The advocate of Modernist Jesus asserts that the historical Jesus would be appalled:
3. That the gospel says his death solved the problem of humankind’s separation from God, instead of saying that his life revealed the truth that there is no separation from God.
He said to them, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he.” (Jn 8:23–24).
Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham, and have never been in bondage to any one. How is it that you say, ‘You will be made free’? ”
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not continue in the house for ever; the son continues for ever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. (Jn 8:31–36).
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.” (Mt 16:21–23).
Then he said to them, “These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Lk 24:44–49).
Jesus repeatedly emphasized the reality of human sin, which he regarded as a given. He says things like “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Mt 7:11). He insists there is something wrong with us and that we are in need of a physician. His sharpest words are directed at the Pharisees, who deny this, and his warmest commendations go to those who say, like the tax collector in the parable, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
And yes, he insists (three times in fact, to disciples who have no idea what he is talking about) that his entire mission is to be killed and rise from the dead, because “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45).
It is certainly true that Jesus teaches that God loves us so much and so much desires that we be with him that “he gave his only begotten Son, that who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). And contrary to many Protestant soteriologies, it is not the case that Jesus died to save us from his Father, but to save us from sin. But precisely the point of his warnings about sin is that we can indeed separate ourselves from God despite all God’s efforts to get close to us.
The gospel in fact teaches that his death and resurrection, received in faith, is what unites us with God, not his death alone. His death was what we willed for him. He willed only to give us life, but took our choices into account and turned our will to kill him into life for us. That’s on us, not him. Our own choices showed both how desperate our plight is apart from him and what he is willing to do to save us.