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Who killed Jesus?

T

Sadly for millions of Jewish people the idea that Jesus could be the one to

bring peace and reconciliation seems ridiculous and offensive.

 

Nikki used to visit a lady called Millie who was born around the beginning

of the 20th century and brought up in a small town in Poland. 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

Roman Catholics 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 the Jews

and is responsible for our misery.

 

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. (Homilae Adversus Iudaeos).

 

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.

 

With the rise of Roman Catholicism Jewish people became 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, declared as slaves and given to pious Christians of position.

 

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.(Concerning the Jews and their lies).

 

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 very brief and inadequate history of Jewish suffering shows the

terrible truth that most of it has been instigated by people who claimed to

be Christians. One of the main accusations that has been brought against the

Jewish people by the professing church is to say 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?

 

It was a bit of a shock and 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 explosion of

questions and comments from the boys which showed me just how deep the

Jewish hurt is over this question. But as I prayed about it afterwards I

realised 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 the

people to whom and through whom he came in the first place.

 

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 from his youth (Luke 2.46-49).

 

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). He had fierce

controversies with the religious leaders of his day, as 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 Johns 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 clearly the use of the term the Jews in John 5.18 and

elsewhere in the Gospel cannot mean the entire Jewish people. It means the

Jewish religious leadership. In many ways John is the most Jewish of the

Gospels showing the connection between Jesus teaching and Jewish festivals

and customs. In Johns 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 Fathers 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 a following chapter 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, it is clear that

the responsibility here for what happened is placed on God himself. It

pleased the Lord to bruise him. 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 Matthews 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 the Divine will that even those responsible for the death of

Jesus, whether Jewish or Gentile, should find forgiveness through repentance

and faith in 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. Acts 3.17-19

 

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, and 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 his name.

 

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 repent and believe

in the salvation offered by the Messiah or to reject it and thereby place

themselves under the judgment of God. Of course many Jewish people did

reject the Apostles message, exactly as happens when the same message is

presented to the British, the Russians, the Chinese and the Africans today.

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. This was vividly illustrated

in the film of Bernard Malamud’s book, The Fixer. In this story, Yakov

Bok, a Jew living in Tsarist Russia is wrongly accused of murder and

imprisoned. The case is a cruel example of the anti-Semitism rife in Russia

at the end of the last 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 and is

astounded to discover that Jesus is Jewish. Therefore, he reasons,

whoever hates the Jew hates Jesus. This is absolutely true and the hatred

for the Jews often expressed by churches demonstrates a spirit of force,

tyranny and prejudice which is the absolute opposite of the true spirit of

Jesus the Messiah.

T