the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved, you and your
household” (Acts. 16:31).
“God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that
he who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life” ( J
“He who through faith is righteous shall live” (Rom.J:17).
“He who believes and is baptized will be saved, but he who does
not believe will be condemned” (Mk. 16:16).
These are verses from the
Bible familiar to most Christians. The verses are the basis for
the familiar doctrine that if one accepts that Jesus was divine
and underwent punishment on our behalf, then such a person would
be forgiven of all sins and be admitted to heaven. And for those
who find it hard to accept this belief, hell will be final end.
is God cruel and ruthless, adamant on reparation through
punishment? In what way does such a punishment help redress the
damage done to the victims of sin? Should not God be more
concerned with compensating and restoring the losses incurred by
those affected by sin rather than to seek to be redressed by
punishment by proxy borne by Jesus? These are genuine questions
however such questions are usually dismissed as being impious.
Let us try to understand what it means to have faith in Christ…
Jesus of Nazareth?
Jesus was born to Mary, wife of Joseph, a
carpenter in Nazareth in Galilee. At this time in history, the
Romans were ruling over Jewish people living in the land of
Palestine. Roman rule was harsh and hated by the Jewish people.
Now in Galilee where Jesus was born, people were less orthodox and
more prone to rebellion, thus constantly exposing the whole
community to the danger of reprisals by the Roman power. For this
reason, Galilee was despised by the leaders of Judaism.
Not only did Jesus come from Galilee, he
chose to remain in Galilee for the larger part of his life when he
gave up the family profession and became a prophet of God's
Kingdom. The Galilean masses thronged to listen to Jesus. He
befriended the ordinary people of Galilee. He also associated with
the much-reviled tax collectors (who were Jewish people colluding
with the Roman rulers) and women who were working as prostitutes.
The 'undesirable' company that he kept angered the religious
leaders all the more.
Jesus challenged the religious sentiments
of the pious of his day. He broke the Sabbatical restrictions by
healing people with chronic illnesses on Sabbath day. The Jewish
tradition only allowed physicians to provide first-aid assistance
on Sabbath day to those whose condition had suddenly turned
critical. Those whose needs were not pressing or chronic were
required to wait until the end of the Sabbath. See Mark. 3:1-6 -
“Another time he went into the synagogue and a man with a
shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason
to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would
heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled
hand, "Stand up in front of everyone." Then Jesus asked them,
"Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save
life or to kill?" But they remained silent. He looked around at
them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts,
said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and
his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and
began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.”
origin, his friendship with persons rejected by those considered
"decent", and his defiance of traditions - all these led the
Jewish leadership to conspire to do away with Jesus. And the fact
that Jesus repeatedly proclaimed the coming Kingdom of God's
righteousness, his criticism of the Roman authoritarianism (Mk.
10: 42-45), his criticism of the taxation imposed by the Romans
(Mt.17: 24-26), etc. made it easy for the conspirators to betray
Jesus to the Roman authorities under charges of sedition and
treason. So the imperial Roman Government crucified Jesus on a
The above account can be taken as a
historian's summary of the story - free of faith assumptions.
However, our interest in Jesus cannot stop with a historically
acceptable biography of Jesus of Nazareth. For his disciples
claimed that this Jesus, crucified by a joint conspiracy between
religious and political authorities, was raised from the dead and
is alive for evermore. Because of this claim – a claim which could
not be suppressed even by severe persecutions, the affirmation
that this Jesus was none other than God's own Son has been made
and received by millions ever since. Jesus' disciples also saw
special significance in the death of Jesus. They interpreted his
death as a means of salvation for the whole world.
such claims be sustained? Upon the answer to this question hangs
the validity of the Christian faith. Therefore, in order to arrive
at an answer, first let us find out if Jesus himself anticipated
his death and whether he saw any special meaning in it.
