Who Killed Jesus Christ?

The ancient condemnation of the Jews has recently exploded into an inferno of hatred by political factions on the extreme right and extreme left and by Christians and Muslims in America and throughout Europe. According to Associated Press, more Jews were killed in anti-Semitic violence around the world in 2018 than in many decades. France saw a 74% increase in violent attacks against Jews by Muslims, Great Britain recorded the highest amount of Muslim-led attacks in their country and in Germany, the government has advised that Jewish men stop wearing the kippot (cap) and hide their Jewish identity. Thousands of European Jews have fled to Israel for safety and anti-Semitism has progressed to where the very continuation of Jewish life in Europe is being questioned. 

In America, attacks on Muslims make front page news, but according to FBI Crime Statistics, 60% of religious hate crimes in 2017 targeted Jews while 17% targeted Muslims. White supremacists terrorized Charlottesville,VA with anti-Semitic Nazi chants and their websites are filled with hateful rhetoric. Anti-Jewish hate used to be nearly exclusive to far-right nationalists but today, anti-Semitism is driven by progressive liberals. The liberal progressive Women's March was connected with anti-Semitic Louis Farrakhan who preaches "death to the Jews" and Women's March leaders excluded Jewish women from participating. On liberal college campuses, Jewish students who support Israel have been driven off the campus after being harassed and physically assaulted. House democrats were divided in how to respond to the anti-Semitic comments from two of their liberal Muslim representatives and refused to single them out to condemn their remarks. Just a few months ago, the New York Times published hateful anti-Semitic cartoons. The anti-Semitic hate in America flows from the far right, far left, Muslims and Christians. As a Los Angeles rabbi put it, "Those on the left think we are white supremacists and the white supremacists beat us up because we are Jews." Our Nation's synagogues are now the only places of worship in our Country that are surrounded with iron security fencing and need armed guards stationed at the doors during the services. 

Not being an anti-Israel liberal, a white supremacist or a Muslim, I can't explain the specific political and religious nuances of their hate, but I can address the underlying cause of anti-Semitism that goes back thousands of years. That's because today's hatred of the Jews was actually started by our church. Whether you are Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant, some of what you will read may (in fact, should) be upsetting as we explore and reveal the anti-Semitism in our own Christian history. Hatred of the Jews stems from the accusation that they killed Jesus Christ but did they really? Let's return to the scene of the crime and examine the evidence..
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During Passover services at the Chabad of Poway, a teenager walked in and began to shoot the  “Christ-killers.” He killed a woman and wounded three people in the synagogue. He was yelling anti-Semitic slurs and when the rabbi tried to talk with him, he shot the rabbi. The teenager was an honor student and a regular attender with his family at an Orthodox Presbyterian Church. What went wrong? His family said, “To our great shame, he is now part of the history of evil that has been perpetrated on Jewish people for centuries.” The teenager’s pastor admitted that, “We can’t pretend as though we didn’t have some responsibility for him — he was radicalized into white nationalism from within the very midst of our church.” 

Without a doubt, there has been many tears and much soul searching in the teenager’s family and in his church family. But we can’t cast blame on the Orthodox Presbyterian Church any more than we can cast blame on the ELCA Lutheran church that Dylan Roof had grown up in and attended before killing nine Black worshipers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Two white supremacists. One from a conservative, Bible-believing church and one from our Nation’s most liberal and inclusive church. Two very young church-going men. Both fueled by a hate that is contrary to everything ever preached by Jesus but is a hate in existence from the dawn of time – read about Cain and Abel.

"The Line dividing Good and Evil Cuts
Through the Heart of every Human Being."
Aleksander Solzhenitsyn

The teenage shooter at the Chabad synagogue sincerely believed that all Jews were “Christ killers.” This is a racist accusation promulgated by white supremacists but they certainly didn’t think it up on their own. As early as 167 AD, a tract was circulating among the churches that charged the Jews with killing their own Messiah, and by doing so, they had murdered God Himself. Since that time, this  theology that Jews were the “Christ killers” has been used to justify the Holocaust and much of the anti-Semitism we see and hear today. 

The father of our Protestant faith Martin Luther, in 1543, wrote his anti-Semitic rant that was published as “The Jews and Their Lies.” It was hate-filled vitriol calling for burning down the homes of all Jews and their synagogues. He ordered all copies of the Talmud and all Jewish prayer books to be destroyed. Luther called for a complete ethnic cleansing in Germany and wrote that divine wrath and eternal damnation will be incurred unless the Jews are slain. It should be no surprise that many years later, the Nazis quoted Martin Luther in compiling the written Nazi ideology that led to the Holocaust. We who are Protestant have this horrible, shameful anti-Semitism in our church history and while it seems to fade away for awhile, it doesn’t take much for those smoldering embers of hate to flair back up again. “Jews are the Christ killers” is still being preached today from pulpits and it was only just recently that the ELCA Lutheran church adopted a resolution urging, but not requiring, their pastors to stop placing the blame on present-day Jews for the death of Jesus. 

