“And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified Jesus, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.” – Luke 23:33
Historically speaking, there’s nothing special about crucifixion. Perhaps tens of thousands were crucified throughout the Roman empire. Before the time of Jesus, in 87 B.C., a Hasmonean ruler named Alexander Jannaeus crucified 800 Jewish rebels in Jerusalem. During part of a siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D, the Roman military crucified as many as 500 Jewish people a day. Under these circumstances, to speak against the government, or worse, to actually revolt, could lead to unspeakably horrible consequences.
Nothing surprising, right? Just ordinary humans fighting for power. The stronger side won and used their strength to bully, intimidate and punish the weaker ones. Crucifixion was just one of many ways to subdue a victimized people and force them to accept harsh taxes and military occupation.
What is exceedingly strange, then, is the Christian claim: the person Jesus was no ordinary human fighting for power. He was the stronger one, but he accepted the beatings, taunts, and even crucifixion from the weaker parties. Far from being victimized, the story goes that He went willing to his death in order to rescue those who were the real victims – those who were at the merciless power of sin, death and evil powers.Stranger still is the idea that his death accomplished something
Doesn’t everyone know that death is the end? Certainly in a brutal world where crucifixion was relatively more common, precisely because it was an effective means of ending problems, this would be well-established. Everyone knows that death is the end. But the Christians came to believe that Jesus’ death was just the beginning.
In fact, the claim is even larger: that Jesus was innocent because He was the good Creator who made the very wood and metal that were used to secure His death! Really? Who thinks this up? The very idea of God dying is so paradoxical and difficult to accept that it forms the basis for how many Islamic thinkers argue against Christianity. How did it come to be that Jewish monotheists, with one of the most exalted conceptions of God (a God so great that even His name was unspeakable) could accept that this same God could become human and die?
In short, the crucifixion, and its continued remembrance some 2,000 years later, raises many questions for us. Here are three:
- Why didn’t Jesus do something to avoid crucifixion?
- How did people begin to think that Jesus could both be the Creator God and die?
- How did people come to believe Jesus’ death was actually a good thing?