I see bad things arising
The crowd crown him King
Which the Romans would ban
I see blood and destruction
Our elimination because of one man
Blood and destruction
Because of one man
What can we do about this Jesusmania?
How can we deal with the carpenter king?
Where do we start with a man who is bigger
Than John was when John did his baptism thing?
Fools! You have no perception
The stakes we are gambling
Are frighteningly high
We must crush him completely
So like John before him
This Jesus must die
For the sake of the nation
This Jesus must die
Must die, must die
This Jesus must die
From “Jesus Christ Superstar” by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice
This song gives us an explanation for why Jesus must die. It does so from within the narrative, what is called the diegesis in literary and movie theory. In the story world, Caiaphas is worried that Jesus’ popularity will cause a revolution that will lead to the death of many of the Jewish People. We can call this a diegetic explanation.
We can also give an explanation on what Gerard Genette calls the extradiegetic level. A believer in the historical Jesus would say that the author believed or knew that Jesus had been crucified in real life and wanted to tell the truth about it. Jesus had to die in the narrative because the narrative is following the true history. We can call this an extradiegetic historical explanation.
We can ask if this is the best or only extradiegetic historical explanation? I propose a different extradiegetic historical explanation:
Let us suppose that Jesus was not crucified, what would have happened? Jesus would have rallied the people to him and he would have established the Kingdom of God on Earth. The Romans and Greeks would have all prayed to the true Jewish God and there would have been peace on Earth. The Roman-Jewish Wars would not have taken place, the Temple would not have been burnt down, the Jews would not have followed Bar Kochbar, Jerusalem wouldn’t have been leveled and the Jews would not have been expelled from Jerusalem. Yet we know that the wars and destruction and expulsion did take place. Every reader/listener of the gospel also knew that these things had taken place.
If Jesus did not die in the story, then we would have a fairy tale, a non-historical story, but a fairy tale with a strange moral. The moral would be that only in an invented world does a God send a Messiah to save his people – in the real historical world a God does not care enough to send a Messiah to save his people. God and his heartlessness is to blame for the catastrophe that happened to the Jews. That was not the message that the authors wanted to deliver.
By having Jesus die, we get a different moral – God did try to save his people by sending a Messiah, but the stupidity, self-righteousness, and selfishness of the Jewish leadership thwarted God’s plan.
Jesus had to die because the authors wanted to shift the blame for the Jew’s terrible defeat at the hands of the Romans away from their God and onto the Jews themselves (or at least the Jewish leadership).
I propose that this is the real extradiegetic historical reason that Jesus has to die in the story.
As for his crucifixion, that is explained by the fact that the son-of-man character is described in Hebrew Scriptures as a suffering servant as well as a messiah. Certainly a death by crucifixion is a suffering death appropriate for a suffering servant (slave). Thus the Hebrew scriptures determined what kind of death the Jewish Messiah (called son-of-man in apocalyptic literature) in the narrative would have.
The authors of the narrative were constrained by real history in their choice that Jesus must die, but not because the narrative had to follow the history of Jesus, but because the narrative had to follow the history of the Jewish people. That history was not one of salvation by any man or God, but one of destruction and loss of their lives, homes, culture and traditions
In choosing that the Jesus character die by crucifixion, the authors were constrained by the Hebrew Scriptures.