Who bears the guilt for the death of Jesus?

Bob the national director of the Australasian arm of Jews for Jesus. Bob grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home in the US, and came to believe in Jesus in 1971. He graduated Kansas University and Fuller Seminary and has worked with Jews for Jesus since 1979.

During the 2015 Hillsong Conference, Jarryd Hayne, the former Parramatta Eels rugby league star and now running back for the San Francisco 49ers, sent out a tweet to his followers: “Jesus wanted to help people but was killed by his own people.” The next day after being challenged by one of his followers that Jesus was killed by the Romans, Hayne wrote, “The Jews were the people who took him to the Romans n [sic] forced them to give the order because they couldn’t.”

Because of the tweets, Jewish representatives immediately launched a counter campaign. Hayne subsequently removed the two tweets.

Michael Koziol of the Sydney Morning Herald wrote about the Jewish reaction, quoting the chairman of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission, Dvir Abramovich, who said he was deeply concerned by Hayne’s tweets and labeled them “damaging, painful and irresponsible”.

“For thousands of years Jews were held in contempt and were persecuted and murdered because they were labeled as Christ-killers,” Abramovich said in a statement.

Koziol reported, “Most Christians no longer hold the view that the Jewish people were responsible for Jesus’ death, and persistent belief in that narrative is now associated with anti-Semitism.”

Hayne later sent out an apology tweet, which was welcomed by Jewish community representatives. But the issue remains unsettling for Jews. Some of Hayne’s Twitter followers chided him for his apology, using ugly language to describe Jewish people.

Jesus Cross. Claudio Ungari | Flickr, CC License

Jesus Cross. Claudio Ungari | Flickr, CC License

It is unsurprising that the Jewish community was up in arms about Jarryd Hayne’s announcement that Jewish people were responsible for the death of Jesus. We will cop it yet again from another generation of angry Jesus-defenders. Jews will “get theirs” for what they have done to “our” Saviour.

Anti-Semitism is a horrible reality most clearly seen through hundreds of years of persecution: the Holocaust, the Crusades, the Inquisition.

Church and synagogue hostility began as early as the Apostle Paul and the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:54-60). Mainline Jewish resistance to messianic Jews (those who believed in Jesus Christ) was sealed in 90CE during the Council of Jamnia where prayers were added to the synagogue service saying that ‘minim’ (Hebrew for heretics, also a reference to believers in Jesus of Nazareth) were to be hopeless, lost and cut off quickly. The situation deteriorated when Rome and the church united under Constantine. Church merging with state has never been good for the Jews.

The evils of forced baptisms from as early as the sixth century, along with pseudo-conversions in medieval Europe, add the anguish of Jewish people who hear from Christians the charge of deicide (the killing of a God).

Here’s how their reasoning works out: since Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus, God’s Son, then their fate, their deserved fate, is hostility from God, and from the church. Thus, any punishment that the Jew receives is warranted due to their rejection of the love of the Jesus of history. As a result of this, Jews have been blamed for the Black Death in Europe, the AIDS virus, financial crises and even the 9/11 attacks on the US in 2001.

No matter which way you look at it, such claims cannot be proven.

But something Jarryd Hayne said does ring true. It’s about culpability.

Someone is responsible for the death of Jesus. And the Scripture does teach us that there were five agents who had a “voice” in the matter.

One of those is the Jewish people (the leaders or the generation who were alive at the time). And that’s the part that might be the most uncomfortable. Without the Jewish man Judas and the Jewish leadership “dobbing in” the Messiah Jesus, he might have lived on for years. But Scripture teaches us that it was the Jewish people who brought Jesus to Pilate for the matter to be finalised (John 18-19). They heard the option to release him later and chose Barabbas instead.

Of course, the Romans were guilty of the actual deed. They are the second voice. It was a Roman soldier who nailed him to the cross and Romans who held the court that convicted him. The government from Herod to Pilate share the guilt in this matter.

The third guilty party in the death of Jesus was he himself. He had the authority and power to accomplish anything or to call down angels to save himself. But he said, “No one has taken it away from me, but I lay it down on my own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:18). Without his own permission, no one would have had the ability or power to kill him on the cross.

The fourth is one of the worst to ponder. It was the Father himself. The most famous verse in the New Testament is John 3:16. There we read that the love of the Father is demonstrated in the death of his Son: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” If the death of Jesus did not accomplish anything, then the Father would be the worst sadist and child-abuser in history. For who among us would give his son to death?

Finally, and most relevant to each of us, is the responsibility each of us has in the death of Jesus. Without our sin, and our sins, he would not have needed to die. But the story is that he died for our sins and without that death/atonement/blood, we would be eternally lost. “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3), and again, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by his wounds you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

So when people mention that the Jewish people were culpable for the death of Jesus, they are 20 per cent right. It’s true, but it’s not the entire story. And how grateful I am for the lamb of God giving himself for our sins and demonstrating his own love to us in that one marvellous act.