The Sacrifice of Jesus?

Introduction

Billions of people around the world identify themselves as Christians of one sort or sect or another. Among the core beliefs of the the vast majority of Christians is the idea that Jesus' death on the cross constituted a sacrifice and that Jesus was martyred and thus died fighting for a cause. In this hub I want to discuss differing opinions on Christ's nature and how they relate to the question of whether or not Jesus' death actually constituted a sacrifice at all.

The Nature of Christ

First I want to briefly address the different sides of the issue of Christology. It is clear from the writings of the early church leaders that in the centuries following the supposed life of Christ early Christians held widely varied views on Jesus. Some believed that Jesus Christ was fully a God in his own right but was merely appearing as a man, this belief is called Docetism. In this belief Jesus' physical form was nothing more than a realistic recreation, an illusion of the body of a man only convincing enough to interact with us mere mortals.

According to others within Christianity Christ may have simply been a man who was granted supernatural abilities or a divine nature after a certain point and still others believe that Jesus was the actual son of God but that his fully divine nature was not realized until after a certain point. This belief seems to be supported by three of the Gospels. Mark, Matthew and Luke (commonly referred to as the Synoptic Gospels) suggest that Jesus' ministry and miracles did not begin until his baptism by John the Baptist at which time a voice from Heaven was heard and Jesus received the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. In fact the Gospel of Mark, widely agreed upon as the earliest Gospel to have been written, actually begins with John's baptism of Jesus.

Outside of the Christian perspective there are, of course, other options to explain the nature of Jesus such as the possibility that Jesus himself never existed at all or the idea that Jesus was merely a man and moral teacher whose sayings and supposed deeds were blown out of proportion after his death.

Fully God AND Fully Man?

Eventually the church decided that at the moment of incarnation, when God was made flesh and “dwelt among us” Jesus achieved something called hypostatic union. This means that Jesus was able to be fully God and fully man at the same time with no apparent contradictions to between the two. This is one of the biggest examples of having your cake and eating it too in the history of religious belief. Here we have contradictory and irreconcilably different views being presented in the Gospels of just who and what Jesus was being smashed together and brushed under the carpet.

Suddenly it doesn't matter that Jesus mentions the fact that only the Father, God, knows when the world will end, and that he himself doesn't know, because even though Jesus is fully God Jesus has also limited himself by being incarnated into a human body. Yet this is the same Jesus who heals the sick miraculously, who multiplies physical matter impossibly in the form of loaves and fishes and who in many verses knows the thoughts and feelings of those around him.

Gethsemane, Jesus' Humanity on Display

One of the most fascinating passages in the Gospels in the scene at Gethsemane recorded in the three synoptic gospels (for some reason John, the later of the three Gospels, omits the scene entirely). In this scene Jesus shows human emotions such as distress, anxiety, and perhaps even fear, regarding his eminent betrayal and crucifixion. One version of the story, contained in Luke, actually has Jesus sweating drops of blood. Jesus is so distressed according to Luke's Gospel that God sends down an angel to comfort him.

A lot of emphasis in modern Christianity today is put on forming a “personal relationship” with Jesus. Jesus was said to want to be our friend, a great counselor and our closest ally in our walk through life. The idea of Jesus as a compassionate and merciful God who wants nothing more than to help guide you through life was bolstered by the idea that he died so that you didn't have to. Jesus death on the cross was to take the fall for the crimes of ALL humanity. According to what I was taught as a Christian Jesus lived a perfect human life and that made him the perfect blameless sacrifice that God needed.

One question that occurred to me even as a believer was the question of whether Jesus was capable of sinning. While nearly everyone I asked in the Church and in my family claimed that Jesus wasn't capable of sin I found myself believing that, in order for Jesus' perfect life to have any meaning, Jesus HAD TO BE capable of sin. If Jesus was going to be considered human, in any form, than he had to be capable of sin, even if his moral nature was strong enough to keep him from sinning.

Indeed Jesus' temptation in the wilderness by Satan seems like a worthless passage of scripture if Jesus wasn't in any danger of giving into that temptation. Jesus goes into the wilderness and is famished and fatigued and thus in a weakened state, the perfect target for Satan's temptations. Jesus' refutation of Satan's attack is meaningless if Satan never stood a chance to begin with. Jesus has to be vulnerable to be human and that vulnerability must extend to sin.

So the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane is important for establishing Jesus' humanity but it also provides a slight problem for those who believe that Jesus was fully divine as well. In this scene Jesus is praying to God and if Jesus IS GOD than who, pray tell (see what I did there?) is he praying to? If Jesus is praying to God the Father what does he expect to accomplish? Surely God is not going to stop the crucifixion from taking place... is Jesus having second thoughts? Doubts? It sure seems like Jesus is in need of a pep talk from God, or is, perhaps, trying to get God to change his mind entirely.

