Why Did Jesus Have To Die Such A Brutal Death?

Once someone asked me this poignant question: If God was God then why did he allow his son to die the terrible death of crucifixion? At first I was dumbfounded. I didn't really have any compelling arguments.  Inwardly I also agreed with my friend's assessment If God was truly omnipotent couldn't he find a more benign, less gruesome tactic of salvation? How can God be God if he allows his son and his subjects to undergo the things that they are most afraid of?

After much prayer and reflection I came up with these two primary ways to understand Jesus' crucifixion. These answers are by no means exhaustive, for a more through presentation of the matter I strongly suggest reading, Brant Pitre's "Jesus and the Jewish Roots of The Eucharist," Peter Kreeft's, "Making Sense Out of Suffering" and St. John Paul II's, "Crossing the Threshold of Hope."

1) Jesus crucifixion fits perfectly into the Jewish context of his time. Jesus was the new Passover. The Old Passover feast was a commemoration of Moses, who during the exodus was commanded by God to slaughter an unblemished lamb to use it's blood to mark the lintels of his door. By doing this Moses was able to avoid the angel of death who was killing the Egyptian's firstborns.  Each year millions of Jewish pilgrims would witness the slaughtering of millions of lambs. The reasoning for this slaughter was that these pure, unblemished lambs took on the sins of the people. By killing these "pure" lambs the sins of the people would be forgiven.

Now if you put this all within the Jewish context, which Christianity fulfilled Jesus became this sacrificial lamb, who by his death was able to forgive the sins of all.  Jesus' crucifixion was a one time event which ended the Jewish Passover tradition of slaughtering sheep. This was not necessary anymore since Jesus was the true "lamb of God" who freed the people from their sins.

2) Since Jesus suffered there is meaning in it. I often ask this question, "What if Jesus was this all powerful, wealthy, and successful warrior, king who died peacefully at an all age?  Where would suffering fit into this grand, unattainable image? Jesus, who was fully God and fully man choose to live a humble, difficult life life that didn't resemble anything of a great king. This meek view was often at odds with many Jews who believed that the Messiah would come to earth, as a powerful king and right the wrongs of the Jewish people. Jesus by his condescension knew the meaning of all suffering; he suffered loss, was homeless, was betrayed, was denied, and lastly wrongly accused, and sentenced to die a gruesome death. Jesus freely choose to be in all of these very human circumstances to give us an example of the dignity of suffering. If Jesus died as a typical king than human suffering would rightfully look like madness, something that needed to be avoided at all costs. "If the king didn't suffer than why should I?"  This condescension is what makes Christianity unique among the world's religions.  In no other religion does a God freely suffer and overcomes that death through a resurrection.  By doing this Jesus shows us all that a true relationship is possible since he went through many of the things we humans go through in our lives.


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