Who Really Killed Jesus?

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Who Really Killed Jesus?

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In 2004, Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ reignited an age-old question about who was responsible for the death of Jesus Christ. Was it the Roman soldier who ran a spear into His side? Was it the Roman governor Pontius Pilate who authorized the crucifixion?

Was it the Jewish religious leaders who incited the crowd to ask for His death? Was it the crowd itself? Was it the whole Jewish nation? Was it the high priest Caiaphas who declared Jesus worthy of death in a hasty predawn trial before the Jewish council? Was it Satan, working behind the scenes?

Each of these individuals and groups played a part in the death of Jesus of Nazareth, but were any of them fully responsible for His death? Before we answer too hastily, let's consider a few things.

The Jews

Over the centuries, some have taken the statement in 1Thessalonians 2:15 about the Jews killing the Lord Jesus as a condemnation of the whole nation. After all, the crowd did yell, "Crucify Him!" (Luke 23:21).

That acrimonious hatred has been used to justify many atrocities against those of Jewish descent, including the killing of Jews by Christians. Jews have been called "Christ-killers," and this hatred was used by Nazis as one of their justifications for the deaths of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust of World War II.

But we should remember that Jesus was a Jew and loved His people (Hebrews 7:14; Matthew 9:36). He healed many Jews during His ministry and was immensely popular among the Jewish people (Matthew 15:30; Luke 5:15). In fact, He was so popular that even though the religious leaders wanted to kill Him, they didn't want to take Him captive during the spring festival for fear of an uproar among the people (Matthew 26:3-5).

The religious leaders

The Jewish religious leaders clearly bear some guilt. After all, they were looking for a way to take Jesus by deception and kill Him (Mark 14:1) and were quite happy to pay Judas to betray Jesus (Mark 14:10-11).

It is impossible for us to know at this point how much they were influenced by Satan, who was anxious to see Jesus killed, and how much came from their own envy and pride. They accused Jesus of all kinds of things (Mark 15:3) and stirred up the crowd to crucify Him and release a criminal named Barabbas (Mark 15:11). So even if they were not the ones to actually crucify Jesus, they pressured Pilate to do it.

The Romans

That leads us to the Romans—the ones who actually did the scourging and crucifixion. Pontius Pilate stated repeatedly that he could find no legitimate reason to kill Jesus (Luke 23:13-15, 23-24). Yet he still gave in to the demands of the crowd and the chief priests and commanded Jesus to be scourged and crucified after "washing his hands" of the death of an innocent person (Matthew 27:24-26). The Roman soldiers tortured, mocked and crucified Jesus, eventually stabbing Him with a spear.

The guilt spreads

A few weeks later, Peter spread the guilt for Christ's death around quite liberally when he said that "both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together" against Jesus (Acts 4:27). Peter implicates leaders along with Israelites and non-Israelites. That doesn't leave anyone out!

Peter said that all humanity is guilty of killing Jesus Christ. The apostle John did the same when he wrote that Jesus made payment for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). Sadly, God realized it would be needful for a Savior to be sent to pay the penalty for the sins of humanity even before the start of human life (1 Peter 1:19-20).

So each of us—every human being who has ever lived or ever will live—is guilty of causing the death of Jesus Christ. In Romans 3 Paul lays out the case very clearly. He quotes David from Psalm 14 saying no human being is righteous (Romans 3:10-18) and concludes that "all have sinned" (Romans 3:23).

That should make each of us a bit ashamed and uncomfortable, because even though we may not have been the one to literally cry out, "Crucify Him," and were not the ones to beat Him or run a spear in His side, our sins required His death. Each of us is therefore responsible for killing Jesus!

The love of God

Yet ultimate responsibility rests with God the Father and Jesus Himself—as the sacrifice was determined in advance (see Isaiah 53:10). It is a witness to the incredible depth of God's love that He would decide, before He even created human beings, that a savior would be needed and determined to fill that need with His only Son (John 3:16). What incredible love it took for both the Father and Son to fulfill that plan in the setting of betrayal, abuse and crucifixion in the first century.

Paul marveled at the deep expression of God's love to send His son Jesus Christ to die for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:7-8). Jesus Himself assured us of the depth of His love by saying no one forced Him to die. He laid down His life on His own, in total agreement with the plan of the Father (John 10:17-18).

How can we ever repay such expressions of immeasurable love? We can't. But Jesus tells us how we should respond. Three times in John 14, just before He was betrayed and crucified, He said if we love Him we should obey His commandments: "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (verse 15), "He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me" (verse 21), and "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word" (verse 23).

He stated this shortly after instituting the New Testament Passover in the previous chapter. It was the same annual feast described in the Old Testament, but with new symbols of washing feet and taking bread and wine to symbolize humility, His beaten body and shed blood.

If you'd like to learn more about the sacrifice of Jesus and the New Testament observance of Passover and all the feasts kept by Jesus Christ and the early New Testament Church, read online or request our free booklets Jesus Christ: The Real Story and God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind, available online at www.gnmagazine.org/booklets. VT