The following information is taken from my book,
Celebrating Jesus in the Biblical Feasts
which is available from my online bookstore at www.rbooker.com.
Did the Jews Kill Jesus?
Every year at Passover/Easter well-meaning Christian ministers preach that “the Jews Killed Christ.” This erroneous accusation came about because the Church has misunderstood the New Testament as well as its own hatred of Jews. When we study the New Testament within its cultural context, we discover that it tells a different story.
So who really killed Jesus? There is the theological answer and a human answer. Christians are familiar with the theological answer but they misunderstand the human answer. They can both be summed up in two words, “the establishment.” The establishment, the people in power, always kills the prophets and revolutionaries of their day. Jesus was both a prophet and a revolutionary. He threatened their position of power, position and wealth. So they had to get rid of Him.
The first of the two establishment’s responsibility for the death of Jesus was Rome. By Rome, I mean the government of Rome, not the people of Rome. The Roman people had never even heard of Jesus. The Roman people lived in Italy and throughout the Roman Empire. Even though the Roman government in Israel crucified Jesus by the hands of Pilate and a few Roman soldiers, we cannot hold the Roman people responsible for the death of Jesus. Modern Italians did not kill Jesus.
The second human establishment that killed Jesus was Jerusalem. By Jerusalem, I mean the Jewish religious and political leaders in Jerusalem. As a citizen of the United States, I often use the word “Washington” to speak of the political center of the USA. When I say “Washington” I am not referring to the American people but the American government. Likewise, when the New Testament says that the “Jews” killed Jesus, it is not referring to the ordinary Jew who lived in Israel and Jerusalem. It is referring to the Jewish political and religious leaders over the Jewish people, that is, the Jewish government operating under Roman rule.
When the New Testament talks about the Jews killing Jesus, it is referring to the Jewish establishment in Jerusalem who owed their allegiance, position, power and influence to the Romans. While there were some influential Pharisees at the highest level, the Jewish establishment consisted primarily of the Sadducees.
The Sadducees represented a very small group of powerful religious leaders. They were the priests who oversaw the activities at the Temple and greatly profited from the merchandising at the Temple. It is this group that desired to crucify Jesus because they were jealous of His fame and was afraid He would upset their comfortable relationship with the Roman government ruling over them. The high priest and his followers handed Jesus over to Pilate because it was the “politically correct” thing for them to do.
When the high priest had Jesus arrested at night, the ordinary Jerusalemites were in their homes preparing for Passover meals and sleeping. They did not know what was happening. They would have surely protested because many of them believed in Jesus. In fact, Jesus had so many followers in Jerusalem that the Sadducees had to wait until night to arrest Jesus for fear of an uproar by the people.
The high priest did what politicians do today. He rented a crowd. He instructed and coerced his own followers, all with a vested interest in the establishment, to get a crowd and assemble them. This was a completely different crowd of people who earlier greeted and cheered Jesus when He rode into Jerusalem.
When Pilate pretended to absolve himself from being responsible for the death of Jesus, the “rent a crowd” said, “…Let His blood be on us and our children” (Matthew 27:25). Because of this statement, Church leaders have erroneously believed that the Jews, as a collective group of people, pronounced a curse on themselves forever. Therefore, they are the “Christ killers.”
But as we have just learned, this was the Sadducees and a small mob crowd they assembled in order to influence Pilate. There was probably less than one hundred people in this crowd and God judged them all in AD 70. Their self-curse was fulfilled 40 years later when Titus burned the Temple and destroyed Jerusalem. Since the Sadducees were the priests administering the Temple, they and their families and their power, position, privilege and fortune came to an end.
Most Jews did not live in Israel during the time of Jesus. They were scattered throughout the Roman Empire. They had never heard of Jesus so they were certainly not guilty of killing Him. Furthermore, as we have just read, most of the Jews in Jerusalem believed in Jesus, they certainly did not kill Him.
Jesus suffered and died for our sins. God could have used any ethnic group to carry out the execution. In His redemptive plans and purposes and time, it was a petty Roman bureaucrat and a small handful of priests who actually put Jesus to death.
Christians should continuously thank God for His redemptive love demonstrated through the death of Jesus as our Passover Lamb. We should also ask forgiveness from our Jewish friends for blaming them for His death.