"He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:5-6, NIV).
The death of Jesus Christ is the most famous in history. The state-sanctioned murder that took place almost 2,000 years ago is still in today's news. No other crime against the innocent has remained so widespread in the consciousness of humanity for so long. This one lives on as a story that is told again and again.
The injustice of the arrest, trial and death of Jesus Christ is profound in that no person was ever so innocent, so sinless, so blameless, so undeserving of such punishment. Peter testifies that He "committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth" (1 Peter 2:22). He was the most virtuous man who ever lived.
Jesus challenged His enemies, "Which of you convicts Me of sin?" (John 8:46). The centurion, the officer in charge of His execution, was convinced that He had executed a righteous man (Luke 23:47). One of the thieves crucified with Him understood that Jesus had done nothing wrong and didn't deserve to die (Luke 23:41).
Pilate, the governor who issued the final command for the execution to proceed, proclaimed twice to the Jews that he found no fault in Jesus (John 18:38; John 19:4). Yet the deed was carried out, in all its horror and intensity, not sparing this innocent Man.
He did nothing to deserve the horrendous death imposed on Him, for He was "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners" (Hebrews 7:26). He was, after all, the Son of God, as the centurion recognized (Mark 15:39). This was not the injustice of the century, or the millennium, but the injustice of the history of the human race.
Justification for genocide
The story of Jesus' murder is dramatic enough in itself. But attempts to fix the blame for His death have led to horrible acts of spiritual depravity. The Jewish people have usually borne the brunt of the blame. Their implication in the death of Christ has resulted in an unchristian persecution of the Jewish people down through the centuries. "Christ-killers!" was the epithet hurled at them, and the last words many a Jew heard just before his own brutal murder.
The Nazis cited this for the genocide of 6 million Jews just over half a century ago during World War II. With no real respect for the teachings of Christ, Hitler and his followers declared that the Jewish race was solely and collectively responsible for killing the Son of God. This poisonous doctrine brainwashed the führer's followers into believing the Jews themselves should be exterminated for murdering the Savior of mankind.
The idea of unique and total Jewish responsibility for Christ's death is not supported by the Bible. But, sadly, this concept did not originate with the Nazis. For almost 2,000 years mainstream Christianity, Catholic and Protestant, took this same position—often using lethal brutality.
The plot to murder Jesus
Blaming others can be—and often is—nothing more than an attempt to absolve oneself of guilt. The question that should've been asked long ago—and should continue to be asked today—is, who really caused the death of Jesus Christ?
Jesus made many enemies. He upset the status quo, the powerful, the well-positioned people of the day. Many had reason to want Him out of the way. It wasn't the general public who wanted Jesus dead, but the civil leaders, chief priests, the scribes and Pharisees were the ones identified again and again as those determined to put Jesus to death.
But the main instigators were able to manipulate the public to help convince Pilate to carry out the death sentence (Mark 15:11).
The ones to whom Jesus spoke, among whom He had taught and performed miracles—the same ones who only a few days before were lining the streets welcoming Him into Jerusalem as the prophesied Messiah, the Son of David (Matthew 21:9)—had become disillusioned and even called for His death.
The Romans were also guilty in the death of this innocent Man. Pilate sentenced Him, knowing He was innocent of the charges brought against Him. The Romans carried out the sentence in typical fashion—a brutal beating, scourging and crucifixion. It was a Roman who drove the nails into His wrists and feet. It was a Roman spear thrust into His side.
Who bears the blame?
Several weeks later, Peter was quick to say who was implicated in the death of Jesus: "For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together" (Acts 4:27). It doesn't seem that many people were left out.
It's easy to assign blame for Jesus' death to a small group of people—the religious hypocrites and civil leaders who wanted to retain their positions seem to be implicated the most. It's also easy to lay the guilt of this murder on a whole race of people. And it's also true that we can implicate the ruling Roman state. But it's not as simple as that.
It's safe to say that if Jesus would have come to any society and culture and exposed it for its failings, its hypocrisy, He would not have been accepted. If Jesus had exposed any society that was equally far from its ideals, they too would have killed Him.
