Jesus was Killed Because: A) Really Nice, B) Was God, C)…

b668a9c1b7Why 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 5:18John 8:58-59John 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.)

5 Replies to “Jesus was Killed Because: A) Really Nice, B) Was God, C)…”

  1. Kevin DeYoung’s claim indicates just how good theology can make us incredibly bad readers of the Bible.
    Neither Matthew, nor Mark, nor Luke indicate that Jesus was God in the sense that John does. If you’re looking for a reason that Jesus was killed, you’re going to have to get much more earthy than that. Even the idea that he was showing us what God is like is only going to work if “what God is like” means “the God who empowered Jesus to act in such and such a way” in contrast to simply upholding the ancient power structures. 
    Basically, if “Jesus was God” is the key part of our answer to why he was killed we’ve not yet learned to read the gospels we actually have.

    1. jrdkirk Daniel, thanks for the comment, I appreciate. 
      Yes, I totally agree with you. I stayed with John so as to argue with DeYoung on own ground, and show that even in John this is not an accurate description.  But, turning to Mark’s Gospel, I would say something like, “Jesus was killed because he took the idea of “Liberating Messiah” and mashed it together with “Suffering Servant”, and no one (even Peter) liked it because “that is not how God is supposed to redeem/save/liberate us [Israel]”.

  2. Yes. Exactly – “Jesus was killed because people did not want God to be the way Jesus claimed.” And – especially if we’re reading John (i.e. the I AM sayings) – we must also affirm that the radical kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed was, even to the Gospel writers, coextensive with his very person. That was, in fact, the hardest pill to swallow for those who rejected Jesus – that God’s way was to bring the Kingdom in the person of Jesus.
    Another wrinkle in this reality that bolsters your claim here is the extent to which – especially in Luke-Acts – the religious leaders are portrayed as those who SHOULD be responsive to the way of God in Jesus, but in fact are NOT, while those on the margins, and even non-Jews, ARE responsive. In this way the religious leaders are identified implicitly and explicitly with “the unbelieving generation” from the Pent. and those who are “ever hearing but never perceiving” from the prophets. This really pissed them off – leading not only to rejection of Jesus but also to the rejection/opposition of the apostles in Acts (see Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin). 
    And this is where these pieces fit together – especially for the Synoptics. If we look at Acts 2:36ff, then we get the impression that, for the religious leaders, it was only AFTER the resurrection/ascension in the kerygma of the apostles, did it become a sticking point that this Jesus guy they killed is Lord and Messiah. 
    Make sense?

    1. sethrichardson Thanks Seth. Yes, I think you have it just right. DeYoung’s claims seems to be centered around the need to prove Jesus’ divinity (which I’m not eager to deny, just that I don’t think that is the be all end all of the Gospel’s portrayal of Jesus).

      1. geoffholsclawI went back and read DeYoung’s post again, and I think you’re going too far to claim that he “seems to be centered around the need to prove Jesus’ divinity.” I just don’t see that. The simple dichotomy: “Jesus was nice to the poor people, but he was killed because he was divine” is your summary, not his words, right? I think this quote better represents what he’s doing, 
        “What infuriated the establishment most were the claims to Lordship, the
        posture of authority, the exalted titles, the exercise of Messiahship,
        the presumed right to forgive, the way in which Jesus put himself in the
        center of Israel’s story, the delusions of grandeur, the acceptance of
        worship, and the audacity of man being God.”
        Was Jesus killed because he claimed to be the Son of God, Messiah, and King of Israel? In one sense, yes, but that’s probably not the best question. A better question is, What does the Gospel writers’ portrayal of Jesus and the nature of opposition to Jesus imply about who they thought Jesus was? The best answer to that question (with a bit of variation depending on the Gospel) was that they thought he was Son of God, Messiah, and King of Israel.

        This is where I think your point is overstated: the religious leaders killed Jesus not because he claimed to be God, but because they rejected God. 

        It’s important to note that the religious leaders didn’t think they were rejected God. That’s the irony – they thought they were being zealous for the law (e.g. Paul’s description of his persecution of Christians). They thought they knew the way of God, but when they stared God in the face, they didn’t recognize him. It’s also important to note that opposition to Jesus was not monolithic – not all “types” of Jewish leadership wanted to put Jesus to death – some just really didn’t like him. Those who were ABLE to put Jesus to death were those who already in bed with Rome.

        A better way to put it is: inasmuch as those who killed Jesus rejected Jesus and everything his words and deeds implied, they were actually rejecting God himself. This is the nature of the apostolic kerygma to the Jewish leadership in Acts, and that is what pisses off some Jews in Acts, which then leads to the apostles also facing opposition and death.   
        Jesus was killed because people rejected the reality that the way of God, his kingdom, was manifest in his person, and this rejection of Jesus AMOUNTS TO rejection of God himself.
        Is that fair?

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