A Meaningful Sacrifice?

So finally I want to get to the point of all this, the sacrifice, the death of Christ that is meant to redeem the world. The question I want to propose to those who believe that this story actually happened the way the Bible describes it is, “if Jesus was fully God, what did he sacrifice?

After his death Jesus returns to life on the third day in the same body he was crucified in. In a sense he does forfeit his mortal life, but only for a few days, reclaiming that same physical form upon his resurrection. So in the process what does Jesus lose? What does he actually give up? Does he return to life incomplete in some way?

In actuality Jesus returns to life in glory, with angels heralding his absence from the grave and an eventual ascension into Heaven where he will rule in unimaginable splendor for all eternity. Far from a sacrifice, this seems more like a promotion where Jesus is moving up to that deluxe apartment in the sky.

One Gospel has Jesus hanging on the cross and claiming that, at any moment, he could call down a legion of angels to rescue him (and presumably bring wrath upon his enemies) but that he chooses not to do that. This is likely meant to make Jesus look more noble, and indeed if Jesus was actually going to stay dead, to give up immortality of any kind and annihilate his very existence to save humanity, it would be meaningful.

Instead Jesus sacrifices only a few days of his mortal life and returns to the same corpse he left behind even letting Thomas touch the wounds in the Gospel of John. So Jesus has lost NOTHING permanently and thus has actually sacrificed nothing. The only way in which the deified Jesus is a sacrifice is in the blood-thirsty sense of the Old Testament, where God simply needs blood to be spilled in order to forgive sins. Yes Jesus is often compared to this kind of barbaric sacrifice, the so-called Lamb of God, nailed to a cross and brutalized to sate the blood-lust of a barbaric God who, for some bizarre unexplained reason, cannot forgive people without ritualistic violence.

A human Jesus, a mere mortal moral teacher trying to offer moral and spiritual guidance to his peers, who then gives up his life for his ideals, is a fantastic story, a powerful sacrifice even if his teachings are imperfect and his ideas questionable. A human Jesus makes the narrative that much better, even if so many of the stories contradict the idea at the very least the idea of a human Jesus makes the sacrifice meaningful.

Conclusion

The question of Jesus' divinity has plagued Christianity since it's inception and has yet to be satisfactorily settled. The Gospels cannot agree on whether Jesus was fully God or fully man leading to an insultingly poor compromise claiming that he was both. To skeptics like myself this disagreement within the Gospels and amongst (especially the early) Christians makes the story even more questionable.

In the end Jesus being a God renders his supposed sacrifice as anything but. The endlessly repeated claim that Jesus “died for our sins” is meaningless if, in fact, Jesus didn't stay dead. If you're a Christian reading this and you disagree please explain why Jesus' sacrifice has meaning and help answer the biggest question of all regarding Jesus: just what does he save people from exactly?

Thanks for reading.

Biblical Scholar Bart Ehrman on How Jesus Became God

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Comments 18 comments

artblack01 profile image

artblack01 4 years ago from New Mexico

I am with you there. I think i was planning on taking it one step further but decided upon a different route. The author's side of things and the complete presentation as the New Testament an early superhero book.


Titen-Sxull profile image

Titen-Sxull 4 years ago from back in the lab again Author

@artblack01

Thanks artblack. There are those who believe that the author of the Gospel of Mark, who certainly wasn't Mark himself, was actually attempting to create an epic on par with the Odyssey.

The idea is that during the time of the Apostle Paul (and certainly the earliest writings we have of the New Testament at all comes from his letters) Jesus was an extrapolation from the scriptures, a spiritual savior who never actually lived a physical life. The author of Mark would have used these early Christian teachings as a springboard for his story. So Jesus might have very well been a heroic, mythical, figure, who, like Odysseus, may or may not be based on a real flesh and blood person.

Thanks for the comment!


artblack01 profile image

artblack01 4 years ago from New Mexico

That is exactly what he was, it is what all the evidence I have researched shows an what very few people will even admit to.


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 4 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

The man, the myth, the legend that is Jesus. It's the very nature of Christians to see him in their dreams. How many times have we heard the statement that he died for our sins.

I'm telling you, if I were God, I would never even conceive of the idea of sending a man (as myself) to be tortured and killed to "save" people when I could simply never have condemned them in the first place, or I could just simply say, "I screwed up" and all is forgiven.

What is the blood sacrifice obsession that religionists have anyway?


AntonOfTheNorth profile image

AntonOfTheNorth 4 years ago from The Land Up Over

Hey Titen,

This was a good read. Thanks for writing.

