Who should be put on trial for the murder of the greatest Man to walk this earth? The answer may not be what you think.
[Gary Petty] You stand at the foot of the stake where Jesus of Nazareth hangs, nails driven through His hands and feet, a crown of thorns shoved upon His bloody head. Roman soldiers, they gamble at the base of the stake. Suddenly, one of the legionaries picks up a spear and thrusts it into Jesus’ side.
The question asked ever since, “Who is responsible for the murder of Jesus?”
For many centuries, some Christians condemned all Jews as the murderers of Jesus. This view spawned anti-Semitism and persecution. Should the blame be placed on the Roman soldiers? Was the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, an innocent man who was forced to condemn Jesus to death, or really, the person ultimately responsible for the murder of Jesus?
Who should be put on trial for the murder of the greatest Man to walk this earth? The answer may surprise you. It may not be what you think. On Beyond Today we’re going to answer the question, “Who Really Killed Christ?”
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[Gary] Two thousand years ago, Jewish leaders dragged Jesus before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. They accused Him of sedition. Pilate’s wife had a troubling dream about this Jewish teacher and begged her husband to spare Him. The governor did have a way out. It was the Jewish Passover season and Roman custom dictated that mercy be exhibited during this Passover season by releasing a prisoner. Pilate offered the crowd gathered for the event a choice of Barabbas—a hardened criminal—or Jesus. The crowd chose Barabbas.
In the Gospel of Matthew, we are told how, “Pilate said to them, ‘What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?’ They all said to him, ‘Let Him be crucified.’” The governor asked the crowd, “What evil has He done?” And the crowd answered him by chanting, “Let Him be crucified.”
Matthew then writes, “When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, ‘I am innocent of the blood of this just person. You see to it.’ And all the people answered and said, ‘His blood be on us and our children.’” Pilate gave in and Jesus was led away to be beaten, tortured and crucified (Matthew 27:19-26).
This passage has been used for centuries to claim that the Jewish people and their children throughout history are directly responsible for the death of Jesus. This belief has spawned terrible crimes of anti-Semitism by Christians.
But, should the Jews alone be held responsible throughout their generations? Does some responsibility rest upon the Roman soldiers who beat Him and actually crucified Him? How about Pilate? Should Pilate receive blame as the judge who allowed an innocent man to be murdered?
We’ll come back to Jesus’ death and reveal who really killed Jesus. But, to fully understand the answer, we have to look at events that happened the night before Jesus was killed. The evening began when He ate a Passover meal with His disciples.
The Jewish Passover is traced back to the time of Moses when God led the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery. Moses told pharaoh that God wanted him to let the Israelites go free. When pharaoh refused, God brought nine terrible plagues on the people and the land of Egypt. When again pharaoh refused, God said that He would kill all the firstborn.
The Israelites were told to smear the blood of a lamb on the doorposts of their houses so that God would pass over them and they would be spared. Generations of Israelites commemorate that night—a night when their ancestors listened to the horrible cries of Egyptians mourning their dead and God passed over their houses by observing the Passover.
We now move forward to the time of Jesus, which was more than fourteen hundred years after that first Passover. On the 10th day of the first month of the Jewish calendar, we would find Jewish families selecting lambs to be sacrificed four days later. On the 14th day of the month they killed the lambs and ate a special meal of lamb, herbs and unleavened bread to commemorate God’s mercy shown back to their ancestors so many years before.
And it was on the 14th day of the first month that Jesus was crucified. The night before His death, He ate a Passover meal with His leading disciples. Matthew tells us, “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat, this is my body.’ Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sin” (Matthew 26:26-28).
To understand who killed Jesus, we must first understand something very important about His mission in God’s plan of salvation.
There are a number of important issues in what Jesus told His disciples on that Passover eve. So when we look carefully at these verses in Matthew, we see that Jesus told His disciples that they must, what? Eat bread and drink this wine as symbols of His body and blood. He carefully explained that this was the beginning of a new covenant; and what He was doing involved God’s forgiveness of sin.
What did Jesus mean when He said that they must eat bread and drink wine as symbols of His body and blood? How were these symbols involved in the forgiveness of sin? And, why did He choose a Passover meal to give these instructions?
You know, the answers are actually found in the ancient prophecies of the Old Testament. The prophets told of a coming Messiah, or Christ who would establish God’s Kingdom here on this earth. But there are also other prophecies about a great Servant of God who would suffer for the nations.
