Written by  //  December 18, 2014  //  No comments

Who Killed Jesus?

It is shaping up to be one of the most controversial films of our time, maybe of all time. “It” of course, is Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” and over the last several weeks (and continuing for at least a few weeks into the future), much has been written and said about this film, which intends to depict the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus.

Let me begin by saying I have not seen the film (as of this writing, it is still unreleased, and I am not highly placed enough to have been invited to one of the early screenings). As such, I will not comment on the film’s content, cinematic value, or even whether or not I think you should see the film.

However, there is one aspect of all the controversy that I believe bears at least some interest. Since the beginning of filming, the movie has been portrayed as anti-Semitic because it reportedly has the Jews playing a part in the death of Jesus. If that is anti-Semitic then historical fact is as well, but this raises a valuable question, which even Newsweek magazine raised in a recent cover story on the controversy: “Who Killed Jesus?”

It is a question with simple answers, yet complex, far-reaching implications. And it is worthy of our time in studying it.

The Jews: No matter that it is considered anti-Semitic, there can be no dancing around the fact that the Jewish leadership in the time of Jesus was responsible for His death. This is not surprising even to first-time readers of scripture. When Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, He angers the Pharisees and they seek to kill Him (Matt. 12:1-14). John chapter 7 is riddled with talk of the Jews intentions to seize and kill Jesus (Jn. 7:1,19, 30, 32, 44). Over and over in the story of Jesus, the Jews make known their desire to put Him to death, culminating in their stirring up the crowd at His trial (Matt. 27:20-23), and declaring, “His blood shall be on us and on our children” (Matt. 27:25). Peter also places blame on the Jews in the first sermon on Pentecost (Acts 2:36).

Clearly, the Jews are guilty of the death of Jesus, but it does not end there.

Pilate and the Romans:

Just as the Jews would deny culpability in the crucifixion, Pilate would almost certainly assert his innocence, for that is exactly what he did, washing his hands and declaring, “I am innocent of this man’s blood” (Matt. 27:24). But Pilate is the one person in the story with the power to release Jesus or to crucify Him, as even he acknowledged (Jn. 19:10). That Pilate is so spineless as to let the crowd sway his decision does not excuse him for his part in the death of Jesus.

The Roman executioners have never denied blame in the death of Jesus. That was their job. They killed people, and the gospels detail the physical pain and indignities suffered by Jesus at the hands of Roman soldiers (Matt. 27:26-35; Mk. 15:15-24; Lk. 23:11, 33; Jn. 19:1-3, 16-18). Pilate and the Romans were the governing authorities of the day, and as such were the only ones with the right to execute, so their guilt in crucifying Jesus is obvious.


In truth, the Jews, Pilate and the Romans are merely instruments in the death of Jesus. Real, moral culpability is brought upon sinners by the gospel of Christ as taught in the New Testament. It was because of sin that Jesus had to die (Rom. 6:1-7; 1 Cor. 15:3; Gal. 1:3-5; 1 Pet. 2:21-25), and that means that, ultimately it is sinners who are responsible for the death of Jesus. However, it is easy to state that sinners are the ones who killed Jesus, while thinking of “really bad sinners,” like murderers, rapists and child molesters. In other words, it is easy to blame particularly heinous criminals and deny our own guilt in the death of Jesus.


The fact is that if the death of Jesus is going to mean anything in my life, then a search for His killers must culminate in a good, hard look in the mirror. Read Isaiah 53:4-6, substituting personal pronouns for the collective ones (i.e. “He was pierced through for my transgressions . . .”), and it becomes pretty clear that Jesus would have had to die for me, no matter what the rest of the world is like. If God desires to save me, and He says He does (2 Pet. 3:9), then I need a sacrifice for my own sins. When Paul writes of those who will not enter the kingdom of heaven, he reminds the Corinthians, “Such were some of you, but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11).

Who killed Jesus? I did.