I have always treated the referral to Jesus as a sacrifice purely a product of the culture. Society still looked on sacrifice as the way to appease a potentially angry god, so historians writing of Jesus would, as a matter of course, default to that reality.

It is one of the big reasons I've never accepted the bible as the literal word of god. If I'm god, surely I'm saying something different by being human than "I am the sacrifice". The resurrection is much more a demonstration that humans have an undying part than it is a sacrifice.

Similar is the notion that Job is a metaphor and not literal, except it has no value if it didn't really happen, as ficticious characters have the qualities the writer gives them, whether or not they are real or possible.

If Job is literal, god is a mean spirited, uncaring gambler with people's souls. If Job is a parable, it has no demonstrative value of the power of faith, as the character didn't display any faith at all, being a fabrication of the writer.

And don't even get me started on leviticus.

cheers


Titen-Sxull profile image

Titen-Sxull 4 years ago from back in the lab again Author

It appears the whole blood sacrifice obsession dates back to ancient times. Christianity and the Bible are rife with violence and disturbing imagery and language in both the literal and figurative passages. For one thing the act of Communion has always seemed odd to me, the act of pretending to cannibalize the flesh of Christ is a disturbing thought to any outside this death cult.


Titen-Sxull profile image

Titen-Sxull 4 years ago from back in the lab again Author

Thanks Anton, glad you enjoyed it.

Yes many of the stories in the Jewish scriptures seem to be meant to be taken figuratively. The problem is that many of these stories have obscure or indecipherable morals at their center. As you mention Job doesn't seem to have any real moral or values as a story. At the end of the story Job gets his stuff back even though he eventually breaks down and questions God, and God gives a self-aggrandizing speech about how great he is. It's a very muddled story, and I can't imagine why it was left in the Bible. Another bizarre one is the Song of Solomon, an erotic love poem buried in the Bible for no apparent reason.


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 4 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

I've said it before and I'll say it again. The bible was the entertaining soap opera of its time.


Paladin_ profile image

Paladin_ 4 years ago from Michigan, USA

Actually, even as a non-believer this question has never been a problem for me. As I often say, death is nothing. But DYING, that's the real bitch. If Jesus took physical human form, he still suffered the pain and trauma of physically dying. So, at least in that regard, the idea of "sacrifice" is plausible.

More recently, my contemplation of the crucifiction concerns the issue of free will (and I may write a hub on it when I have more time). Specifically, did the Pharisees have free will with regard to condemning Jesus? Did Pontius Pilate?

When one considers that the very foundation of Christianity (Jesus' sacrifice) depends entirely upon their acting according to God's plan for Jesus, it certainly makes you wonder just how free they were to chart their own course.

Anyway, that's food for thought. Aside from that, another good hub, Titen!


Titen-Sxull profile image

Titen-Sxull 4 years ago from back in the lab again Author

Well sure the pain is something, but if Jesus is God it's not that big of a deal. For a man the pain would be unbearably awful, but Jesus is also supposedly a God, who returns to life with ease and then ascends to Heaven to live in glory for eternity. I think most people would trade a few hours of absolute agony if they knew for a fact that they would ascend into glory and live in paradise... in fact isn't that how they got people to go on Crusades ;)

Thanks for the comment Paladin!


AntonOfTheNorth profile image

AntonOfTheNorth 4 years ago from The Land Up Over

Women trade many hours of barely tolerable pain simply to bring life into the world. They've been doing it for as long as there have been humans. Many die in the process. That is sacrifice.

Soldiers give their life so that others may live, for their country, for their families. They won't even live to see the results and have no sure way of knowing that their death is not the end. That is sacrifice.

I've done some study of crucfixion. I'm reasonably certain I have a little understanding of the pain endured by a victim of this sort of torture. It is substantial, but there are other ways of dying that cause far more suffering over a much longer period of time.

My father died of lung cancer. Months of wracking agony to just draw a breath.

A good friend of my wife's just lost her husband to rapidly progressing MS. 11 years of pain and suffering.

I'm with Titen. Half of the suffering associated with severe pain is the fear and dread that you will not survive it.

The only way Jesus death is a sacrifice is if he didn't know that he would survive it. And even then, once he realized that he had, 'seated at the right hand of the father' for ever and ever against one day of excrutiating agony and 2 days of non time is a pretty small price to pay, and certainly doesn't appear to have attoned for all the sins of humanity in any pragmatic sense, as we still suffer now, and sins are still committed by us, on us, and for us (arguably by god himself on occasion. See Job)

No, the meaingful message of Jesus' death as described is (in my opinion) not the sacrifice, but more along the lines of 'proving' that death is not the end.

Of course you have to believe the literal truth of the bible before that works as 'proof'.

The sacrifice bit only makes sense in the context of the very uniquely human cultural trait that says god must be appeased and worshiped through death.