One prophecy that tells of this “suffering Servant” is found in Isaiah chapter 52 and 53. In this prophecy, the Servant of God is beaten and “His visage marred more than any man.” He is “wounded for our transgressions,” “bruised for our iniquities,” and made an “offering for sin.” In His death, He “bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 52:13-15 - Isaiah 53:1-12).
If the Messiah is supposed to conquer the nations and rule from Jerusalem, who is this suffering Servant foretold by Isaiah? How does He fit into God’s plan of salvation? The key to understanding the identity of this suffering Servant is found in what Jesus did at the Passover meal and the suffering that happened later.
When we go back to the Passover night, where Jesus tells His disciples that they must eat His body and drink His blood, we need to remember that Jesus’ disciples already believed that He was the prophesied Messiah. In fact, they expected Him to overthrow Rome and establish God’s Kingdom from Jerusalem.
Can you imagine their disbelief, their confusion when Jesus actually allowed Himself to be taken by the Romans—the very people they were supposed to conquer? Can you imagine their despair when they watched Jesus die? Can you imagine their astonishment when He was resurrected from the dead and appeared to them three days and three nights later?
Well, let’s look at one occasion where the resurrected Jesus appeared to His disciples and what He said. “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 remission of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:44-47).
Jesus was telling His disciples that not only was He the prophesied Messiah, who would eventually establish God’s Kingdom on the earth, but He was the suffering Servant who would bring repentance and forgiveness of sins. Jesus came the first time to fulfil God’s plan to supply a Passover for human sin. He will return the second time to establish God’s Kingdom on the earth and Jesus here was very clear about His mission.
But, we still haven’t answered who is really responsible for the murder of Jesus? We still have a few pieces of the puzzle to fit together here.
Before we discover the identity of the murderer of Jesus, let’s review what we discussed earlier about some of the events that took place during the evening before Jesus’ crucifixion. On that evening, Jesus ate a Passover meal with His disciples. The Passover is an important annual event from the Old Testament. It commemorates the time when God killed the firstborn of Egypt, but saved the firstborn of Israel. At the first Passover, the Israelites had been instructed to smear some lamb’s blood on their doorposts and God then passed over their families.
Matthew tells us about what happened during a Passover meal when Jesus was with His disciples fourteen hundred years later when He told them to eat bread and drink wine as symbols of His role as the Passover Lamb of God.
Remember, after His resurrection, Jesus taught His disciples that not only was He the prophesied Messiah who would establish God’s Kingdom on the earth, but He was the “suffering Servant” who would be “wounded for our transgressions” and be made an “offering for sin.”
This is why Jesus’ followers continued to observe the Passover after His resurrection, but with a new understanding. For the earliest Christians, the Passover was no longer just a reminder of how God had saved ancient Israel from slavery and how God had passed over their firstborn.
The apostle Paul writes about this new understanding over 20 years after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, when he writes to the church in the Greek city of Corinth, “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7). For the earliest Christians, Jesus was celebrated as the Passover Lamb.
To understand the need you and I have for Jesus as our Passover, we must all face our own corrupt human nature and the fact that each of us is condemned to death by the law of God. Sin, rebellion against God, is at the core of so many of our own thoughts and actions. God doesn’t simply accept us the way we are. To have a relationship with God we must repent of the way we are and the consequences of our sin. We must then accept our need for a Passover sacrifice.
I know, at this point you might be saying, “I’m basically a good person, why would a loving God condemn me to death?”
According to what God tells us in the Bible, none of us are good enough to earn God’s favor. Only by accepting the shed blood of Jesus, the Son of God who committed no evil as the substitute for the penalty you and I deserve, can we then be passed over instead of suffering the death penalty required by the law of God.
Remember, the Israelites who celebrated the first Passover smeared the blood of a lamb on their door post and then ate the lamb to commemorate the mercy and power of God who freed them from slavery and death. They had no power to free themselves.
But today, Christians are to celebrate the Passover by partaking of the symbols of Christ’s body and blood. Just like the ancient Israelites, you and I have no way to save ourselves from the slavery of our sin or eternal death except through the substitute of the blood of the Lamb of God.
The apostle Paul instructed early Christians on how to observe the Passover ceremony, He wrote to the Corinthians, “For often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).
