Did Jesus have to die on the cross?

Careful how you answer this.

If Jesus did not have to be crucified, the Jewish nation is to blame for their rejection of him and his subsequent death at the hands of Pilate. If Jesus’ death was foreordained to pay for sin, nothing anyone did or did not do could prevent it.

Full disclosure, we are dealing with the hypothetical not the actual. There is no right or wrong answer to this question because neither makes logistical sense.

The New Testament gospels depict Jesus’ path to the cross as inevitable and pre determined. Without his atoning sacrifice, mankind remains plunged in sin and death. But this suggests “if” the religious leaders had not turned Jesus over to the Roman authorities, he would not have died. Then what? Of course, theologically this is absurd, so we must suppose his death was unavoidable, but this required the all important participation of the religious leaders to be completed. Did they have free will in this matter? If not, why were they vilified by the early Christian leaders?

The alternative hypothesis is equally problematic. Had the nation accepted Jesus, the messianic kingdom would have arrived, as explicitly taught, Israel would have been restored and the Gentile nations judged. Is this believable?

When pressed Christians will invariably default to the “mystery” defense rather than wrestle with these questions. As an evangelical, I used this argument more often than I care to admit. It may appear as intellectual cowardice but I can assure you to an evangelical Christian it is iron clad logic.

Paul wrestled with a similar tension involving sovereignty and free will in Romans. His recourse was to essentially rebuke his audience for questioning what God did or why.

19One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ ”[Isa. 29:16). 21Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?“(Romans 9:19-21)

Obviously, if you’re a Christian Jesus had to die but this exonerates the Jewish nation from culpability. But if this is true, why have Jews undergone the suffering they have not to mention being excluded from eternal salvation for two thousand years? According to American evangelicals, the only Jews who are the benefactors of salvation are those in the future who accept Jesus as messiah, roughly one third of the people. The rest like their predecessors are doomed to hell. Are they really prepared to own this?

Published by ronarends

I was born in London, Ontario, Canada. I attended Capernwray Bible School (England and Austria), Moody Bible Institute (Chicago, Il.), the University of Western Ontario (London, Ontario), London Baptist Seminary (London, Ontario) and Dallas Theological Seminary (Dallas, Tx.). I have had several temporary jobs over the years but my focus has alway been on an investigative study of the Bible, Jesus and Christianity particularly evangelicalism. Currently editing a massive literary undertaking deconstructing Christianity and Jesus.

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