Did Jesus have a death wish?

Posted: April 27, 2012 by J in Bible, Theology

Did Jesus have a death wish? He certainly spoke of his death often. Luke records Jesus’ determination to reach Jerusalem, where he knew he would be killed. It seemed Jesus wanted out:

Jesus replied, “O faithless and perverse generation! How long will I be with you and bear you? Luke 9:41

And soon afterwards, Jesus ‘set his face to go to Jerusalem’ (9:51).

A few considerations. First, Jesus uses the words Moses had used of Israel, in Deuteronomy 32. Yahweh had been faithful to them, but Israel dealt falsely with him (Deut 32:5): “They sacrificed to demons, not God, to deities they had never known” (32:17). So Yahweh complains,

They are a perverse generation,
children in whom there is no faithfulness. 32:20

So Jesus’ exasperation expresses that of Yahweh. He longs to be free from the crookedness of his generation.

We can go further. By echoing the words of Yahweh in the Torah, Jesus implies that Israel is basically unchanged. The generation that angered Yahweh at the Exodus and that which troubled Jesus are essentially one and the same. Israel’s God has been enduring them ever since.

Notice too what set off this complaint: a father brings his ‘only son’, tormented by demons which one could cast out. The sight of this boy under the power of demons reminds Jesus of Israel’s problem: God’s only son had put herself under the same power, ever since the times described in Deuteronomy. She had never been able to get free of them. This boy, a son of Israel, functions for Jesus as the part that symbolises the whole.

To understand, then, what Jesus has in mind for his own future, we must look at Yahweh’s plans for Israel in Deuteronomy 32: after judgement and exile, he will finally have compassion, heal and vindicate his people, and cleanse their land from demons (32:43).

So as Jesus turns his face to Jerusalem, we should understand his intentions the same way: not to absent himself from the mess through death, but rather to get relief from Israel’s misery by healing the nation from demonic powers.

Jesus looks ahead to the cross, not as an escape, but with the intention of taking Israel through judgement and into new and transformed life – in himself. He goes not to die, but to die and rise again on the third day (Luke 9:22). He is not hoping to go somewhere better (the emphasis of so much of the later Christian tradition), but to inaugurate a better generation, here on earth.

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