Blaming Jews for the Crucifixion of Jesus is the Ugliest Form of Antisemitism
Who Killed Jesus?
In just a few weeks Christians around the globe will spend Good Friday in solemn remembrance of the crucifixion of Jesus. Who is responsible for the death of Jesus? For most of Christian history the Jewish people have been accused of murdering Jesus. Over the centuries Christian art depicts Jews as evil murderers who killed Jesus.
Vatican II Council in 1965 published a declaration entitled Nostra Aetate which relieved Jews past and present from being accountable for the crucifixion of Jesus.
Deicide – The Murder of God
Since the 2nd century when church father Justin Martyr proclaimed the Jews would collectively as a people bear the responsibility from generation to generation for killing Jesus, the charge of deicide (the murder of God) has been used by Christians to persecute Jews – think of the crusades, pogroms, expulsions, and ultimately the Holocaust. Even though Nostra Aetate nearly sixty years ago cleared the Jews of killing Jesus and even though Pope Benedict XVI more than a decade ago exonerated Jews of the crime of deicide, proclaiming in his book Jesus of Nazareth-Part II that there is no basis in Scripture to blame the Jewish people for Christ’s death, there are still Christians both Catholic and Protestant who believe the Jews killed Jesus. Bad habits are hard to break.
The Myth of the Desecration of the Host
Throughout the age-long history of Christian Antisemitism, myths concerning all kinds of Jewish evils grew out of the lie that the Jews murdered Jesus. One of these myths was known as the Desecration of the Host. It proclaimed that Jews would sneak into Mass on the Lord’s day and steal the host (sacramental bread) from the altar in order to take it home and crucify it with a sharp object. Over the centuries many Jews were beaten and murdered by Christians who believed this myth.
Stained glass depicting the myth of Jews stealing sacramental bread, in the Cathedral of Brussels.
Is it true? Did the Jews kill Jesus?
There are several factors in the gospel accounts and in the historical records that have been overlooked by both Catholic and Protestant Christians who still hold Jews responsible for killing Jesus. Here are three:
THE ROMANS AND ONLY THE ROMANS CONTROLLED CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
During the time of Jesus, Israel was under the occupation of the brutal Imperial Roman authority and was subjected to the policies of the Roman empire – including relinquishing the ability to pass down capital punishment upon criminals.
THE ROMANS WERE BRUTAL DICTATORS
The Romans were swift and violent against any sign of Jewish uprising – including the hope of a Jewish Messiah that would overpower the Roman oppressors of the Jewish nation. Remember the conversation of the two on the road to Emmaus? In speaking of Jesus, they said, “…we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). Remember the question the disciples asked Jesus? “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6). Those who followed Jesus believed he was going to deliver them from their Roman oppressors. Rome not only ruled over the land of Israel but also over the Jewish priesthood. The full Roman military occupation of Israel fearfully suppressed the hope of a delivering messiah and the reality of that threat was ever present. The fear of Jesus’ growing popularity among the Jewish people raised the possibility of Roman aggression: “So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, ‘What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (John 11:47-48).
PILATE WAS A BAD GUY
Was Pilate a saint? Both the Greek Orthodox and Coptic faiths proclaim Pilate and his wife are saints. The Christian theologian Augustine declared Pilate to have converted to Christianity and in mid-fourth century Christian art Pilate is included in paintings with Abraham and the prophet Daniel. Many Christians view Pilate as an innocent victim who was coerced by Jews into ordering the crucifixion of Jesus. By making Pilate a puppet of Jewish leaders, blaming Jews for the death of Jesus is tidier and more convenient.
However, far from being a saint, Pilate was a ruthless barbarian filled with hatred and contempt toward the Jews. He suppressed one Jewish uprising after another with reckless abandon. The Jewish philosopher Philo said this about Pilate's reign of terror on the Jews: “…the briberies, the insults, the robberies, the outrages and wanton injuries, the executions without trial constantly repeated, the ceaseless and supremely grievous cruelty” (Philo, Embassy to Gaius 10.302). He even delighted in mixing the blood of slaughtered Jewish worshipers with the blood of animal sacrifices (See Luke 13:1). After ten years of causing horror and bloodshed in Israel, Pilate was deposed by the Roman Emperor Vitellius for his reckless cruelty.
So, Who Killed Jesus?
According to all gospel accounts, Jesus died on a Roman cross. The fact is that it was Pilate who passed down the sentence of death on Jesus (Luke 23:24) and it was the Roman soldiers who drove the nails in his hands and feet and thrust the spear into his side.
Why is blaming Jews for the death of Jesus the ugliest form of Antisemitism?
Because the lie the Jews are “Christ Killers” has made Christian Antisemitism the oldest Jew hatred in history and sadly the lie continues to fester in the hearts of many Christians today.
Blaming Jews for killing Jesus reveals not only hideous Antisemitic contempt in a person’s heart but a shallow understanding of Biblical truth
The truth is made so obvious in scripture that one must be blinded by contempt toward the Jews to even question if they killed Jesus. Why is this? Because according to Jesus, not one human on planet earth had the power to kill him. Not the Jews, not the Romans– no one. Listen to what Jesus said about his death:
“For this reason, the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:17-18).
Furthermore, the writers of the New Testament scriptures make it clear that neither the Jews nor the Romans were responsible for the crucifixion:
“…this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23).
“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32).
If after examining the Biblical facts about the crucifixion of Jesus, a person still holds contempt in their heart against Jews-pointing a finger of judgment toward them while blaming them for killing Jesus – they should realize they have three fingers pointing back at them. Why? Because Christian doctrine teaches that it was my sin that Jesus willingly laid His life down to atone for.
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (II Corinthians 5:21).
“He Himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (I Peter 2:24).
If we as Christians believe the death of Jesus canceled the record of our sin, how can we in turn not cancel any contempt we may hold in our hearts toward our Jewish elders?
“He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14).
This knowledge should lead every Christian everywhere during this season of remembrance of Jesus’ willing sacrifice that it’s a time of repentance not blame.
President of Israel Team Advocates