When did God die?

Died for us

The meaning of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. A basic text of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) Gütersloher Verlagshaus 2015

"Died for us" - questions and suggestions

If one has brought to mind the background of a long history of interpretation and piety of the biblical texts, the most important contemporary questions about the meaning of Jesus' suffering and death can be better answered. Some paradigmatic questions that are currently being asked in churches are taken up in the following chapter and are also answered paradigmatically. The result of all the answers to these questions is one answer to the fundamental question: "Died for us" - what does that mean today? How can we talk about it with new words, but also with newly understood old words?

Was Jesus of Nazareth Really Crucified?

Nothing is as indisputable as the answer to this question. It is simply: "Yes!" In view of the rare sources, the crucifixion is the only date also attested by extra-biblical documents that is reliably guaranteed with regard to the life of Jesus Christ.
Who is responsible for his death, the Roman or the Jewish authorities?
The traditions offer a complex picture and do not hold one group solely responsible for death. This must be observed very carefully. For a one-sided assignment of blame to the Jewish authorities has been a terrible abuse in history. Anyone who wants to assign the guilt to a certain group overlooks the fact that this is about human failure in general: people denounced Jesus. People have put him on trial. People condemned him. People nailed him to the cross. People have abandoned him and fled. People have denied him. People betrayed him. People watched as followers and just stood there when he died. That could have been me as well, that could have been you as well. That is why every person asks himself to what extent he or she contributes with his actions and his attitudes towards crucifying Jesus Christ again and again through injustice, through violence, through thoughtlessness towards other people.

Why did Jesus have to die at all?

He was charged with thinking of himself as the Son of God and King of the Jews. For some it was an insult to majesty. For the others it was blasphemy. And there was a risk of political turmoil. So much for the officially formulated "legal" charge.
In the horizon of the New Testament texts he had to die in order to open up a new perspective on life for people. With his suffering and death, in which God was present, he was supposed to overcome the desperate situation of people. Their desperate situation is that their relationship with God, with others and with themselves is disturbed or destroyed by sin. Sin is much more than moral misconduct. Sin is the epitome of all conceivable forms of intentional or unintentional lovelessness that decompose life: lies, hatred, indolence, false pride, negligence, violence, ignorance, resentment ... These forms have their deepest reason in the fact that people are in To deal with oneself in an exaggerated way and to instrumentalize everything and everyone, including God, to relate to oneself. In this way, a person plans other people and God on or off at his own discretion - in favor of a master plan that allows himself more life as possible. In doing so, he disguises the place that belongs to him in the world and makes his existence worth living and loving. By being loveless, a person also damages his own life. It damages or even destroys the life prospects granted by God to fellow human beings. It is important to repeatedly call by name the deep guilt that arises in this way, with which people owe God, their fellow human beings and fellow creatures and themselves infinitely much. If this guilt is denied or relativized, it can no longer be understood why God got involved in corresponding guilt entanglements and was forced to resolve them himself.

Did Jesus realize that he was going to die in Jerusalem?

Because of his religious and politically explosive sermon as well as his provocative behavior (cleaning of the temple; breaking the Sabbath rest; practice of the forgiveness of sins) Jesus had to reckon with dying an unnatural death. It would have been very strange if he hadn't had this consequence in mind.

Doesn't the doctrine of the cross paint an all too dark image of man?

The fact of human guilt cannot be relativized by showing examples of fellow humanity. We all suffer from unresolved guilt and its consequences. How destructive this is can be seen in the preoccupation with the death and resurrection of Jesus. Not only a high sensitivity for all that urgently needs to be forgiven of guilt, but cannot be forgiven, leads to the cross. It is mostly the other way round: The cross awakens and strengthens the sensitivity for overcoming guilt. One of the decisive strengths of the word of the cross is to be able to openly call the depths of human misery and its abysses by name. The word of the cross is not just a deficit indicator that shows how miserable the world can be. It is more than an appeal to the willingness to humanize and to outlaw such atrocities as are revealed by the execution on the cross. God would not be understood if one wanted to commit him to the role of the critical observer of inhuman abysses and misdeeds that humans commit against humans. Rather, God effectively engages himself - with his full commitment - against these abysses and misdeeds.

