You have all heard some version of these tear-jerking lines:
“Jesus was ONLY born in order to die!”
“If I/you had been the ONLY sinner on earth, Jesus would have come and died for me/you!”
“YOUR sinfulness sent Jesus to the cross!”
Impassioned speakers have used these declarations for years, maybe centuries, to create enormous guilt-trips, and the indictment is meekly accepted by thousands.
The only trouble is, JESUS NEVER SAID THAT!!!
Increasingly annoyed by the self-centeredness inherent in that focus, which seems so contradictory to the God-ward and out-ward focus of all of Jesus’ words and actions, I decided to comb carefully through the Gospel accounts to discover what HE presented as the purpose of his coming. Seems like it should be a no-brainer to consider Jesus himself as the best authority on such a subject.
Now, before you get all up-in-the-air about “inspiration”, please understand that I am not denying the inspiration of the writers of either the Gospels or the Epistles. However, I do maintain that their explanations must be understood in the light of what Jesus himself has said. So let’s take a look at his own words.
Purpose, in the Greek language, may be expressed grammatically in three ways: with the particle hina and a subjunctive verb (usually translated “in order that”); with a simple infinitive (translated “to”); or with the use of the preposition eis, or the phrase eis touto (translated “for this reason”, or “this is why”). A fourth, more ambiguous form uses the particle dei, “it is necessary” – which may, but need not have a purpose implication. It is usually more of a forecast than a statement of purpose. Here is a simple list of reference where Jesus is quoted as using one of these constructions.
Mt.5:17 – to fulfill the law and the prophets (which he then proceeds to correct)
Mt.9:13 – to call not the just, but those who have failed
Mt.10:34 – to throw fire on the earth (separation, based on relation to him)
Mk.2:17 – parallel to Mt.9:13
Lk.12:49-53 – parallel to Mt.10:34
Mt.20:28 – not to be waited on, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom (a ransom secures release from captivity, and is the only – even oblique – reference to his death)
Lk.4:18-19 – to announce good news to the poor, to be a herald of healing to the blind and release to captives, to send out in freedom those that are “broken”
Lk.19:10 – to seek and to rescue those who are lost/destroyed.
Lk.22:29-30 – The Father gave him a Kingdom so that he could pass it on to the disciples
Jn.3:15 – both the conditional (believing/being faithful) and the subjunctive (“may have”)are in the present tense – not future.
Jn.3:16 – same combination of present tenses
Jn.3:17 – so that the world may (also present tense) be rescued/ “saved”
Note that if these referred to a single event, the tense would be aorist, and the result future. Neither is the case.
Jn.6:38 – “I have come down from heaven not to do my own will, but to do the will of him that sent me.” (used 3x in 38-40)
Jn.10:10 – “I have come that they may have life (present tense) and have it abundantly.”
Jn.12:46 – “I have come, a light, into the world, so that everyone who is (present tense) faithful to me may not remain in darkness.”
Jn.12:47 – not to judge the world but to rescue it
Jn.17:2 – to give eternal life (present tense), which he then proceeds to define as intimate acquaintance with the Father and with himself, to those who were given to him.
Jn.17:13 – “that they may have my joy complete among themselves.”
Mk.1:38 — “That’s why I came out” (to preach in other communities)
Jn.9:39 – for discernment (eis krima)
Jn.18:37 – (before Pilate) eis touto – “That’s why I was born and came into the world, to bear witness to the truth.”
dia touto: Jn.12:27: “This is why I came to this hour” – Jesus does not explain this statement, but virtually everybody else does!
dei: Remember, this indicates a forecast, not necessarily a purpose:
Mt.16:21 – to suffer abuse from the hierarchy, die, and be raised
Mk.9:31-32 — parallel
Lk.22:37, 24:26, 24:44 – will deal with these later
Jn.3:14 – to be “raised up” or “exalted”
Jn.10:16 – to round-up the “other sheep” who will listen.
Conspicuous by its absence is any reference to private, individualistic “forgiveness of sins”. See W.S.#7. Jesus certainly did make that offer on occasion (Mt.9:2-6, parallels in Mark and Luke, and Lk.7:47), but when challenged, the objection had nothing whatever to do with his death, but rather with his right/authority to forgive because of his identity with God!
Where, then, did this distorted limitation of Jesus’ purpose come from? His comments in Lk.22:37 and 24:44 may be helpful. Jesus explains on both occasions, “everything that is written about me must be fulfilled.” Many times, he had found it necessary to correct misperceptions of what the “anointed one” would be or do. Religious authorities had concocted elaborate – but mistaken – ideas of a political emancipator, and other glorious (to them) job descriptions for the awaited “messiah.” Is Jesus perhaps cautioning his people to sort carefully which of the oft-quoted prescriptions of the Law and the Prophets really are “about him”? Perhaps we need to look at these again, and instead of trying to cram Jesus into the traditions of an ancient sacrificial system, turn our energies rather to participating in the Kingdom that HE SAID he came to inaugurate! Not everything “written” is necessarily “about him.”
Notice also the accounts (Mt.27:11, Mk.14:61 and 15:9, Lk.23:5 and 13-22, Jn.19:6-16) of Jesus’ trial. The charge against him was his Kingship and Sonship – there was no “religious” element at all.
Jesus has come “in the Father’s name” – as his representative (Jn.5:43), as the Light that can enable us no longer to “walk in darkness” (Jn.12:46). He has come to rescue the world (12:47). He has fulfilled the (legitimate) promises of ancient writings (Mk.5:17), and ransomed his people from whatever captivity they suffer. He has come that his “sheep” may know abundant life (Jn 10:10), and to bestow “eternal life” – which he has defined as intimate acquaintance with both himself and the Father (Jn.17:2), upon those who trustingly follow him in faithfulness. He has covered all the bases – provided for every need. My son Dan has an excellent summary in his blog post “Enough with salvation already!” which I commend to your attention. http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com/2009/05/enough-with-salvation-already.html
The crucial question here is the same as in so many other places and situations, and the only one that matters, in the last analysis:
WHO IS YOUR KING?