Once a year, on the anniversary of the Passover that Jesus kept with His disciples, Christians should gather to proclaim the Lord’s death. It is a profound experience to commemorate the sacrifice of Jesus as the Passover in the manner and on the same night that He did with His disciples so many centuries ago.
So with this understanding let’s return to the original question, who really killed Christ?
Who do you think is responsible? Who should be put on trial? Pilate wasn’t the good guy of the story. He was concerned with politics and maintaining Roman rule. The Roman soldiers were pagans who could not have cared less about a Jewish Messiah. The Jewish leaders thought that they were serving God as they cried out to have Him crucified. Even many of Jesus’ own disciples fled during His greatest time of need.
So let’s transport ourselves back to the scene at the feet of where Jesus has been crucified. The Roman soldier who just thrust the spear into the side of Jesus slowly turns towards you. You have an opportunity to look into the face of the murderer of the Son of God. He turns, he takes off the helmet and you find yourself staring into your own reflection!
My purpose in making this statement is not just an attempt at theatrics. The point is that Christianity is a fake religion unless Jesus, the Son of God, came from heaven to live as a man, die for the sins of all humanity and was resurrected three days and three nights later.
To become a true follower of Jesus Christ, and receive eternal life, you and I must accept something very important. We must accept that His death was a substitute for what we deserve. This is the foundational truth of what it is to be a Christian. Once you accept that you deserve death and that God sacrificed a Passover for you, then you can begin to respond to God’s love.
This means that the brutal death of Jesus Christ and His return to heaven as God’s Son is the center of God’s plan for humanity. His death wasn’t a cosmic accident perpetrated by some irate Jews or vicious Romans. Listen to what Jesus told His disciples: “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father" (John 10:17-18).
Pontius Pilate, the Jewish leaders, the Roman soldiers who drove the spikes into His hands and feet, you and I—we’re all guilty of the blood of the Son of God.
Less than two months after Jesus was crucified and resurrected, Peter was speaking to a large crowd in Jerusalem. The people were shocked when Peter told them that God had “glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up in the presence of Pilate…” Peter then told them that they had “killed the Prince of life…” (Acts 3:13-14).
In his oration, Peter used Old Testament scriptures to show that Jesus was prophesied to suffer and be resurrected. He cried out, “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that the times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom the heavens must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:19-21).
Many of those listening to Peter had heard Jesus teach. They had seen His miracles. They had been horrified and despondent when He was crucified. Through the teaching of Peter, John and other disciples many Jewish people turned to God and accepted Jesus as the prophesied Messiah.
The Passover isn’t just an Old Testament observance. It is a profound annual observance for Christians who accept Jesus Christ as the Passover Lamb. Observing the New Testament Passover links God’s deliverance of ancient Israel together with our deliverance from sin. The New Testament Passover no longer involves the killing of a lamb and smearing the blood on a doorpost, but recognizing Jesus Christ as the ultimate Passover Lamb. Observing the New Testament Passover on the night that Jesus instituted taking bread and wine as symbols of His body and blood takes us back to that dark night when the light of the world was about to shine on all humanity.
Now we’re going to be joined by the Beyond Today panel to talk about what the Passover means for Christians. But first, let’s review some of what we’ve covered here today:
First, Jesus Christ died for the sins of all humanity. He willingly sacrificed His life.
Two, all human beings are sinners and are all guilty of the blood of Christ.
And three, the Passover is to be observed today by Christians as a commemoration of Jesus’ sacrifice.
We’re joined by fellow Beyond Today hosts Darris McNeely and Steve Myers as we continue to discuss the Passover and it’s meaning for Christians today.
Why is the annual observance of the Passover almost ignored in much of Christianity today?
[Steve] Well when you look at history, it tells the story of anti-Semitism. And it’s really plain and simple, when it comes right down to it, it was this prejudice against Judaism. And, early Christianity wanted to remove itself as much as possible from anything Jewish which is exactly opposite of what the New Testament teaches when it shows the spiritual significance of what Christ taught. And so, unfortunately, much of Christianity today reflects that very aspect—that we want to get as far away from what biblical things really are.
