Please comment on just who was responsible for Christ’s death. Were the Jews entirely accountable?
The idea that one group of people (the Jews) killed Jesus is an unfortunate and evil myth, and it has brought untold and unjustified persecution and suffering to the Jewish people. Indeed, Jewish leaders had a part in Jesus’ death, but at least five parties, or participants, put Jesus on the cross. Let’s look at them.
First, we observe the Jews as participants in Jesus’ death. We don’t deny that the Jews had a part; what we resist is the idea that they were the only ones. In the close of his bold message to the Jews in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost (the birth of the New Testament church) Peter declared, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Smitten with conviction, those hearers responded to Peter’s call to repent. They realized the truth of what Peter had said about Christ’s death.
The Gospels leave no question that the Jews played an important part in Jesus’ unfair trials and subsequent death on the cross. Luke 19:47 depicts the intense wrath of the Jewish leaders: “And he taught daily in the temple. But the chief priests and the scribes and the chief of the people sought to destroy him.” Mark 14:1, 10 and 11 read,
After two days was the feast of the Passover, and of unleavened bread, and the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take him by craft, and put him to death. And Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went unto the chief priests, to betray him unto them. And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money. And he sought how he might conveniently betray him.
While it is wrong to bring harm to God’s chosen people (and God will deal with the person or society who does), the Jews and their troubles have perhaps been a reality because of their involvement in Christ’s death. When confronted with the wrongness of Christ’s trials, their frenzied response was, “His blood be on us, and on our children” (Matt. 27:25). They couldn’t have understood the seriousness of that terrible statement.
The Gentiles are the next group of people responsible for Christ’s death. Pontius Pilate, Roman procurator of Judaea, represented the Gentiles and their part in Jesus’ death. Notice Matthew 27:26: “Then released he [Pilate] Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.”
Through the centuries writers and artists have pictured Pilate washing his hands of the affair, thus showing his compromise and lack of character. Furthermore, the Roman soldiers mocked Jesus, drove spikes into His body and thrust a spear into His side, thus carrying out His death. They, too, represented the Gentile responsibility for the event. The Roman government did all these things contrary to their laws and contrary to the fact that their leader Pilate had found no fault in Jesus.
The third participant in Christ’s death was none other than Satan. Luke 22:3 tells us that Satan entered into Judas, inspiring the disciple to go through with his wicked plans to betray Jesus into the hands of His enemies. In Luke 22:53 we find Jesus referring to the powers of darkness at work as He was taken in the Garden. Paul wrote,
Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us; and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it (Col. 2.14, 15).
The principalities and powers mentioned in this passage show us that the forces of Satan were at work during Christ’s death on the cross, but the Lord conquered those evil forces.
The fourth party responsible for Christ’s death was God! Bible scholars have noted that in one sense the Lord Jesus was responsible for His own death. He chose to suffer, die and rise from the dead. This truth we see clearly when we believe that all the collective efforts of the Jews and Gentiles to put Jesus to death would have been futile if God hadn’t allowed it. Jesus told Pilate, “Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above” (John 19:11). Earlier Jesus had stated, “No man taketh it [my life] from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (John 10:18). When Judas betrayed Jesus and Peter cut off the ear of the servant, Jesus responded, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” (Matt. 26:53, 54).
Finally, and most importantly, we must note that we as sinners were individually responsible for Christ’s death. Romans 5:8 states, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” In 1 Peter 2:24 and 3:18 we read,
Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. . . . For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.
In the light of these and numerous other passages in Scripture, how dare we point our finger at any particular group when we ourselves—fallen, depraved sinners—put Jesus Christ on the cross so that He could pay for our sins and we could have eternal life by believing on Him as our Savior, the only way to Heaven.
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