Whatever you think of the “necessity” of Jesus dying, the facts are that he was crucified. That is how he died. That a figure named Jesus was likely crucified is one of the most historically provable facts about him, in that it’s testified to by several external historical sources.
As Borg and Crossan remind us over and over crucifixion was a very specific penalty for a very specific kind of “crime.” It was a political penalty, delivered by political authorities. The powerful Roman Empire had no reason to bend to the feckless religious leadership in any of the lands they’d conquered, much less Israel. Therefore, if you’re one of those Christians who still embraces the idea that “the Jews killed Jesus” it’s beyond time to let that go.
Jesus was murdered at the hands of the state, in a method reserved for criminals and enemies of the state…insurrectionists, foreigners and revolutionaries.
Whatever else Jesus did in his life, it’s impossible to explain away that died because he got crossways with Rome. He got crossways with political power. This religious leader died because of something that frightened political leaders.
In a sense, then, my own theology tells me that much of the talk of a “necessary” death (most atonement talk) is a way for us to avoid this terribly uncomfortable truth. It’s a lot easier, and strangely more comforting, to believe in a savior who takes away our personal sins, than one who stood up to the Powers That Be and paid the ultimate price.
Because, if he stood up to the Powers That Be…as we’ve just noted the real evidence suggests he must have…then what else could he have meant for us to do, when he told us to “take up your cross and follow me?”
And that is what’s truly terrifying about Good Friday.