The Why of Jesus’ Death:
A Pauline Perspective
death of Christ on the cross is the only event which every day attracts more attention and admiration than any other events
in the history of the world. Myriads of eyes cast their glance daily at the cross and profess their faith in the good shepherd
who sacrificed his very life for the sheep that they may have life: life in abundance. For a non-believer who reads the life
of Christ as a mere history cannot find anything beyond the enmity of the Jews and the fickle character of the Roman Governor
behind the death of Jesus. A close reflection on the passion, crucifixion and the death of Jesus indeed unveils a meticulously
calculated intent of the religious authorities of the time. They wanted to put an end to his teachings once and for all, as
the teachings of Christ were opposed to their religious practises. They thought that the crucifixion, a sign of disgrace and
curse, would finally be end of the Galilean. On the road to Calvary, Jesus faced the bitterest moments of his life obediently and embraced death on
the cross voluntarily. The last phase of the life of Christ was filled with disgraceful experiences unimaginable to humanity.
The apostles who had been with Jesus for three years, the disciples who had been following him attracted by his teachings,
people who were fed, cured and forgiven by him, people who had been witnesses to his miracles asked to themselves in despair:
why had Jesus, the righteous, to die? He had been their hope and they believed
that he would liberate them giving a new life. Their hope in the Messiah was shattered and they were scattered after the crucifixion
of their Master. For the religious authorities the death of Jesus in the most disgraceful way was the complete failure of
a highly influential religious leader of the time.
In our search to find a theological
explanation for the ridiculous and cruel end of Jesus’ life, we will be immediately confronted with the Pauline understanding
of the death of Jesus. As a staunch religious leader, he searched for a profound
meaning for the brutal destiny of Christ. Death on the cross was the punishment given to the most wretched criminals. Dying
outside the city gate signified a death without God. In the case of Jesus, he was crucified outside the city gate. Thus, his
death suggested a sinner’s death: a sinner far way from God’s grace. However, Paul sees something more in the
Saviour’s death than the roman cruelty, beyond the roman spear and nail. He looks, beyond the Jewish malice, up to the
Sacred Fountain form where drinks and quenches his thirst. For him, the salvific value of Christ’s death finds expression
on the cross. There is no Christology without cross. St. Paul
in his first epistle to the Corinthians expounds that Christ died for our sins. It was in tune with the early Jewish-Christian
interpretation of the death of their Messiah that Jesus shared the fate of God’s servant, of whom Isaiah spoke in his
four hymns (42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12). His religious upbringing has played a pivotal role in the formulation of
his theological thought regarding the passion and death of Christ. In the Jewish tradition, any pious Jew tried to find an
answer from the scripture itself for anything that was beyond the human grasp. With this intellectual and religious backing
like any other Jew he too believed that there is a reason for the suffering. Paul developed a theology of redemption centred
on the vision of risen Christ on the road to Damascus, which
changed Saul into Paul. For him Jesus died to expiate the sins of mankind. Jesus took up the cross on himself willingly in
order to open up to all men the road that leads to the Father extending everyone salvation proclaimed by him during public
ministry. The expiatory role of Jesus’ death is a very significant Pauline contribution to the followers of Christ who
had lost hope in the promises of Jesus and his role in the salvation of the world.
Further, St. Paul sees on the cross the divinity of Jesus which transcends our fragile human nature.
The death of Christ on the cross is the door, which leads the sinful man to the process of divinization. The so-called folly
of the cross is the strength of Jesus and not the weakness. The humility of Jesus on the cross, exalted the weakness of the
sinful humanity transforming it into a glorified humanity. In other words, Jesus
died on the condemned cross to make the weak powerful, to make the sinners holy and to elevate us to the dignity of the children
of God. Thus, Jesus on the cross is the most sublime expression of the liberating, merciful and divine love of the Father
oriented towards the salvation of the whole mankind.
The Lukan answer to the “why”
of Jesus’ suffering and death is complimentary to the Pauline understanding of the salvific value of the suffering and
death of Christ. Luke, in his turn, explains Jesus’ death in a more appealing and acceptable way to a non-Jewish community,
who could not grasp the idea of an expiatory death by proxy. For Luke, the death of Jesus is the divine manifestation of the
merciful Will of the Father who wishes to save everyone from the clutches of sin and death. Through Jesus, the Father offered
a new life to all. It is an offer open to everybody. In this process of extending the prodigal love of the Father to the children
living in utter darkness and adversity, in sin and disorder, Jesus comes out victorious despite terrific suffering and disgraceful
death on the Cross, defeating all the evil powers and penetrating into the human history giving it a new meaning and hope.
From the death of Christ on the Cross, emerged a new life. Out of this reality
the new Easter People are born.