Who Killed the Christ?

Who is Ultimately Responsible for the Death of Jesus?

by Tim Biddle (Posted: 2/25/04)


[Please Note: As with all Bully Pulpit articles, the views expressed in this opinion piece are completely those of the author, and are not necessarily representative of CMUG.]

Who is Responsible for Jesus' death?

The movie The Passion of the Christ is due to be released in theatres on Wednesday, February 25th. It's not without strategy that the film is going to be released that day. It's Ash Wednesday, an important day to many who would call themselves Christians. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the Lenten period, and it occurs forty days (not including Sundays) before Easter. The period of time from Ash Wednesday to Easter is considered by many the most important to Christianity, because it is the remembrance and celebration of the death, burial, and resurrection of the central figure in Christianity, the Christ, the man called Jesus. The timing of the release of the movie is therefore appropriate given it's subject matter.

Not everyone is looking forward to the release of this movie, however. Many are worried that this film which graphically depicts the death of Christ will stir up anti-Semitic feeling among its Christian viewers. They are afraid that the film will cause people to end up hating Jews because they feel that the movie portrays the Jewish people as "Jesus killers." I've been thinking about this a bit, and as a person who calls myself a Christian, what should be my response to that claim?

First of all, I thought it would be a good idea to look at this question of who killed the Christ? Who was responsible for his death? Where better to find the answer than from the Holy Scriptures themselves? According to the Gospel accounts, all of which record the final few weeks of Jesus' life on this earth, there were several people who had a hand in putting Jesus to death. Another question we might ask ourselves is why does it matter who killed Jesus?

Judas Killed Jesus

The story doesn't begin with him, but I'd like to start with Judas. Judas was the treasurer of the band of men that Jesus had hand-picked to be his disciples. He was one of the twelve men Jesus had chosen to convey His most important teachings to, who would carry on the faith after Jesus' death, and who would teach others what it was that Jesus had taught them.

Judas, however, as we learn in the Scriptures, was a thief and a traitor. He was taking money from the treasury that they had established, which shows that he was more concerned about money than he was about the Messiah. He went to the chief priests, and asked how much they would be willing to pay to have Jesus delivered to them. They agreed upon the prophesied, and now famous, amount of thirty pieces of silver. Judas was paid his money, and he agreed to hand Jesus over to them.

Shortly after the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas did indeed betray Jesus to the Jews. Jesus had prayed to God for any other way to fulfill the plan of salvation besides his death, but ultimately decided that if there was no other way, then he would submit to God's will and humble himself and die. Judas had arranged a signal, a kiss, to be the tell-tale action that would identify Jesus amongst the group of people emerging from the garden. It was early in the morning, and it was dark. The kiss would be the surest way to identify Jesus and make sure the Jews captured the right man. Ironically, as we read in the Gospels, as soon as he realized that Jesus was condemned, Judas was filled with remorse. He returned the money to the Temple, and he went out and hanged himself. Judas was not only responsible for the death of Jesus, but for his own death as well. It could be said that Judas was the one who killed Jesus, for he's the one who turned him over to the Jews for a price.

The Jewish Religious Leaders Killed Jesus

The next person we encounter is the High Priest, Caiaphas. As High Priest, Caiaphas was the person with the most authority under the Jewish system of Law. Certainly, he had the most power in the Jewish religion. Jesus was accused of blasphemy, perhaps the most serious of all crimes in the Jewish faith. Jesus had equated himself with God. He had even claimed to be the Son of God. To the Jews in power at the time, Jesus must have seemed pretty audacious, and I daresay that if someone came today, claiming to be the Messiah, the chosen one of God, God's own Son, we'd think him to be either the most arrogant person in the world, or a madman.

Many of the Jewish leaders hated Jesus because of his claims. From the time he began to preach and call attention to their own inconsistencies as religious leaders, they were looking for a way to kill Jesus. They finally found an opportunity when Judas agreed to hand Jesus over to them. They seized upon the opportunity, and had Jesus arrested. He was brought into the Sanhedrin Council, and given a trial. Many false witnesses testified, but much of what they said was true. Jesus did indeed claim to be the Son of God. He did claim that if they destroyed the Temple of his Body it would be rebuilt and restored in three days. The fact that Jesus was talking about things of a spiritual nature that they did not understand caused them to believe that he was talking about something altogether different. They could find no reason to put Jesus to death until one witness said that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. The High Priest questioned Jesus as to whether this was true. Jesus answered that it was as they had said. At which point, they found Jesus guilty of blasphemy, and according to their Law, worthy of death. It could be said that the High Priest was responsible for putting Jesus to death, for it was he who pronounced the death sentence on Jesus. There were many others there that day, members of the council, even the false witnesses, that conspired to have Jesus killed, and so it could be said that they were the ones who killed Jesus.

