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Who killed Jesus?

Who killed Jesus?

Words of Faith 2-19-19

Dr. Jeffrey D. Hoy © 2019

Faith Fellowship Church - Melbourne, FL

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Luke 23

    [44] It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, [45] for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. [46] Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last.


         So who killed Jesus of Nazareth?  Who was really responsible? As we read the texts, we have quite a convoluted trial that has several phases and jurisdictions.  Jesus was mocked and beaten by Temple guards, rushed before a thrown together meeting of the Sanhedrin, sent to and then Herod and then back to Pilate before He was finally condemned to death.

       As we read Luke's account of the trial, we get the clear idea that while any number of people or groups may have wanted Jesus dead, none were eager to take responsibility. We also see that some who have been traditionally blamed for the crime against the Godhead may not have been so guilty.

        So who was responsible for the death of Jesus?  There are several possibilities.

        1) THE JEWISH PEOPLE.  This is has been the conclusion of many since the fourth century onward.  This was an easy solution to the crime, to call the Jewish people "Christ-killers."  This would, therefore, justify almost any persecution of Jewish communities imaginable.  But there are several problems with this idea.

  1. The Jews were not at all united.  Even if religious leaders could speak on behalf of the people, there is no way to logically come to the conclusion that the Jewish people as a whole were responsible for the death of Jesus.  Saying that the Jews were united in seeking and causing the death of Jesus would be like saying that the Christians were united in causing a bombing in Ireland.  It is just preposterous to assume that such a diverse group of people-- made up of Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots, Essenes, Babylonian Rabbinical teachers, Judean Rabbinical Teachers, Sicarii, etc. etc. were somehow united in a plot against Jesus. 
  2. Jews may have rejected Jesus-- but ONLY Jews received Him.  In fact, ALL the people who first followed Jesus were Jews.  All the early church converts for some time were Jewish. Some have embraced a "Replacement Theology" which says that the Gentiles have replaced the Jews as the chosen people because of their rejection of Christ.  If this is true, it must have been a decision that occurred many decades after Jewish believers had faithfully established the early church, carried the Gospel to the Gentiles and written most of the New Testament.
  3. Numerous Jews showed great pain at the death of Jesus.  A large number of people followed Jesus to the cross mourning and wailing (Lk. 23:27).   Yes, some mocked him, but others beat their breasts in grief (Lk. 23:48).   Even though the crowds chose Barabbas, we have no way of understanding how those crowds may have been manipulated.  Don't miss the fact that even leaders from the Sanhedrin Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus attended to the body of Jesus.

        No.  The idea of blaming the Jewish people as "Christ Killers” is, in fact, an anti-semitic slander and malice that came later.  It is an idea that reads only certain texts to feed bigoted hate veiled in religious language.  There is very little that is more heinous and dangerous than prejudice cloaked in religious language.

        2) The JEWISH LEADERS.  Then what about just the Jewish leaders?   Can we blame them?  Surely they played a large role.  They spied and gathered evidence.  They arranged the betrayal and the arrest of Jesus. But there has been debate over the years as to whether the Sanhedrin was even properly called together in the night or whether a quorum existed.  Technically only 23 of the 71 members of the Sanhedrin had to officially render a verdict.

       There also is an unusual provision in Jewish law that to convict a person of a capital crime, their verdict must NOT be unanimous.  This was to ensure that a proper defense had been provided.  But we do not even hear of a vote! We assume unanimity, but it may well be that this was simply a group of indignant Jewish leaders who gathered in the chamber of the Sanhedrin.  There may not have been an official meeting of the Sanhedrin at all.  Even if the Jewish leaders were responsible for delivering Jesus to the Romans on False Charges, it still was a final decision that was beyond them.

