Socrates is surrounded by his disciples on the day of his death, but he discusses immortality with them calmly. Jesus, on the other hand, only a few hours before His death, asks His disciples not to leave Him alone. Socrates drinks the cup of poison quickly and joyfully, without fear or doubt, while Jesus, troubled, asks the Father to take the cup from Him if possible.

“Can there be a greater contrast than that between Socrates and Jesus?”[1] asked the German theologian Oscar Cullmann, whose comparison—one of the most powerful in theology—has aroused a wave of appreciation as well as hostility.

Cullmann understood the death of Jesus more deeply than most modern theologians. But even he needed to understand something more. Though it is difficult to explain fully, Jesus faced the worst kind of death on the cross, the eternal death that sin inexorably brings. In the most real way, His being, in which human nature and immortal divine nature were united, died, and in those moments on Calvary when He feared that the Father had abandoned Him, Jesus actually feared a permanent separation.

In a way impossible for the human mind to comprehend, He could not see beyond the gates of the tomb, did not know whether the burden of the sins of the world, which He had taken upon Himself, would separate Him from the Father forever. Fortunately, Jesus conquered death, but the truth that is too little weighed, accepted, and integrated into our lives is that the horror that Jesus experienced cannot be diminished without misrepresenting the scale of the destruction that sin is capable of, the scale of the infinite love of God who risked everything for us, and the significance of Jesus’s attitude in the face of death.

Why should we want to make the death of Jesus, the most terrible death, seem wonderful? In the face of a wonderful death, the attitude of Jesus represents weakness. But in the face of a terrible death, His attitude is a revelation.

Norel Iacob is editor-in-chief of Signs of the Times Romania and ST Network.

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[1]“Oscar Cullmann, ‘Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead’, ‎ Wipf & Stock Pub, 2020.”

“Oscar Cullmann, ‘Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead’, ‎ Wipf & Stock Pub, 2020.”