Who killed Jesus? Back to
Her name was Millie and she was born into a Jewish home around the
beginning of the 20th Century and brought up in a small town in Poland.
She told us that her first memory of the name of Jesus was when her
parents told her to hide in a cupboard in their home because it was
‘Good Friday’ and on that day the ‘Christians’ would come out of their
church services into the Jewish quarter to throw stones at the Jews ‘to
avenge the death of Jesus.’ Not surprisingly it was hard for her to see
Jesus as anyone who had an answer to anything. As far as she was
concerned Jesus was ‘someone who hated us and is responsible for our
The roots of this hatred go back a long way. John Chrystostom,
considered a saint and church father who lived in the fourth century,
wrote: ‘The Jews are the most worthless of all men. They are lecherous,
greedy and rapacious. They are perfidious murderers of Christ. The
Jews are the odious assassins of Christ and for killing God there is no
expiation possible, no indulgence or pardon. Christians may never
cease vengeance and the Jews must live in servitude forever. God
always hated the Jews. It is incumbent upon Christians to hate Jews.’ (1).
When Constantine established Christianity as the official religion of the
Roman Empire in 312 he issued many anti-Jewish laws. Jews were
forbidden to accept converts, while every enticement was used to make
them forsake Judaism. At the Council of Nicea in 325 he said, ‘It is right
to demand what our reason approves and that we should have nothing
in common with the Jews.’ The links between Christianity and Judaism
were broken as the Sabbath was changed from the seventh to the first
day of the week and the date of Easter was separated from Passover.
As Christianity in its Roman Catholic form became the dominant religion
of Europe those who rejected it became the forces of anti-Christ. The
main group of rejecters were the Jewish people who therefore were
considered by the church to be the ‘anti-Christ’ suffering continual
persecution. In Spain in 613 all Jews who refused to be baptised had to
leave the country. A few years later the remaining Jews were
dispossessed and given to wealthy ‘pious’ Christians as slaves.
The first Crusade in 1096 saw fierce persecution of Jewish communities
as the Crusaders began their journeys to the ‘Holy Land’ to ‘liberate’ it
from the Muslims. They said, ‘We are going to fight Christ’s enemies in
Palestine (i.e. the Muslims), but should we forget his enemies in our midst
(i.e. the Jews)?’ 12,000 Jews were killed in the cities along the River Rhine
alone. When the Crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099 they massacred
all the Jews and Muslims they could find.
In 1215 Pope Innocent III condemned the Jews to eternal slavery by
decreeing, ‘The Jews against whom the blood of Jesus Christ calls out,
although they ought not to be killed, lest the Christian people forget the
Divine Law, yet as wanderers ought they remain upon the earth until
their countenance be filled with shame.’
The first ritual murder charge against the Jewish community was in
Norwich in 1144 when the Jews were accused of killing a Christian child
at Passover time to drain his blood in order to make Passover matzos.
This hideous and ridiculous charge has resurfaced time and again, most
recently in the Muslim world, leading to massacres of the Jews. In 1290
King Edward I expelled all Jews from England.
In 1478 the Spanish Inquisition was directed against heretics – Jews and
non Catholic Christians. In 1492 Jews were given the choice of forced
baptism or expulsion from Spain. 300,000 left penniless.
Martin Luther hoped initially that he would attract Jews to his Protestant
faith, understanding that they could not accept the superstitions and
persecutions of Rome. But when they rejected his attempts to convert
them, he turned on them and uttered words of hatred used word for word
by the Nazis in their propaganda:
‘What shall we Christians do with this damned, rejected race of the
Jews? First their synagogues should be set on fire. Secondly their
homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed. Thirdly they
should be deprived of their prayer books and Talmuds. Fourthly their
rabbis must be forbidden under threat of death to teach any more.
Fifthly passport and travelling privileges should be absolutely forbidden
to the Jews. Sixthly they ought to be stopped from usury. Seventhly let
the young and strong Jews and Jewesses be given the flail, the axe, the
spade, the distaff, and spindle and let them earn their bread by the
sweat of their noses. To sum up, dear princes and nobles who have
Jews in your domains, if this advice of mine does not suit you, then find
a better one, so that you and we may all be free of this insufferable
devilish burden – the Jews.’ (2).
