Death of Jesus

The Jewish scriptures contain hundreds of prophesies. Many of these prophesies pertain to the coming of a Messiah that would free Israel from captivity. But, the prophesies were somewhat unclear to those who lived before their fulfillment.

The people of ancient Israel were under the domination of the Roman empire. They earnestly hoped for deliverance from these pagan rulers. They wanted to restore the Kingdom of Israel as it was under King David and King Solomon. So, when Jesus came with miraculous power, many people hoped he would lead the revolt to freedom and the overthrow of Roman rule.

Even Jesus' disciples believed he would lead them in a revolt that would free them from Roman rule. At the "Last Supper" Peter mentioned that they had two swords. Earlier he said that he was ready to die with Jesus. They were ready to start the overthrow of Roman government right then.

Even after Jesus rose from the dead the disciples were interested in the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel. But, Jesus distanced himself from that goal indicating it was his Father's prerogative.

So, when they were together, they said to him, Lord, will you at this time give back the kingdom to Israel?

And he said to them, It is not for you to have knowledge of the time and the order of events which the Father has kept in his control.

Acts 1:6-7

So, it's easy to understand why Jesus' disciples were surprised when he died. His death went against everything they expected and hoped about him.

Earlier when Jesus began to plainly tell his disciples that he would be killed Peter was so astounded that he tried to correct Jesus. In Peter's mind the Messiah was going to elevate Israel to governmental prominence.

And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he spake that saying openly.

And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him.

Mark 8:31-32

Jesus did, indeed, come to deliver people from captivity. But, it wasn't the captivity of the Roman government. It was to free them from the captivity of Satan, of the sure punishment for sin, and to reconcile them to God.

Israel already had an image of what would happen to free them from sin and reconcile them to God. They replayed that image every day in their lives.

Ancient Israel sacrificed animals on their holy altar to reconcile themselves to God. These sacrifices were part of the agreement or covenant Israel made with God in the Sinai dessert after their release from captivity in Egypt. This reconciliation was called atonement. The blood of their sacrifices atoned for their sins and reconciled them to God.

For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.

Leviticus 17:11

This covenant required these bloody sacrifices every day. There was a constant need for the people to sacrifice since the blood of animals was insufficient to make a permanent reconciliation with God.

Jesus died on the cross for that reconciliation. And all who have faith in Jesus can be reconcilled to God.

Did Jesus Really Die on the Cross?

There is some controversy about who actually died on the cross. The Koran says it was actually Judas who died. Others say Jesus only lost consciousness or "swooned".

Eyewitnesses recorded that it was the wayward disciple Judas that lead a crowd of Jews who came to arrest Jesus. The record indicates that Judas helped identify Jesus to the crowd by kissing Jesus on the cheek. There was a brief skirmish, but soon after the Jews took Jesus into custody and lead him away.

The eyewitnesses who record this incident were Jesus' disciples and were quite familiar with both Jesus and Judas. They would not be likely to confuse Jesus and Judas. There is no evidence that any of the disciples confused the two. Further, they recorded the subsequent actions of both Jesus and Judas--showing again that they recognized and distinguished between them.

Jesus' death was attested to by experienced Roman soldiers. After Jesus' hands and feet were nailed and his cross was lifed up and set into a vertical position, breathing became a weary and painful process. It required that he use his legs to lift his body so his chest would be free to take in air. It was about three hours later that he ceased enduring that pain and stopped breathing. To ensure his death a soldier thrust a spear through his ribs toward his heart and water and blood flowed out for a short time. Then, it probably took at least a half and hour for the captain of the guard to report Jesus' death to Pilate before his body was lowered from the cross and released to his supporters.

Afterward Jesus' body was wrapped in burial cloth; his face was also covered. He was placed on a cold slab of stone in a tomb. A rock was rolled in front of the tomb where he was placed. This is hardly the treatment one would expect to give someone in shock in an effort to revive them.

There were no contemporary rumors that Jesus had not died. Too many eyewitnesses had seen the events that lead to his death for such rumors to gain credence.

The Jews were concerned, not that Jesus swooned and was still alive, but that his supporters would steal his body and claim that he had risen. So they requested a Roman guard be stationed at his tomb.

What Did Jesus' Death Accomplish?

The results of Jesus' death achieve what lambs and goats could never do.

It was the death of Jesus with his loss of blood on the cross that made a permanent atonement for all people. His death took away the old way of reconciling with God and instituted a new way--through his blood.

Then he added, "Behold, I have come to do your will." He abolishes the first [covenant] in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,

Hebrews 10:10-12

No priest of Israel ever sat down after a sacrifice. He continued officiating as a priest and carried out additional sacrifices. But, Jesus, after his one sacrifice sat down, indicating a completed act that needed no additional actions.

So, it is the death of Jesus that enables our permanent reconciliation with God. His death was worth more than all the animals ever sacrificed. His death allowed every person on earth to be reconciled to God, regardless of what you or I may have done in our lives.

This means that there is no longer any need for religious rituals. There is no need to flog yourself, keep "holy days", go on pilgrimages to holy sites, eat special foods, associate only with religious people, or pray in a regulated fashion. God does not require these things for you to be his friend. It is by the death of Jesus that you can be reconciled to God, and that alone.

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