Excerpts from Yung Suk Kim, Resurrecting Jesus: The Renewal of NewTestament Theology (Cascade Books, 2015), 74-75.
Jesus did not come simply to die on the cross. He was supposed to live a good life without a tragic death on the cross. In other words, death is not the goal of his life, as opposed to the popular Christian belief that “Jesus came to die for us.” As we have seen in the previous chapter, Jesus came to proclaim God’s good news (euangelion tou theou), which is about God’s rule (Mark 1:14–15), to testify to the truth (John 18:37), and to show God’s righteousness through his faith (Rom 3:22). Jesus did not come to die for us but came to show who God is. The result is his death on the cross, a tragedy that cannot be romanticized or spiritualized for whatever reason. Jesus knew he would be killed if he continued his work.
Therefore, a mere emphasis on Jesus’ death or blood without looking at the historical context of his death is not only unrealistic, but keeps us from seeing both his love and passion for the world, and the ugly faces of the evil that are accountable for his death. If Jesus’ death is read only as a vicarious sin offering, it is like suffocating Jesus’ testimony to God’s justice in the world. People often watch Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ, weep, and thank Jesus because he was punished instead of them. This kind of penal substitution theory of atonement blinds people from seeing the evil system or powers held accountable for Jesus’ death. If Jesus’ death were God’s plan, then how can one account for the Gospel of Judas? In it, Judas Iscariot is praised because he helps Jesus to die so that salvation is complete. So the essential question before we explore the meaning of his death is why he was put to death. We care about Jesus’ death not because he died but because he died tragically because of his poignant teaching and dangerous acts toward the power center of Jerusalem and Rome. Crossan’s words are helpful here: “If Jesus had lived, did everything we know he did, and just died in his own bed, he must have been talking only about the interior life, because Rome is not paying attention, no one is bothered by it.” So the relevant questions are: Why was he put to death? What does his work have to do with his death? These questions are crucial not only to understanding the death of Jesus but also to constructing New Testament theology.