Vol.IX No.VI Pg.5
August 1972

Was Jesus A Martyr?

Robert F. Turner

When someone writes an emotional song about "The Man" who was slain, do not jump to the conclusion that the world is turning to Christ. Many couple the name of Jesus with men of history who died because they had strong, unyielding convictions, who are yet far from understanding or accepting the real meaning of the death on the cross. Jesus was not a martyr!

A "martyr" is "one who willingly suffers death rather than renounce his religion". Use of the word has been expanded to cover those who are "put to death or endure great suffering on behalf of any belief, principle, or cause"; and victims of assassination are sometimes called "martyrs" because their public efforts for some cause have made them qualified targets for anarchists.

But martyrs choose to live, in order to continue their work. They accept the end of their work in death only when the alternative is a personal abandonment of principle. To accept this concept of the death of Jesus is to ignore the whole redemptive system of God's revelation, including the divinity of Jesus Christ. This is not Christianity, it is humanism.

The Son of God became Son of Man "in order to die". (HEB.2:9-18; 10:1-f) He said, long before His death, "I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself". (see JOH.10:15-18) Yet Jesus was no "psycho". He faced death with the dread of a perfectly normal man, praying, "Oh my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me." (MAT.26:39)

Nor was the death of Jesus Christ a resignation to fatalism. When the mob came to take Him Jesus said, "Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels". The choice of death, a sacrifice for the sins of the world, was His to make -- even then. But Jesus exercised His will (as Son of Man) to do the will of the Father. (MAT.26: 53-54) He "learned obedience" by the things which He suffered. (HEB.5:8-9) Apparently Jesus deliberately set a stage to teach his disciples the superiority of spiritual to carnal struggle and victory. (LUK.22:36-38; cf., MAT.26:51-52)

The Old Testament prophecies are a monumental testimony to the divine remedial system. Those which point specifically to Christ are backed by hundreds of other references to substitutional offerings for sin. The soul that sins, should die. But an altar was built, by God's directions, and a lamb (or other animals) died instead. All of this pointed, via type, to "the Lamb of God" that taketh away the sins of the world. (JOH.1:29) There is little resemblance between the scriptural picture of the offering of Christ, and the "rocking" martyr picture of today's drama and song.

The younger generation's search for "meaning" in life, their dedication to idealism, is admirable. They have shaken "traditional religion" - and true Christians say, "Amen"! But Christianity is nothing short of the divine Savior, who both died AND NOW LIVES, for you and me.