In the late 19th Century the Russian Orthodox Church instigated the
pogroms, violent attacks on Jewish communities of the kind portrayed in
the film ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’ They devised a solution to the ‘Jewish
problem’ – one third extermination, one third forcible conversion to
Christianity and one third expulsion.
Russian anti-Semites produced the libellous pamphlet, ‘The Protocols of
the Elders of Zion’ alleging a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world.
This fiction was treated as a proven fact by the Nazis and was part of
their propaganda effort to prepare people for the ‘Final Solution’, the
extermination of 6 million members of European Jewry in the ovens of
the Holocaust. Today the same libel is being peddled in the Muslim
world to whip up hatred for Israel and the Jewish people.
This brief history of Jewish suffering shows the terrible truth that most of
it has been instigated by people who claimed to be Christians. The main
accusations that has been brought against the Jewish people by the
professing church is that ‘the Jews killed Jesus.’
Who says the Jews killed Jesus?
Back in 1978 I was working as a French teacher at the Hasmonean
School, an Orthodox Jewish grammar school in north London. One day
I was covering for an absent teacher, minding my own business while the
class got on with their work. One of the boys put his hand up and said,
‘Please sir, I want to ask you something. You’re a Christian. Why do
you Christians say we killed Jesus?’
I answered him as best I could, saying that I personally did not say this,
but agreed that much of the professing church had done so, because they
did not really understand the faith they claimed to represent or who Jesus
really was. This let loose an outburst of questions and comments from
the boys on what was obviously an explosive issue to them. News of this
discussion got back to the Rabbis in the school and the next day one of
them came to me and said, ‘Mr Pearce, we know you are a sincere
Christian and are friendly to our people, but please do not mention the
founder of Christianity again in this school.’
As I prayed about it afterwards I realised how much hurt there is in the
hearts of Jewish people over the way they have been persecuted in the
name of Jesus. I also became aware of how much deeper is Jesus’ own
hurt over the cruel misrepresentation which has been given to the Jewish
people by His supposed followers down through the centuries, leading to
a massive wall coming between Him and His own people.
The very first verse of the New Testament tells us of the ‘genealogy of
Jesus the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham’ (Matthew 1.1).
Throughout the New Testament His Jewish identity is stressed. He was
circumcised on the eighth day (Luke 2.21), brought up in an observant
Jewish home (Luke 2.41) and learned the Torah (3) from His youth
He told a Samaritan woman that ‘salvation is of the Jews’ (John 4.22) and
He kept the Jewish feasts (John 7.2, John 10.22). He told His disciples in
their first preaching mission not to go to the Gentiles, but ‘rather to the
lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (Matthew 10.6). Sure, He had fierce
controversies with the religious leaders of His day, but so did the Hebrew
Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos and others.
Concerning the crucifixion, the New Testament does not put the blame on
‘the Jews’ and certainly never even hints that succeeding generations of
Jews should be persecuted on account of it. There is a problem with
John’s Gospel in its use of the term ‘the Jews’ to describe the opposition
to Jesus, but an intelligent reading of the text shows that John is talking of
the Jewish religious leadership, not the entire Jewish people.
John 5.18 states: ‘Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him,
because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His
Father, making Himself equal with God.’ Since the Gospel makes it
clear that Jesus Himself (John 4.9) and the disciples are Jewish the use of
the term ‘the Jews’ in John 5.18 and elsewhere in the Gospel cannot
possibly mean the entire Jewish people. It means the Jewish religious
In many ways John is the most Jewish of the Gospels showing the
connection between Jesus’ teaching and Jewish festivals and customs. In
John’s Gospel Jesus makes it clear who is responsible for His death: ‘
Therefore my Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may
take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself and I
have power to take it again. This command I have received from my
Father’ John 10.17-18.
The implication of this is clear. Jesus Himself takes responsibility for His
own death. It happens at the time and manner of His choosing, in order
that He might fulfil the Father’s will by dying as the sacrifice for the sins
of the world and rising again from the dead to give eternal life to those
who receive Him. No human being, Jewish or Gentile, has the right or the
power to take Jesus’ life from Him against His will.