Why did Jesus Christ have to die because of this? Was that just possible?

What do you mean: just like that? In the fate of Jesus Christ, God bound himself to our fate with ultimate consequence. That is why he was crucified in Christ. It is a great consolation to us that he has just broken the deadly cycle of guilt and gone to where human guilt is literally sealed in the shame of execution. God wants to get people out of loneliness and the fateful aberrations of guilt and ultimately their fate in death. Therefore, he cannot act as a concerned bystander.

Can't one also believe in the Christian God without attaching such great importance to the death of Jesus?

Reducing the meaning of Jesus' death to the fact that he only had to die in the final consequence of his impressive attitude to life turns his death into a martyrdom of a higher order, no less, but no more either. This view is free from the challenge of thinking God and man together in one person. That may be more convenient from a religious point of view. But what is more religiously comfortable is often not what applies to God and the world. But above all: the assessment of the death of Jesus as the death of a remarkable martyr can hardly be based on biblical texts, even with great interpretive efforts. Because according to research, the Gospels were written based on the stories of the Passion. It is just like this: Paul is interested in the "biography" of Jesus above all in his death and resurrection. However, it was also decisive for Paul who died there. This is exactly what the gospel accounts that precede the passion story tell.

Did God want to see blood to soothe his anger?

Blood is the carrier of life. And life was what mattered to God. This view is the reason why the biblical texts speak of blood. And when the wrath of God is mentioned in these texts, there is no outburst of anger associated with feelings of revenge in view. God's anger is specifically directed against everything that harms and degrades life. It is directed against those who want to see blood. God wants to see life and not blood - a life that respects and appreciates his creation! Anger means here that God under no circumstances compromises and allows himself to be talked about. Anger is the definitive and final rejection of everything that wants to thwart this perspective of God's creation. It is a rejection of people who, in all psychological and physically cruel forms - and no matter how subtle they may be - fight their fellow human beings down to the blood.
Feminist theology has drawn attention to the fact that behind the idea of ​​an angry revolting God there is an image of God in which oppressive and sometimes even sadistic father images are projected onto God. Such a distorted image of God gives rise to the assumption that redemption is only offered by the "father" in return for a sacrifice made to him. In contrast, it must be reminded again and again that everything that God does happens out of love for man and that God exposes himself to suffering in the Son.

Did God Require a Human Sacrifice?

Just because God is there himself in the death of Jesus, one cannot ask that way. The Old Testament already forbids human sacrifice, and the New Testament even more. If anything, the question should be: Did God make himself a sacrifice for man's sake?

But why is sacrifice spoken of in the New Testament and afterwards in song texts and even in sermons?

The victim motif is one of several attempts to interpret the death of Jesus. Like all attempts at interpretation, it serves to come closer to understanding the meaning of this death. The motif of sacrifice shows the unconditional devotion in which God in Jesus Christ intervenes for people. The victim motif does not, of course, offer an exhaustive interpretation of the death of Jesus. The biblical repertoire of interpretive motifs offers other important possibilities for indexing, such as the motifs of the Passover lamb, of ransom, of substitution and of new creation. Each of these motifs focuses on a decisive moment of Jesus' death in its own way.

Is there only biblical language to express what it means that Jesus Christ died for us?

No, these motifs form the basic repertoire. To that extent, they are guiding criteria for understanding what the death of Jesus Christ is about. However, their meaning is often only revealed after a long period of reflection. The contexts in which they were immediately understandable have often become alien to people of the 21st century. It is therefore important to find interpretative figures that can reveal for the respective time what was previously immediately clear through these motifs.
Here are two examples: In Basel, as in many other medieval cities, there was a famous dance of death, the "Death of Basel". The lost fresco on a cemetery wall has been handed down in fragments and drawings. This ancient image is taken up in a contemporary sermon and the cross of Christ itself is interpreted as a dance of death: In contrast to all painted dances of death, God dances in the cross of Christ, but in such a way that he does not follow the "pipe of death" but "out of line" dance to break the dance of death and lead people into life. There is a picture by Picasso in which Jesus tears a hand from the cross like a bullfighter, holds his loincloth like a red capa in front of the nostrils of a bull stomping past in order to distract him from the horse he is mortally threatened with. This should make it clear: God throws himself into the breach in the struggle for life for the loser like a bullfighter in order to divert the killing lust of the aggressive away from the weak and onto himself. Searching for new images in conversation with the Bible is the task that every Christian is faced with.

