Vindicating Jesus?

“A Kenyan lawyer has filed a petition to overturn the 2,000-year-old trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, arguing that the trial was unlawful and demanding that Israel and Italy be held responsible.”1

When I first read these words, I was almost certain it must be a hoax. Googling the matter, however, turned up page after page of the same result—and not from spoof news sites like The Onion.

The story concerns a Roman Catholic lawyer, Dola Indidis, who has filed the lawsuit regarding Jesus’ death with the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Stating his reason for filing suit, Indidis said, “It is my duty to uphold the dignity of Jesus and I have gone to the ICJ to seek justice for the man from Nazareth.” Jesus’ trial, states Indidis, was a “selective and malicious prosecution,” which “violated his human rights through judicial misconduct, abuse of office bias and prejudice.” He seeks “a declaratory judgment declaration that the trial judgment and sentence were badly done and therefore null and void.” While a spokesperson for the ICJ has denied that it has jurisdiction to even consider the suit, the story itself does raise several interesting theological reflections.

Upholding the dignity of Jesus?

Indidis states that it is his “duty” to uphold “the dignity of Jesus.” Dignity is something that every human being possesses by virtue of the fact that humans are made in the image of God. To treat another human without dignity is tantamount to blasphemy. That is why the Bible calls for capital punishment for murder—not primarily because the murderer has wronged another person (though he has) but because the murderer has attacked God by killing someone made in his image.

As the eternal Son of God, of course, Jesus possessed unique dignity. His dignity lay not only in that he was human but that he was, in fact, divine. He bore the image of God not only in his humanness but in his very intrinsic nature. Jesus “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). There is no question that Jesus possessed dignity, and unique dignity at that. And there is no doubt that that dignity was profoundly violated at Calvary.

But is it, in any sense, our “duty” to “uphold” the dignity of Christ?

The Bible speaks to the fact that Jesus willingly gave up his dignity in submission to his Father. His dignity was not taken from him. Instead, “though he was in the form of God,” he “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Instead, he “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5–8). Notice that: He became obedient to death. Obedience implies willingness. Again, his dignity was not taken from him; he gave it willingly. There is no need for us to “uphold” his dignity, because his obedience so pleased the Father that “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (vv. 9–11).

Seeking justice for the man from Nazareth?

Indidis is on a mission to find justice for Jesus. What he evidently fails to realise is that our only hope of salvation lies in the fact that injustice was done to Christ—at least from a human perspective.

Indidis believes that the human injustices carried out upon Jesus at Calvary need to be corrected. In this way, he seems to think, Jesus’ dignity will be upheld. What he fails to grasp is that the cross was at the same time the grossest miscarriage of human justice and the most sublime display of divine justice. And the two must necessarily go together.

Human sin calls for divine justice. That justice is meted out in one of two possible ways: God’s wrath upon the sinner in the second death, or grace for the sinner as Jesus suffers death on the cross. Jesus was without sin, and so death had no hold on him. But, in order to save his people from their sins, he willingly went to the cross. On the cross, for the space of three hours, Jesus suffered the weight of God’s wrath in an act of divine justice for the sins of his people.

Was the cross, from a human standpoint, unjust? Yes. Was it the result of “selective and malicious prosecution”? Absolutely. Did it involve “judicial misconduct, abuse of office bias and prejudice”? Without a doubt. But if we remove that injustice, we have no hope of salvation and must instead bear the full weight of divine justice for our own sin.

Seeking a declaratory judgement declaration?

Indidis insists that the ICJ issue an official declaration “that the trial judgment and sentence were badly done.” There can be no doubt from a comparison of the Gospel accounts with Jewish (and Roman) law that Jesus’ trial was the work of a kangaroo court. A string of legal irregularities ultimately led to the conviction and sentence of an innocent man—a man whom even the judge himself declared to be without fault.

That said, there is no need for the ICJ, or anyone else for that matter, to offer an official declaration. Regardless of human irregularity, Scripture has already declared that it all happened “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:22). God’s “definite plan” is never “badly done”—even when he uses flawed human systems to accomplish it.

Rendering it null and void?

Perhaps the most astonishing goal of Indidis’ suit is to render the crucifixion “null and void.” Apart from the cross of Christ, and his subsequent resurrection, we have no hope. If Christ did not bear our sins on the cross then we are completely and utterly pitiable. We are without God and, consequently, without hope in this world.

Thankfully, no misguided lawsuit and no human court of appeals can render the cross null and void. When Jesus died, he declared loudly, “It is finished” (John 19:30). It was done. He had accomplished at Calvary what he had set out to accomplish. He did not fail in the mission that God had sent him to do. And though the effects of that mission will continue to be felt throughout human history, we know that he will not lose any of the sheep that his Father gave to him. The gates of Hades, the lawsuits of Dola Indidis, and the declarations of the International Court of Justice can do nothing to nullify what Jesus has declared to be finished.

  1. Katherine Weber, “Lawyer Sues Israel, Italy and Pontius Pilate for Jesus’ Crucifixion,” http://bit.ly/14NuBzy, retrieved 2 August 2013.

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