This fulfils the prophecy of Isaiah 53, which states concerning the
sufferings of the Messiah, ‘It pleased the Lord to bruise Him, He has put
Him to grief’ Isaiah 53. 10. In chapter 6 we will look at the different
arguments about this prophecy, but taking the view that it is about the
sacrificial death of Messiah fulfilled in Jesus, the responsibility for
Messiah’s sufferings is placed on God Himself. ‘It pleased the Lord to
bruise Him’ means that Jesus was put to death to fulfil the will of God.
The Gospels take up this idea as we see Jesus submitting Himself to the
will of God in order to redeem the world. He prayed in Gethsemane:
‘O my Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless
not as I will, but as you will’ Matthew 26.39.
‘This cup’ refers to the suffering which He knew lay ahead. It was
necessary for Him to go through this suffering in order that He might be
‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ John 1.29.
According to the Book of Hebrews those who believe come to ‘Jesus the
mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks
better things than that of Abel’ Hebrews 12.24. The blood of Abel
spoke of vengeance for Cain’s sin of murder (Genesis 4), but the blood
of Jesus speaks of mercy and forgiveness.
Wrong church teaching however has turned this on its head and used the
verse in Matthew’s Gospel, ‘His blood be upon us and upon our
children’ (Matthew 27.25), to claim that the suffering of the Jewish
people is the result of a self inflicted curse and even that Christians are
therefore justified in persecuting the Jewish people in Jesus’ name.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus Himself prayed from the
cross, ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do,’ (Luke 21.34)
thus expressing God’s will that even those responsible for the death of
Jesus, whether Jewish or Gentile, should find forgiveness through His
name. Do we base our theology on the words of an enraged crowd or on
the words of the Lord Jesus?
The answer to Jesus’ prayer was to be found not long afterwards through
the preaching of the Apostles. Peter did place human responsibility for
the death of Jesus on those who had called for Him to be crucified: ‘The
God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His
servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of
Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go. But you denied the Holy
One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and
killed the Prince of Life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we
are witnesses’ Acts 3.13-15.
This was not to say that every Jew alive was responsible, because Peter
himself was Jewish as were all the followers of Jesus at that time. It was
certainly not to say that subsequent generations of Jews who had no
connection with the decision to call for Jesus’ death were responsible.
It was to say that there were people alive, who were actually listening to
Peter speak at that very moment, who were responsible.
But even to them there was a message of hope and forgiveness.
Explaining the meaning of the death and resurrection of the Jesus, Peter
said, ‘Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did
your rulers. But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His
prophets, that the Messiah would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Repent
therefore and be converted that your sins may be blotted out’
The people who called for the death of Jesus were responsible for the
miscarriage of justice that took place. However they were ignorant of the
spiritual meaning of it, hence Jesus’ words, ‘They know not what they do.’
The purpose of the preaching of the Apostles was to tell them why Jesus
died and rose again and to show them how they too could find
forgiveness and eternal salvation by repenting of their sin and believing in
As all the people hearing this message and the many thousands who
responded to it in the early chapters of Acts were Jews, Jesus’ prayer for
the forgiveness of those who had Him crucified was being answered. It is
clear that the message of the Gospel was from the beginning intended to
be ‘the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew
first and also for the Greek (Gentile)’ Romans 1.16.
Both Jews and Gentiles had to make a choice, whether to believe in the
salvation offered by the Messiah or to reject it. Of course many Jewish
people did reject the Apostles’ message, exactly as happens when the
same message is presented to anyone in the world, whatever race they
belong to. There was a division amongst the Jews of Jesus’ day about
Him between those who were for Him and those who were against Him.
Exactly the same division takes place today among all people of the world
wherever the Gospel is preached.
The statement which really tells us who was responsible for the death of
Jesus is to be found in Acts 4.24-28:
‘They (the Apostles) raised their voice to God with one accord and said:
“Lord you are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea and all
that is in them, who by the mouth of your servant David have said,
‘Why did the nations rage, and the people plot vain things? The kings
of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together
against the Lord and His Messiah.’ For truly against your holy servant
Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the
Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever
your hand and your purpose determined before to be done.”’
