By Donald P. Ames
It has now been nearly 2,000 years since our Lord and Savior was nailed to the cross of Calvary. The account of that tragedy is recorded on the pages of divine writ, as well as His great victory over death. And this event has since become the focal point of the very claims of Christianity.
During the three years of His public ministry prior to His death, Jesus was busy teaching the people the righteousness of God. He performed many mighty works in their midst, bearing abundant testimony that He was indeed the Son of God (Jn. 3:2; 10:25, 37-38). He also rebuked and exposed the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders and their sinful ways. Because of His claims as the Son of God, this soon aroused their wrath, and steps were taken to put Him to death (Jn. 11:47-53).
After several attempts and failures (Jn. 8:59, 10:31), arrangements were made with Judas to betray Jesus (Matt. 26:14-16). This was accomplished in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:47f), and steps were taken to insure the death of Jesus (Matt. 27:1). Since Roman law forbade the Jews to do the actual killing, Jesus was delivered over to Pilate, because “we are not permitted to put any one to death” (Jn. 18:31). Yet, according to their charges, He was 1 to be put to death (Jn. 19:7). When Pilate hesitated, they charged, “If this man were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him up to you” (Jn. 18:30).
According to the usual custom, Pilate sought to release Jesus, finding no guilt in Him (Jn. 18:38), and offered the people a choice between Jesus (who had done much good) and Barabbas (a robber and murderer). But “the chief priests stirred up the multitude to ask him to release Barabas for them instead” (Mk. 15:11), even though it was obvious even to Pilate that they were motivated by envy (Mk. 15:10). And though Pilate made further efforts to release Jesus, “the Jews cried out, saying, `If you release this man, you are no friend to Caesar’ ” (Jn. 19:12). Finally, Pilate sought to wash his hands of the deed that he was about to perform, and the Jews willingly accepted the consequences by stating, “His blood be on us and on our children” (Matt. 27:25). Pilate permitted Jesus to be crucified.
This still was not enough to satisfy the Jews, and they sought guards for the tomb, to have it sealed, “lest the disciples come and steal Him away and say to the people, `He has risen from the dead,’ and the latter deception will be worse than the first” (Matt. 27:64). There was no disputing either their intentions or their actions.
However, Jesus was not bound by the grave,, and in fulfillment of His own prophecies, on the third day He arose from the dead and appeared to many (1 Cor. 15:1-8; Acts 1:3). Motivated with new courage and determination, and guided by the Holy Spirit, the apostles went forth and boldly proclaimed to the Jews, “this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:23). The fact of the resurrection was too abundantly established, and the consequences of such a charge stung (Rom. 1:4). No longer were they so bold and courageous to allow “His blood be upon us.” In fact, many had already had second thoughts when they beheld the events at the death of Jesus (Luke 23:48). Now, Peter’s charge stung even more. The Bible says 3,000 responded to the gospel invitation on that day (Acts 2:41).
From this point forward, a new attitude began taking hold of the Jewish leaders. As the apostles reminded them of the events just a few days previous when “you disowned the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, – a fact to which we are witnesses” (Acts 3:14-15), they were no longer willing to accept the blame. In Acts 5:28, they call the apostles to task, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and behold, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” In Acts 7:52, when Stephen charged, “Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have not become,” they could no longer contain themselves, but “cut to the quick” they began “gnashing their teeth at him” (Acts 7:54), and put him to death.
Since that time, she Jews have been busy seeking to disavow the charge that they were responsible for the death of Jesus. Efforts have been made several times in recent years to produce a Bible that would remove all references to the Jews being responsible for His death. In the Chicago Tribune (8/18/79), a notice appeared that “A Jewish leader in New York says revisions in the 1980 passion play in Oberammagau, Germany, have reduced anti-Semitic references . . . . The play, presented every 10 years, previously indicated that the Jews were to blame for the crucifixion of Jesus.” However “Jewish criticism” and “the spirit of Roman Catholicism’s Second Viatical Council” had prevailed, and that was now going to be changed.
Why would the Jews be concerned about who was to blame? Certainly the blame was not designed to destroy the Jews as a race and a people, for Peter himself said they acted out of “ignorance” (Acts 3:17). Yet, since the glorious news of the resurrection of Christ, the Jews~have not been willing to stand up and boldly state, “Yes, w’e did so! We are right in doing so, and would do so again if such an imposter arose.” Instead, they have sought repeatedly to “get the monkey off their backs.” They have claimed such blame to be “defamation” and “anti-Semitic.” They have sought to have such Bible charges deleted, and now have even had the passion play itself altered to delete all such references. Why?
We do not find similar efforts to remove charges that they killed their enemies when they entered the land of Cancan. We do not find similar efforts to remove charges that they killed other enemies. They do not even seek to deny the actions of Herod in killing off the babies (Matt. 2). But the charge that they were responsible for the death of Jesus is one charge (though formerly eager to accept) they continually seek to repudiate. Whether they accept Him as the Messiah or not (see Acts 4:16), their actions give clear testimony that they have done that which even they now know to be wrong (cf. Herod and John the Baptist, Matt. 15, Mark 6).
But, until the end of time, the charge is still a valid one. It needs to be proclaimed to all Jews. Because of their unbelief, they were broken off as the children of God (Rom. 11:20), and their only hope for salvation is to be willing to accept the conclusion they seek to deny (Rom. 1:4), and by obedience to the gospel be grafted back in (Rom. 11:23; 9:1-5; 10:103). “And thus all Israel will be saved” – in precisely the same way the Gentiles are saved (Rom. 1:16; Heb. 5:9). The facts of history – or of salvation – cannot be altered to suit man’s feelings. And the response of Judaism still today gives tactical admittance to their guilt in the death of the Son of God as well as a grudging admittance to the validity of His claims. Then why not, as did those on Pentecost, repent and obey Him while there is still time!
Truth Magazine XXIV: 44, pp. 714-715
November 6, 1980