Crucifixion, Theological Significance of

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The theological significance of the crucifixion and death of Jesus forms an essential element in the primitive kerygma or apostolic preaching. This is clear from 1 Cor 15.3, where, stressing his dependence on the traditional gospel, Paul insists. "For I delivered to you first of all, what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures." This oft-repeated formula heralds the saving value of the Crucifixion as a vicarious sacrifice (2 Cor 5.1415; 1 Thes 5.10; Jn 11.5052; 1 Pt 3.18; Hebrews ch. 9).

The early Christian community characteristically interpreted the salvation event of the Lord's Crucifixion and death in terms of the Old Testament Scriptures. The suffering victim of Psalm 21 (22) and the bronze serpent of Nm 21.9 are among the Old Testament images applied to the Passion and death of Jesus. Moses' lifting up of the serpent to heal the diseased Israelites foreshadows the lifting up of the Son of Man (Jn 3.1415) in death (Jn 12.3233) for the healing of God's people.

The Isaian suffering servant, who gave his life as an offering for sin, is recognized in Jesus who came not "to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mk 10.45; cf. Acts 8.32; 1 Tm 2.56; Rom8.32; Eph 5.2). The death of Jesus is not the destruction of a victim against his will, but the heroic sacrifice of a life freely given for the salvation of men (Jn 10.1718;18.48; 19.11; Phil 2.8). Likewise, the exaltation of Jesus echoes the servant of God theology in Is 52.13; 53.1112.

For John and Paul, the sacrifice of Jesus was a paschal sacrifice (1 Cor 5.7), a sacrifice by which Christ Himself returned to His Father and opened the way for the return of sinners. Jesus passed out of this world to the Father (Jn 13.1) by the redemptive journey of His death, resurrection, and ascension at the very time of the Jewish Passover Feast, of which He was the true paschal lamb that year (Jn 19.3336).

Jesus' death constituted a covenant sacrifice (cf. Genesis ch. 15; Ex 24.8; Mk 14.24) by which He acquired for the Father a new people purified in His blood, united to God as His blood relatives. The crucified Jesus shed His blood not to appease an angry God, but to restore men to kinship with the Father. see precious blood, ii (theology of).

Over this new family, a kingdom purchased by His blood (Ti 2.14), Jesus began to rule from the cross-throne as messiah-king (Pius XII Mys Corp 35). Mocked as a king by the soldiers (Jn 19.23), enthroned symbolically by Pilate, according to some exegetes, in royal judgment over His people (Jn 19.1315), Jesus, having proclaimed His true kingship to Pilate (Jn 18.3338), is crucified under the title of His universal sovereignty (Jn 19.1920). The Christ of Calvary appears, then, as the true suffering servant of God, the high priest returning to His Father in paschal sacrifice, the mediator of a new covenant, the messiah-king reigning over the new priestly kingdom of the Church.

See Also: sacrifice of the cross.

Bibliography: p. claudel, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant, 15 v. (Paris 190350), Tables générales 2:261439. m. olphe-galliard, Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique. Doctrine et histoire, ed., m. viller et al. (Paris 1932) 2.2:260723. j. bonsirven, The Theology of the New Testament, tr. s. f. l. tye (Westminster, MD 1963). l. cerfaux, Christ in the Theology of St. Paul, tr. g. webb and a. walker (New York 1959). s. lyonnet, De peccato et redemptione (Rome 1957), 4 v. planned; "Conception paulinienne de la rédemption," Lumière et vie 7 (Bruges Belgium 1958) 3566. r. schmittlein, Umstände und Ursache von Jesu Tod (Mainz 1951). i. de la potterie, "Jesus King and Judge according to Jn 19.13," Scripture 13 (1961) 97111.

[j. p. schanz]