Death of Jesus for Progressive Christians
While exploring the biblical stories about the death of Jesus, it is good to ask the larger question hanging in the background of all this drama: Why did Jesus die?
In his book Speaking Christian, Marcus Borg points out that the idea of substitutionary atonement – the idea that Jesus had to die to “atone” for our sins – is a late development in
theological history; its first appearance is in 1097, a thousand years after the writing of the Christian Bible. Borg points out that the meaning of Jesus’ death becomes distorted if one
assumes that it was necessary and required.
Contrary to atonement theory, scripture provides stronger responses to the question of why Jesus died. His message was revolutionary and a threat to the religious and political powers of the day. Talk of loving one’s neighbours, of treating people as if they matter, of seeking forgiveness and new ways of being accountable to one another – these values do not encourage faithfulness to empire. Jesus’ message was directly counter to the values that the government promoted. For them, there was no question but that Jesus had to be extinguished Similarly, the religious powers found their established order threatened. Jesus’ theme of God’s involvement in the world on behalf of the marginalized (specifically, foreigners, women, tax collectors, children, etc.) was a major challenge to the religious order of the day. It had to be stopped.