Did Jesus Really Have to Die?

Excerpt from Chapter 12 of Beyond Shallow Faith, copyright 2018, 2019

When I was in college, the followers of Sun Myung Moon told me that Jesus died too soon. His premature death, they claimed, prevented him from establishing the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. So God sent Rev. Moon to accomplish what Jesus failed to do. Rev. Moon is now deceased.[i]

Similarly, a Christian friend of mine insists that Jesus’ death must have been a mistake. Surely God would not intentionally inflict such a cruel fate upon anyone, much less his own son.

Jesus’ final twenty-four hours before his death were certainly horrific. After going without sleep the night before,[ii] he was bound, beaten, spat upon, flogged, mocked, and finally crucified.[iii] Crucifixion is a dreadful way to die. The arms are extended and the wrists are nailed to a cross beam, while a single spike is driven through both feet. In this position, breathing becomes labored. To get sufficient oxygen, the unfortunate victim must push upward against the nail in his feet, exacerbating the intense pain. Exhaustion eventually sets in, and the victim dies of asphyxiation. When the Romans needed to speed up death, they would break the victim’s legs, thus preventing him from pushing up to get a breath. They did this to the two criminals whom they crucified with Jesus.[iv]

So my friend had a point. Crucifixion is one of the most fiendish forms of execution that humankind has ever devised. Yet if we believe the Bible, we must accept two truths that are constant themes in the New Testament: (1) Jesus went to his death willingly and with full knowledge of its cruel nature, and (2) his death was necessary to enable us to have a relationship with God. . . .

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[i]. Sun Myung Moon (1920 – 2012), a Korean, founded the Unification Church.

[ii]. This is the implication of Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, and Luke 22:39-46. These verses talk about Jesus praying repeatedly in the Garden of Gethsemane while His disciples slept.

[iii]. See Matthew 26:67, 27:2, 27:26-50; Mark 14:65, 15:1, 15:15-37; Luke 22:63, 23:11, 23:33-46; John 18:12, 18:22-24, 19:1-3, 19:16-18, 19:23-30.

[iv]. John 19:31-32. The Romans did not break Jesus’ legs because He was already dead. John 19:33