If the biblical motifs are so alien to us, isn't it better to forego them?

Biblical motifs should always claim our attention, all the more so as we perceive them as alien. Of course, views diverge as to the weight of the Atonement. Some claim that the Atonement in particular is of outstanding importance and should not be relativized in its central position by other motives for interpretation. Others believe that the Atonement is significant, but equally important to other figures of interpretation. Still others believe that the interpretation of the cross as an Atonement is no longer comprehensible. It is true that it can be understood what importance was attached to the historical process of execution on the cross and the practices associated with it. But how this could be done, so that the life of Jesus Christ as atonement on the cross through the fate of death leads to reconciliation with God and to the eternal life of all human beings, remains very unclear. Critical voices in particular deny that the figure of the Atonement was ever understood and doubt that this interpretation can do anything.

What then clarifies the figure of interpretation of the (atonement) sacrifice anyway?

It shows how much God gives himself to people in Jesus Christ. It is also part of the Jewish legacy of Christianity, which we should treat with particular care for a variety of reasons. Even if the sacrifices in the Jerusalem temple were stopped after its destruction, they still play a central role in the language and thinking of rabbinic Judaism to this day - as in some texts of the New Testament, although Jesus was already known as the end of all these sacrifices became known.

What can the figure of the Passover lamb that Jesus is called explain?

The figure of the Passover lamb has a specific background in the early history of Israel: his exodus from Egypt. An archaic ritual is alluded to (cf. Ex 12). It should become clear: Just as the blood of a lamb, once painted on the doorstep in Egypt, prevented the angel of death from entering the house, so the death of Christ frees us from imminent death.

Does the traditional motive of buying ransom still make sense today?

The ransom motive harbors some misunderstandings. It becomes particularly problematic when one begins to calculate and even tries to weigh the price of Christ's suffering against the sum of human guilt. The Passion of Jesus Christ cannot be understood in terms of an economic trade between God and man. The cross is not a trading place for forgiveness processes. No amounts of debt are weighed up against each other and compared with each other. Rightly understood, the ransom motif provides a crucial moment in understanding the cross of Jesus Christ. It shows: Man is finally, definitely, free "against receipt". God gives it to him, so to speak, "in writing". In addition, the ransom motive may have been associated with liberation from slavery. To interpret the cross as ransom then means: The cross frees from captivity in sin, guilt and death.

Can God only love people again after Jesus Christ dies for their sins?

It is the other way around. Because God loves people, Jesus Christ died for their sins. This makes it clear how much God loves the world, and at the same time it becomes clear what commitment human sin demands of God's love.

Did Jesus Christ have to die because God, as a "righteous" God, demands this?

Yes, you can see it that way. But it is extremely important to understand God's righteousness in terms of God's love. Then it becomes clear: It is not a punitive righteousness in whose name Jesus Christ died. Rather, it is a righteousness which, in the surrender of the life of Jesus Christ, brings together and reconciles what has been hostile separated. In this way, God's righteousness ensures that people can also try to live up to their lives. Jesus Christ went right into unjust living conditions in order to change them from within. To do this, he cleaned up injustice and only advocated rules for as long as they were useful to people. This is evident in many of his parable narratives. What is fair is what every day laborer is fed up with, even if some work a lot and others little (cf. Mt 20: 1-16). According to the biblical understanding, righteousness is measured by whether one is still doing justice to the weakest.

Did the death of Jesus have to make God forgiving?

Anyone who pays attention to God's love and starts out from it will no longer ask that way. It is regrettable that this has been overlooked time and again in Christian tradition. If anything, God's reconciled attitude is the reason He goes to death in Jesus Christ. Despite the pain of our self-inflicted misery and guilt, God takes the initiative for reconciliation.

And what about human freedom?

