Jesus, as best as we can tell, was an apocalyptic prophet. And, from the desperate prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus seemed to think that he needed to suffer, and perhaps die, to fulfill God's plan.
The incident at the temple was a critique of the corrupt temple cult. Mark folded it between the fig tree story, the point being that just as it was no longer the season for figs, it was no longer the season for the temple. Perhaps Jesus also intended his exemplary ethical suffering (and perhaps death) as a critique of a corrupt leadership in society that killed a just man like Jesus for silly reasons. Perhaps Jesus thought this noble suffering/death would be the catalyst that would cause God to intervene in history and bring about the end of the current age and the coming of the Kingdom of God.
Plato records Socrates's last words as "let us offer a rooster to Asclepius" indicating Socrates was giving thanks for the poison he was receiving (pharmakon - both poison and drug/cure).
How do we explain this? Xenophon suggested Socrates thought it was better to die than experience the senility/suffering of old age. Plato had a somewhat different view. Plato's Republic Book 2 presents the impaled just man/criminal as the ethical ideal. How could this be applied to the death of Socrates? Socrates was condemned as a criminal and executed by his society for unjust reasons. His death as a noble/just criminal served to show that his society was fundamentally unjust, and so Socrates is remembered as an ethical martyr who died in the service of exposing the injustice/corruption of his society, to the point that the corrupt society would take a noble/just man's life for unjust/silly reasons.
We see the same thing with the criminal Jesus. Jesus in his death as a condemned criminal by society exposed the unjust nature of his society, even to the point of that unjust society executing a just man such as Jesus for silly/unjust reasons.
Jesus, as a crucified criminal, seems to embody the Platonic ideal of the impaled just man from book 2 of Plato's Republic, either because Jesus was trying to direct his life events to emulate that ethical ideal from antiquity's most famous book, The Republic, or else because the New Testament writers were using Plato's ethical ideal of the impaled just man as a model to shape the Jesus narrative, in the way Matthew's Jesus infancy narrative recapitulates the story of Moses, or Mark's crucifixion narrative is patterned after Psalm 22 (there is a debate whether the crucifixion narrative is also patterned after Isaiah 53).
I wanted to share an excerpt from Clement of Alexandria's The Stromata to show how he thought Plato's ethical ideal of the impaled just man is reflected in apostolic Christian life:
Does not the apostle then plainly add the following, to show the contempt for faith in the case of the multitude? “For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as appointed to death: we are made a spectacle to the world, and to angels, and to men. Up to this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are beaten, and are feeble, and labour, working with our hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat; we are become as it were the offscourings of the world.” Such also are the words of Plato in the Republic: “The just man, though stretched on the rack, though his eyes are dug out, will be happy.”Jesus may have been trying to approximate the ethical standard/paradigm of the impaled, just man in book 2 of Plato's Republic, or else there is exegetical work going on in the New Testament to model Jesus on Plato's impaled, just man. This makes sense of such themes in Mark as the messianic secret, since such a Jesus would have to avoid even the appearance of reward for being just, such as wealth, fame, honor, etc.
- Clement of Alexandria (153-217)The Stromata Book IV Chapter 7
Given this framework, let me suggest two ideas:
(1) Perhaps while Jesus thought he had to suffer to fulfill God's plan (see the desperate prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane), perhaps he didn't think he would actually die to fulfill it (the irony of Plato's impaled just man is that no living person could meet the ethical paradigm, only approximate it). The desperate prayer in Gethsemane may have originally been envisioned as being granted (compare Heb. 5:7). Jesus may have thought/been portrayed as thinking the willingness of Jesus to die, like Isaac’s, is what answers future Israel’s sins, not the actual death.
(2) As Jesus is dying, he calls out in desperate questioning to God as to why He has abandoned him, hoping God will send Elijah to rescue him. We read in Mark:
When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land[e] until three in the afternoon. 34 At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”[f] 35 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” 36 And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.”So, what we seem to see in Mark is a exemplary case of the impaled/crucified just man, abandoned not only by his followers at the arrest, but even by his God who he trusted to answer the Gethsemane prayer and ultimately save him.
The VMNT blog provides a useful unpacking of Ratzinger's views regarding the relationship between Jesus and the impaled, just man of book 2 of Plato's Republic. They write that:
If Socrates were to succeed in proving that justice by itself cannot but be good for the soul of its possessor, and injustice evil, he still would not be meeting Glaucon's and Adeimantus' challenge; for they ask him to show that justice is the greatest good of the soul, injustice its greatest evil. Further, showing this will not be sufficient unless Socrates thereby shows that the life of the man whose soul possesses justice is happier than the life of anyone whose soul is unjust. The latter is required of Socrates when Glaucon asks him to compare certain lives in terms of happiness. Glaucon envisages a just man's life "bare of everything but justice. . . . Though doing no injustice he must have the repute of the greatest injustice . . . let him on to his course unchangeable even unto death . . . the just man will have to endure the lash, the rack, chains, the branding-iron in his eyes, and finally, after every extremity of suffering, he will be [impaled]." On the other hand, the unjust man pictured by Glaucon enjoys a position of "rule in the city, a wife from any family he chooses, and the giving of his children in marriage to whomsoever he pleases, dealings and partnerships with whom he will, and in all these transactions advantage and profit for himself," and so forth, including a not unreasonable expectation of divine favor. Socrates has to prove that a just man whose condition is that described by Glaucon will still lead a happier life than anyone who is unjust if he is to show that, in terms of happiness, which is the Platonic criterion for the choice among lives, one ought to choose the just life. Again, if Socrates is able to show that an unjust man who enjoys the existence depicted by Glaucon is more wretched than any just man, that will suffice for choosing to reject any unjust life. As Prichard remarked, "Plato certainly did not underrate his task. Indeed, in reading his statement of it, we wonder how he ever came to think that he could execute it.