The death of Jesus of Nazareth is one of the most pivotal moments in history. The countless number of injustices that occurred before his crucifixion has led people to assign blame for his death, not only to individuals but to entire groups of people. At times it’s been a hotly debated question in the history of the Western world: Who killed Jesus?
Jesus died on the cross voluntarily. He was adamant that no individual or group was ultimately responsible for his crucifixion. The Father commanded Jesus to die and he willingly obeyed him to save sinners. The Roman and Jewish participants in his death were always under the Father’s control.
Didn’t the Jews kill Jesus? Didn’t the Romans kill Jesus? Didn’t the crowd kill Jesus? What did Jesus say about who killed him? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Did the Jews kill Jesus?
Historically, many people — including countless numbers of Christians — have blamed the Jews for the death of Jesus more than anyone else. This accusation turns a blind eye to several important passages of Scripture, utterly ignores Jesus’ own teaching on the subject, and offers non-biblical truth claims instead.
Charging the Jews as a people group with the death of Jesus has historically resulted in racism against them, which is a sin according to the Bible (Gen. 12:2-3; Psalm 67; Rev. 7:9). It also disregards the fact that Jesus, his family, and most of his first followers were Jewish. There is no biblical basis for blaming the Jews alone for Jesus’ death.
Blaming the Jews for Jesus’ death also takes no notice of the fact that Jews in the first century couldn’t legally perform executions. Only the Romans could. This is clear even in a surface reading of the four Gospels in the New Testament.
Jewish religious authorities in the first century made accusations against Jesus that were worthy of death under the Law of Moses, but they didn’t have the right to carry out that verdict because the Roman authorities wouldn’t let them.
Did the Romans kill Jesus?
In the immediate social context of Jesus’ death, the Romans were more to blame than the Jews because they were the only ones that could permit an execution. Crucifixion was a Roman death penalty, not a Jewish one. The Jewish form of capital punishment was stoning (Ex. 19:13; Lev. 20:27).
However, because Pontius Pilate sought the approval of the crowd (Matt. 27:22-23), letting an angry, blood-thirsty mob decide between Jesus’ and Barabas’ death, a case could be made that the crowd had responsibility for killing Jesus, too. However, the crowd held no office and had no legal power, so they can’t be blamed.
Yet, none of this takes into account what Jesus said about his death. There is no accurate understanding of Jesus’ death without considering his own words on the topic.
Jesus willingly chose crucifixion
Jesus died on the cross because he wanted to die on the cross. He chose crucifixion with absolute clarity of what he was doing and why. Jesus spoke of his death many times before it happened to help his followers understand its significance. For example:
- John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”
- John 10:15b, “And I lay down My life for the sheep.”
One of the clearest examples of Jesus’ teaching on who is to blame for his death is John 10:17-18, because in those verses he explicitly states that “no one” — not the Jews, Romans, or anyone else — could kill him.
John 10:17-18 reads, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may 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 I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (ESV).
Jesus chose death to save sinners
Whatever role the Jewish religious authorities or Roman political authorities had in the moments leading up to Jesus’ death, doesn’t change the fact that behind his arrest, trials, beatings, mocking, and crucifixion, was a willing Savior who, out of obedience to the Father and love for people, desired salvation for sinners.
Other verses teach that Jesus’ death was the Father’s plan before the creation of the world, and that it pleased him because of what it would accomplish — the salvation of sinners.
- “All who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” (Revelation 13:8)
- “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” (Acts 2:23)
- “But the Lord was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.” (Isa. 53:10, NASB)
The Father’s pleasure with the crucifixion wasn’t because he enjoyed seeing his son tortured and killed. He was pleased because of what Jesus’ obedience achieved. On the cross, Jesus took the place of sinners as their substitute. He also absorbed the penalty for sin.
Isaiah 53:5 teaches that Jesus died for the sin and rebellion of people. Their punishment for sin was cast upon him. As a result, people are saved from sin and its eternal consequences. “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed” (NASB).
Who killed Jesus?
In the immediate social context, Acts 4:27 teaches that Jews and Romans killed Jesus. “For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod [a Jew] and Pontius Pilate [a Roman], along with the Gentiles [non-Jews] and the peoples of Israel [Jews].”
Ultimately, sinners are to blame for Jesus’ death. This includes people of all nations, races, skin tones, languages, and cultures. Jesus died because of sinners and for their salvation (John 3:16; Rom 6:23).
“In Judas and Pilate and Herod and Jewish crowds and Gentile soldiers and our sin and Jesus’ lamblike submission, God delivered over His Son (for our salvation). Nothing greater has ever happened.” – John Piper
The Father ordained Jesus’ arrest and trials
The Father permitted the injustices that happened to Jesus so that his plan of salvation would be fulfilled. This isn’t only clear from statements Jesus made about his death (see above), but also about his arrest, which led to his trials and crucifixion.
- Matthew 26:53 reads, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?”
- John 18:11 reads, “So Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?'”
Readers observe God’s sovereignty at other moments of Jesus’ life, too. For example, when Jesus was tempted, the Holy Spirit led him into the wilderness.
The Holy Spirit can’t be blamed for tempting Jesus, for God doesn’t tempt (cf. James 1:13), but he allowed it. “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matt. 4:1).
God works all things together for His good
One of the most important lessons from the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis concerns God’s sovereignty. Joseph himself, though he was treated terribly by his own brothers, recognizes God’s sovereignty and readers should, too.
In Genesis 50:20, Joseph says to his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”
Joseph didn’t want anyone — including his own brothers — to be ultimately blamed for his imprisonment. Instead, he wanted all to know that what happened was God’s plan and that it was a good one.
“Who delivered up Jesus to die? Not Judas, for money; not Pilate, for fear; not the Jews, for envy; but the Father, for love (see Romans 8:32)!” – Octavius Winslow
The story of Jesus Christ's birth is one of the most well-known in the Bible. It includes Mary and Joseph, beautiful angels, adoring shepherds, a guiding light in the sky, and a dangerous threat from...
Joseph and Mary's relationship, including their betrothal and marriage, is one of the most iconic in the Bible. Mary is young, devout, and contemplative. Joseph is humble, obedient, and protective....