A unique 500-year-old painting hangs in St. George's Chapel of England's Windsor Castle. The unknown artist depicts the martyrdom of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, being stoned by his own people as they were egged on by their religious leaders.
But something is not quite right about the painting. What is so disturbing is that the artist depicts the Jews at the scene with extremely uncomplimentary faces. To drive his point home, the artist portrays a demon coming out of the mitre (religious head covering) of the high priest, who was dressed in dark attire. Next to him in the corner of the painting we see a positive depiction of the face of a future pope, dressed in white, symbolizing purity.
In his painting of Stephen, the artist merely perpetuated a long-held view that the Jews were more sinful than others and that they alone should carry the responsibility for not only Stephen's, but Jesus Christ's death. But what does the Bible really say?
Who killed Jesus?
The Bible does reveal that the Jewish religious leaders wanted to get rid of Jesus, one way or another. As we read in John 1:11: "He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him." But to portray them as the only guilty ones is a travesty of justice.
The future Messiah is portrayed in the Old Testament as the Savior of all mankind, a prophecy that is confirmed in the New Testament as well. Notice the inspired words of Simeon: "For my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel" (Luke 2:30-32).
The New Testament makes it clear that salvation is now offered to non-Israelites as well, seeing that all humanity needs the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ to have our sins forgiven. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).
Every single human being needs redemption, and without the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, no one would have access to salvation. So all of us, regardless of our national or ethnic backgrounds, are responsible for Christ's death. Notice the words of Isaiah about the Messiah: "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6).
The correct way to acknowledge Christ's death
The pronoun "we" indicates that Isaiah included himself as being responsible for the death of the future Messiah, even though he lived some 700 years before Christ's sacrifice.
On the Day of Pentecost after Christ's resurrection, Peter reminded his listeners that they were all responsible for His death: "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36). They were responsible for Christ's death, even though most of them were not directly involved in His crucifixion.
How did these people react? Did they acknowledge their guilt in the death of Christ? "Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?' Then Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins'" (Acts 2:37-38).
They acknowledged that their sins were responsible for Christ's death. Do we? How do you acknowledge your part in Christ's atoning sacrifice? The New Testament says nothing about commemorating a Sunday resurrection. Furthermore, Easter's non-Christian origins and pagan overtones are well-established facts of history.
Instead, the Bible tells us to focus on Christ's death. The biblically commanded way of acknowledging our part in His death is to observe the New Testament Passover service, partaking of the symbols that Jesus instituted on the night before His crucifixion. These symbols of unleavened bread and wine highlight Christ's suffering and death on account of our sins and point to God's great love for us. He gave His Son to atone for our sins (John 3:16). For more information, be sure to read our booklet Holidays or Holy Days: Does It Matter Which Days We Observe?
The whole amazing story of Jesus' death, including often-overlooked details, is spelled out in our free booklet Jesus Christ: The Real Story. Of special relevance to this commentary is the chapter Who Killed Jesus? Learning the rest of the story and observing the memorial of Christ's death has life-changing, eternal benefits!