Jesus’ own statements regarding the significance of his death

James Dunn cites several statements where Jesus gives meaning and significance to his own death.  Dunn suggests first of all that Jesus may have been influenced by the wisdom and apocalyptic tradition prevalent since the times of the Maccabees that suggested that the “suffering and death of a righteous man might mark the end of the people’s suffering.”[1]  While this falls short of a clearly stated salvific purpose for Christ’s death, it does demonstrate a foundation ready to support this notion.

Jesus’ frequent referral to himself as “the son of man,” informed by Daniel 7, implies such an understanding.  While many point to Jesus’ using this to emphasize his coming exaltation (Dan. 7:13-14), the expression “a son of man” had come to refer to the frailty of the human condition[2] and the “vindication-following-suffering role which the figure represented for the faithful of Israel.”[3]

Jesus’ imagery of baptism of, borrowed from John the Baptizer, he applies to himself in Luke 12:49-50.  Paul then takes that imagery and applies it, in Romans 6:3-4, to Christian baptism saying that we are baptized into Christ’s death.  Dunn notes that Paul spoke of baptism as death because Jesus had likely spoken of his own death as baptism.[4]  So this symbol of Christian identity is granted significance because of its relation to the death of Christ.  I will address baptism more closely later.

The suffering servant motif of Isaiah 53 has strong substitutionary and expiatory overtones.  This may be seen especially in vv. 4-6.  Luke 22:37 contains the only direct quote of this passage in the Jesus material.  But Joachim Jeremias suggests that Mark 10:45 “to give his life a ransom for many” is influenced by Isaiah 53:10-11, “you make his life a sin offering…shall make many righteous.”[5]  This summary of Isaiah’s fourth servant song in the words of Jesus presents a striking example of Jesus’ own understanding of his death and its salvific nature.

Joachim Jeremias also finds a connection between the Last Supper and Isaiah 53.[6]  Mark 14:24/Matt 26:28/Luke 22:20 and 1 Cor. 11:25 all speak of the cup of the Supper being poured out just as Isaiah speaks of the Suffering Servant pouring his life out.  The further substitutionary use of “many” stands out since the word “many” used in this sense is a common motif in Isaiah 53.

These references strongly suggest that Jesus’ own perception of his impending death was salvific in nature.


[1] James D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered, Christianity in the Making, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 806.  In note 209, Dunn references Casey’s citation of Dan. 11:35 in this regard.

[2] Dunn, Jesus, 806-807.

[3] Dunn, Jesus, 760.

[4] Dunn, Jesus, 808-809.

[5] Jeremias, Servant, 99-100; Proclamation, 292-293 n. 3 cited in Dunn, Jesus, 812-813.

[6] Cited in dunn, Jesus, 815.

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About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
This entry was posted in Soteriology, Theology and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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