How about us Catholics? Before we point that gnarled finger of blame towards the Protestants, we who are Catholic have the same evil in our own past. The Catholic Church has a long shameful history of anti-Jewish rhetoric and behavior. Many of the early Church fathers (Justin Martyr, Origen and John Chrysostom among others) hated the Jews and embedded this hatred in the foundation of the Church. (Remember that Martin Luther was an ordained Catholic priest.) 

During the second world war, many European Catholics heard the same anti-Semitism from the pulpit as they did over the radio from the Nazis and were then complacent, or active, in their support of the Nazi agenda. Pope Pius XII was the wartime pope who has been criticized for maintaining church silence about Nazism and the genocide of the Jews. This silence by the Pope, despite repeated Allied requests to speak out against the atrocities, was seen throughout Europe as the Church’s unspoken support for the Holocaust. There is evidence that some in the Church helped Nazi victims escape torture and death. 

But there is also irrefutable evidence that Catholic cardinals and other clergy, with Vatican support, provided sanctuary to Adolf Eichmann and helped other Nazi war criminals escape capture by providing safe passage to Latin America countries. The war records providing full details remain hidden in the Vatican vaults, but the Holy See did provide to historians eleven volumes of archival material which gave the damning accounts of Pope Pius XII and the Church’s involvement in the war. For the healing of the Church and of the Jews, the Vatican must give a more complete accounting of its wartime actions and admit the Church’s persecution of the Jews. Instead, Pope Francis is considering canonizing Pius XII as a Saint as a way to make holy the unholy deeds of this wartime pope. Not all Catholic cardinals and clergy have remained silent...
“I acknowledge that we Catholics – by preaching a doctrine that the Jewish people were unfaithful, hypocritical and God-killers – reduced the human dignity of our Jewish brothers and sisters and created attitudes that made reprisals against them seem like acts of conformity to God’s will. By doing so, I confess that we Catholics contributed to the attitudes that made the Holocaust possible” Archbishop Rembert Weakland in November 1999 to the Congregation Shalom, Fox Point, Wisconsin. 
It doesn’t matter which branch of Christianity we worship in, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Both Catholics and Protestants have preached anti-Semitism at one time or another. Sadly, many priests and ministers still do. Lord God, bring those who preach heresy and hate into the light of Your presence and may the truth of Your Word bring them to their knees in repentance. 

Here’s the one thing for us to really get: labeling Jews as the “Christ killers” can only be preached if there is a foundational misunderstanding of New Testament scriptures and yes I’m 100% positive about that. Yes we do read in Matthew that when Pilate asked the chief priests and elders what he should do with “Jesus who is called Christ,” the Jewish leaders said to him, “Let Him be crucified.” Matthew 27:20-22 Okay, but then doesn’t that clearly mean that the Jews killed Jesus? No.

A friend recently asked me if it really was Pontius Pilate who killed Jesus. She quoted from the Nicene Creed that He “was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.” That does sound like Pilate was the executioner until we look at this a little more closely. The religious leaders had no authority to execute a person, but the Roman governor did, and that was why they needed to make their case before Pilate to have Jesus crucified. 

The Nicene Creed states not that Jesus was crucified “by” Pontius Pilate but “under” (the authority of) Pontius Pilate and it’s interesting to consider that Pilate could have saved Jesus if he wanted to. And in fact, the scriptures clearly tell us that’s exactly what he wanted to do. After personally interrogating Jesus, Pilate told the chief priests (Sanhedrin) that Jesus was innocent of what they had charged Him with and he intended to release Him. Luke 23:4; Luke 23:13-16 Pilate was a wise man and knew that the only reason the Jewish religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus was because of their petty jealously. Matthew 27:18 Faced with an angry crowd of Temple priests shouting for the crucifixion of a Man he knew to be innocent, it got worse for the Roman governor. Pilate’s better-half had a prophetic dream that her husband should not acquiesce to the desires of the Jewish leaders. Pilate’s wife begged him “to have nothing to do with that righteous Man.” Matthew 27:19 But Pilate unwisely ignored his wife and succumbed to the wishes of the Sanhedrin, a gutless decision for which one can only hope he suffered for at home that night. Okay then.. So as the one who made the final decision and ordered Jesus to the cross, doesn’t that mean that Pilate killed Jesus? No.

