The scriptures trace a story in which the primary problem of humanity is death, and the fear of death. As narrated in the scriptures, that fear led to a world which worshipped violence, which practiced human sacrifice, which demonized innocent victims.
The story of Israel traces the development of an alternate worldview, which values empathy and compassion, innocence, cooperation, and the well-being of the weak and the defenseless. In doing so, this story continually demonstrates the viewpoint of the innocent and the victim, showing that those who possessed violent power were actually cowardly and morally weak.
Jesus and his followers believed that this was the purpose and commission of Israel - to demonstrate the truth to the world. But in the first century, Israel had totally given itself over to the desire for power that Rome exercised, the power of violence and oppression.
Jesus' role then, was to do what Israel had so far failed to do. He would demonstrate a power stronger than violence, he would expose violence for the real weakness it was, he would show the perspective of the victim. In showing a power stronger than violence, he would break the hold of the fear of death, and thus begin the process of unraveling all violent empires.
The belief that this had indeed happened was what led the first century Christians to call Jesus "Lord". In a showdown between the power of Caesar and the power of Jesus' identity and trust in God, Jesus had won. The cross was the place of defeat for the power of Rome, and the power of all who would attempt to follow them.
The soldier at the foot of the cross makes the emblematic statement here. "Surely this man was the son of God!" is a declaration that even in the heart of Rome's power system, it was obvious that Jesus had won.
This demonstration of the truth, and the consequent unraveling of the power of Empire, opened up new possibilities in human history. The world changed, and continues to change because we now all know, at some level, that violence and death are not the ultimate powers in the cosmos.
The work of Rene Girard
The work of Walter Wink
Micah Redding's summary: