There has been much information that has been coming out through the media concerning the death of Jesus. The movie produced by Mel Gibson, “The Passion of the Christ” has caused much controversy and discussion concerning who really killed Jesus. Jon Voight, a rather known actor in movies, went on the O’Reilly Factor on Fox News Channel to argue that the movies’ portrayal of the Jews killing Jesus was completely inaccurate, but that Pilate was the killer.
ABC has shown a couple of movies titled “Jesus” and the other “Judas.” Both movies portrayed Pilate as the instigator of the plot to kill Jesus. Round table discussions have been held on the Today Show and other news channels asking the question who killed Jesus and if the movie that Mel Gibson produced was accurate. ABC also ran an ABC News special called “Jesus & Paul: The Word and the Witness.” This show, hosted by Peter Jennings, purported to show the truthful history concerning the person of Jesus and Paul. The History Channel recently had a special called "The Real Pilate” which showed Pilate as a heartless man who killed Jesus, suggesting that the gospel accounts do not match the historical Pilate that is recorded. I have numerous other shows on tape that I have not had time to watch yet which will also address the life and death of Jesus.
There is much debate and argument as to who is responsible for the death of Jesus. Discussions continue as to who instigated these things to happen to Jesus. In this lesson, we will not rely upon television shows or movies to determine who killed Jesus. Instead, we will open the scriptures and see who God declares to be guilty for the crime of killing Jesus.
I. Suspect #1: The Jewish leaders and many Jewish people
A. Evidence for the Jews killing Jesus
From very early on in Jesus’ ministry, we see the Jewish leaders plotting to kill Jesus. Mark 3:6 says, “Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.” The day before Jesus’ death we read, “the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take Him by trickery and put Him to death” (Mark 14:1). It is the Sanhedrin, the core of Jewish leadership that puts Jesus on trial and passes the verdict, “He is deserving of death” (Matthew 26:66). After the verdict is passed we read, “When morning came, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put Him to death. And when they had bound Him, they led Him away and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate the governor” (Matthew 27:1-2). We cannot revise recorded history that shows us that the Jewish leaders desired Jesus to be put to death and plotted toward that goal.
There is more condemning evidence against the Jews and their leaders in Luke 23. In verses 13-24 we see that Pilate is about to release Jesus because Pilate has found nothing in Jesus worthy of death. When this announcement is made, the chief priests, the rulers, and the people (Luke 23:13) cried out “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” (Luke 23:21). Luke 23:23 tells us that these people were insistent that Jesus be crucified, so that their voices prevailed.
The apostles also place the guilt of Jesus’ death upon the Jewish leaders and the Jewish people. In Peter’s sermon recorded in Acts 2:22-23, Peter says, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know–Him, being delivered by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified and put to death;” Peter charges the people of Israel again at the end of his sermon, “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). Now, let us not charge Peter and the apostles with being racists or anti-Semites because they were Jews themselves. They were Jews who realized that it was their own people who had condemned and called for the crucifixion of Jesus.
This charge is laid at the feet of the Jewish people by Peter again in Acts 3:14-17. Peter is preaching to the multitudes that have gathered at Solomon’s porch in the temple complex. Peter says, “But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses” (Acts 3:14-15). Peter also makes this same charge to the Sanhedrin, the Jewish leaders in Acts 5:30, “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree.” Clearly the scriptures place blame upon the Jewish leaders and Jewish people who participated in the plot, arrest, and demanding the crucifixion of Jesus.
B. Evidence against the Jews crucifying Jesus
However, we cannot simply end the lesson here, pointing the finger at the Jewish leaders and people who participating in this plot. The burden of guilt, while resting upon them, does not rest upon them alone.
When the chief priests and Jewish leaders are before Pilate asking him to put Jesus on Roman trial and execute him, Pilate tells the Jewish leaders, “Take Him yourselves and judge Him according to your own law.” The Jewish leaders responded, “It is not legal for us to put anyone to death” (John 18:31). Pilate does not respond that this is untrue. Under the Roman empire, people were not to be executed without standing trial under Roman law.
The Jews did not have the power to try and kill Jesus themselves. To do so would have violated Roman law. Therefore, after the Jewish trial, the leaders take Jesus to Pilate for execution because they could not put Jesus to death themselves. There is more guilt to be passed around for the death of Jesus.
II. Suspect #2: Pilate, Governor of Judea
A. Evidence for Pilate killing Jesus
While the Jews arrested Jesus and pronounced Him guilty, they could not crucify Jesus themselves. They had to rely upon the Romans to uphold their Jewish laws. Jesus is turned over to Pilate for questioning to determine if Jesus is worthy of death. Pilate is the governor of the region of Judea, placed in his position by Caesar. He had the power to kill Jesus that the Jews did not have. “So Pilate said to Him, ‘You are not talking to me? Do You not know that I have the authority to release You and the authority to crucify You?'” (John 19:10).
After talking with Jesus, we see Pilate repeatedly try to release Jesus (John 18:39; 19:4; 19:6; 19:12). However, the Jews were in a mob like frenzy to such a point that Pilate feared a releasing of Jesus would cause a greater uproar in Jerusalem. We must remember that Pilate was in Jerusalem to keep the peace during the Passover feast. It was Pilate’s job to make sure everything went smoothly and that there were no problems. To allow bloodshed to take place in the very presence of Pilate would have brought about severe reprimands from Caesar, removal from office, and perhaps even death.
Therefore, the scriptures record, “Pilate said to them, ‘Should I crucify your king?’ ‘We have no king but Caesar!’ the chief priests answered. So then, because of them, he handed Him over to be crucified” (John 19:15-16). Pilate is the one who consents with the crowds to hand Jesus over to be crucified.
