Almost two millennia ago, Jesus of Nazareth came into the world and left it forever changed. What did he intend? With Jesus, to ask “what” is to first ask “who”? And here already we encounter trouble, for he is not what we would make him. The noble philanthropic seer, whose principles are trumpeted, alongside Confucius, Mohammad, and Krishna, as the common heritage of all humanity is content to scorn our honors and conventions in favor of his own (Jn. 9:39, Mt. 20:26-28). In fact, his earthly ministry was defined by a consistent disregard and even active subversion of the fame his undeniable wisdom and power continually brought (Mt. 7:29, Jn. 6:15). He did not want to be elevated; at least, not before the proper time (Jn. 2:4, 7:8). Instead, he often stole away to the quiet solace of his Father’s presence in prayer (Mk. 1:35, Lk. 5:16). Jesus, the man of Nazareth, that Galilean peasant and carpenter (Mk. 6:3), exudes every kingly trait except the desire for power (Mt. 11:29). He was lowly: destined by every social convention and philosophical dogma to be yet another faceless individual lost in the broader gaze of history. So we are not surprised to see that his lot was so consistently thrown in with the despised and the “least of these” (Mt. 9:11, 25:40, Lk. 7:36-50).
Yet, he was a king and keenly aware of it. His title preceded him (Lk. 3:15-17) and defined his ministry for his adherents (Mt. 16:15-18, Mk. 11:9, Jn. 4:25-26) and enemies (Lk. 22:67; 23:2-3) alike. In the maelstrom of 1st century Jewish messianic expectation, he earned admiration and ire by being both too humble and too exalted, and he lamented their lack of understanding (Mk. 9:19). He took on unheard of authority (Mk. 1:22) as he placed his own teachings on par with the Old Testament scriptures (Mt. 5:21-22, 27-28, 33-34, 38-39, 43-44) and as the proper end of their trajectory (Mt. 5:17). He explicitly identified as the Messiah when he accepted Peter’s confession (Mt. 16:15-16) and that of the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn. 4:25-26). In fact, his messianic claims are still more shocking.
While actively and emphatically avoiding the leading role in a glorious political revolution, Jesus regularly situates himself in the place of God (Jn. 10:33)! He not only does mighty works of healing in general (Mk. 1:40-45, Jn. 9:3-7), but often of his own accord without the customary prayer or appeal to heaven (Mk. 5:27-34, Lk. 6:6-11). Past prophets were at pains to point to God when assigning credit. Jesus feels no such need. He also assumes the prerogative of forgiving sins rather than merely proclaiming forgiveness in general (Mt. 9:2-6, Mk. 2:5-11, Lk. 7:47-50). He asserts his lordship over the Sabbath (Lk. 6:5), proclaims himself the embodiment of Jacob’s ladder (Jn. 1:51), and thwarts his opponents with the assurance that, “before Abraham was, I am” (Jn. 8:58).
He was a divine king, yet his prophetic voice and function were unparalleled. He stood in the mold of Isaiah and Hosea as he denounced the religious elites and their elaborate systems for obfuscating the heart of God (Mt. 12:7, Mk. 11:17). He attested to events before they occurred (Mk. 13:1-2, Lk. 21:10-18) and reinterpreted those that were well known (Mt. 19:7-8). One particular prophecy was, for both its frequency and intensity, especially noteworthy. Jesus continually speaks of his impending death (Mt. 20:17, Mk. 8:31; 9:30-32; 10:32-33, Lk. 9:44; 24:44, Jn. 13:21). The latter half of every gospel account agrees- Jesus saw his coming death as the inevitable and invaluable climax of his earthly contribution (Mk 8:33). He not only foresaw, but sought his cross.
If we are to take the man at his word, he came to die (Jn. 12:27-28). Why was this so critical? The central place of his death was grounded in Jesus’ role as a priest. Matthew 20:28 shows it most clearly of all: the Son of Man did not come to receive the service and devotion due to him but “to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”. Just as the levitical priests before him, Jesus meant to ransom the people of God from their sins via a blood sacrifice to the Lord. But, far from lambs and fattened calves, the blood for this ultimate sacrifice would be his own (Mk. 14:24, Lk. 22:20). In living the sinless life God required, Jesus was qualified to serve as the preeminently spotless lamb. This was what the Old Testament Patriarchs and Prophets had awaited. In giving himself as a sacrifice for sins upon the cross, Jesus bridged the divide between God and man. He initiated the restoration of all things and sounded the death knell of death. The temple veil was torn (Mt. 27:51); the first-fruits of a greater reckoning.
Thus we see the intention of Jesus; he came to bridge the gap. To establish himself as almighty- and then serve. To flip the proverbial script of value relations from its fallen disposition to its original creative intention. Whoever would be first must now be last (Mk. 9:35-37). If God himself has lead the way in enacting this paradigm shift, how could any other argument stand? Thus, Jesus’ death proves to be the summation of his entire ministry- the full revelation of God (Jn. 1:16-17) as the servant-hearted, ever-pursuing, covenant-keeping God who will be reconciled to his creation by any means, even the cross.
Jesus, the God-man, destroyed the sin which had alienated and utterly ravaged his people and his world. He came to serve. He came to break the power of canceled sin (Mt. 28:18). He came to ransom. He came to disclose. He came not to kill or destroy but “that they may have life and have it to the full” (Jn. 10:10). The life of God, lived before him. The vision of Eden, marred by sin until its black guilt was transposed onto his gruesome wounds, by which we are healed.
Just as he intended.