Who Killed Jesus?

Author Greg Koukl Published on 02/28/2013

Jewish leaders have long been deeply sensitive to any characterization of Christ’s passion that would transfer guilt collectively to the Jews, a view that historically has been used as grounds for persecution of Jews as “Christ killers.”

The Christian Bible does, in fact, teach as a point of history that Jewish leadership was responsible for the execution of Jesus. There are two critical points to keep in mind, though, when making this observation.

First, the identity of Jesus’ executioners is largely irrelevant to Christian teaching. What is critical is that Jesus truly died and was raised, not that any particular group was responsible for His death. Indeed, from the perspective of theology, all men are responsible for the death of Christ because all sinned, and this the New Testament is very clear on. Further, Jesus also made it clear that He gave His life willingly (John 10:18). No one takes His life from Him, He said, but He lays it down on His own initiative.

Second, cruelty to Jews does not follow from the assertion that Jews were instrumental in the death of Jesus. Nowhere in the Scriptures do we see this. Quite the contrary, the early Christians brought their message of forgiveness and reconciliation to the Jews first, with no animosity.

Further, the Christians of the first couple of centuries were excessively pacifistic. They wouldn’t even lift a finger to defend themselves, much less take revenge on Jews. Revenge was not only forbidden by the New Testament, it was unnecessary. According to Christian teaching, the execution of Christ was used by God to accomplish salvation for all who would believe. The death of Jesus was a great good to Christians, not an evil that needed avenging. It wasn’t until centuries after Christ that the institutional church used such illegitimate justification for malicious actions against non-Christians.

It may be that some of the greatest acts of cruelty came from professing Christians who used their religion as a cloak for evil. But Christianity itself doesn’t cause such evil. Rather, it consistently condemns it.