Simon Peter Killed Jesus

Simon Peter was standing outside the council chambers that chilly morning. Just days before, at what has come to be known as the Last Supper, the celebration of the Passover feast among Jesus and his disciples, Peter emphatically declared that he would never betray Jesus. Yet on three separate occasions, Peter did just that. He denied that he was with Jesus. He denied that he knew him. He even swore and claimed that he never knew the man. Peter, like Judas, was immediately filled with remorse for his actions. He could have stood up for Jesus. It might have meant his own death too, but Peter could have intervened on Jesus' behalf. I suggest to you that in his denial, Peter was responsible for the death of Jesus, because he sat back and did nothing to defend him.

Pilate Killed Jesus

After the Sanhedrin Council had determined to put Jesus to death, they had him bound, and led him to the house of the Governor, Pontius Pilate. The Jews had no authority to execute the death penalty, so they had to involve the Romans in their plot to kill Jesus. They wanted Pilate to examine him, find him guilty, and have him put to death. I suppose this was a way for them to assuage their own guilt and justify the matter in their own minds. So they took Jesus to Pilate for the final judgment. Pilate questioned Jesus himself. However, he found no reason that Jesus should be condemned to die.

I suppose Pilate was only examining Jesus and judging him purely from the point of view of Roman law. Pilate was not a Jew, and either knew nothing about, or had no concern for Jewish Law. He announced to the people that Jesus was not guilty of death. Wanting to please the Jewish crowd, Pilate offered to release a prisoner, hoping the people would choose Jesus instead of Barabbas, a convicted murder. The people instead chose Barabbas, and Pilate asked them what he should do with Jesus. The people in the crowd chanted, cheered, and shouted, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" Pilate was reluctant to put to death an innocent man, and made a literal display of washing his hands of the matter.

Yet the fact remains that Pilate was in power over the city of Jerusalem. He had the authority either to put Jesus to death or to release Him. In what seems to me to be an ironic twist of fate, even though Pilate had washed his hands of the situation, he turned Jesus over to be flogged and crucified. Pilate was directly responsible for killing Jesus, because he gave the order to have it done.

The Crowd Killed Jesus

It could also be said that the people in the crowd that day were responsible, for when Pilate protested, they shouted all the more loudly "Crucify Him!" They even went so far as to say "let His blood be on us and on our children." Many of those in the crowd that day would later come to realize that they were responsible for the death of Jesus and would shudder at the thought.

Herod Antipas Killed Jesus

The Gospel account of Luke says that Pilate sent Jesus to Herod, because Jesus came from the area that Herod had direct jurisdiction over. But, Herod examined him and found no guilt in him, so Herod sent Jesus back to Pilate. Herod could have set Jesus free, but Herod was more interested in seeing Jesus perform some miracle. Herod could be held responsible for the death of Jesus, as well as all these others.

Roman Soldiers Killed Jesus

Roman soldiers led Jesus away to the cross of crucifixion. No one knows the names of the soldiers who actually nailed Jesus to the cross. They were the ones who were most directly involved in the death of Jesus. Even then, they could have claimed that they were just following orders. Jesus didn't actually die until some time later on the cross, so it's possible they could claim that Jesus died on his own, that they weren't responsible. The fact remains that the Roman soldiers who carried out Pilate's orders and the Jews' wishes that day had a direct hand in killing Jesus.

Who is Ultimately Responsible?

So who really killed the Christ? Could we conclude that there were many responsible for His death? Could we limit our conclusion to only those who lived in the first century, at the time Jesus actually died? Sure we could. And we certainly would be right in doing that. Could we also conclude that no one else had any responsibility or part in the death of the Christ? We could, but, the story of Christ does not end there. Jesus died and was buried, but several days later, appeared to many of his disciples and followers. They came to understand and believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead, just as He claimed He would. Still, the story of Jesus was not over.

On one occasion, when the disciples were gathered together, Jesus was with them. He continued to encourage them and teach them up to the last minute he was on Earth. He escorted them outside the city, and was taken up into Heaven. One of the last commands Jesus gave his disciples was to remain in the city of Jerusalem until they had received power from Heaven. Jesus had promised that after He had departed, there would be another Comforter sent to help and guide the disciples.

