Saturday, February 16, 2008
Jesus died in order to ... make the church
When we think of the purpose of Jesus' death according to the New Testament the first thing that often comes to our minds is the function of Jesus' death in relation to the salvation of individuals in terms of justification, redemption, reconciliation, etc. But I think that a much neglected function of Jesus' death is to reconstitute Israel as the new people of God comprized of Jews and Gentiles united in one body. Two texts highlight this:
1. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit (Gal 3:13-14).
Here Paul sets forth the purpose of Christ's death as redemptive, not just of sinners in general, but to incorporate Gentile sinners into the worldwide Abrahamic family. The "Gentile sinners" are not merely redeemed so that they can go to heaven, they are redeemed so that they will be part of the people of God and participate in the life of the Spirit.
2. Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, "You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish." He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. So from that day on they plotted to take his life (John 11:49-53).
I think this passage is an example of the two levels of John's Gospel (literal and ironic). According to Caiaphas, Jesus is to die for the nation, that is, in order to prevent the Romans from needing to intervene in a tumultuous riot sparked by messianic hopes (i.e. so let's kill him before they over react). Ironically, Jesus does die for the nation, as the Lamb of God, but he also dies in order to fulfill the divine promises that God would against reconstitute the tribal league of Israel. Caiaphas is an unwitting mouthpiece for the declaration that Jesus fulfills the hope of Israel. That hope includes the end of the dispersion/exile of the majority of the Jewish people from Judea.