recent post perfectly illustrates this.As he says, “Among the many sweet sounding platitudes in our day, one I hear often is that Jesus was killed for being exceedingly inclusive and kind.” In other words, Jesus was killed because he was really, really, nice, loving, and welcoming. DeYoung wonders if we have “so swallowed our culture’s values that sentimentality now passes for theology and slogans get mistaken for exegesis”? For DeYoung, “the people grumbled against Jesus for eating with sinners and tax collectors (Luke 15:2), but they killed him for claiming to be the Son of God and the King of Israel.”
Did you see the separation there? Certainly Jesus was nice to the poor people, but he was killed because he was divine, says DeYoung.
Seemingly these are the only two options placed before us (the two options that Fitch and I explore across several different themes in Prodigal Christianity): either, A) Jesus was killed because he was so nice and inclusive that those mean and exlusionary people couldn’t stand it and got rid of him, or, B) Jesus made scandalous claims about being God and the people silenced him (DeYoung marshalls texts like Matthew 26:63-66, John 5:18, John 8:58-59, John 10:33).
But isn’t there another option? Isn’t there something else beyond either he was really nice or really God?
I suggest that Jesus was killed because the people did not want God to be the way that Jesus claimed.
If God was who Jesus claimed God to be, i.e. God’ Kingdom coming in and through Jesus, then they would have to change everything, and they didn’t want that change, so they killed him.
Certainly in the Gospel of John there are people recorded as wanting to kill Jesus for blasphemy. But let us not forget the accound in John 10: 48: “If we let [Jesus] go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” Or remember, the even more damning statement in John 19:15, when Pilate asks if he should crucify their king the chief priest answers, “We have no king but Caesar.” (John 19:15). Of all people the chief priest should know that only God is King, and all others are impostures. The chief priests are not renouncing merely Jesus’ claims to be God, but is in fact renouncing God as thier King (As is often the case, a concern for orthodoxy is really a mask for maintaining power or alleviating fear).
So Jesus was not killed for being really, really, nice, nor was he killed because he was God. Rather Jesus was killed for insighting a religious-political revolution, but a revolution that even the revolutionarys of his time didn’t understand. Jesus was killed because he was redefining who God was for them (and for all people), and they didn’t like it.
I’m not denying that Jesus is God, but I am denying that this is primarily why he was killed. Jesus came declaring, “God is not who you think!” Jesus, in claiming that God’s Kingdom was coming in and through him, and yet witnessing to this Kingdom in ways that offended people’s expectations, in all this Jesus was claiming that God is not the God they had thought, and ultimately they chose to reject God.
Jesus was killed not because the people rejected his claim to be God, rather they kill him because rejected God. And is this not something that we are all tempted to do all the time?
What do you think? Why was Jesus killed?
(Of course, asking the question “Why was Jesus KILLED?” (human response) is different than asking “Why did Jesus have to DIE?” (God’s mission). But we will have to get into the latter question another time.)