Many people are put to death because of crimes they’ve committed. Most of these crimes involve murder. But there are some countries that will put someone to death simply because a person is a Christian. This isn’t anything new, and it happens frequently. Have you ever wondered why Jesus was executed? The answer might surprise you if you dig into the question. It also might surprise you to find out who really executed Him.
At first it might look as if the Jewish leaders were guilty of bringing about Jesus’ death. He was born to a Jewish mother and fulfilled all prophecy concerning the First Coming of the Messiah. Although His mother was Jewish, Jesus is the Son of God. Actually, He came as God in the flesh to redeem all people from sin. The very people who should have recognized this truth sought to have Jesus put to death.
The Pharisees where religious leaders of the day and put on a great show of being “holier than thou.” They knew the Mosaic Law and did everything they could to live even holier than the Law required and looked down on everyone else. Jesus saw right through them and didn’t accept their false pride.
“Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.” (Matthew 23:24)
The scribes and Pharisees were so concerned with the smallest letter of the law that they were blind to the bigger picture. Jesus had many confrontations with these men and He never backed down from pointing out the failures in their leadership. According to the Mosaic Law, blasphemy was a capital crime worthy of death.
“And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the LORD shall be put to death.” (Leviticus 24:16)
It’s a very serious offense to talk against God or claim to be God. Many people today claim that Jesus never said He was God, but they are wrong. The deity of Christ is an important fact to the Christian faith and Jesus claimed to be God many times. One of the most colorful confrontations between Jesus and the Pharisees is recorded in the Gospel of John.
The Pharisees had accused Jesus of casting out a demon by the power of Satan. Jesus responded by saying, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do…” (John 8:44a.).
Jesus pulled no punches as He spoke to the Jewish leadership. The Pharisees should have dropped the subject, but they just couldn’t let it go. Jesus told them that if a man had faith in Him he would never see death.
“Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death. Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself?” (John 8:52-53)
These blind “leaders” would not believe the truth and their mocking response shows their hardened hearts. Because Jesus is God He existed long before Abraham and told this fact to the Pharisees.
“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad. Then said the Jews unto him, ‘Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?’” (John 8:56-57)
Can’t you just hear the sarcasms and distain in their voices? Then the Creator of the universe made it crystal clear:
“Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.” John 8:58.
This doesn’t translate well into English, but when Jesus said “I am” He was saying He was eternal…the “I AM” who spoke from the burning bush…the eternal God. The Pharisees were enraged.
“Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.” (John 8:59)
They wanted to stone Him for blasphemy. Eventually Judas, a disciple, went to the chief priests and offered to betray Jesus.
“And said unto them, ‘What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you?’And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver. And from that time he sought opportunity to betray him.” (Matthew 26:15-16)
This, of course, fulfilled the prophecy given by Zechariah:
“And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. And the LORD said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prised at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the LORD.” (Zechariah 11:12-13)
Indeed, Judas received his fee for betrayal and he led a band of men to arrest Jesus. Jesus was arrested, abused, and crucified, but He was innocent. Judas felt remorse for what he had done and took the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders.
“Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that.” (Matthew 27:4)
Judas knew Jesus hadn’t committed any crime. He threw down the money and went and hanged himself. It wasn’t lawful to put blood money into the treasury so the potter’s field was purchased for a place to bury strangers.
So, did Judas murder Jesus? Was it the Jews who murdered Him? These people certainly did their part, but at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, the Jewish leaders had no authority to sentence a person to death. That authority rested with the Romans. So, off they went to Pontius Pilate who was the Roman governor at the time. Since blasphemy wasn’t something that would rile a Roman official, Jesus was falsely accused of other “crimes.”
“And the whole multitude of them arose, and led him unto Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying, that he himself is Christ a King.” (Luke 23:1-2)
Pilate really didn’t want to be involved, but was obligated. Thousands of people were in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover and every able bodied Jewish man was to observe this in Jerusalem. Pilate had a lot he was dealing with because of the crowds of visitors.
“Then said Pilate to the chief priests and to the people, I find no fault in this man.” (Luke 23:4)
Innocent, right? Not really. It was more “I don’t care.” His “no fault” verdict made the Jewish leaders angry, so Pilate decided to send Jesus to Herod who just happened to be in town. After some abuse, Herod sent Him back to Pilate where He was beaten. Many people were involved in condemning Jesus, although He was innocent.
There was a tradition on Passover that one prisoner would be released. Pilate left Jesus’ fate up to a crowd that was gathered. Would they call for the release of Barabbas? He was a hardened criminal who deserved death, but Jesus was innocent.
“But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus. The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas.” (Matthew 27:20-21)
So, who do you think was guilty of condemning Jesus to death? Was it the chief priests and elders, or was Pilate to blame?
I often wonder if I had been in the crowd that day, who would I have asked to be released. I wonder how many who cheered for Barabbas really understood the situation and how many were just following the religious leaders. That still happens today. Jesus is mocked every time we accept false teachings from blind leaders or teachers.
Jesus was sentenced to be crucified. After having been beaten beyond recognition, He was forced to carry the cross through the streets of Jerusalem to where Roman soldiers drove spikes into His hands and feet.
Can you hear the clank of the hammer hitting those spikes? Can you imagine the pain?
Every time the hammer came down the nail drove further into His flesh. Then He was lifted up between two criminals. He looked down upon the Roman soldiers as they cast lots to see who would win His clothing. At the foot of the cross stood a handful of people, including Jesus’ mother and John. Peter, of course, had run away and hid. The battle Jesus fought was one that no mere human could fight.
“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
The battle was a spiritual one for the salvation of mankind. When Jesus became sin in our place, God the Father could not look upon Him.
“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)
Oh Jesus! Oh my Lord! It was me. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. It was my sin that nailed You to that cross! It wasn’t the Jewish leaders or the Roman soldiers. It was me. As Jesus hung there He had pity on those onlookers, even the Roman soldiers, and He asked God the Father to forgive them.
“Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.” (Luke 23:34)
Jesus forgave those involved in His execution. He even forgave me. Thank you, Jesus, thank you. It’s true that Jesus took the sin of the whole world upon Himself that day, but He did it willingly.
“And you being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” (Colossians 2:13-15)
My sins were what sent Him to the cross. Not my sins alone, but yours too. Jesus went to the cross willingly and all of humanity is guilty of His death, but His love for us was the reason for His sacrifice.
“Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.” (John 10:17-18)
Jesus willingly laid down His own life for His creation through His own power. It was mankind’s sin that nailed Him to that cross, and it was His love for us that kept Him there. No one person or group of people crucified the Creator of the universe. The sin of the world had to be dealt with so all of humanity could be reconciled to the one true God. The gift of salvation is free, but it has to be accepted individually.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” (John 3:16-17)
Jesus was innocent but I’m guilty. Jesus paid my debt and I’m redeemed. I’ve accepted His free gift of salvation. Have you? If yes, then live for Jesus who died for you. If not, then what’s stopping you? Time is running out and tomorrow may be too late.
God bless you all,
Ron & Nathele Graham
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All original Scripture is “theopneustos” (God breathed).
This commentary was started by Ron Graham before his death on March 14, 2013, and finished by his wife, Nathele Graham.