The Jewish People and the Death of Jesus

This week we take a break from our usual Friday feature, and instead run an editorial piece by one of Western’s professors. The Faculty Spotlight feature will resume next week.

On my final exam for my Gospels class at Western Seminary I ask students if they agree or disagree with the following statement: “The New Testament blames the Jews for Jesus’ death since they cried out to Pilate for Him to be crucified.”

How would you respond? Would you agree or disagree? In spite of attempts to correct this view in my classes, I am still surprised how often students answer by saying “agree.” Just the other day I received this response from a student: “Agree, because the people accepted responsibility for Jesus’ death.”

The student was referring to the words of the Jewish leaders at the trial of Jesus. During the trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor asked the gathered crowd what he should do with Jesus. They replied, “Crucify Him!” Matthew’s gospel records that Pilate then declared that he was “innocent” of Jesus blood (27:24). Then the Jewish leaders at the trial of Jesus cried out, “His blood shall be upon us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:25).

Unfortunately, this statement has been used throughout the history of the church as a basis for blaming the Jews for the death of Jesus. Much anti-Semitism can be traced to these words. Some members of the Christian church have justified the brutal deeds of the Spanish Inquisition, Russian pogroms, and Nazi Holocaust on the mistaken view that the Jewish people were “Christ-killers.”

Should the Jews be blamed for Christ’s death? Several points demonstrate that this is indeed NOT the case:

  • The mob at Jesus’ trial did not represent all the Jewish people of that day. It was a crowd of Jewish leaders who opposed Jesus.
  • These Jewish leaders had no authority to bring guilt on their descendants. There is no biblical basis for the transfer of guilt to one’s descendants. In fact, the Bible teaches just the opposite. “Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin” (Deuteronomy. 24:16). “The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity . . .” (Ezekiel 18:20).
  • The New Testament church did not blame the Jews. The Apostle Peter says that the Jews “acted in ignorance” (Acts 3:17).
  • The New Testament Scripture teaches that the Gentiles and Jews of Christ’s day share in guilt together. In his sermon explaining the death of Jesus, the Apostle Peter declared, “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel” (Acts 4:27).
  • It is a historical fact that Jesus was actually crucified by Roman soldiers who were Gentiles (Matt. 27:27, 54).

It is a tragic mistake to blame the Jewish people for the crucifixion of Jesus. True followers of Jesus are encouraged to speak out against this mistaken notion and oppose every expression of anti-Semitism, including the anti-Zionist movement that is spreading through Europe and making inroads to the United States. Rather than blaming the Jews for the crucifixion of Christ, the New Testament teaches that Jesus died for the sins of the world. In a very real sense, the sin of each and every person was a factor in sending Jesus to the cross.

 

About J. Carl Laney

J. Carl Laney teaches Biblical Literature at Western Seminary and is an instructor for Western's Israel Study Program. Carl has authored numerous books, including most recently, “Discipleship: Training from the Master Disciple Maker” (2018).