Why did Jesus die? Who killed him? What was his death really about?

I read the four gospels straight through looking for an answer to this question. Given that I was brought up in Calvinism and modern Evangelicalism (both of which are quite different from the evangelical vision of the ancient church) I expected to find a series of verses that proclaimed that Jesus suffered from his Father the just punishment for our sins. What I actually found did not fit in with my expectations. Again and again Jesus told his disciples what was happening. Here is what I found:
  • Luke 9:44 “Let these words sink into your ears; for the Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.”

  • Matt 16:21 “From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.”

  • Matt 20:18-19 “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up.”

  • Matt 26:45 “Then He came to the disciples and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.’”

  • Mark 9:31 “For He was teaching His disciples and telling them: ‘The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And when He has been killed, He will rise three days later.’”

  • Mark 10:33-34 “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles. They will mock Him and spit on Him, and scourge Him and kill Him, and three days later He will rise again.”

  • Luke 18:31-33 “Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be handed over to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon, and after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him; and the third day He will rise again.’”

  • Luke 24:6-7 “He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.”

  • John 1:10-11 “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.”

  • John 18:3-6 “Judas then, having received the Roman cohort and officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. So Jesus, knowing all the things that were coming upon Him, went forth and said to them, ‘Whom do you seek?’ They answered Him, ‘Jesus the Nazarene.’ He said to them, ‘I AM.’ And Judas also, who was betraying Him, was standing with them. So when He said to them, ‘I AM,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.”

  • John 18:12 “So the Roman cohort and the commander and the officers of the Jews, arrested Jesus and bound Him, and led Him to Annas first; for he was father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year.”

  • John 19:14-18  “Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, ‘Behold, your King!’ So they cried out, ‘Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’ So he then handed Him over to them to be crucified. They took Jesus, therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha. There they crucified Him, and with Him two other men, one on either side, and Jesus in between.”

  • Acts 2:23 “This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.”

  • Acts 2:36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ--this Jesus whom you crucified.”

  • Acts 3:13-15 “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.”

  • Acts 4:10 “Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health.”

  • Acts 4:27 "For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel.”

  • Heb 12:1-3 “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Is it not amazing how we—not unlike the disciples who could hardly understand that Jesus would win by submission—strain the witness of the Gospels through our prejudices?  Is their post-resurrection teaching unclear?  Jesus did not die at the hands of a ruthless Father who needed to be appeased.  The witness of the gospels is that Jesus died at the hands of ruthless men, Jew and Gentile, representing religion and empire joined as one to damn the Father’s eternal Son incarnate. 
An honest modern evangelical has to scramble at this point.  There is simply nothing to support the notion that Jesus went to the cross to suffer the fiery wrath of his Father so that we could escape such torture.  I know about Matthew (27:46) and Mark (15:34) quoting PS 22:1, ‘My God, My God, what have You Forsaken Me,’ but take the time to read the whole Psalm, which Jesus, scarcely able to breathe, could hardly recite the Psalm as a whole.  In whispering the first line of Psalm 22, Jesus was letting us know that He had reached the abominable pit where we (human beings trapped in the great darkness) cannot perceive or imagine or know the love of His Father, the place where all we feel is alone, abandoned, rejected.  And such emotional destitution must be taken seriously.  Our hope hinges on the authenticity of Jesus reaching this place, for this place is the bottom of the abyss of our darkness.  Yet, paradoxically Jesus is also proclaiming to us that in such a place of utter darkness, where we have no hope, He not only trust His Father and gives Himself to Him in the Holy Spirit, but finds His way to the place where He knows that His Father will never abandon Him in such a moment. “For He has not despised not abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Neither has He hidden His face fro him; But when he cried to Him of shelf, He heard” (PS 22:24; note also John 16:32).  Jesus submits himself to be damned by the human race, accepting us and our will, and there in the utter darkness of the rejection of humanity, he knows that His Father is present to hear and to save, although he cannot hear or see or feel His presence.  In this abyss of our darkness Jesus establishes his relationship with us in the darkest pit of our sorrow—and he brought His Father and the Holy Spirit with Him. 
The mocking, the shame, the derision, the cursing, the damning, the hatred, the treachery, the rejection was not from his Father or from the Holy Spirit, but from us.  We damned him.  We cursed him. We betrayed and crucified the Father’s eternal Son even while we were breathing Christological air.  Such was not a surprise to the blessed Trinity.  It had been foreseen and indeed planned from before creation. 
As you contemplate the suffering of Jesus on Good Friday think of this:  What the Father, Son and Spirit counted on from you as your contribution to your salvation was not that you would finally come to your senses and believe, but that you would betray and murder Jesus.  Unbelief, treachery, covenant unfaithfulness is our real gift to God, and our Father—without doubt in unspeakable sorrow—accepted our ‘gift’ and used our murder of His beloved and eternal Son as his way of finding us and embracing us at our most violent and heinous worst. 
Imagine: Papa accepts our bitter rejection of Jesus and uses our rejection as the way of his acceptance of the real and broken us, the way of our adoption into the family forever.  ‘I will take your murder of My Son and I will use your betrayal as My way of embracing you in your great darkness.’  And, of course, the Holy Spirit was not standing around shocked at our miserable unfaithfulness.  The Holy Spirit was finding His/Her way inside our brazen obstinance as we lifted Jesus up on the cross, making our self-righteous condemnation of Jesus into the temple of Her presence.  This is grace.  This is God.  This is redemption.  Our Father never needed a sacrifice; we did.  And we, as one man, with one accord damned His Son, and our Father accepted our ‘faith’ and our ‘will,’ and our ‘decision’ to crucify His Son as the means to establish and real and everlasting relationship with us inside our faithless betrayal.  This is salvation.  This is adoption.  This is redeeming genius and love almost beyond our wildest imaginations. This is good Friday.  Today let us get over our pride, and glory In the fact that the blessed Trinity outsmarted us and used our unbelieving, self-righteous pride as the way to secure our inclusion in the very life of the Trinity.

Dr. C. Baxter Kruger