We need to look at the most misunderstood and misquoted scripture that has been used by priests and pastors for thousands of years to justify that Jews are the “Christ-killers.” Pilate said to the Jews, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person” and the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and our children.” Matthew 27:24-25 “His blood be on us” is used by those who hate the Jews to condemn them all in the eyes of God. It is taught that the Jews invoked God’s “blood curse” upon themselves and upon every Jew until the end of time. But only our ignorance or our intentionally misleading scripture interpretation can rationalize this as being a “curse.” 

This was not a well-considered, legally-binding response from all of Israel to Pilate. This was shouted in the throes of high passion and anguished public drama. Matthew’s account calls it an “uproar” and Pilate dramatically and publicly “washed his hands” symbolizing the cleansing of his legal authority to condemn Jesus to death. It was at this emotionally-charged moment that the crowd of Jews spontaneously burst out with the declaration that they would accept responsibility for the death of Jesus and it would extend even into their next generation. Did this really mean that all Jews were “cursed?” 

If so, we must remember that the thousands of disciples of Jesus at that time were all Jews. If that “curse” extended to all Jews as it is wrongly taught, that would mean that the Apostles and all the disciples who loved Jesus were also cursed. That would that mean that Mary, the Jewish mother of Jesus was cursed. That would also mean that all Messianic Jews today who love Jesus are cursed. That’s a ridiculous conclusion but let’s make this personal. If all of our words shouted in out-of-control anger, or the quiet curses we place upon our self in despair and depression were never forgiven by God, then we’d all be toast. When Peter spoke curses upon himself in a moment of high-emotion, Matthew 26:74 God thankfully turned a deaf ear. God in His mercy smiles at our immature temper tantrums. So, can we use this one emotionally-charged declaration by a small group of men to condemn an entire race of people forever? Can we turn a blind eye to how this out-of-context interpretation has been used to justify the appalling suffering brought upon the Jews throughout the ages?

If we ever use scripture to justify anti-Semitic beliefs and actions, we should be trembling in fear because God made an unconditional Covenant with Abraham that He would make him into the great nation of Israel and through him all peoples will be blessed and those of us who curse Israel (Jews) will be cursed by GodGenesis 12:2-3 And God called the Jews His chosen people: “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth.” Deuteronomy 7:6 The Israelites did reject Jesus as their Messiah as so many in our own Country also reject Jesus as the Son of God today. But did the chosen people of God kill Jesus? No.

So if not the Jews or Pilate, who did kill Jesus? The answer should be no surprise to you. It was God. The Sovereign One. The One who rules and reigns over all. The crucifixion of the Son of God was the master plan of the Triune God. Remember who the Trinity is: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. If the cross was to be featured in the master plan of God the Father, it would have had to be the plan of God the Son. God became incarnate among us to live and to die. For as soon as the Baby cried out in the stable, the shadow of the cross passed over the manger. We see the outline of the master plan in the prophetic gifts brought by the Magi. Frankincense was a gift of holy incense for a priest and Myrrh was the oil used to anoint the dead in preparation for burial. John 19:39-40 

We see God’s plan unwind throughout the New Testament. We know that Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man – two natures in one divine person. In His incarnation as a human, was the Son clueless about His ultimate fate here on earth? Of course not. He knew the plan. He knew His purpose. It seemed that He talked about it every chance He could get. Even when it fell on deaf ears.

Jesus told His disciples what the plan was many times. After the transfiguration, Jesus and His disciples traveled to somewhere near Caesarea Philippi. Jesus was proclaimed the Messiah by Peter and then Jesus responds by telling His disciples that He will suffer many things at the hands of the chief priests and will be killed and after three days will rise again. Peter cries out something like “NO WAY!” and Jesus fiercely rebukes him. Mark 8:27-33 Jesus tells them several more times that He will be betrayed and killed and rise from the dead, but the disciples didn’t comprehend or simply refused to believe it. Mark 9:30-32; Matthew 17:22-23 

One time Jesus even specifically mentions crucifixion. "Now Jesus, going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples aside on the road and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again.” Matthew 20:17-19 and Matthew 26:32; Mark 10:32-34; Luke 9:43-45

Did the Jews decide to murder Jesus and when He died, was that when God decided at the last moment to spin this whole death thing into a divine doctrine that would restore with God our relationship that had been broken through the sin of Adam and then through our own sins? When Jesus breathed His last, did God, think “Hey I’ve got an idea! Let’s make this crucifixion about the forgiveness of sins!” That God was caught by surprise is obviously ludicrous and yet that would have to be our theological conclusion if we are preaching that the Jews were the ones truly responsible for the death of Jesus. And if we believe that the crucifixion was an unplanned, spontaneous action by a group of angry Jewish priests, that scenario would go against the thread of salvation that runs through both Old and New Testaments. 700 years before the birth of Jesus, a Hebrew prophet revealed the details of God’s master plan and said, “He poured out His soul unto death..And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:1-12

