For almost two thousand years, the answer to the above question was almost unanimous: "The Jews!" The Roman Catholic Church maintained the above verdict until 1964. For hundreds of years, various Protestant groups held a similar view. In recent times, their verdict has been changing as well. The Catholic Church and most Protestant churches have exculpated the Jews and have transferred the blame elsewhere.
Recently, four biblical scholars were interviewed on a major network. They were asked who they believed should be blamed for Jesus Christ's death. They unanimously responded: “Pilate and the Romans."
Who really killed Jesus Christ? Different people hold differing views. Some continue blaming the Jews; others assert confidently that the real culprit was Pontius Pilate. Some hold that Satan was the force that inspired the whole scenario. Many Christians insist that "all" humans killed Jesus Christ.
Though all the above points of view may have some merit, to fully understand who really killed Jesus Christ there is another fundamental and enlightening dimension that must also be spotlighted. But first let’s first look closely at the extent to which the main protagonists listed above contributed to Jesus Christ’s death.
Through the centuries, the Jews have been consistently accused as the ones responsible for Jesus Christ’s death. Did the Jews really kill Jesus Christ? No doubt the most active accusers of Jesus Christ were Jews; but it would be unfounded to assert that "all" the Jews in Judea accused Jesus Christ. Let’s not forget that “multitudes,” had followed and had seen Jesus Christ’s great miracles over his 3 ½ years of preaching (Matthew 15:29-31). A great many had been healed from terrible diseases. Some had been resurrected. A lot of Jews, consequently, felt nothing but gratitude toward this spellbinding Jewish preacher. Because of Jesus Christ’s persistent condemnations, most religious leaders in Jerusalem, on the other hand, were filled with envy and resentment, and, according to the Gospels, wished to get rid of Him in any way they could (Matthew 12:14).
Jesus Christ, on several occasions, called the Pharisees “hypocrites,” “serpents,” and “brood of vipers,” and labelled them untrustworthy leaders in front of huge crowds (Matthew 23). Their status within the nation had been undermined publicly by someone the crowds respected highly. This was an unacceptable humiliation. Therefore, the Pharisees were always looking for opportunities to accuse and kill Jesus Christ.
Jesus overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of the sellers of doves (Matthew 21:12). Both groups, most certainly, would have longed for revenge as well. No doubt, when the opportunity came to get even, they were ready to make Jesus Christ pay for the affront.
The top religious leaders refused to share the limelight with the young Nazarene and feared that He would have become the acclaimed leader of the people. They, most of all, plotted to find fault in Him, so as to get Him killed. Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, 4 and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. (Matthew 26:3-4 NIV).
It is interesting to note that they were fully aware of the fact that "most" of the people liked Jesus and, therefore, decided not to kill Him “…during the festival...or there may be a riot among the people.” (Matthew 26:5 NIV). They knew that the masses had to be handled with caution, to keep them from revolting against them. Thus, their plan had to be skilfully conceived, so as to convince the people that Jesus Christ was a blasphemer who deserved death.
Furthermore, the Gospel of Matthew tells us that when Jesus Christ was brought to the Sanhedrin “The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death." (Matthew 26: 59-61 NIV) -- and found some. Finally, Jesus Christ’s own words were found sufficient to condemn Him to death. Thus, "Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed" (Matthew 27:1 NIV). Later, when Pilate attempted to release Jesus Christ, they vehemently insisted that He had to be killed, and the angry crowd that was present, as well as the priests, finally prevailed. "But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed" (Luke 23: 23 NIV).
Who was, therefore, present when Pilate offered the crowd the choice to have Jesus freed or Killed? We can safely assume that the above-mentioned groups were there. Others who were present were probably locals or visitors who may have known very little about Jesus Christ and who followed the religious leaders blindly and took their accusations as reliable.
Were all the Jews, therefore, guilty of Jesus Christ’s death? Absolutely not. Were most of the religious leaders in Jerusalem guilty? According to the Gospels, they were. They plotted to capture Jesus Christ; they found false witnesses to build up a case against Him, and they refused to accept His message, though His mighty miracles supported His claims. The religious leaders wanted Him killed and did not cease until their aim to have him crucified was accomplished.
Pontius Pilate was the Roman Governor of Judea. He was Caesar’s representative and, as such, was the foremost authority in the land. He had power over life and death. Therefore, in the morning, Jesus Christ was brought before him for the final verdict. Pilate questioned Christ and made his ultimate authority clear to Him: “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” (John 19:10 NIV). Afterwards, he shared his obvious conclusion with the chief priests and the crowd: “I find no basis for a charge against this man“(Luke 23:4).
Though he was totally convinced of Jesus Christ’s innocence, and though he tried to dissuade the priests and the crowd from their aim to have Jesus crucified, he finally surrendered to the blood-thirsty religious leaders' request. "When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. 'I am innocent of this man’s blood,' he said. 'It is your responsibility!'” (Matthew 27:24). The reason why he relented to the will of the religious leaders and the angry crowd is given to us in the Gospel of John: "The Jewish leaders insisted, 'We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.' 8 When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid..." (John 19:7-8).
