Was Jesus a Martyr? [open conversation]

These days we’re doing a chapter-by-chapter discussion of Gonzalez’s Church History books…what I thought was boring in Seminary makes for lively conversation in the church! 

So the conversation came up about the early Christian martyrs and trying to define what ‘martyr’ meant.  We waffled between two definitions:

  1. Someone who dies for a cause  *OR*
  2. Someone who dies because of a cause

Then from the leftmost table (the troublemakers) came the question:

Was Jesus a Martyr?

So, which is Jesus?

  1. Did Jesus die for his cause?   *OR*
  2. Did Jesus die because of his cause?

So, sound off.  Which of the above statements is closer to your idea of Christ?

To me, this is an important question.   Because how you answer may rely on your  understanding of what Jesus’ death means (ie. atonement).

  1. If Jesus died for his cause, then there’s a higher likelihood that you hold a redemptive atonement theory (penalty-satisfaction or substitutionary) because you place a high meaning on Jesus’ death.
  2. If Jesus died because of his cause, then there’s a higher likelihood that you hold to an incarnational atonement theory (moral-influence or incarnational) because you place a high meaning on Jesus’ life (and a prophetic life inevitably leads to death).

So, which is it? 

Did Jesus die for or because of his cause? 

And does either of those make him a martyr?


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  1. johnmeunier says

    Interesting questions. I love the troublemakers, as long as they are in your discussion group and not the one I lead. :)

    I'm trying to think of the NT answers to these questions. I'm not sure Jesus would interpret his death as martyrdom. It was not for what he was a witness to, but who he was – which is not an inconsequential distinction. We can be witnesses to Christ. But he simply is Christ.

    The Epistles seem to read his death as largely redemptive. I was reading Colossians 1:13 just last night and it is still in my mind.

  2. Jacques says

    D.A. Carson in his commentary ‘The Gospel According to John’ make an interesting opening statement on page 573 in his introduction to John 18:-19:42. He states that John 18:1-19:42’s, “net effect on the flow of John’s narrative is not so much to condemn the entire world, but to weave a more detailed picture that leaves John room to present the nature of Jesus’ Kingdom (18:33-38; 19:12-16) and to demonstrate in narrative form the truth already articulated: Jesus is not a martyr but a voluntary sacrifice, obedient to His Father’s will (10:17-18).”

  3. William M Pacelli says

    First of all, to be a martyr someone has to kill you because of your “cause.” No one can kill Jesus. Why? Because He is God and no one can kill God. Jesus said in John 10:17,18: ..”That I lay down my life that I might take it again…no man takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself, I have the power to lay it down and I have the power to take it again.” So, the Jews didn’t kill Jesus, the Romans didn’t kill Jesus and Pontius Pilate didn’t kill Jesus. He gave His life voluntarily so that all who believe in Him would not have to pay the “death price” of sin! He made it possible for all to have eternal life after our life is over on earth.

    God so loved us He gave up His Son to save us and Jesus complied willingly. Jesus was never a martyr. He was and is God in the flesh who came to earth to save us. Period!

  4. samuel says

    john 10vs11 Jesus said i am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd gives his life for his sheep. the death and resuurrection of Jesus was his purpose of coming into this world.he was not martyr cos no power would have stoped him from fullfilling his cause on this earth which is his death, burial , resurrection 1corinthans 15vs1-4 thank u Jesus for the cross john 19vs30

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