Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives. The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version. At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture. To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.
Questions & Observations
Q. (Mark 15:40-41): I have noticed that these accounts have made it a point to mention all the women that were at the cross.
A. Yes, and to me, it is a great tribute to their inner strength that in the midst of all but one of Jesus’ disciples fleeing in fear (John was there — “the disciple Jesus loved” is John’s humble way of referring to himself), these women are there to witness this awful event. The fact that multiple Gospels mentions their presence only adds to the authenticity of this detail.
Q. (Matthew 27:51): Why were things splitting apart? I assume God was reacting to the scene? And what, people were raised from the dead? I have never heard that before. It sure pays to read the Bible myself. Why were the dead raised and went to Jerusalem?
A. I’ll address the curtain splitting in half below, but the basic answer I can give you is that the Earth itself is reacting to Jesus’ death: the sky grows dark, the earth shakes, etc. We are not given any more details on the raised bodies, since none of the other gospels mentions them, so we don’t know who it was (or if it is even names we would recognize). Matthew is pointing to the power of resurrection in Jesus’ death, and giving us a “mini” Easter. The raised people were probably from Jerusalem, so that is most likely why they went there.
O. (John 19:31-37): Glad I didn’t live back then. These people were ruthless!
Q. (John 19:32-33): Why did the soldiers break the legs of the other men who were being crucified?
A. To answer that, you have to understand what happens during a Roman crucifixion. The body is not simply on display (though that is part of it) and you don’t bleed to death due to the holes in your hands/wrists and feet. A Roman crucifixion is a torturous death indeed: you die slowly by suffocation. With your arms spread on the cross and nailed down, your diaphragm muscle cannot pull in air, so you can’t breathe. But its not a simple as that: your body WILL NOT LET YOU not breathe, so you are forced to pull up on your hands in order to raise your body and breathe. That would be easy…except that your feet are nailed down as well. So you can spend hours (like Jesus, who died in “only” six hours) or even days (imagine that…) going through an endless cycle of torture in which you pull your own weight up in order to breathe, and then “relax”, and over and over and over. (Leigh An: I can see why saying that “Jesus breathed His last breath” — because it was excrutiatingly laborious — was a big deal.) The entire point is to torture and to cause the death to take as long as possible. It is one of the cruelest methods of execution ever devised.
So in order to speed up the process of dying, the soldiers would break your leg bones, at which point you can no longer push up on them, and your death comes fairly quickly, which is what the Jews requested of Pilate. The brutality of such an execution is hard to even fathom.
Q. (Question from Rob): This is where I said I would discuss it…why DID Jesus have to die?
A. In discussing this question, we have to remember the ritual sacrifice system that was at the heart of Jewish Law. In order to atone for sin (that is, to transfer the effects of sin from a person to another being), there had to be a sacrifice of blood (“This is my blood, which is shed for many for the forgiveness of sin” is the way Jesus put it). In the OT, this was done by sacrificing a lamb or other animal: a perfect specimen was offered for the sin. The sinner laid hands upon the animal, signaling the acknowledgment that this animal was about to die for their sin, and then the animal was killed and the blood spread on the altar. The spilled blood symbolized the atonement for the sin because sin causes death, and therefore requires a life — either the life of the sinner or the life of the animal.
So in Jesus, we see what John meant when he referred to Him as the “Lamb of God” in John 1: Jesus entered into suffering and death not merely on behalf of one sin, but for ALL sin. He willingly accepted the punishment that was rightly due to us: suffering and death. This is the central concept of what is called atonement theology: Jesus died as an atoning sacrifice, that we might be reconciled to God, just as the Jews had done with animals for centuries.
Now when we say that God and man were reconciled, we mean that they were reunited, the way that God had originally intended before sin separated us from Him. We can see this reconciliation in one of the most important descriptions of the Passion story: the rending of the Temple curtain. Nowhere was the separation between God and man more clear than at this point: the massive, forty-foot curtain that separated the Holy place (where the priest would burn incense day and night) and the Holy of Holies (where the Ark of the Covenant used to reside). Now after the destruction of the Temple in 586 BC, there is no record of the Ark again, but the great stone upon which the Ark was traditionally rested (called the Foundation Stone) was still behind this curtain, and it was here upon that stone that the High Priest would offer his sacrifices on behalf of the community once a year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). So though the Ark was gone, the divide remained. But the narrators of our story tell us that when Jesus died, something changed in the world, for all time. At the moment of Jesus’ death, the curtain split in two (note that it tells us it was from top to bottom- showing this to be an act of God), signifying that the separation between God and man had been breeched. Because of Jesus’ actions, God and man no longer needed to be separated to protect humanity: they had been reconciled by the work of Jesus. This reconciliation will be central for our understanding of the whole of the remaining NT theology: God has done a new thing in Jesus. Because of this, we can become adopted as children of God, who are free to receive the blessings of the Kingdom: most notably, the very Presence of the Spirit of God within us. So our reading today is paradigm shifting: after this moment, the gap between God and man has been bridged, and because of that, everything else that will take place in the NT will become possible.