Jesus knew every detail of this predetermined plan long before it would be fulfilled on the cross and by His resurrection. He tells the disciples that He will be mocked, insulted and spit upon before they will scourge Him and kill Him. Luke 18:31-34 He knew it would be the chief priests, elders and scribes. Luke 9:21-22 Jesus knew the who, what, where and when of the divine plan well in advance and He could have escaped by fleeing to Egypt along the same route that His parents had taken to save His life as a small child. But Jesus went to His death because that was the plan. He knew that by His sacrificial death on the cross that the sins of all those who believe in Him would be forgiven. As He once put it, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

When the filter of our learned prejudices falls from our eyes, we begin to see the crucifixion through the eyes of God. And knowing the plan changes everything. Judas is portrayed as the most evil villain in the New Testament. When I was a child in Sunday school, we were taught to hate Judas for betraying Jesus. But is Judas the most evil person who ever walked the earth or was he perhaps just a poor, lost sinner who acted out of greed, or jealously or because of a perceived offense at something that Jesus or one of the disciples said or did? Could it be that Judas was simply a broken human being who was struggling with the same sins that you and I too often struggle with? Have you ever been betrayed by another? Have you ever intentionally or unintentionally betrayed another? Could it possibly be that each one of us has a little bit of Judas in them? 

As soon as Jesus had been arrested, and Judas learned that they were going to crucify Him, Judas was filled with so much guilt and remorse that in his anguish, he killed himself. Matthew 27:3-5 Forty days after the resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven and, because all must stand in judgement before Him, was Judas the first person He saw? We can only imagine what Judas would have been thinking when he saw Jesus risen from the dead and standing before him. And when he looked into the eyes of Jesus, did he see absolution and forgiveness for the part he had played in God’s plan?

They all had different parts to play. Because of their own sins: rebellion, anger, hate, prejudice, jealousy, greed, and insecurities they became the perfect and unwitting foils in this “Good Friday” drama. Judas the betrayer, the angry crowd of chief priests, the envious religious leaders, weak-willed Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles who mocked and spit on Jesus, the Jew-hating Roman solders who scourged Him and hung Him on the cross, and there is no doubt that the shadowy figure in the background was Satan gleefully thinking this was his plan. But while all played a part, none was responsible for the death of Jesus, for it was when Eve bit into the forbidden fruit in that sunny garden that the master plan for the salvation of the world was put into place. 

The purpose of the incarnation (God coming in the flesh) was the atonement (payment) by Jesus for our sins but it was not going to be easy for Him. It was literal anguish for Jesus on the cross. Not the pain of the nails in His hands but the pain of personally bearing the sins of the entire world in His body as He was hanging there waiting, praying to die. 1 Peter 2:24 

And He did that willingly for you. He had a choice and He chose you. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told His captors that at the snap of His fingers over 80,000 angels would save Him but He needed to die so that the Hebrew scriptures would be fulfilled. Matthew 26:53-54 Jesus knew it was time for the Father’s master plan to be completed but He could feel His human flesh resisting. That was why He prayed, “Not My will, but Yours, be done” Luke 22:41-42 and of course all the steps of the master plan leading up to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus had been the will of God all along and from the beginning of time.

Who killed Jesus? The written statements from the eye-witnesses (Gospels) provide the evidence that it was not the religious leaders or the Romans. It wasn’t the Jews or the Gentiles. There are no recriminations. It was simply the Plan. Jesus once said that He came to give His life as a ransom for many Matthew 20:28 and John wrote that God loved us and sent His Son to be a propitiation (appeasement) for our sins. 1 John 4:10 Thank God He did. Thank God for the Plan.
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1. Have you ever thought of, or referred to, Jews as the “Christ-killers” or made unkind or derogatory jokes or comments about Jews to others? In light of the Abrahamic Covenant where God said, “I will curse those who curse you (Israel)” Gen 12-3 what do you think would be God’s response to hatred and acts of violence against Jews?

2. Are you willing to ask the Holy Spirit to show you anyone who you need to forgive and anyone who you need to ask for their forgiveness?

3. After reading the scriptural evidence for the One responsible for crucifying Jesus, has your belief about who killed Jesus been changed, challenged or strengthened?

4. If you believe that the crucifixion was God’s plan all along, how would you articulate that theology to a person who believes that the Jews were the “Christ-killers” and that a curse has been placed upon this entire group of people for all time?

5. Do you believe that as a member of the church which initiated anti-Semitism in the 2nd Century, that you have a responsibility for addressing it today in your church and with family and friends? If so, how would you go about doing that?