[Darris] And, what Steve says is very true still today. Historically, there is a very strong anti-Semitic bent in the world, and it’s still around today. It is, unfortunately, alive and well. And when it comes to people understanding even why they do what they do, in the Christian world, Easter is the accepted norm. The idea of a Passover to them seems Jewish—anything connected with what the Bible talks about seems to be Jewish. I remember being asked whether or not I was a Jew because I was keeping Feast of Tabernacles which we’ve talked about on our program before as one of the festivals of God. And people confuse that, not really understanding again, what the holy days, the festivals are—but even, not even understanding the actual Judeo-Christian roots of the Bible and of Christianity. But, it’s still around today.
[Gary] Okay, someone is watching the program and they say, oh that makes sense. Jesus is our Passover and He kept a Passover so, how should I keep the Passover? So what instructions, or what would you give advice to people who say, hey I need to keep the Passover?
[Steve] Well, the New Testament Passover is a far cry from Judaism, first of all, when you consider what the Bible teaches and I think that’s where you’ve got to go. You have to open your Bible and read what it says. Read what Christ did when He instituted that New Testament Passover. It was quite different than slaughtering a lamb and all the things that were back in the Old Testament. Quite different—He brings the spiritual significance to the whole ceremony and so follow what Christ said. Then, notice what the apostle Paul taught, because he says he was taught by Christ. And so, the New Testament does spell out very specifically step-by-step what should happen at that New Testament Passover.
[Darris] The segment that Steve referred to from 1 Corinthians 11 where Paul gives the instruction that he had received from Christ is the essence of it because He says in that evening when He was betrayed He sat down with His disciples and He began to instruct them, keeping that Passover, changing the symbols to the bread and wine which are the New Testament or the New Covenant symbols of the Passover which we observe today, which is completely different form the Old Testament and even different from the traditional Seder of Judaism today and yet it is so basic. It is to be kept once a year.
I know a lot of people as they take communion, they will do it either every week. They will do it once a month. It will be given quarterly, depending upon their denomination. But the Bible shows us, as Paul did, that it is an annual observance of the death of Jesus Christ. And, that’s where you begin and once you read the Scriptures and understand that, then it opens up the true understanding of what the Passover is as it does point us to Jesus Christ the Lamb of God.
[Gary] I have been observing as you have, a Passover, an annual Passover, on the night that Jesus did. Taking bread, taking wine, washing feet, going through the ceremony and very similar to what He did, and it has had a profound effect on my life: in my relationship with God and in my direct relationship with Jesus Christ. How has keeping the Passover affected your Christianity?
[Steve] It’s really interesting when you look at the story—Christ showed very clearly what the Passover represented. In fact, He doesn’t say I am going to share this Eucharist or I’m going to share this communion with you. He longed to share this Passover with them. And then He talked about the significance of the bread and the wine—His body and His blood. So, to me, this is the foundation: Jesus is my Savior and I recognize that at the Passover that He sacrificed His life, He was beaten for me and so it starts everything there. That there is a way out of sin and Jesus Christ is the solution and Passover helps us to reflect on that every year, and realigns us to the spiritual way of thinking.
[Darris] Every year, Gary, when I keep the Passover service, I go through as Christians do a period of examination; looking at our faith, looking at our relationship with God, looking at our self compared to that perfect sacrifice that Christ gave. And when I keep the Passover, I recognize that I kind of have a reset on an annual basis and I feel clean for a period of time because of that. And I think it comes from a real deep understanding of what it says in Acts 2:23. You read part of that when you referred to what Peter said to the crowd that day, but he actually said it twice. And He said about Christ in verse 23, this man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross. When you read a scripture like that and you apply it to yourself, it can’t help but have a profound impact upon you and your relationship with God. It’s a critical examination question every year.
[Gary] And what’s interesting of course, they hadn’t physically nailed Him to the cross, the Romans had and yet he says you are responsible, just like all of us are responsible. We have no way out of this. If He didn’t die for us and was resurrected, we’re lost. So, this is a central concept of what it is to be a Christian.
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The Passover is not just an Old Testament observance. Passover is a New Testament observance for followers of Christ. It is a reminder of the foundational event of Christianity—the first coming of the Messiah as the suffering Servant to suffer and die for the sins of all humanity. I urge all of you to study what the Gospels teach about that Passover Jesus kept with His disciples and follow His example.
Join us next time on Beyond Today as we continue to discover the gospel of the Kingdom. We also invite you to join us in praying, “Thy Kingdom come.” For Beyond Today I’m Gary Petty.
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