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Why did Jesus have to die?

Updated: Mar 16

Jesus’ crucifixion is recorded in the Bible and secular historical documents (such as those written by Roman historian, Tacitus). This execution method involved being nailed to beams of wood through the hands and feet. Death resulted in a long painful process of asphyxiation (suffocation), in which the two sets of muscles used for breathing (the chest muscles and the diaphragm) became progressively weakened.

According to the Jewish historian, Josephus, Rome crucified 3,000 Jews in one year alone (AD 7). What was unusual about the accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion is that He was seen alive by over 500 people after the event[1]. Jesus also knew that this fate awaited Him, years before it happened. Jesus is documented as teaching His disciples many times in the Gospels that He would be crucified and three days later come back to life[2]. The prophecy of the death of the Messiah was also written down over 700 years before the event took place in Isaiah 53.


While Jesus appeared to know how He was going to die and didn’t try to prevent it (in Luke 9:51, Jesus sets off “resolutely” towards Jerusalem, knowing that the events of His death were due to begin there); there is one curious occasion when Jesus was in a garden the night before He was arrested, wrestling in prayer with God. Jesus asked that the preordained execution be stopped[3]. At the end of the prayer session, Jesus was overcome with grief, sweating profusely, but declared “not my will but yours be done” to His Father in Heaven[4]. It seems that fulfilling this prophesied death was the essential reason for which He was born. But why? Jesus' real identity provides the key to this question.

During His ministry in Israel, 3 years prior to His death, Jesus taught the crowds and His disciples that He was the Messiah, the Son of Man[5]. He claimed to be God when teaching the seven I AM[6] statements in John’s Gospel. “I AM” was the Hebrew name for God[7]. So, Jesus was making very explicit claims about Himself before His Jewish audience, upon whom the reference would not have been lost. Indeed, the Jews tried to kill Jesus multiple times during His ministry because of the claims He made about His divinity[8]. It was also the reason why He was eventually crucified (charged with blasphemy - claiming to be God). Some in the crowds said that Jesus must be demon-possessed or raving mad to teach what He did about Himself[9].

Some may argue that when Jesus used the phrase “I AM”, He didn’t intend the divine interpretation that became attached to it. We all make 'I am' claims all the time (I am a mother, I am a teacher, etc.) but that doesn’t mean we are making claims of divinity when we use that phrase. However, even if you don’t accept that Jesus used this phrase deliberately because of the divine connotations, the content of the seven statements convey that this was His intention. Jesus claimed that He was the Way, the Truth and the Life; the Good Shepherd; The Vine; The Light of the World; Living Water; The Bread of Life and The Door for the sheep. Even if you ignore the “I AM” connotations from the beginning of the statements, they paint a remarkable image of Jesus' supposed identity. If any other human claimed to be the Light of the World, we may well consider them extremely narcissistic or mentally ill!

C S Lewis argued there are only three possible conclusions regarding Jesus – that He was a Liar, a Lunatic or Lord. You can’t reasonably argue that Jesus was simply a teacher of morality. While it is true that He taught incredible ethics such as “do unto others as you would have them do unto you[10]; “love your enemies[11]; and “turn the other cheek[12]; we don’t tend to uphold historical figures as exemplars if they were lying, deranged or narcissistic. Jesus made extraordinary claims that He was God alongside His moral teaching; we must reconcile the evidence to decide if His claim was true. We can’t just cherry pick the aspects of Jesus’ life that are easy to swallow. So, which is He: Mad, Bad or God?


References [1] 1 Cor 15:3-8 [2] Matthew 12:40, 16:21, 17:22-23, 20:17-19 [3] Luke 22:39-46 [4] Mark 14:36 [5] Daniel 7:13-14, John 10:30, 1:18, 5:18, 10:33, 1:1-14, Matt 28:19, [6] John 10:1-21, 6:35-42, 8:12, 11:25, 14:6, 15:1-5 [7] Exodus 3:14 [8] Matt 4:14-30, John 5:18 [9] John 10:19-21 [10] Matt 7:12 [11] Matt 6:43-47 [12] Matt 5:39


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