Why did Jesus die?

I want to tell you a story and see what you think about it.

Imagine it’s thousands of years ago in the middle east. Jesus and his twelve closest followers — the apostles — know that they are on a path to fulfill the prophecy of a savior rising to re-establish God’s kingdom on earth. The problem is that their growing prominence has drawn the notice of the authorities, but they still need more time to bring followers to their cause.

With this in mind, Jesus has a plan. “One of you will betray me,” Jesus says. The apostles are amazed by such a strange statement and erupt in confusion. All of them except for Judas, because Judas and Jesus have been plotting. “Is it me?” Judas asks. “Yes,” Jesus says, acknowledging that Judas had volunteered for the job.

The day before, Judas had arranged to “betray” Jesus to the authorities and was paid 30 pieces of silver. They now had operating funds to put Jesus’ plan into production.

Jesus is captured and taken before the authorities. He is beaten and abused far more than he had expected, but his disciples have no way of knowing this. Jesus is crucified, as expected.

It is said that the guards watching over Jesus gambled for his possessions, and this story is all that remains of the cover story told to explain how those who were supposed to watch Jesus die came by quite a bit of silver. It was enough silver, in fact, to ensure that Jesus’ legs would not be broken and that he would be taken down from the cross much earlier than was the normal practice. It was, apparently, not enough silver to stop one of the guards from stabbing Jesus in the side as proof that they were trying to kill him.

Later that night, after Jesus was laid away safe in a tomb, Judas returned. The plan had been for him to rescue Jesus, who would have dramatically “died” on the cross and been taken down before the fatal moment. Jesus would recuperate for a few days before returning to his people and continuing to build his movement in secret without the interference of authorities (who now thought he was dead). Unfortunately, because so much of his strength had been used in withstanding the earlier beatings, Jesus had not been able to last even a few hours on the cross and had, in reality, died.

Judas is distraught. He takes his beloved leader’s body from the tomb, but is unable to breathe life back into it. In despair, he buries it in a nondescript field and swears to himself that he will tell nobody what happened.

When Judas returns to the other apostles, he tells them — somewhat truthfully — that Jesus died on the cross but that his body is no longer in the cave. He heads off on his own after that and, full  of guilt for being part of a plot that killed the man he thought of as his future king, kills himself, consequentially eliminating the only living person who knew the entire story of Jesus’ death.

The other apostles, knowing that Jesus had promised he would return in three days, wait for him. Jesus had a plan, they knew, so they had to have faith and wait to see how it played out. When the time came, many of them — whether due to stress, religious furor, or other cause — have visions in which Jesus returned to them and gave them instructions for carrying out his wishes. The apostles treated these visions as if they were real, in-person encounters with Jesus, much like Paul would do not long after.

And so the story of Jesus miraculous death and resurrection was begun.

This story is just a story, but it does explain many things. For example, it explains:

Now that you’ve heard it, how ridiculous do you think my story is? Is it completely, insanely divorced from any possible reality? Or, to put it more simply, which do you think is more likely: this story in which a mortal man’s plot goes awry, or a very different story in which the protagonist has God-like powers and can return from the dead? I don’t see it as a very difficult choice, and in reality you have many more mundane stories to choose from than just mine.

(By the way, for those of you who have read the Gospels more recently than I, I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about how the Biblical story of Jesus’ last days fits in with my tale above.)

Posted on April 1, 2014 at 9:54 pm by ideclare · Permalink
In: Bible

One Response

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  1. Written by Chris
    on March 27, 2015 at 7:08 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    Bravo. I had related ideas focusing on Joseph of Arimathea (a town unknown outside the gospels) and Nicodemus, men reportedly of means, with connections, followers but not in the intimate circle of apostles. Their connections allowed them to obtain the body (I agree maybe not quite dead, but expiring shortly), and their means provided an intentionally temporary grave (time was short before the festival). Since Jewish practice frowned on nonrelatives in one’s family grave, they moved the body as they intended all along, though unbeknowst to the imtimate circle, of which there were not a part depsite their support. Whenever they may have told the intimates, they simply weren’t believed; or they decided not to tell, feeling it futile in the face of fanatacism.

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