The Death of Jesus in Context

As we move through the story of Jesus’s death and on to resurrection, we return to the primary themes of this Lenten blog series on “Creation, Cross, and the Powers.”

This story is often told as if it all took place removed from the context of both creation and the powers. It is treated not as a story that we can relate to in terms of what is going on in the world today, but as a required dogma to keep us from being consigned to hell.  Jesus’s suffering and death is portrayed as if it was simply a transaction between God and humanity, a payment that God made to save sinners from eternal damnation. These transactional views turn Jesus into a passive and compliant victim and ignore his human agency and choice. His teachings and actions don’t enter this equation because what counts is his death.  They focus on death, not resurrection—not on his vindication by God despite the powers, or on his risen and ongoing presence among us.

But in the Gospels, this story is not told in the abstract, but in the context of both creation and the powers. Notice that creation is the context of both Jesus’s prayer and arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane and of his resurrection encounter with Mary in the garden on Easter morning.  And the story of his final confrontation with the authorities leading up to his arrest, trial, and crucifixion is one of the most political stories in the Bible (along with the Exodus story).

In these last days of Holy Week, we are invited to immerse ourselves in this story and to recognize with mind and heart what Jesus and his followers experienced during this final confrontation with the governing authorities of occupied Jerusalem. After his “triumphal entry into Jerusalem,” they went directly to the Temple. Jesus’s action of overturning the tables of the moneychangers there directly threatened the economic status quo (tribute and taxes to Rome/temple taxes to keep the system going). According to the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), that was the last straw.

When Jesus and his followers “occupied” the Temple, the elite religious leaders couldn’t arrest him because “they feared the people” (Luke 20:19, 22:2). They couldn’t disperse the people who had gathered to hear Jesus because “the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching” (Mark 11:18). “People power” at work.

For this reason, the religious authorities had to arrest Jesus by stealth in the Garden of Gethsemane. Their problem was that the Jewish nation was under the jurisdiction of Rome—including the religious leaders, Jesus, and his followers. Only a representative of Rome could sentence Jesus to death.  That’s where Pilate came in.  Things moved on from there.

If this story is told out of context, it doesn’t make sense unless you consent to a particular dogma. But if you read it with an open mind, you can see that the words of Paul are true: “None of the rulers of this age understood [the wisdom that comes from God]. If they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.” (1 Corinthians 2:6-8). God triumphs through Jesus despite the powers, bringing light out of darkness and light out of death.

(For a fuller portrayal of the story of the events that led to Jesus’s death, see this excerpt from Chapter 5, “Jesus and the Powers,” from The Cross in the Midst of Creation.

This is the eighth post in a Lenten Series, “Creation, Cross, and The Powers.” The other posts are as folows: 

  1. Creation, Cross, and The Powers
  2. Extraordinary Temptations
  3. The Spirituality of an Epoch
  4. Creation: Moving from Awe to Lament to Resistance
  5. Banking on Our Future as Demythologized Exorcism
  6. Don’t Look Up
  7. Care Enough to Weep
  8. The Death of Jesus in Context
  9. Resurrection and New Creation


Follow Sharon’s blog post by signing up at the “Follow” link to the right. Share with the Social Media buttons below. See also a previous Lenten series: A Lenten Call to ResistCheck out Sharon’s books.  Contact Sharon to request a complimentary digital chapter of one of her books, to request a presentation, or to order discounted bulk copies of her books. 

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