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If not for our sins, then why did Jesus die?


Question & Answer

Charles T. from the Internet asks:


Sir, with all due respect, you shared well concerning how Jesus did not die because of sins. Please share your views on the reason or why Jesus died.

Answer: By Fred C. Plumer

Dear Charles,

I do not know the actual reason that Jesus was killed. The Bible gives us some hints when you remove some of the theology that was added over the next two hundred years in its development. It is difficult for people living in modern society to imagine the conditions the Jewish people were living under Roman rule. Most of the Jews had suffered terrible treatment by the Roman soldiers and the Romans in general. And if you lived in Galilee, a distance in those days, it could be even more difficult. The Galileans lived in a hilly area, full of big boulders and caves. The men were known to be excellent “street fighters” who would create a fracas near the city and get the soldiers to follow then into the hills and then attempt to slaughter as many of them as they could, hiding behind the boulders and in the caves. But they paid a price for these activities. Galileans were particularly hated or feared by the Roman soldiers, and as a result were treated accordingly.

Also it is important to understand that when Jesus went into Jerusalem, it was during the Passover Holy day. This is was and is a very important celebration of the Jews escaping Egyptians slavery. Every year, for decades, this was one of the most turbulent times in the region. Most of the Jews were trying to eke out a living farming what land they still had and paying taxes to the Romans. Many of them had to give up owning their land and essentially becoming tenant farmers to the Empire because, in part at least, they could not pay their taxes. And here they were supposedly celebrating being freed, no longer slaves to the Egyptians but they knew they were slaves again. During these holidays, Rome would send an additional 10,000 soldiers to surround the city and they were instructed to kill anyone who did not seem like they were following orders. Do not kid yourself. There were no courts, no judges, and no leniency for the Jews, if they tangled with a Roman soldier.

And finally, it is clear that the act of crucifixion was used as an intimidating tool by the Romans, as it was by the Syrians rulers before them. There were five entrances into the city that could be quickly closed off. However, the Romans would pick a spot near any of the gates for the crucifixion. They would normally let the bodies hang there for days, waiting for the men or women to die and then for the birds to eat the flesh. It is estimated that in most cases, it took days for the “criminals” to die. Death by crucifixion was, by Roman law, supposed to be reserved for those who had done a serious crime but one of the most serious crimes was insurrection, defying Roman rule. These crucifixions were done in such a way that anyone going into Jerusalem would have to pass one of those crosses. There were literally thousands of men, women and even children killed in this manner. Sadly, crucifixion was not unusual and it had been that way for hundreds of years.

Jesus chose to walk into the city on this high intensity day. Did the Romans assume his being there was reason enough? Did the Romans kill him because he supposedly claimed to be the King of the Jews? Did they arrest and kill him because he would not bend his knee to the Roman rule? Was it the fracas in the Temple with coin changers? Was he part of a plot or suspected of being part of a plot to defy the Emperor? Was he just caught up in a raid of trouble makers from Galilee?

I cannot tell you but I assure you if there is any truth in our Gospels, Jesus gave them plenty of reasons to be put to death. But I prefer to believe that he was not an intentional martyr but one who believed his own words, “Do not be afraid.” He risked his life on behalf of others and lost his own life. He spoke truth and loved people he tried to save. We should all live that way.

I hope this helps you understand better. If you would like more details I would recommend Bandits, Prophets and Messiahs, by Richard A. Horsley with John Hanson. Trinity Press, International. 1999

~ Fred C. Plumer

This Q&A was originally published on Progressing Spirit – As a member of this online community, you’ll receive insightful weekly essays, access to all of the essay archives (including all of Bishop John Shelby Spong), and answers to your questions in our free weekly Q&A. Click here to see free sample essays.

About the Author

In 1986 Rev. Plumer was called to the Irvine United Congregational Church in Irvine, CA to lead a UCC new start church, where he remained until he retired in 2004. The church became known throughout the denomination as one of the more exciting and progressive mid-size congregations in the nation. He served on the Board of Directors of the Southern California Conference of the United Church of Christ (UCC) for five years, and chaired the Commission for Church Development and Evangelism for three of those years.

In 2006 Fred was elected President of (originally called The Center for Progressive Christianity – TCPC) when it’s founder Jim Adams retired. As a member of the Executive Council for TCPC he wrote The Study Guide for The 8 Points by which we define: Progressive Christianity. He has had several articles published on church development, building faith communities and redefining the purpose of the enlightened Christian Church. His book Drink from the Well is an anthology from speeches, articles in eBulletins, and numerous publications that define the progressive Christianity movement as it evolves to meet new challenges in a rapidly changing world.

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