Why Jesus had to die


A photo of a nineteenth century Japanese crucifixion illustrates its horror. Note that the victim in this case has been tied rather than nailed to the cross, therefore, the suffering Jesus endured would have been even worse.

A few years ago I was watching a documentary about Milton’s Paradise Lost. It was presented by Armando Iannucci who had been writing a PhD on Milton before he became a comedian. During the program he explained that he had once considered becoming a Catholic Priest but had lost his faith because he couldn’t see why Jesus had to die.

The conventional answer to this question is that ‘he died for our sins.’ The Crucifixion is seen as way for God to forgive humanity for its sins. But that doesn’t really explain the problem. Why doesn’t God just forgive us? Why is the horror of God himself dying on the cross necessary?

And let us not minimise that horror. Crucifixion is a means not only of execution but also torture:

Someone nailed to a crucifix with their arms stretched out on either side could expect to live for no more than 24 hours. Seven-inch nails would be driven through the wrists so that the bones there could support the body’s weight. The nail would sever the median nerve, which not only caused immense pain but would have paralysed the victim’s hands.

The feet were nailed to the upright part of the crucifix, so that the knees were bent at around 45 degrees. To speed death, executioners would often break the legs of their victims to give no chance of using their thigh muscles as support. It was probably unnecessary, as their strength would not have lasted more than a few minutes even if they were unharmed.

Once the legs gave out, the weight would be transferred to the arms, gradually dragging the shoulders from their sockets. The elbows and wrists would follow a few minutes later; by now, the arms would be six or seven inches longer. The victim would have no choice but to bear his weight on his chest. He would immediately have trouble breathing as the weight caused the rib cage to lift up and force him into an almost perpetual state of inhalation.

Suffocation would usually follow…..

Perhaps the most frequently voiced explanation for this suffering is that without it the demands of justice would have gone unmet: there would have been a crime but no punishment. However, for all its prevalence this view makes little sense. How does punishing an innocent person/deity for the sins of others represent any semblance of justice?

My view on this – largely inspired by the fragments of Calvin’s theology which I understand – is that the Crucifixion and Resurrection were not necessary for humanity’s salvation. Rather they were essential if that salvation was to change us during our earthly existence. It dramatised it for us: showing us human that even when we tried to kill God, he not only survived but continued to love us. It is a dramatic example of unconditional love that even if we cannot follow, we must be humbled by.


2 thoughts on “Why Jesus had to die

  1. The crucifixion is a symbol of breaking through the barrier of sin than blocks the path between earth and heaven. The key to this is Mark 15:38, “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” The curtain of course represents a woman’s hymen – which is the barrier preventing a man and a woman achieving intimate paradise with one another. Thus Jesus’s passion is completed by being penetrated by a spear, John 19:17 “one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water”. This represents the two fluids resulting from a first act of passion, blood from the breaking of the hymen, and water being a man’s essence, the water of life. The two lines of a cross are the intersection of heaven and earth, and themselves also represent the one penetrating or entering the other – heaven on earth, the act of love, the creation of life, and Jesus at the centre, where the two meet.

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