Why Did Jesus Die in His Thirties?

Why did Christ die in his early thirties rather than as an older man? This would have permitted Him more time to teach and to set forth His Church. St. Thomas Aquinas answered the question in the following way:

Christ willed to suffer while yet young, for three reasons. First of all, to commend the more His love by giving up His life for us when He was in His most perfect state of life. Secondly, because it was not becoming for Him to show any decay of nature nor to be subject to disease …. Thirdly, that by dying and rising at an early age Christ might exhibit beforehand in His own person the future condition of those who rise again. Hence it is written (Ephesians 4:13), “Until we all meet into the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ” (Summa Theologica III, 46, 9 ad 4).

Speculations such as these strike some as purely arbitrary. Others consider the reasoning to be a post hoc justification: Christ died at the age of 33, so let’s make something up to try to explain it.

St. Thomas’ reasoning, however, is not based on wild speculation. There are premises to his reasoning.

First, there is the premise that God does nothing arbitrarily and we do well to allow even seemingly minor details in Scripture (e.g., the time of day) to teach us.

Another premise is based on the nature of perfection. Perfection can be harmed by either excess or defect. Consider the case of age: A young person may lack physical and intellectual maturity (youth being a “defect” in age), but there comes a time when age becomes problematic in the other direction as time takes its toll on the body and the mind becomes less sharp (old age being an “excess” in age). Thus, there is a period of time when one’s age is in the “perfect” range: harmed neither by excess nor defect.

In St. Thomas’ time one’s thirties was considered to be that time of perfection. This is arguably still so, though we do seem to take a lot longer to reach intellectual and emotional maturity these days.

St. Thomas notes that because Jesus died while in the prime of His life, the sacrifice was greater. His apparent lack of any disease or physical imperfections also increased His sacrifice. This is a model for us. We are to give the best of what we have to God in sacrifice; not merely our cast-offs, or things of which we might say, “This will do.” The Lord once lamented, through Malachi,

If I am a Father, then where is my honor? When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts (Mal 1:8).

And thus what might seem to some to be an unremarkable detail (Jesus’ age) actually provides important teachings to the sensitive soul. Christ gave His all, His best—and He did so when He was in the prime of His life. We too are summoned to increasing perfection

11 Replies to “Why Did Jesus Die in His Thirties?”

  1. I think I have an issue with how you frame this as not speculative. Each of your premises are speculative, as they are assertions that cannot be confirmed. For example, St. Thomas states that god does not do anything arbitrarily. This is not demonstrated, simply asserted. That would make the premise speculative. Because many people believe that to be the case does not speak to the voracity of the claim.

      1. I think that your premises are speculative, and as such what follows is speculative. I was saying that I disagree with your assertion.

        1. I don’t think the assertion that perfection is harmed by excess or defect is a merely speculative premise. You are of course able to dispute the conclusion that it was fitting that Christ should die in his thirties

          1. Thank you for being willing to share your position and engage in discourse on the topic.

    1. Then what, Chas, is your claim? Many people would like to know if St. Thomas Aquinas & Msrg. Pope are in error. Please enlighten us.

      1. Hi Christopher,

        I think many disagree with Thomas and Mr. pope. The burden of proof is on the one making the claim. My point is that saying that God does not do anything arbitrarily is a claim. One that has to be demonstrated. I do not think either Thomas or Mr. Pope have justified the claim.

        1. Chas, I was very happy to explain my analysis regarding St. Thomas’ thoughts on why God’s salvific plan included Our Lord’s Passion and death taking place in the prime of His life. When I write of what I know from years of study and from reflection, I not only communicate with others, but I also more firmly understand what God is saying to us. God is never arbitrary, which would mean that he acts “based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system” (Google definition). To say that anything He does is arbitrary is to misunderstand what we can conclude about the essence of God. God’s plan is outside of time. It will not ever change. He has allowed for some chance and for free will on the part of human beings in the events of the world, but this, again, is part of His plan. Regarding the specifics of His plan of salvation, nothing regarding Our Lord, a divine, rather than human Person, was left to chance. Our ultimate salvation and the means by which man may attain to that salvation is more important than anything mundane that we can truly understand. Yet, theologians like St. Thomas, with the gift of being able to work through all that God has shown us, to draw rational conclusions, have given the world so much to ponder about the greatness of God. Shall we just say it is wrong to even try to understand our Creator? No one is saying that what St. Thomas wrote, as read in the article above, is Gospel Truth from the lips of Christ, but if one takes the time to try to understand what is being said, rather than just reading it quickly, it does make enormous sense-more than what most of us with much less knowledge of God could possibly come up with, I’m quite sure. It is common knowledge that St. Thomas has lost favor in the eyes of those who would take a more so-called “modern,” less spiritual, and less intellectual look at the Gospel and the Catholic Faith, and thus really change what is known of the religion, but man seems to try to find different ways to do just about anything, so we can expect even intellectual giants to be thrown “under the bus.” That’s not for me, nor is calling a Monsignor “Mr.” when that is clearly not his title. That shows a certain attitude in discussing this issue, but, as I said, writing helps me to put all into perspective, so there has been no time wasted on my part. I do pray that there will be more openness and respect for Catholic clergy in the future on the part of those who comment.

