Who killed Jesus?[i] It seems to be an innocuous enough question doesn’t it? And yet it’s one of those questions that have perplexed Christendom for more than two millennia. In today’s socio-political environment to even attempt to answer this question requires one to wade into the treacherous waters of political correctness. We want worry with that today because we’re simple going to open our Bibles and learn that truth behind the killing of Jesus.
The Jews Killed Jesus
Many would answer our question by saying the Jews killed Jesus. Let’s examine the evidence.
A superficial reading of the gospels clearly reveals the tension that existed between Jesus and the religious rulers of His day. Early in His ministry, Jesus’ clashes with the Pharisees prompted them to seek how they might destroy Him (Mark 3:6). This lead them to repeatedly question Jesus, attempting to discredit Him by entangling Him in His own words (Luke 11:54). Finally, after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the Jewish leadership decided that death was the only solution to rid themselves of Jesus once and for all (John 11:47-54, 57).
The Pharisees were so consumed with killing Jesus that they put out word that if anyone saw Him they should inform the authorities at once so He could be arrested (John 11:57). Judas, one of Jesus’ chosen disciples, decided to take the Jewish leaders up on their offer, and for the bounty of thirty pieces of silver He would lead them to Jesus (Matthew 26:14-16). And this he did, leading the chief priest, elders and a band of soldiers to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus was praying (Matthew 26:47-56).
Immediately upon His arrest, the Council (Sanhedrin) was assembled for the purpose of trying Jesus for crimes against the Jewish Law. The trial was a farce. Matthew gives us an insight into the Council’s intentions when He records, “Now the chief priest and the whole Council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death” (Matthew 26:59). Finally Jesus was condemned to death on the bases that He claimed He was the “Son of God” (Matthew 26:63-66).
Following His mock trial before the Council, Jesus was bound and delivered to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate (Matthew 27:2). Pilate listened to the chief priest’s complaint but under his own examination found Jesus to be innocent of any crimes (Luke 23:4). He knew the Jewish leaders wanted Him killed because they were envious of Him (Matthew 27:18). However, Pilate gave into their demands to kill Jesus when the chief priest and elders stirred up the people of the city to demand that Jesus be crucified, shouting to the top of their lungs, “Let Him be crucified, let Him be crucified” (Matthew 27:22-24). Pilate literally washed his hands of the matter to which the people replied, “His blood be on us and on our children!” in essence they were saying let us and our children be responsible for His death (Matthew 27:24-25). And so Jesus was lead away and crucified.
One last piece of evidence to consider is the testimony of Peter. In Acts 2:23, 36 he squarely says that the Jews killed Jesus. And again in Acts 3:13-15 Peter says, “You [Jews] killed the Author of Life [Jesus], whom God raised from the dead.”
So it seems from this evidence that the Jews killed Jesus. But there’s more…
The Romans Killed Jesus
The Romans were involved in the killing of Jesus from the very beginning. When Judas agreed to betray Jesus (remember nobody knew where He was staying except His inner circle of disciples John 11:53-57) he was given the use of a band of Roman soldiers (John 18:3[ii]). It is with this band of soldiers that Judas marched into Gethsemane and had Jesus apprehended. But the involvement of the Romans doesn’t stop there.
As Jesus stood before Pilate, he reminded the Savior that he had the authority to release Jesus and the “authority to crucify” Him (John 19:10). Even though Pilate attempted to avail himself of the blame for killing Jesus, the facts are plain as day; because of the pressure he received from the crowd, it was Pilate, Roman governor, who had Jesus scourged and delivered up to be crucified (Mark 15:15).
From this point forward, it is the Romans who are controlling the situation. It was the Roman band of soldiers that lead Him away. It was the Roman soldiers who mocked Him with the purple clock, the crown of thorns, and the profane salute. It was the Roman soldiers who struck Him on the head and who spit in His face (Mark 15:16-20). It was the same Roman soldiers who paraded Him through the streets of Jerusalem on the way to Golgotha (John 17:16-17; Matthew 27:32). Once they arrived at Golgotha it was the Roman soldiers who affixed Jesus to the cross and set watch over Him there (Matthew 27:35-36).
One last piece of evidence to consider in determining if the Romans killed Jesus is the disciples prayer for boldness in Acts 4:24-30. In verse 27 they make Herod, Pilate and the Gentiles willing accomplices of the Jews in the killing of Jesus.
So it seems from this evidence that the Romans killed Jesus. But there’s some more…
We Killed Jesus
We have seen evidence that would seem to point us to believe that the Jews and the Romans were solely responsible for the killing of Jesus. But there’s one more group that we must consider before we make our final decision, and that’s us. Is there evidence that we killed Jesus? Let’s consider a few passages.
The prophet Isaiah, in his great passage that depicts the suffering Savior said:
“Surely He has borne our grief and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5)
Isaiah says that Jesus carried our grief and our sorrows. That He was wounded for our transgressions and iniquities. Only through His stripes are we healed.
