Who Killed Jesus?   
Copyright 2004 by William Meisheid 02-19-04

The question of who is culpable in the death of Jesus has been at the forefront of worldwide commentary due to the release on February 25th of Mel Gibson's controversial movie, The Passion of the Christ, that depicts the final culminating period of Jesus' life on earth. Some critics, especially Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, have strenuously objected saying the movie fosters "the old medieval classical interpretation of deicide, which blames the Jews, and it will be seen by millions of viewers."

Let's examine the facts. The only accounts of Jesus' trial and crucifixion occur in the four Gospel, though several other places in the New Testament comment on the events, such as in Peter's public sermon in Acts 2:36 and his defense before the Sanhedrin in Acts 4:10.

It is very clear from the Gospels that Jesus was condemned first by the Jewish Sanhedrin, after the Jewish chief priests had sought for some time for a way to kill him. Pilate enters the picture because the only method available to the Sanhedrin, stoning, such as they later did with the Deacon Stephen, would have backfired on them and possibly ended in their own stoning. So, the appeal to their overlords to do away with their problem.

From the beginning and throughout the events it is obvious that Pilate wants nothing to do with Jesus, even trying to faun him off on Herod without success. His scourging of Jesus appears as attempt to assuage those clamoring for his death, but without success. The telling passage from Luke 23:13-20 says, "13Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, 14and said to them, "You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. 15Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16Therefore, I will punish him and then release him." 18With one voice they cried out, "Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!" 19(Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.) 20Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. 21But they kept shouting, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" Pilate only gives in to avoid a riot, even washing his hands of "this innocent man's blood", but still he crucifies him.

So, legally the Jewish Sanhedrin that condemned him, the chief priest and rulers, and the people assembled who shouted for his crucifixion are all guilty, as is Pilate and, through him and the soldiers that did what he commanded, is Rome. This is emphasized later by Peter in Acts when both in preaching his public sermon in Acts 2 and defending himself before the Sanhedrin in Acts 4, he tells both groups that they crucified Jesus, laying the blame at both the feet of the general population of Jerusalem and the leadership. Of this charge there can be no doubt.

But before we seek to exact judgment against them we must remember two things. Jesus told his disciples that he had chosen his crucifixion and takes responsibility himself for what happens. In John 10:17-18 Jesus says, "The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life--only to 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 authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father." Jesus accepts responsibility for his own death.

Secondly, we all are guilty of his crucifixion. Prophetically, Isaiah stated in 53:5 "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed." Throughout the scriptures, especially in the New Testament, the cause of the death of the Messiah is shown to be the sin all mankind, "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23 and "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we [all we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior] might become the righteousness of God." 2 Cor 5:21.

So, while the Jewish leadership and the Jewish people of his day, along with the complicity of the Romans, were the agents of his death, we are all the cause. However, that all occurred almost two thousand years ago. To in any way suggest that any living Jew is in any way responsible for the death of Jesus is both unfair and illegal. God himself said in Ezekiel 18:20 "The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him." Within a generation of Jesus' crucifixion Jerusalem was destroyed, the Temple obliterated, and the population scattered.

We are now brought to an interesting legal situation. The whole argument behind the reparations movement is that there is no statute of limitations for heinous crimes and that the inheritors of those who are guilty, must pay the debt of their ancestors, no matter how tenuous the connection. So on one hand we have the Jews, who beyond the generation of those who crucified Jesus we can argue have no culpability brought back into at least social culpability by the arguments of those seeking reparations for black American slaves. You cannot have it both ways. I argue that neither the reparations argument, nor the Jewish complicity argument have any merit. Both debts have long since been paid and God, who is the undergirding of all just law has declared all decedents innocent.

So what now? What is needed is for Abraham Foxman to admit the obvious, that the Jews and Jewish nation of Jesus' time were guilty of being the primary agent of his crucifixion, but then to argue that any debt for that action has long since been paid and all Jewish people today are innocent of any culpability. That would be right and true.