God's reconciliation in Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world applies even before people even notice it. It also applies to those who refuse it. God is the author of reconciliation from beginning to end. Where his offer of reconciliation is affirmed, consent to his own reconciliation follows as a matter of course. Believers do not begin to reconcile with themselves, with others, and with God.Rather, it falls to him in bright moments like scales from his eyes that he is already reconciled to God. He no longer has to decide for this, as in the big and small decisions of his everyday life. I can just acknowledge that I have long been reconciled. That frees me to shape my life accordingly. - To know that my life has already been taken care of in what is decisive: What message could give a person greater creative freedom?

Do I only see in the cross that I am reconciled, or does the cross do the same?

There are theological views that assume that the cross is not the place where reconciliation is effected. Rather, it is only recognized from there what the reconciliation of God is. An interpretation that claims that the cross brings about reconciliation in the form of a vicarious, effective entry of God suggests, in fact, religious magic. It does not make sense that the death of a person 2,000 years ago is still a real date of life. Even then it was not effective in this way. He only works because this process makes it clear to people that God wants to forgive sin.
It must be said that this alternative is very unfortunate. It overlooks the insoluble connection between causing and knowing. Because the cross brings about reconciliation, there is also reconciliation to be seen. And because the cross shows reconciliation, it also brings about it.

Biblical texts repeatedly regard faith as a prerequisite for people to participate in what Christ has done for them. What then becomes of those who do not believe in God, let alone in Jesus Christ?

Christ certainly died for all people, not just for Christians. His advocacy wants to benefit all people. His death can develop this cross-border power precisely because God himself was there in the death of Jesus of Nazareth and thus overcame death.
It is not the task of Christian preaching to threaten exclusion from eternal life. The Christian faith is not happy about exclusions, but wants to win others over to the joy of eternal life and thus of life. That is why he campaigns for those who do not believe for the resurrection from the dead, which can already lead to a resurrection into life. He advocates recognizing oneself as reconciled and living accordingly. And he does not abandon anyone who cannot believe in Jesus Christ to the ultimate distance from God. In classical theology, this hope was expressed in the thought that a person could still trust Christ after his death.

But what about the people who lived before Jesus was born?

The following applies to the life you have lived: You have lived your life in consciousness with God or beyond this consciousness, with all your hopes, worries, disappointments, misery and cheerfulness. With regard to eternal life, it can be said that you share in the hope of resurrection linked to the cross. It applies to them no less than to the people who lived, live and will live after Jesus was born.

Why is the idea of ​​new creation linked to the death of Jesus of Nazareth? Death and creation seem to be the exact opposite.

Viewed in isolation as an act of killing, crucifixion is certainly not an act of creation. But through God this death is an effective death for all people, in the sense that the ultimate death itself comes to death and thus loses its definitive power over people. This overcoming of death has to do with God's creative power. Allowing the death of this one righteous person to happen in such a way that it sums up the death of all other people who do not do justice to their lives can only be done by God, who can make something out of nothing. God establishes a highly creative connection between Christ and all other people. His righteousness, his life force, jumps over them.

What is meant when it is said that "a happy change and argument" takes place on the cross?

This idiom, which was used early in the Christian tradition, was particularly valued by Martin Luther and repeatedly affirmed. With the motif of the happy change, he describes a double swap of positions. On the cross, Christ exchanges his position of the righteous, free etc. with our position of the unjust and unfree. And we trade our position for his and are seen before God as righteous and free. From this change of position, the talk of the "substitution of Jesus Christ" can be inferred.

Representation - what does that mean in view of the death of Jesus Christ? Doesn't everyone have to die their own death?

Yes and no. Jesus' representation does not release people from dying. But they can die differently through them. In other words: everyone has to die their own death. But death loses the curse of being the ultimate from a person's perspective of life. Jesus Christ died on behalf of this escape death as an acknowledgment of human guilt. Through this substitution of Jesus Christ, a person dies in the best company with God, who is there in death.
To put it another way: Death no longer has the last word about a person. Rather, God has the last word on death. For the person who dies, it is only a temporary death.

Isn't the substitution already done as a figure of interpretation?