Clearly Pilate’s decision was motivated by the fear of a potential revolt. Therefore, to keep the religious leaders happy, to calm down the angry crowd and to prevent a potential rebellion, he gave in to their request. Therefore, though Pilate had the authority to prevent Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, he chose to sacrifice an innocent man to keep the peace. Pilate undeniably contributed to Jesus Christ's death.
Satan was no doubt a major protagonist behind the whole gruesome scenario. He had attempted to neutralize and destroy Jesus Christ from the beginning of His ministry, by tempting Him and by trying to bring about His spiritual surrender and destruction. He continued tempting Jesus throughout his 3-1/2-year ministry, all the way to the very end.
No doubt, Satan nurtured the spirit of envy and resentment in the religious leaders; no doubt he influenced Pilate’s decision to have Him brutally scourged. Without any doubt, Satan stirred the unrelenting crowds to demand the death penalty by a gruesome crucifixion. He wanted Jesus Christ to be traumatized and tested beyond endurance, hoping that He would finally surrender.
Though it may be difficult to know the exact extent of Satan's participation, he was there and he was heavily involved.
Christian theologians claim that the real culprit for Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and death were the sins of humanity and man’s need for redemption. Humans sinned from the beginning and have needed redemption ever since. During the time of ancient of Israel, God gave a sacrificial system meant to spotlight the seriousness of sin and its unrelenting demand for payment. Major sins, related to the transgression of most of the Ten Commandments, could not be paid for by any sacrifice; the penalty was death. In fact, the Bible is quite firm about the fact that "the wages of sin is death," with or without the Law (Romans 6:23 NKJV).
To prevent such a tragic end for all of humanity, there was the necessity for a sacrifice that would be sufficient as a payment for all the sins of humanity. Only a Divine Being could be such a sufficient sacrifice, as Paul clarifies in the Book of Hebrews.
For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? 3 But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
5 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
8 When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9 then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified (Hebrews 10:1-14 ESV).
Clearly the Son of God was the only sufficient payment for the sins of the world. Therefore, it is perfectly justified to say that our sins killed Jesus Christ.
So far we have seen that there are several contributors to the death of Jesus Christ. Pilate, the religious leaders, Satan, the sins of the world. All can be seen as contributors to the final verdict. But is there more to the story? Let’s look closely at some aspects that have not yet been looked at.
God the Father and Jesus Christ did not have to go through the horrific experience of the flagellation and the crucifixion. They could have simply allowed humans to reap the fruits of their sins and could have moved on without them. God did not have to send Christ to die for the sins of humanity. He did not have to watch His “beloved Son" go through a horrendous flagellation and a gruesome death on the cross.
Jesus Christ did not have to offer Himself for anyone; He had everything. Yet, He divested Himself of power and glory, came to live as a human being and went through the agony of abuse and humiliation. He also suffered excruciating pain through the flagellation and agonized for six hours hanging from a cross.
AND HE DID NOT HAVE TO GO THROUGH ANY OF IT!
Yet, these two amazing Beings chose the path of anguish, so as to make known their great love for all of us. They chose to deliver us from the death penalty and eternal extinction, though it would have meant agony they had never experienced before.
Who ultimately killed Jesus Christ therefore? Was it Pilate, or the Jewish leaders, Satan, or our sins?
IT WAS GOD'S AND CHRIST'S LOVE FOR HUMANITY THAT ULTIMATELY KILLED JESUS CHRIST.
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16 ESV).
God our Father loves us humans so much that He was willing to go through incomprehensible anguish for us, by offering His only Son to be scourged and then to be nailed to a cross. It was His love that prevented our merited extinction. It was His love that gave us unmerited forgiveness and opened the possibility of eternal life for all of humanity.
Jesus Christ agreed to do God's will, fully aware of the horrific ramifications that His decision would have had for Him. Yet He was greatly encouraged by the knowledge that his future sufferings would have brought about the possibility of salvation for all of humanity: "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6: 51).
This is love! -- unfathomable love.
Who, therefore, was responsible for Jesus Christ' death? The answer should be clear by now: The Jewish leaders wished it; Pilate could have, but refused to prevent it; Satan incited it; our sins demanded it. Most of all, though, it was God our Father who willed it, and it was Jesus who willingly offered himself to be sacrificed -- for the Jewish leaders who wanted Him dead, for Pilate who washed his hands, for the Roman soldiers who scourged and crucified Him, for you and for me, and for all of humanity that He and the Father love so much.
Therefore, as you ponder who killed Jesus Christ, please never forget that God the Father willed and allowed the gruesome sufferings of Jesus Christ. Remember also that Jesus Christ willingly became a part of the horrendous ordeal. Most of all, consider how much God and Christ love you, that they would be willing to suffer so much for your sake, so that you and I, and all human beings, would not experience eternal destruction.
What an amazing honor and blessing it is to have a Father and a Brother who love us this much.
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