Jesus anticipated that the leaders of the day would conspire to
eliminate him (Mk. 8:31-38; 9:31 and 10:45). However, there was
nothing extraordinary about this anticipation. It was probably a
realistic assessment of what could happen to one who tries to
expose and fight the injustices of the system. What was
extraordinary however, was Jesus' self-designation of himself as
the Son of Man (or the Human One). This self designation is
significant for the two inferences which become apparent when we
have a closer look at the Bible.
first inference is to do with the insight we gain into what
happens to one who tries to be truly human. Jesus met with a
violent response from a sinful world. Read Jn. 19:1-6 - “Then
Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted
together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed
him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying,
"Hail, king of the Jews!" And they struck him in the face. Once
more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, "Look, I am bringing
him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge
against him." When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and
the purple robe, Pilate said to them, "Here is the man!"”
it was Pilate who identified Jesus with 'Here is the Man.' when he
sees Jesus scarred and bleeding, wearing the purple robe and the
crown of thorns. The meaning seen by the evangelist John is
clear. This is the fate of all those who seek to be true to their
inference is more complex. Implied in the claim of Jesus to be the
‘Human One’ (i.e., the Son of Man) is an assertion that he is the
representative of all who are oppressed, marginalised and
exploited. This we see from the way our lord talked about the Son
of Man coming in the clouds and being seated at the right hand of
God. It is clear that Jesus had Daniel's vision in the seventh
chapter of the Book of Daniel in his mind when he referred to
himself as the Son of Man. The "Son of Man" in Daniel represents
people who were severely persecuted under the Greek tyrant
Antiochus who nonetheless persistently fought against him to
preserve their religious integrity. They resisted Antiochus'
attempt to corrupt and defile their religion by offering pigs as
sacrifice, by bringing idols into the Temple, etc. The vision
assured God’s people that they would be vindicated and would be
crowned with honour and dominion. Therefore when Jesus assumes the
title "Son of Man", recalling the vision of Daniel, he was trying
to convey that he was the representative of all oppressed people.
meaning of Jesus' self designation as the Son of Man becomes
self-evident, i.e. he had come to include into himself all
suffering people. Jesus associated with the "Lost sheep of the
house of Israel" by choosing to operate from despised Galilee, by
choosing all his disciples from among the Galileans, by allowing
himself to be looked after and cared for by a few dedicated women
of Galilee, by touching and embracing those deemed untouchable -
leprosy stricken people, by challenging the abuse of the
institution of the Sabbath saying that it was meant primarily for
people, by reprimanding those who plunder the homes of widows and
neglect the needs of the poor... In this way Jesus showed that it
was such people who were the lost sheep of the house of Israel,
the incorporated community of the Son of Man.
is on the basis of such a self-understanding that Jesus claims to
have the authority to forgive sins. That is, Jesus does not offer
forgiveness because he died in the place of the wicked. Not at
all. Rather, Jesus offers forgiveness to the oppressors and
sinners of the world as he is the representative of all those who
are aff1icted and sinned against.
Unfortunately much of the subsequent development of Christian
doctrine has failed to proclaim the significance of Jesus' death
in accordance with his self-understanding. Belief in Jesus then
cannot be separated from a turning (in repentance) towards the
oppressed. This is the true meaning of having faith in Christ.
respects the freedom of all creatures. God shares power and
authority with them. Alas, this God-given freedom is abused.
Oppression and injustice have become rampant. But God refuses to
be defeated. God also does not take back the responsibility
willingly and lovingly conferred upon creation. Through a
thorough-going identification with the victims of oppression, God
challenges the arrogant to realise that in their selfishness and
greed and pursuit of power, they hurt their Creator who is the
basis for their being. Salvation then consists in the oppressors
turning towards the oppressed in repentance. Salvation does not
depend on following creeds and rituals.
A dishonest mechanic fails to repair the brakes
on a bus properly. This act leads to the death of several
passengers in the coming days. The mechanic is obviously the one
who has sinned in causing the deaths and sufferings of so many. Is
it enough if he goes to a church and prays for forgiveness? Is
appeasing God for the sin all that is required of him? How does he
atone for the suffering he has caused to so many? What does the
Bible say? Read Leviticus 6: 1-6 and Matt. 5: 23. If we can
identify the people hurt by us we may be able to seek their
forgiveness. But when this is not possible what do we do? Do you
believe that Jesus as the Human One offering forgiveness to the
offender(s) meets this need?
Let us take the case of those affected by
radiation from an atomic power plant. Many people work together to
build such plants. Governments are influenced by big business men
and industrialists in favour of these plants. And quite often, the
public also support these projects as they expect various benefits
from these undertakings. However, it is those who work in these
plants or live near them who are affected. In such cases, who is
to be blamed? The Govt? The industrialists? The scientists? Or the
public itself? How is this sin to be atoned? Do you think Jesus as
the Son of Man provides a clue towards a solution?