On the day of Pentecost, fifty days after the Passover, something happened. The disciples were together, doing just as Jesus had said, waiting to be filled with power from Heaven. The book of Acts says about 120 of them were there that day, and a wind came from Heaven. They saw what appeared to be tongues of fire come to rest on each of them. They began to speak in other languages, being filled with the Holy Spirit. The Comforter that Jesus had promised had come. Many Jews in the city of Jerusalem, who were there for the feast of Pentecost, came together when they heard the sound of the wind. They heard the disciples speaking in different languages. They were confused at what they heard, for each one heard them in their own language! Some even accused them of being drunk at 9 o'clock in the morning.

Peter, the same man who had just two short months earlier denied that he even knew Jesus, stood among them, and addressed the crowd. Peter spoke to the crowd, and asked them to listen carefully to what he had to say. Peter began with a prophecy in the book of Joel, and proceeded to show that Jesus truly was the Messiah. He reminded the crowd how Jesus had performed miracles in their presence, and how he had been handed over to them. Peter told the crowd that with the help of wicked men, they were responsible for putting Jesus to death. About 3000 of them were convinced that Peter was telling the truth because they asked Peter what they should do. The implication is what must they do to relieve themselves of the guilt of murder.

Peter responded and told them to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. He went on to say that the promise of forgiveness was not only to them, but to their children as well, and all those who were "far off, for all whom the Lord our God will call." Interestingly, Peter said that the blood of Jesus, which the people on the day he was crucified had declared to be on them and their children, was no longer their responsibility, if they would obey his instructions to repent and be baptized. Beginning there on the Day of Pentecost and continuing on through the history of the New Testament church, we see that people everywhere were convinced that their sins were what caused Jesus to have to go to the cross. When they came to understand, they understood that even though they were not present that day, their sins shouted "Crucify Him!" just as loudly as if they had been there. They did the same thing those in the crowd did that day at Pentecost: they repented and were baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. We see example after example of this throughout the pages of the book of Acts, and in other books of the New Testament as well.

The Apostle Paul would later write in the book of Romans that "All have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood." Paul says that Christ died for the ungodly. God demonstrated his love for us in the fact that Jesus died for us while we were still sinners, enemies with God. And we have been justified, that is to say, counted righteous, before God by the blood of Jesus Christ. We are reconciled to God, we who are guilty of sin, through the death of Jesus Christ. That's every person, as Paul said all are guilty of sin. The only way to get rid of sin was for a perfect sacrifice to be offered. Jesus Christ was that sacrifice, according to Paul.

We All Killed Jesus

Again, we ask the question, "Who killed the Christ?" We all did. Anyone who sins is responsible for the death of Jesus. It was my sins that nailed Jesus to that cross. I may as well have been the one holding the hammer the day He was crucified. I'm just as guilty as Judas, the High Priest, Pilate, or any of a host of others who directly played a part in the crucifixion of Jesus. The aim of The Passion of the Christ is not to incite hatred toward Jews for killing Jesus, but to remind us that Jesus died a horrible and terrible death. Yes, some Jews were directly responsible, but many other people had a hand in his death, including both Jew and Gentile alike.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter who betrayed him, who shouted for his death, who sentenced him, or who carried out the sentence, because we're all guilty of killing Jesus, since it was for our sins that he went to the cross in the first place. If we hate the Jews for the part they played in the historical events as they unfolded, we should hate ourselves just as much. We're just as guilty as they were. You and I are just as guilty of killing Jesus as anyone was on that day in history.

If someone sees The Passion of the Christ and comes away with feelings of anti-Semitism or hatred for the Jews--or anyone else for that matter--they have missed the entire point of the movie. Even worse, I would suggest that they have missed the point of the death of Jesus. Jesus was killed at the hands of wicked men to fulfill God's plan for mankind: to enable us to be reconciled to Himself, standing guiltless in His presence, through the blood of His only begotten Son.

Let me leave you with this final thought, captured so eloquently in the words of the Apostle John, in his gospel account: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son" (John 3:16-18). Do you believe in the name of God's one and only Son? If you do, do what those people on the Day of Pentecost did. Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins. Leave your guilt for the murder of Jesus behind and live the rest of your life for him.

Tim Biddle is the owner of Faith and Works Productions and lives in Indianapolis, Indiana with his wife, Melody, and son, Levi.

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