Were the Jews responsible for killing Jesus?

This can be an explosive question due to the history of persecution against the Jews for being "Christ Killers".  The Pope raised a lot of eyebrows for pardoning the Jews for killing Christ.  Of course, the Pope doesn’t speak for the entire Christian world, but he attracted a lot of attention when in his book “Jesus of Nazareth Part II,” Pope Benedict XVI exonerated the Jews for the death of Jesus Christ. The Second Vatican Council forgave the Jews for killing Jesus in 1965, but this marks the first time that a Pope has personally done so.

Are the Jews guilty of killing Jesus?

There were actually many people responsible for putting Jesus to death, including some of the Jews of Jesus’ day.  The Jews who were responsible for taking Jesus to the Roman government were the current leaders of the nation of Israel.  The Roman Governor Pilate had his own guilt for permitting an execution of an innocent man.  The Roman soldiers carried out orders in their most cruel and mocking fashion.

Of course the early believers in Christ (not yet called Christians) included faithful Jews like Simeon, Anna, Mary Magdalene, John the Baptist, Martha, and Lazarus.  There was tension in the early church between the believers who preferred to keep Jewish law and those who saw that Christ fulfilled the law.  Read and study the books of Galatians 1:6-24; 2 Corinthians 3:14-16 and Hebrews 13:10-13 to see this difference.  But there is no call in the Bible to blame the Jewish nation for Christ’s death.  The most powerful example what a Christian attitude should be can be found in the words of Christ Himself “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).

In later centuries, when the Catholic faith became the dominate form of Christianity, the accusation was raised that all Jewish people were responsible for putting Jesus to death which helped fuel anti-Semitic feelings and the horrible persecutions against Jews which have been documented throughout the last 2000 years - the targeted killings of Jews during the Crusades inspired by Pope Urban II, the Spanish Inquisition established in 1480 by Catholic king and queen Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, the Nazi Holocaust lead by Adlof Hitler to mention only three.  For a Jew to become a Christian, it is more than simply a matter of reading the scriptures and seeing that their Messiah has already come.  The killings and torture done by the church against the Jews has made it an issue of “us against them”.

What does the Bible say about who killed Jesus?

It is clear from the Gospel accounts that there were religious leaders who were plotting against Jesus for a long time before he was finally crucified.  The crowds of people were manipulated by their leaders to cry “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” at the trial before Pilate (Luke 23:21).  They chose Barabbas, the murderor-terrorist to be freed in place of Christ (Matthew 27:21). Later in a public speech, the Apostle Peter put the blame for this decision on the people in Acts 2:22-23.

I am guilty of the death of Christ?

However, the Bible also tells us that the crucifixion was part of the plan of God to sacrifice Christ for the punishment of our sins.  Acts 2:23 says the cross was in “the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23).  God turned a wicked act into a noble sacrifice making provision for every guilty man and woman in the world to be saved.  The attitude of Jesus’ death and who is guilty then becomes a personal matter of guilt.  Galatians 2:20 says that “the Son of God loved me and gave himself for me”.  “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

The leaders of the Jews were constantly trying to kill Jesus

Many times in the stories of the Gospels we read that the Saducees and Pharisees were plotting how to kill Jesus.  

Here are some of the examples:

In Mark 3, we read that Jesus made the Phrisees and the Herodians angry for violating the laws of the Sabbath.

Mark 3:3-6  And he said to the man with the withered hand, "Come here."  (4)  And he said to them, "Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?" But they were silent.  (5)  And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.  (6)  The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

The same story is mentioned in Luke 6.

Luke 6:11  But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.

Again in John 8, Jesus incenses the religious leaders by claiming to be eternal, existing before Abraham.

John 8:58-59  Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am."  (59)  So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

John 7 says “the Jews” were trying to kill him.  Sometimes the simple title “the Jews” refers to a part of the Jews – the leadership.

John 7:1  After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him.

Mark 11 tells us that it was not the entire country of Israel that wished to kill Jesus, only the priesthood and the scribes.  The common people were persuaded by Jesus’ teaching.

Mark 11:18  And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.

John 11 gives us a view behind the scenes of the decision-making process that was going on in the counsels of the Jewish leadership.  They were plotting to rid the country of Jesus for political reasons and power.

John 11:47-53  So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, "What are we to do? For this man performs many signs.  (48)  If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation."  (49)  But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing at all.  (50)  Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish."  (51)  He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation,  (52)  and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.  (53)  So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.

Jesus predicted his death, telling us clearly who it would be who was responsible for his crucifixion.

Matthew 16:21  From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

The phrase “they seek to kill” in John 7 tells us that it was not a unanimous decision on the part of the nation, but rather the inspiration for his death came from a small group of powerful men.

John 7:19-25  Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?"  (20)  The crowd answered, "You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?"  (21)  Jesus answered them, "I did one work, and you all marvel at it.  (22)  Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath.  (23)  If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man's whole body well?  (24)  Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment."  (25)  Some of the people of Jerusalem therefore said, "Is not this the man whom they seek to kill?

Again in Matthew 26, the people who are making the plans for Jesus’ death is the group of chief priests and elders.

Matthew 26:1-4  When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples,  (2)  "You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified."  (3)  Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas,  (4)  and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him.


Shad Sluiter