In Christianity, the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus are of the utmost importance to understanding who he is and what his mission was. Yet, it is still difficult to understand why he would be crucified if he really was the Messiah. At the same time, if the resurrection is the proof for all of Jesus’s claims to be Messiah and divine, what exactly does that mean? How we do we get from a crucified Messiah to the Son of God?
Crucifixion was a brutal execution meant to discourage any who might imitate the crimes of the one so tortured. The crucifixion of Jesus seems to discount that he was the Messiah considering the Deuteronomy says that “anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse” (Deut 21:23). As Paul says, the cross of Christ is a stumbling block to Jews and folly to the Greeks (1 Cor 1:23). Despite all of this, the New Testament is quite adamant that Christ was executed by crucifixion. Considering the heinous nature of the punishment and the scandal it presented, why was Jesus crucified? This is more important than it might seem at first blush.
We find in the Gospels that Jesus is accused of blasphemy when he is brought before the Sanhedrin, and this warrants a death sentence. According to the gospel of Mark when he is asked if he is the Christ, he replies by saying, “I am; and you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62). Rather than continue with the Messianic secret he readily accepts the title. Yet, claiming to be the Messiah is not considered blasphemy and in fact, many others made claims to be the Messiah. However, he is also subtly claiming to be divine.
In his response, he refers to the Messianic prophecies of Daniel 7 and Psalm 110. In both cases, he is a heavenly being coming from the clouds of heaven to sit on a heavenly throne. Jesus reveals his true identity and those he is speaking to react with disbelief and outrage. Jesus is putting himself equal to God and if this claim is not true, then it is blasphemy. This provided the impetus for Jesus’s death which, although counterintuitive, was part of God’s plan for redemption.
Christ’s passion took place at the same time as the Passover sacrifice. This sacrifice normally took place in the temple, a place where God was thought to dwell in a special way. Jesus claimed that his body was greater than the temple, a place where God is uniquely present. This makes his body “the true altar from which the blood and water” flow, redeeming us all as the victim of the most perfect sacrifice. But how can we confirm this?
It is very easy to claim to be the Messiah or God, for any number of insane people do so. The crucifixion seems like it should have dispatched any such claims. However, Christianity offers the resurrection of Christ as evidence that Jesus is what he said he was. What does it mean to be resurrected and how does that prove Jesus is the Divine Messiah?
The earliest Christians and followers of Jesus did not think that Jesus returned to a normal earthly life. Nor did they think that his soul or spirit was alive with God or that the resurrection means that Jesus went to heaven after he died. Rather, the resurrection means that Jesus returned to life in a bodily form, with the same body he had previously. The disciples had to be convinced that he was not a spirit and when he appeared to the Disciples, he still bore the marks of his crucifixion. Yet, this body differed in some ways since it could do things that normal bodies cannot, and the disciples did not immediately recognize him. After that first Easter Sunday, the tomb was empty, and Jesus’s body was no longer to be found buried among the dead.
The resurrection demonstrates that Jesus has power over death and can lead away from death and sin. He leads us to life. The crucifixion was the way that God chose to demonstrate his love to mankind and reconcile sinners with himself, paving the way for the resurrection to open the gates of heaven. In the words of St. John Chrysostom:
Christ is risen, and you, O death, are annihilated! Christ is risen, and the evil ones are cast down! Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice! Christ is risen, and life is liberated! Christ is risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead; for Christ, having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen!