Why Did Jesus Die?
By Dan Paterson
Trace through the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life and a poignant question surfaces. After a night of secretive trials in the Jewish Temple court, having had false witnesses accuse him and his friends deny him, Jesus then stood in the Roman court. It is a dramatic scene as the judge of all the earth awaits judgment at the hands of his own creation. Herod Antipas, the Jewish king of Galilee, and Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect of Judea, serve as representative leaders of the Jews and the Gentiles. Jesus is to be judged by both tribes of men. So why did Jesus die?
In my reckoning there are few questions of greater significance for your life and mine. And in response, a great many human reasons could be given. We learn from the ancient sources that the Jewish Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jews, sought the demise of Jesus at the hands of the Romans on three trumped up charges: blasphemy, magic, and revolution.
Blasphemy because he claimed to have authority to forgive sins. Only God can do that. Magic because he was performing miracles and healings to the delight of a peasant crowd. By what power could a man do this? And revolution because he had gathered such a following that he had become a threat to the Jewish leaders’ personal power and to the peaceful stability of the nation. What if a revolt started and Rome reacted by levelling Jerusalem?
Even Pontius Pilate, a hardened military governor, initially perceived Jesus to be a threat. Any claims to a throne were seen in Roman eyes to be sedition, irrespective of the spatial territory Jesus claimed to rule. And yet, after interrogation, Pilate dismissed Jesus as harmless and irrelevant, wholly innocent of capital crimes. The infamous dialogue between Jesus and Pilate on the nature of truth stands as a witness that this governor’s mind was too preoccupied with his own position to bother with Jesus’ answer. How often we sacrifice the truth on the altar of convenience.
But beyond the human reasons, those from below, there is a higher purpose to Jesus’ death. For the events of Jesus’ trial smack of divine sovereignty. Incorporating their own freedoms, the human actors play out a divine drama, one foretold in Scripture, doing what God’s hand and plan had predetermined in order to preach the gospel.
In Pilate’s attempt to pacify a mob and compel them to recognize Jesus’ innocence, as well as ingratiate himself to the Jews, we see a portrait of a great exchange. Jesus and Barabbas, an infamous murderer and insurrectionist, each become candidates for release. Incited by the Sanhedrin, the crowd cries out, “Release Barabbas!” Pilate responds, “What should I do with Jesus?” The crowd shout back, “Crucify Jesus!” And so the innocent stands in the place of the guilty.
Pilate then attempts to satiate the crowd by having Jesus flogged, a method of punishment so vicious that men would die in the process. This show of brutality was designed to save Jesus from the death sentence. The nearby soldiers caught onto the show and put a crown of thorns on his head, arrayed him in a purple robe, and mocked him to the crowd, saying, “Behold the man!”
This Easter, let us heed their words. Behold the man! An innocent man condemned so that a sinner may go free. A man scourged so as to bear the scars of the suffering we deserve. A man whose brow bears the thorns of the curse, and upon whose shoulders the scarlet shadow of our sin was placed. The Creator mocked before his creation. Why Did Jesus Die? The answer is caught up in these powerful pictures.