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Who Killed Jesus? comment (0)

April 3, 2014

By Bob Terry

Who Killed Jesus?

Every Easter season the arguments start again about who killed Jesus. Unfortunately many people seem focused on finding a scapegoat for that hideous event rather than recognizing the role their own sin played in the death of the Son of God. 

The issue is far from insignificant because of the evil done by Christians motivated — at least in part — by their conclusion that all Jews are to blame for Jesus’ death. Through the centuries that conclusion has been used to justify anti-Semitism, pogroms, Jewish ghettos and more. Jews have been called “Christ killers” and blamed as if each and every Jew shared the fault of that day. 

Some have read the Gospel of John’s use of the collective noun “the Jews” to refer to those opposing Jesus as meaning all Jews. Add Matthew’s record of the crowd’s statement that Jesus’ blood should be on them and their children (Matt. 27:25) and some have concluded that all Jews forever and ever are guilty of Jesus’ death. 

It is no wonder that at least one Jewish scholar declared, “In its effect upon the life of the Jewish people Christianity’s New Testament has been the most dangerous anti-Semitic tract in history.” 

The Gospel of Luke points out the fallacy of blaming all the Jews. Describing the walk to Calvary, Luke 23:27 clearly states, “And there followed Him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented Him.” The tendency is to conclude that the women “bewailed and lamented Him” but that is not what the verse says. It says a great company of people including women bewailed and lamented Him. 

Many of these may have been the same Passover pilgrims who greeted Jesus as Messiah-King on Sunday. They may have been dashed to see the one in whom they placed their hope treated in such a way by the Romans. After all, when they had gone to bed on Thursday, Jesus was free and had been teaching in the temple. It was during the night that He had been arrested and shuttled back and forth between tribunals. Shortly after the sun rose Jesus was before Pilate. It was still morning as Jesus was paraded toward Golgotha where He would die. Imagine how many people were surprised by such a rapid turn of events.

History records that the startling statement in Matthew about Jesus’ blood being on those in the crowd and on their children was not so startling after all. It was a common way of finalizing the sentence of a criminal, a way for the court to express a sense of responsibility. The statement was never a curse for only God can place a curse, and no record exists in all of Scripture of God agreeing to such. 

Other Christians conclude the Roman authorities killed Jesus. Certainly it was Roman soldiers who flogged Him and then nailed Jesus to a cross to die a shameful, humiliating death. Joseph Caiaphas, the high priest and ruler of Jerusalem, sent Jesus in bonds to Pilate, the chief Roman official in Israel, asking that Jesus be put to death. Ultimately Pilate complied. 

Pilate was in Jerusalem to make sure no trouble started on this religious holiday. In the years before Jesus no less than four anti-Roman uprisings had occurred on religious holidays. Pilate’s job was to make sure another did not occur. When Jesus arrived before him accused of being a political instigator of rebellion against Rome, death was almost certain. 

The Gospel of John recounts Pilate hesitating to grant Caiaphas’ request. Such a reaction was out of character for him. The famous Roman historian Philo wrote the Roman emperor complaining of “the briberies, the insults, the robberies, the outrages and wanton injustices, the executions without trial constantly repeated, the endless and supremely grievous cruelty” of Pilate’s rule. Pilate eventually lost his position because of his cruelty and greed.

It is no wonder that Jesus was tortured so by Pilate’s soldiers once the sentence was imposed. 

Since only Rome could execute a political troublemaker, Rome is to blame for Jesus’ death, this line of reasoning goes. 

That Joseph Caiaphas, the temple priest and scribes played a part in Jesus’ death, is true. That is the clear testimony of the four New Testament Gospels. But even of them the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:8 that if they had understood what was happening in their midst, they would not have crucified Jesus. 

That Romans played a part in the death of Jesus is undeniable. Pilate alone had the authority to order Jesus’ execution. He consented to the death and commanded his soldiers to carry it out. 

Yet Jesus Himself declared, “I lay down My life only to take it up again. No one takes it from Me but I lay it down of My own accord” (John 10:17–18). It was not Caiaphas’ misguided zeal that killed Jesus nor was it Pilate’s egotistical claim to power that put Jesus on the cross. Jesus died on Calvary’s cross because He chose to. 

But why? John the Baptist answered that question when he said of Jesus, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). 

In Romans 4:25, the apostle Paul wrote, “He (Jesus) was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” The apostle Peter reinforced that teaching in 1 Peter 3:18 when he added, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” In 1 John 4:9–10, the apostle John echoes, “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

All teach the same thing. Jesus died to take away sin — your sin and mine. “(Jesus) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). He makes it possible for us to be reconciled to God. 

Since it was sin that caused our Lord to go to the cross, the only truthful answer from a human perspective about who killed Jesus is each of us because “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Talking about anything else misses the point of why Jesus died. 

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