Not the god I believe in, I'm afraid.

Clearly death is an essential component of life as all that lives must die, so if you believe in a creator, you must accept that death is a requirement of this creation. But it has never made sense to me that god sacrificed himself for our salvation. It makes more sense that god suffered death to demonstrate that there is more to life than death.

My, I do go on. Sorry. :)

cheers


artblack01 profile image

artblack01 4 years ago from New Mexico

This is if Jesus and his willful suffering were proof of God. Even if Jesus had existed and had risen from the dead he only appeared to his deciples. So it is still there word that such a thing happened. If they too had existed anyway. No way of ever knowing any of that since the only thing written was that of Paul who himself never knew Jesus in life.


Titen-Sxull profile image

Titen-Sxull 4 years ago from back in the lab again Author

@Anton

Yes the idea of the resurrection doesn't seem to fit with the idea of it being a sacrifice it all, which, as you suggest, hints that there must be some other meaning.

Another interesting contradiction is that Jesus repeatedly teaches his disciples doctrines of self-responsibility and looking after one's own sins. He tells them to deal with the log in their own eye before criticizing others, tells them to judge not lest they be judged and tells them to cut out their own eyes if they lead them astray (likely metaphoric, but still).

Yet his actions on the cross, and the beliefs surrounding this "sacrifice" seem to contradict these ideas of personal responsibility for sins. After all if Jesus takes on ALL the sin of the world while on the cross, and all I must do is believe to be saved, than why should I be bothered by the log in my own eye, or even make an attempt to stop sinning?

Also interesting to note is that many times in the New Testament the Resurrection is mentioned only figuratively, and not as a literal event. For example, in Romans 6 the Apostle Paul attempts to explain why Christians should NOT sin, despite the fact that their sins are covered by faith through grace (not works), in this chapter Jesus' resurrection sounds figurative and is used as a metaphor for dying to sin and being reborn in Christ.


Lybrah 3 years ago

@Anton,

Jesus was tortured pretty badly right before He was crucified, and mocked as well. Watch the movie "The Passion of the Christ."

I don't know what it is like to suffer from Cancer, but I think I'd rather that than have two large nails drilled through both my wrists, and then one big nailing my feet together; then being set upright so that I couldn't breathe. This kind of agony would make even 1 minute seem like a million years--it could take a man days to die on a cross. And Jesus did nothing wrong! Jesus took this punishment to save us from an eternity in hell. You would do well to accept this cultivate a relationship with Him. You have nothing to lose--if He is not real, as you say, you die either way. But if He is real, and you spend your entire life hating Him....you have to take the punishment for yourself. I pray that the Lord reveals Himself to you so that you (and the hub author) can understand.


artblack01 profile image

artblack01 3 years ago from New Mexico

I can't believe anyone would want to watch that torture porn known as the Passion of the Christ, and I think anyone taking children to that is a child abuser and should have charges brought on them. However, there have been people all through history known and unknown who have been tortured and mocked worse than this character.

And I don't accept pascals wager of "you have nothing to lose" by believing but if you are wrong and don't believe you burn in hell. I say bullshit. Pascals wager can apply to you, what if YOU are wrong and another religion's views are right? Then you may suffer in their hell.

I am sorry but I don't accept any supernatural claim, empty promise of salvation with the empty threat of damnation.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.


Lybrah 2 years ago

Christ's death on the cross was not child abuse- Christ conquered death in dying on the cross. God gave His very self for humanity's sake; He became like one of us and died (and was risen from the dead) God's presence is most evident when Christ was dying on the cross. He was there!

He who did not spare His own son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? (Rom. 8:32) God loves us more than He loves Himself.


artblack01 profile image

artblack01 2 years ago from New Mexico

Lybrah, why do you bother commenting on this when you know that one, we don't even believe Jesus was a real person. If he was a real person he wasn't the son of God or a God nor did he rise from the grave in real life, if he was a God and rose from the grave then his death on the cross was neither a sacrifice for our sins nor was it a conquering of death since he was supposed to be God/son of God.And the Evidence of God being Jesus dying on the Cross, you say he was there, but were you there to see it happen? How do you know it happened if you weren't there. Because the Bible says so? Many religious texts make claims that their Gods did this that and the other thing but you don't believe their texts... Do you believe Superman came to Earth from Krypton? It says so in the comic books? The Bible is no different than a large novel, maybe based on real places and people, but it's still fictional even if the author claims it is real. I could write a fictional book and call it nonfiction, doesn't make it so.


Titen-Sxull profile image

Titen-Sxull 2 years ago from back in the lab again Author

"God gave His very self for humanity's sake"

God didn't give anything. He lost nothing, so nothing was sacrificed.

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