B. Evidence against Pilate alone killing Jesus
Though it required Pilate to crucify Jesus, the Jews are still given blame, according to the scriptures. “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go” (Acts 3:13).
But even with the finger pointed at the Jewish leaders, people, and Pilate for killing Jesus, there is still a problem in our consideration. Jesus said that no one could kill Him against His own will. Jesus said that anything that happened to Him was only because He allowed those things to happen.
Turn to John 10:14-18. Notice Jesus’ words specifically in verses 17-18, “This is why the Father loves Me, because I am laying down My life so I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down on My own. I have the right to lay it down, and I have the right to take it up again. I have received this command from My Father.” Jesus clearly stated that no one would take His life from Him. Jesus would lay down His own life by His own will. Jesus would lay down His life and He would take it up again. We see this point proven in Luke 4:28-30 where the people were going to kill Jesus by throwing Him off a cliff. But Jesus was able to pass through them so that they could not kill Him.
Therefore, Jesus had to comply with the wishes of Pilate, the Jewish leaders, and Jewish people. Jesus had to allow everything that took place happen to Him. Jesus allowed His betrayal, telling Judas to do what he is about to do quickly (John 13:27). Jesus allowed His arrest, telling Peter to put away his sword when the multitudes came to take Him (John 18:11). Jesus allowed every event take place, fulfilling the words of the prophets given by God (Acts 3:18).
III. Jesus Laid Down His Life
A. For our sins
We would be wise to ask the question: why would Jesus allow these events to take place? If Jesus was in control of His life and no one could take it from Him unless He allowed it to happen, why did Jesus die? Why did He allow the Jewish leader to arrest Him, try Him, and turn Him over to Pilate? Why did He allow Pilate to give the execution order? Why did He hang on the cross?
The scriptures are very clear in their answer. “For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures…” (1 Corinthians 15:3). “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Galatians 1:3-4). “who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3). “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit…” (1 Peter 3:18). This is what Isaiah prophesied, “We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the Lord has punished Him for the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).
Jesus willfully gave up His life for our sins. We may protest that we were not there when Jesus was killed. It is the Jews that were the ones who handed Jesus over to Pilate. It was Pilate who gave the order for the execution. You are right–you and I were not there. But if you and I had not sinned, He would have never needed to be there in the first place. If you and I had not sinned, then Jesus would not have needed to leave the glories of heaven, take on the form of a man, experience suffering on our behalf and die. These events would have never unfolded if you and I had kept the covenant with God and been obedient to His ways.
The guilt of Jesus rests upon each of us. The apostles did not change their message when they preached to the Gentiles throughout the world. The apostles did not stop telling them about the crucifixion of Jesus. The whole world is guilty of this abominable act because every person in this world has violated God’s law and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23).
Hear the words of Isaiah again, “But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds” (Isaiah 53:5). “For He was cut off from the land of the living; He was struck because of My people’s rebellion” (Isaiah 53:8). We must see the guilt that we bear. We must see that the blood in our hands also that we cannot wash off. We are guilty because it is our rebellion that brought this all about.
The debates may rage on in the discussions groups and news channels about who killed Jesus. Some want to say that a person is mean-spirited and being ugly to say that the Jewish leaders and Jewish people killed Jesus. But we cannot change history nor change the scriptures. Some may say that a person is trying to make Pilate the scapegoat for all that happened. Yet Pilate had the power to release Jesus and refused, instead ordering the sentence of death. But that which is not being talked about on television or on the radio is the fact that this extreme suffering and cruel crucifixion of Jesus would never have been necessary if you and I had not sinned against God. If we had not violated God’s commands, the discussion would have never come up, there would have never been a movie, and there would not be fiery debates. Jesus did all of this for you.
Even more amazing is that this was all planned before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20). Before the creation account that we read in Genesis 1, God had already determined that the perfect Lamb of God would be sacrificed to take away the sins of the people He had created. Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be taken advantage of, rather humbled Himself by volunteering to die for us. The Father would have to kill His Son to reconcile His creation. No greater love could have been shown by God.
B. What will you do with Jesus?
Will we go on living the way we have in the past? Will we believe that God does not care what we do in our lives? The scriptures never tell us that being a good person is all that is needed to be saved from the sins we have committed against God. The wrath of God stands against us until we have the blood of Jesus applied to our lives. God was very clear to tell us what we must do to be saved: “This is how we know that we love God’s children when we love God and obey His commands. For this is what love for God is to keep His commands. Now His commands are not a burden because whatever has been born of God conquers the world. This is the victory that has conquered the world: our faith” (1 John 5:2-4).
If we truly love God, we will obey His commands. When the people heard Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 that they had crucified the Son of God, they were cut to the heart. Their hearts were pierced knowing that they had killed Jesus. They asked a question: what should we do (Acts 2:37)? Peter told them, “Repent and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). In verse 41 of Acts 2 we see that 3000 souls were forgiven of their sins and added to the Lord when they were baptized.
Are you cut to the heart knowing that because of what you have done Jesus had to die? Are you upset that you required the innocent Son of God to suffer scourging, have nails driven into His hands and feet, and die on the cross? I hope you are asking within your hearts the same question that the people who heard Peter asked: what must we do? Knowing that we too have killed Jesus, what must we do? The answer is the same: it is time to change our lives. God has said that if we love Him we will keep His commands. We no longer can live for ourselves and continue obeying our selfish desires. Repenting means that we will now purpose to turn our lives to God. We will not continue violating God’s law. The first step in obeying God’s law is to be baptized. Peter said that this is when our sins our forgiven. When we are baptized, we are united with Christ, our sins are purged, and we are called His children (Romans 6:1-10).