        3) PILATE.  Though Pilate tried to avoid responsibility, he ultimately made the decision and pronounced the sentence.  Of anyone we read about, the one who called the shots and made the decisions about Jesus was Pontius Pilate.  This is why all the earliest creeds included the phrase: Suffered under Pontius Pilate.  We often mistakenly ascribe a benevolent character in Pilate, but history tells us he was nothing more than a political thug who had no kindness and nothing but self-interest at heart.  Pilate was more likely covering his political backside because of the popularity of Jesus.  The one thing he did not want to do was incite the people during the Feast.

        4) HEROD. What about Herod?  He refused to find anything wrong with Jesus, but he also does not set Jesus free.  Instead, he became a friend to Pilate.  He was in collusion with Pilate but shirked responsibility.   Herod also did not want to incite a riot that he would have to answer for.  He was guilty at least by his indifference, but never actually made the decision.  He was also guilty by his childish curiosity and desire to see a miracle-- and his refusal to protect Jesus just because there was no magic trick. 

        If anyone had the opportunity to prevent the crucifixion, it would have been Herod who had jurisdiction over a Galilean.  If Jesus had done just one miracle before Herod, he likely would have put him in jail for a while as he did John the Baptizer.  Perhaps this is another reason why Jesus would not even talk to Herod.  Jesus was not there to talk his way out of this situation.

        5) The US.  Who else is there?  There is a popular thought that you and I killed Jesus.  Our sin killed him.  Our sin nailed him to the tree.  This one will preach.  If we can state it with enough gusto we might have some tearful conversions out of the guilt this induces.  When we come to the horrible conclusion that "I killed Jesus" we reach the height of spiritual sentiment. While this is in some sense true-- we are still missing the real point.  How could we make a decision that only God could have made?

       6) GOD KILLED JESUS.  Hang on.  Of course, this sounds harsh.  Said another way, LOVE killed Jesus.  It is one of the most difficult things for us to understand when we first confront it, but fundamentally, the Gospel tells us that the love of God killed Jesus. The love of God GAVE his only son-- nobody took Jesus from God. 

          We have this very image in the story of Abraham and Isaac.  God tested Abraham by telling him to offer his son Isaac.  It was an image given to us two thousand years in advance, perhaps just so that we might understand.   It happened on the very mountain where the Temple would be built for sacrifice.  The image is that Abraham actually holds the knife.  He actually raises the knife before he is stopped. 

         In the Passion of Christ, God holds the knife.  Jesus seems to be aware of this.  He never seems to doubt the fact that God His Father has everything in control.  Jesus knew from the transfiguration on that God was in control. 

        In the Passover, who killed the lamb?  The head of the family.  The Father chose the unblemished lamb.  The Father brought the lamb into the house for 14 days.  The Father held the knife.  In the case of Jesus, the tool may have been the Roman government.  The instrument may have been a Roman cross.  But nothing was ever out of the hand of God. 

         Peter and John eventually came to this conclusion in Acts 4:23-31--  On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.  When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. "Sovereign Lord," they said, "you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.  You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: " 'Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?  The kings of the earth take their stand, and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.'  Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.  THEY DID WHAT YOUR POWER AND WILL HAD DECIDED BEFOREHAND SHOULD HAPPEN.  Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.  Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus."  After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

        The final VERDICT?  According to John and Peter "They did what God's power and will had decided beforehand should happen." The political powers, religious authorities and raging crowds could not take from Jesus one breath of life-- nor one hair of His head.  It was for LOVE that Jesus willingly laid down His life.  It was for LOVE that the Holy Spirit surrendered the Christ to us. It was for LOVE that the Sovereign Lord God Almighty surrendered God the Son, the Christ of God to become the Lamb of God.

         A great crime in history has been to attempt to place blame for something that God intended and willingly did.  When we do so, we miss the gift.  We miss the love.  We miss the grace. 


          Father God, may we not miss the wonder of Your love and grace.  May we not miss the great sacrifice that You made for us.  May we not squander the great treasure that You have entrusted to us. In Jesus' name.