Monday, February 09, 2009

The Cross and the Kingdom (2)


a. Jesus’ predictions of His death

There are three major explicit predictions by Jesus of His death and resurrection:

1. Following Peter’s confession (Matt 16: 13-23 // Mk 8:31 // Lk 9:18-22)

2. Following the transfiguration (Matt 17:22-23 // Mk 9:31 // Lk 9:44)

3. Following the conversation with the rich young man (Matt 20:17-19 // Mk 10:32-34 // Lk 18:31-33. Only Matthew’s account specifically mentioned crucifixion as the means of death).

In addition to these incidents Jesus explicitly predicted His crucifixion just prior to His anointing at Bethany (Matt 26:1-5). While the anointing is recorded by Matthew, Mark and John only Matthew records the crucifixion saying.

None of these predictions of His death give a reason for it in terms of atonement or salvation. Jesus simply declared that he will be betrayed and killed, without stating a reason for it or attaching any theological significance to it. He did not attempt to explain why he "had to die".

b. The parable of the tenants

All three synoptics record this parable about a landowner and his tenants (Matt 21:33-46 // Mark 12:1-12 // Luke 20:9-19 ) . The landowner sends various servants to collect his share of the harvest, and each in turn are beaten or killed. Finally he sends his son, expecting the tenants to respect his son. All three accounts say: “they said to each other, 'This is the heir. Come, let's kill him and take his inheritance’” and “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard this parable, they knew he was talking about them”.

One significant aspect of this story is that the son represents the landowner as his agent. According to the well-known Jewish principle of agency (shaliach) by rejecting the son they were in effect rejecting the father. This is spelled out in Luke 10:16 “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me." Jesus is the shaliach, the agent or emissary of God, but not God Himself, although He acts with the full authority of God. Jesus was no doubt suggesting by this parable that His impending death would be a direct assault on God's agent and, by implication, an attack on God Himself. However, besides this implication that Jesus was God's agent and that the religious leaders of His day were in direct opposition to God, Jesus attaches no other significance to the death of the son. There is no hint here that it was necessary as an atonement or "for the sins" of anyone. The son in the parable was the victim of a murder. There is no other implied connection to "sin".

c. The ransom saying

“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom (Gk. lytron) for many”. (Matt 20:28 // Mark 10:45 )

The only other occurrence of “ransom” in the New Testament is 1 Tim 2:6 (antilytron) and there is insufficient information in either text to determine exactly what was meant by "ransom". The word can denote the price paid to free slaves while the related verb lytroo can mean deliverance in a general way without implying anything about payment. While the “ransom saying” may be saying that deliverance of many was accomplished at great cost, this saying does not specify to whom the ransom is paid. In fact, in the absence of anything to say the ransom was paid to someone we should conclude that the saying simply means that deliverance comes at a great cost, without drawing the conclusion that something was paid to someone.

This saying may, or may not, be a reference to His death - to give ones life in service does not necessarily mean to die. We often speak of someone giving their life to a cause or mision, without necessarily implying they have died - we mean that their life has been devoted to the cause. So in the 'ransom saying' Jesus could easily be saying that His life was devoted to being a liberator or redeemer. In fact, by saying that He came "to serve" almost rules out death. One cannot serve if they are dead. You can, however, devote your life to service and the context almost demands that this is the intended meaning.

d. Other sayings

There are several sayings and metaphors which imply suffering and rejection and resurrection, including:

The Temple saying
“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up”
John 2:19-22 cp. Mt 26:61 // Mk 14:58; Matt 27:39 // Mk 15:29

The Jonah saying
"For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth"
Matt 12:38-40; 16:1-2; Lk 11:29-32

The baptism metaphor
"Can you ... be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?" Mk 10:38-39
"I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed!"Lk 12:50

The cup metaphor
"Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?"
Matt 20:22-23 // Mk 10:38-39; Matt 26:39 // Mk 14:36 // Lk 22:42; John 18:11.

These sayings are primarily eschatological while none of them necessarily suggest atonement. They are predictions of suffering, death and resurrection but no further meaning is attached to them. None of these sayings suggest why Jeus would suffer and die, nor do they imply His death was "necessary" in order for sins to be forgiven. There is one more incident in the Synoptics which is generally understood to be a reference to Jesus' death: the last supper and the prayers over the bread and wine. I have commented on this fairly extensively in another series of articles, but I will come back to it later and examine it in this context.

In my next message I will look at how John's Gospel deals with a different set of sayings.

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