In this prayer all categories of people are implicated, Herod and Pontius
Pilate with the Gentiles and the people of Israel. The Gentiles are actually
mentioned before the people of Israel, therefore they have no right to
claim any superiority or judgmental attitude towards the Jews. It is clear
that the physical act of crucifying Jesus was carried out on the orders of
the Roman governor, by Roman soldiers in the Roman way. Strangely no
one has ever suggested that the Italians killed Jesus and should be placed
under a curse because of this!
All this happened ‘to do whatever your hand and your purpose
determined before to be done’, in other words to fulfil the predetermined
plan of God. So again the ultimate responsibility for the death of Jesus
rests with God Himself in order to fulfil His purposes.
Any persecution of the Jews by the churches is a terrible distortion of the
truth and a betrayal of the real Messiah Jesus. Unfortunately the church
did the exact opposite of what Paul taught in his letter to the Romans,
where he spoke of Israel and the Jewish people being the root which
supports the ‘olive tree’. By this he meant that the Christian faith is based
on the revelation given to the world through the Jewish people in the
Jewish Bible and fulfilled in the Jewish Messiah. His message has been
communicated to the Gentiles by His Jewish disciples who wrote the New
Testament. Therefore if Christians want to have true spiritual life they
have to acknowledge the debt they have to Israel and to repay that debt
with love for the Jewish people.
In Romans 11 Paul makes it clear that whether the Jewish people accept
Jesus or not, they are still ‘beloved for the sake of the fathers’ (i.e. The
patriarchs of Israel and the covenant God made with them). He goes on
to say that ‘the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable’ (Romans 11.28-9).
On this basis Christians have a responsibility to love the Jewish people
and treat them with justice and kindness, no matter what they believe
about Jesus. Significantly Paul wrote this letter to Christians living in
Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire and the city which was to
dominate Christendom in the following centuries.
What went wrong? As the church became dominated by large numbers
of Gentiles joining it, Jewish believers in Jesus became a minority. The
Christians began to move away from the pattern of living given them by
Jesus and the Apostles, forming a religious institution which bore little
resemblance to the original model given in the New Testament. They also
wanted to ingratiate themselves with the Roman authorities who were
hostile to the Jewish people following the failed Jewish revolts against
Rome in 70 and 135. Following the fall of the Roman Empire, Roman
Catholicism emerged as the dominant force in Europe, and the Bishop of
Rome became the Pope, taking on much of the power and character of
the Roman Emperor (even one of his titles – Pontifex Maximus). This
produced a tragic distortion of the Christian message dominated by a
corrupted clergy with vast wealth at its disposal, exploiting and corrupting
the people of Europe in the name of Christianity.
How different it would have been if the Roman church had paid attention
to the letter to the Romans! As the church lost its understanding of the
Jewish people it became cut off from its roots. Therefore the fruit it
produced was not the fruit of the Holy Spirit, ‘love, joy, peace, long-
suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control’
(Galatians 5.22-3), but the works of the flesh manifested in the cruel and
corrupt church of the Middle Ages and beyond.
When I was a student I remember seeing a film of Bernard Malamud’s
book, ‘The Fixer,’ which made a great impression on me. In this story,
Yakov Bok, a Jew living in Tsarist Russia is wrongly accused of murder
and imprisoned. The case is a typical example of the anti-Semitism rife in
Russia at the end of the 19th Century. The authorities involve the Russian
Orthodox Church in their interrogations of Bok, by trying to force him to
convert to Christianity. They give him a New Testament to read, which
he does. When the Russian Orthodox priest comes to interrogate Yakov
to find out what he has learnt from the New Testament, he states simply,
‘Jesus is Jewish. So whoever hates the Jew hates Jesus.’ This is
absolutely true and hatred for the Jews demonstrates a spirit of force,
tyranny and prejudice which is the absolute opposite of the true spirit of
Jesus the Messiah.
1. ‘Homilae Adversus Iudaeos’. John Chrysostom (c307-407) was a
preacher with great powers of oratory from Antioch.
2. ‘Concerning the Jews and their lies’. Martin Luther (1483-1546),
the founder of the German Reformation.
3. Torah – the first five books of the Bible, also known as the
Pentateuch. Considered by Judaism to be the most important
section of the Bible and read in its entirety in the Synagogue every