The apostle Peter echoes this same theme when he said, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sins and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24) Couple this with Paul’s words in Romans 3:23, 6:23, “for all have sinned,” and “the wages of sin death.” With these verses as a backdrop to the killing of Jesus, a picture begins to form that we are responsible for Jesus’ death – that we should be lumped in with the Jews and Romans as being guilty parties to His death.
We express this sentiments in the song, “I’m the One.[iii]”
I was not in the garden when He knelt to God and prayed,
I did not kiss Him on the cheek when Jesus was betrayed;
I was not at the trial when the crowd jeered at His name,
I did not make Him bear a cross or walk a road of shame;
I was not on the hillside when He gave His life that day,
I did not nail His precious hands or take His robe away;
I could not do a single thing to hurt God’s only Son,
But every time I sin on earth I feel that I’m the one.
I’m the one who shouted ‘crucify,’
I’m the one who made that cross so high,
I’m the one who stood and watched him die,
What have I done I’m the one.
And so it would seem that we too killed Jesus. The evidence seems to support it, we even sing about it. But may I suggest one more thing?
As we have sought to answer the question, “Who killed Jesus?” We have considered that it was the Jews, the Romans, and that we too are responsible for the killing of Jesus. May I suggest to you that all those answers are wrong? It seems somewhat absurd to me, and I suspect to you as well, that the all powerful God of the universe would allow Himself to be killed. That being the case then maybe we should look at our evidence again.
First, we said the Jews killed Jesus but from John 18:31 we know that the Jews did not have the power to put anyone to death. Then we said the Romans killed Jesus but Jesus Himself told Pilate that ultimately he didn’t have any power over Jesus (John 19:11). Finally, we said we killed Jesus because of our sins. Sometimes we can be so self-centered and arrogant without even knowing. There was nothing about our sins that forced Jesus to go to the cross. He didn’t owe it to us. He wasn’t obligated to die for us. And so it is that these three answers fall short woefully short in helping us sufficiently answer our question, “Who killed Jesus?” So where does that leave us then? I would submit to you that it only leaves us with one answer, with one solution. Jesus freely laid down His life for us.
Jesus Freely Laid Down His Life For Us
While it may have been the Jews who arrested Him; while it may have been the Romans that nailed Him to the cross; while it may have been our sins that put Him there, Jesus’ life was not taken from Him; instead He freely laid down His life for all of humanity because He loves us. That’s the force behind the words of Jesus in John 10:17-18:
“For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from My Father.”
No one took Jesus life, no one forcibly killed Jesus; He freely laid His life down for us. At any moment while He was on the cross Jesus could have called 12 legions of angels to come and fight for Him (Matthew 26:53). Do you realize that’s 72,000 angels? Jesus could have called 72,000 angels and they would have taken Him off the cross and fight for Him, no one took Jesus life by force, He freely gave His life for us. And while He hung there on the cross the text says, “When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished,’ and He bowed His head and gave up His spirit” (John 19:30). He was in control of His life until the end when He freely gave up His spirit.
Why did He lay down His life? Because He loves us. That’s the theme of John 3:16 is it not? “For God so loved the world, that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Paul repeats that same theme in Romans 5:6, 8 where he says, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. But God shows His love for us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us.” I guess the old saying then is true, “It wasn’t the nails that held Him to the cross… it was His love.”
What did we see? Jesus’ life wasn’t taken from Him. While the Jews, the Romans, and we had a part to play in His killing it was all part of God’s eternal plan and purpose so that those who would believe on Him would be saved. The saddest part of it all is that for too many Jesus’ death will be in vain. They’re not willing to love Him like He loved us. They’re not willing to dedicate their lives to serving Him. Is that you? Are you going to let your Savior die in vain for you? Or would you look up at the cross and see His great love for you and allow it to move your heart to die with Him in baptism (Romans 6:1-11) so that God can raise you up to walk a new life, just like He did for Jesus? I beg you, by the mercies of God, obey Him today.
If there’s any way I can help you please don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. God bless.
[i] This lesson is adapted from “Who Killed Jesus: The Shocking Truth!” By Edwin Crozier. http://franklinchurchofchrist.com/?page_id=434
[ii] The Greek word translated “band of men” (KJV, ESV), “detachment of soldiers” (NKJV) and “Roman cohort” (NASB) is G4686 which means “a military cohort, or a band, company or detachment of soldiers.” A close examination of G4686’s usage in the New Testament reveals that Judas was given a Roman detachment. G4686 occurs in Matthew 27:27; Mark 15:16; John 18:3, 18:12; Acts 10:1, 21:31, 27:1. In all these passages Roman soldiers are under consideration.
[iii] I’m the One. Written by Roy Overholt. Copyright 1963 by Singspiration, Inc. From Hymns for Worship (Revised)