One thing not contained on the list was crucifixion. At Calvary the story of crucifixion and the story of Jesus met. What, then, was the story told by the cross? According to Wright,
Crucifixion was a powerful symbol throughout the Roman world. It was not just a means of liquidating undesirables; it did so with the maximum degradation and humiliation. It said, loud and clear: we are in charge here; you are our property; we can do what we like with you. It insisted, coldly and brutally, on the absolute sovereignty of Rome, and of Caesar. It told an implicit story, of the uselessness of rebel recalcitrance and the ruthlessness of imperial power. It said, in particular: this is what happens to rebel leaders. Crucifixion was a symbolic act with a clear and frightening meaning.
What is often neglected is the light that this story sheds on the story of Jesus.
Jesus was executed as a rebel against Rome.
He was an undesirable who was liquidated, falling on the same sword as a political renegade. As Wright suggests,
When Jesus was crucified, the general impression in Jerusalem must have been that he was one more in a long line of would-be, but failed, Messiahs.
Here was the man who was supposed to redeem Israel from her pagan oppressors, the man who would usher in the age of
However, was Jesus worthy of crucifixion? Was he a real threat to Rome? Though executed as a rebel, he was surely not guilty of the charge in the conventional sense of the word. After all, what kind of rebel insists on turning the other cheek and going the extra mile? Nonetheless, his announcement that YHWH was becoming king carried with it some sort of threat to all other kingdoms. YHWH’s kingdom may not have been a kingdom of this world, but it was a kingdom that Jesus prayed would be manifested on earth as it is in the heavens, to the detriment of present earthly kingdoms.
Pontius Pilate must have contemplated such things as he was warned by the Jewish authorities that do fail to execute Jesus would be to make oneself an enemy of Caesar. Pilate didn’t want to do what the Jews wanted him to do (apparently he never wanted to do what the Jews wanted him to do), but he also didn’t want to make Tiberius angry. He knew Jesus was innocent of the charges laid against him, he knew he wasn’t the rebel the Jews painted him out to be, but…
And so caught between a rock and a hard place, he washed his hands in an attempt to absolve himself, but the fact remains that under Pilate’s watch, Jesus was crucified. Therefore,
In terms of the Roman authorities, the answer to the question ‘why did Jesus die?’ is that Pilate not only put cynical power-games before justice…, but also, on this occasion, put naked self-interest before both.
Jesus died under the sovereignty of Rome, charged (rightly or wrongly) with sedition. To onlookers, his crucifixion was nothing less than his utter degradation and humiliation at the hands of the empire. The question now becomes, what did his crucifixion look like to those Jews who did their utmost to get him hanging on that cross? Why were they so desperate for Jesus to die?