The Sacrifice of Jesus in a Non-Religious Perspective
Throughout history, we have seen many great individuals sacrifice themselves in order to promote an idea or message they thought would be for the betterment of humankind. Many of these individuals did make great impacts on the world, which had long lasting impacts. Others simply have been lost to the sands of history. One such sacrifice was that of Jesus. Yet, it is also one largely misunderstood, or even denied by various individuals. With a closer, historical look, we can once again see what his sacrifice was, and whether it still effects the world today.
The Collins English Dictionary defines a sacrifice as “a surrender of something of value as a means of gaining something more desirable or of preventing some evil.” Such a definition can be problematic in regards to it being quite subjective. For instance, does surrendering ones life, even though they believe that death is not the end, constitute a sacrifice? Personally, I believe that such is still a sacrifice, as I do not think that a sacrifice is negated by the possibility of a reward. And as per the above definition, gaining something more desirable is part of the sacrificial experience. More so, if we put such a stipulation on a sacrifice, then we run into the problem of denying the sacrifice a many great men and women.
When we look at Jesus, we see that there was a surrendering of something of value. Most of use would agree that there is value in a human life. Looking at the historical figure which is Jesus (here I do have to differentiate from the Jesus of faith, and the Jesus of history. The Jesus is faith is the idea of Jesus that has been formed within the religious mind. The Jesus of history is the figure that did in fact exist. To find the Jesus of history, one has to strip the Biblical character of the myth and legends that formed around this persona later on. When we look at the Jesus of history, we see a figure that was an itinerate preacher, that went up against the authority, and was subsequently crucified. The resurrection dwells in the realm of the Jesus of faith), he does surrender his life. We see him being crucified by the Romans.
However, surrendering one’s life is not the only requirement. The surrendering, in this case, death, has to bring about something of greater value or prevent evil. And this is the important part here. From a Christian perspective, we can see a clear benefit from the death of Jesus. However, we are not looking at this from a perspective of faith, but from a secular point of view. In order to see it from a secular perspective, we must delve into the historical account of Jesus.
The first thing that we must examine is the message that Jesus preached and see whether or not it was a message that could have led to his death. We see with many other individuals who sacrificed themselves, it was for a message or an idea. A great example would be Martin Luther King Jr. It was his message, that conveyed an idea, that motivated his assassination. We see a clear connection between the message, and assassination. More important, he was aware of the possibility that he would die as a result of the message he was preaching.
So what was the message that Jesus preached? We may never be able to completely know exactly what Jesus taught, as he never left us with any sermons. However, we can gain a general idea regarding what Jesus taught. There are a few clues within the material available to us that can shine a light on his teachings. The first important clue is an event we can be positive occurred. That is the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. This is an event scholars agree is historical for a variety of reasons, including that it is an embarrassing story.
The baptism of Jesus by John is important as it tells us something concrete about the ideology of Jesus (at least at one point in time). There are a few reasons as to why Jesus would go to John to be baptized. It is nearly a given that Jesus subscribed to the teachings of John, otherwise there would be little reason for him to purposely go to John. Given that point, it may also be suggested that Jesus was in fact a disciple of John (there are a number of scholars who propose this very idea; however, it is not a point that can be stated with complete certainty). With this being so, by looking at the teachings of John the Baptist, we can get a glimpse into the teachings of Jesus. Now, we only have limited sources on John, but what we can gather is that he taught that the Kingdom of God would soon replace the Earthly kingdom (which was Rome at that time).
Looking at the sources we have on Jesus, this teaching seemed to remain within his teachings as well. More so, we see this teaching being carried on by Paul, so we can be reasonably sure that Jesus also continued on with this sort of teaching. He also expanded on this teaching though. Another teaching we can be sure Jesus had was one of acceptance. In the Gospels, there are a number of instances in which Jesus is criticized for keeping the company of tax collectors, or other individuals seen to be lower or outcasts. One could sum up much of his teachings with the “golden rule,” love your neighbor as yourself (this was an idea that we see also stretched to Paul. However, we see other Jews at that time saying the same basic idea). These two teachings, the one regarding the Kingdom of God, and that of acceptance, were intimately linked.
Having this background, we can see a clear reason why the message Jesus was preaching would have promoted his death. He was preaching a message that challenged the Roman Empire. By claiming that the Kingdom of God would replace the Roman Empire, it would have been a challenge to the Roman authorities. Combined with his actions in the Temple (the overturning of the tables and driving people out, which can be seen as a symbolic destruction of the Temple, which would have been apart of the Kingdom of God teaching), his fate was sealed. Importantly though, Jesus would have been well aware of what his actions could lead to, as he would have been exposed to just that throughout his life. It was the same basic reason why John the Baptist, who Jesus was connected to, had been executed as well.
Much like Martin Luther King Jr., we see a message which was connected to the death of the figure. Both of these individuals had a message that at their basis taught acceptance (or equality). And each knew that their messages, the ideas they were spreading, had the possibility of leading to their deaths. Yet both continued teaching this idea, which eventually led to them sacrificing their lives.
The message that both of these individuals had was one of greater value than one life. As in their messages, they taught that all life had value. They taught a message that have effected great numbers of people (in fact, the teachings of Jesus effected the ideologies of King as well), and in turn, cause additional people to help spread the idea of acceptance and equality. It is a message that transcends religions, or philosophies. It is one that all can embrace, and see the value in it. And with that, we can see the sacrifice of Jesus in a secular manner; in a manner that all should be able to relate to.