What was the cause of Jesus' death on the Cross?

I was in a parish Bible study last night and posed the following question, two parts actually: First, was Abraham a type of God the Father when he was about to sacrifice Isaac as he was commanded to do? Secondly, if so, can it be said that God the Father sacrificed His Son on the Cross? In other words, to ask the question, who killed Jesus, can it be said that His Father did? At first, the priest said, yes, Abraham is a type but then backed off of saying that God the Father was the primal cause of the death of His Son.

I’ve asked this question of a Lutheran and Presbyterian minister and they answered, yes. The reasoning was that, on the Cross, Jesus was bearing the sins of the world and taking the punishment for them, the punishment being the wrath of God. The pivotal moment came when He cried out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” God the Father forsook His Son on the Cross because He was bearing the sin of the world.

The sister in charge of spiritual formation said that this was fundamentalist error. She then said that we killed Jesus because He died for our sins.

What was the cause of Jesus’ death on the Cross? My thinking is that while the physical suffering was terrible, the spiritual suffering, as the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world, was what was the cause of death.

What is the teaching of the Church on this?

Thanks in advance,

Dear Gene,

One could say that those who actually scourged Jesus and drove the nails into his hands and feet are the ones who killed Him. One could say that it was Pontius Pilate who could have saved Him from death, but washed his hands of the matter. One could say that it was His Father who willed that He should die. One could say that it was Jesus Himself who was responsible for His own death in being willing to go through with it.

But the reason for the passion in the first place was our sins. Number 614 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “… First, it is a gift from God the Father himself, for the Father handed his Son over to sinners in order to reconcile us with himself. At the same time it is the offering of the Son of God made man, who in freedom and love offered his life to his Father through the Holy Spirit in reparation for our disobedience.” The human race sinned and the Triune God has loved us and redeemed us.

Incidentally, the pivotal moment was Not when Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He was reciting Palm 22 which includes verses 17 and 18: “I can count every one of my bones. And they glare at me, gloating; They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothes.” It ends with verses 30 and 31: “…men will proclaim the Lord to generations still to come, his righteousness to a people yet unborn. All this he has done,”.

The pivotal moment came when he said: “It is accomplished; and bowing his head he gave up his spirit” (Jn 19:36) AND WE WERE REDEEMED!

Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.

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