    2. Hi, Chas,
      I do understand how you question how the writing of St. Thomas Aquinas above can be considered more than speculation. God, after all, did not tell us specifically with regard to the question of Christ’s age at death, that each of the assertions are true. However, in considering each of the assertions in our overall knowledge of God as expressed to us through His Word, and then applying them to the particular event of Christ’s Passion, I believe we can come closer to seeing their veracity. 1) Christ’s Passion and death are a true sacrifice to the Father, made willingly with perfect obedience. As seen through the Holy Scriptures, any sacrifice accepted by God had to be perfect. God would not accept one that was not so. This perfection referred to the physical makeup on the animal being sacrificed. With Christ, there are the added attributes of perfect will and obedience, which one naturally cannot expect from an animal. With Christ’s sacrifice, the need for perfection still extended to his physical body. We know that during the 3 years before His death, he must have been in strong and healthy physical shape to have been able to do so much traveling on foot over rugged terrain, and to be able to fast for 40 days. So, we can conclude that he was strong and healthy at the time of His Passion. No person wants to die at such a point in life, but of course, Jesus did not just die, but GAVE His life for us. What depth of love!!! 2) If Jesus had lived to a much older age, His body would naturally not have had the same characteristics of strength and vigor that He had at 33. Being human like us in all things but sin, He most likely would have shown some decrease in some of His abilities, thus making Him less perfect a victim than He was earlier, and thus not the Perfect Sacrifice that He was and had to be. It seems that this could not have been allowed to happen because He came to die for us as the Perfect Sacrifice. 3) This follows from numbers 1 and 2. We are to strive to be like Christ. God did not allow Him to become something we would not be disposed to want to be like. We remember Him as the strong, healthy man He was when He died, and as Christians, we strive to that perfection. I am sorry it took me so many words to explain my analysis. I must assume that St. Thomas used his great wealth of prior knowledge and much more time than I to arrive at his assertions. I hope this was helpful. Please let me know what you think.

      1. Lorell,

        I am humbled by your attention and depth of thought in your response. You have made a lot of great points that are internally consistent with the Catholic tradition. Unfortunately, my concerns were more foundational. While the Catholic Church makes an honorable effort to be internally consistent, I have not been convinced that the supernatural claims of the religion actually have an evidence base that support belief. That is why I brought it up. Thank you for your thoughtfulness. I will continue to consider your words and if they resonate differently with me over time.

  2. I had never wondered about the reason Our Lord’s Passion took place while He was in His thirties. I saw the title of this article posted in a Catholic group on the social media platform MeWe, and was intrigued as to what it would tell me. I am so glad I took the opportunity to read it. Pondering St. Thomas’ words on the fact that Christ took His suffering upon Himself for us when He was in His prime has expanded for me my understanding of the immeasurable depth of Christ’s love for us. When we learn that anyone has died at such an age, we often think that that person had “everything to live for,” and “had his whole life ahead of him.” With all that we know about Christ as Catholics, we could say the same thing, except that I believe He wanted us to see that He, although in His earthly prime, had everything to die for! Our salvation meant everything to Him! So much more than even His earthly life and what He might have continued to do with it! He showed by His suffering that WE, whom He loved, and will forever love so much, would know that WE have so much to live for; that is the everlasting joy of being with Him in Heaven. At about 33 years old, He was a completely perfect sacrifice, both spiritually and physically, so that His atonement for our sins would be completely perfect, and so that our end, with our cooperation, would be perfect happiness. There is no limit to what we can learn about Jesus’ love for us or its depth! Thank you so much for posting, Msgr. Pope!!

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