This is the horrible truth we all want to avoid. What the original followers of Jesus are telling us is that no one is innocentof this crime. We all were complicit in the death of Christ. Paul was convinced of his personal guilt: "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst" (1 Timothy 1:15, NIV).
A world unknowing, unaware
Paul, the former Pharisee, says of himself, "Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief" (1 Timothy 1:13, NIV). That's the problem. We were ignorant of all this. Paul tells us that "at the appointed time, Christ died for the wicked" (Romans 5:6, REB). The world just doesn't know what it is doing!
But God does, and one day we will all know too. It was His purpose from the beginning. Jesus came into this world knowing He would be killed (John 12:27). Jesus inspired the Old Testament prophets to not only foretell His death, but to describe it in graphic detail. The sacrificial system given to Israel prefigured the perfect offering that was to come.
Jesus foretold His death and suffering to His disciples on several occasions, but for the most part they refused to accept what He said. It was far more comfortable to believe that He would establish His Kingdom then and there, and all their worries would be over.
Paul speaks of "the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages...which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" (1 Corinthians 2:7-8).
In Acts 3:17 Peter says, "Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers." He adds, "But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled" (Acts 3:18).
Don't remain in ignorance
But God doesn't want us to remain ignorant. The crime was so unthinkable, so unequaled, that the story just keeps coming back and we can't get rid of it.
Yes, the Jewish leaders initiated the deed, and the Romans carried it out. But because each of us has sinned, He died for every single one of us. There's nothing complicated about that. That's what He wants us to see. If we had not sinned, if I had not sinned, He wouldn't have had to die. If we weren't so hardened, His suffering and death wouldn't have had to be so horrendous. None of us are innocent of this crime. This is what Peter and Paul and John are trying to tell us.
We read the account of the jealousy and hatred toward Christ and we may silently say to ourselves, "I wouldn't have done that if I were there." We're wrong on two counts.
Is there really a difference in the way we express jealousy, envy, greed, anger and hatred toward others and what those people did to Jesus? Jesus makes the point Himself: "Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these...you did it to Me" (Matthew 25:40-45).
Sin is sin; it doesn't matter who the victim is. And if He had not taken our place in death, that's the penalty we would be staring at. So where does any one of us get off blaming someone else for Christ's death, when all of us had our part in it too?
Secondly, would we really have done any better had we been there?
Judas, His ardent disciple at the beginning, betrayed Him for a sum of money. Peter, His most outspoken supporter, denied he even knew Jesus when Jesus was on trial. The other disciples, all of whom asserted their loyalty to the death (Matthew 26:35), vanished into the night after He was arrested.
No one provided a defense for Jesus at His trial. No one supported Him; no one stood by Him. Pilate knew He was innocent, but to maintain some favor in the eyes of others—at such a devastatingly high cost—he agreed to condemn an innocent Man to a hideous death. The religious leaders of the day simply couldn't allow someone to come along and mess things up for them. And the people, in the end, became just a part of the crowd.
God's will and our guilt
Let's ask the question again: Who was it that killed Christ? All of us, because of our sins, are guilty. And yet we are not wholly responsible for Jesus' death in an ultimate sense—for our redemption from sin and its penalties through the suffering and death of Christ was according to the will of God the Father and Christ Himself.
God, we must remember, "gave His only begotten Son" (John 3:16). Isaiah 53:10 tells us, "The LORD decided his servant would suffer as a sacrifice to take away the sin and guilt of others" (Contemporary English Version). Jesus Himself said: "I lay down My life...No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself...This command I have received from My Father" (John 10:17-18). By this He meant that no one accomplished His killing of and by themselves—without His and His Father's willingness and orchestration of events for His sacrificial death to occur. Indeed, this was God's plan from the beginning.
Of course, this fact does not excuse man's role in Christ's death. The act of killing Christ was a sin though it was foreordained. And, again, it was the sins of all of us that necessitated Christ's sacrifice.
Does God wants us to feel racked with guilt over Christ's death? Initially we certainly should feel guilt to make us sorry for what we've done and motivate us to cry out to God for forgiveness and help to change. But then our focus should be one of thankfulness for God's great mercy. Through the same plan that called for Jesus' death, we are forgiven and relieved of guilt for our part in His death upon repentance. Let us all, then, repent and accept God's forgiveness through Christ.