Thursday, March 3, 2011

Who killed Jesus?

In a forthcoming book, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week, Pope Benedict states that the Jews do not bear collective guilt for the crucifixion of Jesus. Instead, he places ultimate responsibility for the death of Jesus on the sin of humanity. I've not yet seen the book, but I agree with this statement.

But how can this be reconciled with John 18:28-32; 19:4-6, and 12-15 which says it was the Jews who took Jesus to Pilate to have Him put to death...who accused Him of sedition...and who demanded His crucifixion? Pope Benedict offers a very thoughtful answer.
Now we must ask: Who exactly were Jesus' accusers? Who insisted that he be condemned to death? We must take note of the different answers that the Gospels give to this question. According to John it was simply "the Jews". But John's use of this expression does not in any way indicate — as the modern reader might suppose — the people of Israel in general, even less is it "racist" in character. After all, John himself was ethnically a Jew, as were Jesus and all his followers. The entire early Christian community was made up of Jews. In John's Gospel this word has a precise and clearly defined meaning: he is referring to the Temple aristocracy. So the circle of accusers who instigate Jesus' death is precisely indicated in the Fourth Gospel and clearly limited: it is the Temple aristocracy — and not without certain exceptions, as the reference to Nicodemus (7:50–52) shows.
The distinction being made by Pope Benedict is important because throughout much of church history the church has charged the Jewish people collectively with the sin of killing Jesus, based in part on a misreading of the Gospel of John. And this has been the basis for anti-Semitic persecution of the Jews by those claiming to be followers of Jesus.

So who is ultimately responsible for the death of Jesus? As Pope Benedict rightly concludes, the Bible says each of us is ultimately responsible for His death because He died to pay the penalty for our sin. Isaiah described it this way, "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:5-6).

Forty years ago Mickey Holiday wrote a song that puts the reality of our responsibility for Jesus' death in perspective. Here are the words to that song:

Who Killed Jesus?

Who killed Jesus many years ago
Who is guilty of a crime so low
Why did He have to die
What is the reason why
Who killed Jesus
I would like to know

Was it Roman soldiers
With their tools of war
Driving nails thru hands that did no wrong
Mocking and abusing
Crowning Him with thorns
All the evidence is very strong

Was it Pontius Pilate
He was governor
Trying to decide the case that day
Finding that the Savior
Had no fault His own
Was he guilty when he turned away

Was it Hebrew children
Proud of who they were
Shouting crucify Him at their King
Trading their Messiah
For a common thief
Turning down the kingdom He could bring

When I think of Jesus
And the way He died
How upon Him all my sin was laid
All the other people
Fade away from view
It's for me the sacrifice was made

I no long wonder anymore
I have found what I've been searching for
My sin demanded hell
On Him the judgment fell
I am guilty
Now it's plain to see
That it was really me

© 1970 New Spring
Mickey Holiday

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