Who Killed Jesus?: Meditations on the Murder of the Son of God

jacob-meyer-32136The crucifixion of Jesus is the focal point of Christianity because of the nature of the one nailed to the cross. Wayne Grudem has called the crucifixion of Jesus “the most evil deed of all history.”[1] This is because the most innocent man to ever walk the earth died the death reserved for the worst of criminals. An unjust trial led to brutal beatings and ultimate death by crucifixion, and the Son of God was nailed to a sinner’s cross. It is only fair that anyone with a moral conscious would have to wonder who is responsible for such a horrific act. When the innocent are murdered today, they warrant headline news. Jesus was brutally and unjustly killed. It is here we must ask, who did it? Who is responsible for such a horrific act?

The Method of the Murder

Crucifixion was not reserved only for Jesus. It was a form of execution perfected by the Romans. Crucifixion has been called “the most painful and degrading form of capital punishment in the ancient world.”[2] Originally developed by the Assyrians and Persians, crucifixion was later used by the Greeks and Romans as a form of capital punishment for those who opposed the state. By the time Jesus walked the face of the earth, crucifixion had become more and more common, as crosses bearing criminals became a normal sight on the sides of roads leading into towns.

The Roman method of crucifixion also included scourging and flogging.[3] Not only did scourging increase pain, but it also hastened death and was in one sense merciful as the torture of hanging on the cross was greatly reduced. Nevertheless, the torture was not lacking, as the one being crucified was forced to carry his crossbeam to the execution site where he was then stripped of his clothes and bore a sign detailing his crime.

Once at the execution site, the criminal would have his hands either tied or nailed to the crossbeam. A criminal was only nailed to a cross if the executioners desired a quicker death. If nailed, the nails would be driven through the wrists and feet. Though death often resulted from asphyxiation, it was also common for criminals to bleed out. More often than not, crucifixions were inhumanely brutal, torturously long, and indescribably shameful. This brutal form of capital punishment was on display for all to see. A man was stripped, beaten, scourged, flogged, mocked, degraded, dehumanized, and slowly killed as a public display of the nation’s might and resolve to punish any and all enemies of the state.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the sinless Savior, the suffering Servant, died the ancient world’s worst death in the absolute worst way.

A Grand Murder Mystery Party

In seeking to answer the question, “Who killed Jesus?” it is like participating in a cosmic and historic murder mystery party. The Son of Man hangs on a cross, bows his head, gives up his spirit, and dies. He lays down his life for his sheep. But who is to blame? Who is at fault? Who is responsible? As Jesus’ mangled and bloody body hangs from the cross, all look around on top of the hill outside Jerusalem and wonder who truly killed this sinless and innocent man.

Like all good murder mystery parties, we must look for evidence—clues that lead us to the culprit. There are many suspects and many answers we can give. Let’s look at them.

  1. Was it the Romans?

One could argue that it was the Romans who were responsible for the death of Jesus. Rome did have authority in Israel. Rome was the governing empire in Jerusalem, and all who lived in Israel were subject to Roman rule. Crucifixion also belonged to the Romans. It was their form of capital punishment that killed the Son of God, so it must be Rome! After all, was it not the Roman soldiers that actually carried out the act of crucifixion, nailing Jesus to a cross, waiting for him to die? Did not Jesus appear before multiple Roman leaders? What about Pilate? Did Jesus not appear before him (Matt. 27:2)? Wasn’t it Pilate who ordered the death of Jesus (Matt. 27:17, 22, 24; Luke 23:25)? What about Herod? He mocked the Son of God, found him innocent, yet sent him back to Pilate to make the final call (Luke 23:11). These Roman leaders called for the execution of a man they knew to be completely innocent (Luke 23:14-15). Does it get more evil than this?

The prayer of the early church affirms: “For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel” (Acts 4:27, emphasis added). So did the Romans kill Jesus? Yes. Yet their motives were evil, and their role was small.

  1. Was it the Jews?

Though we have meddled through some evidence and seen that, yes, the Romans killed Jesus, there is much more evidence at hand. Could there be multiple culprits, multiple killers? Scripture seems to answer so. Surely, the Jews killed Jesus. Was it not the Jewish leaders who opposed Jesus from day one of his ministry? Was it not the Jews who called for his death (Matt. 27:20, 22-23)? Jesus did appear before the Jewish Council where he was questioned and condemned for blasphemy.

Since it was the Jews who pressured Pilate to crucify Jesus, surely the Jews are responsible for the death of the Christ. Peter himself accused the Jews of murdering Jesus in his Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:23). Again, the prayer of the early church affirms: “For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel” (Acts 4:27). So, did the Jews kill Jesus? Yes. Yet their motives were evil, and their role was small.

  1. Was it Judas?

How about Judas? We have seen that, yes, it could be said that both the Romans and Jews killed Jesus. However, we have more evidence to consider—a suicide victim. What guilt led Judas to the point of suicide (Matt. 27:3-5)? He “betrayed innocent blood” (Matt. 27:4). Judas was one of the original twelve disciples and was chosen by Jesus to follow him. He was a lover of money (John 12:4-6), and he chose silver over the Treasure. It was Judas who betrayed Jesus with a kiss (Matt. 26:47-50; Luke 22:47-48). Judas delivered Jesus into the hands of those who would crucify him. Surely he is responsible for the death of the Son of God. Based on the evidence at hand, can we say that Judas killed Jesus? Yes. Yet his motives were evil, and his role was small.

God Killed Jesus

We have three suspects before us so far—Romans, Jews, and Judas. Each played a role in the death of Jesus. The Romans judged and crucified him. The Jews delivered and accused him. Judas betrayed him. Each of these components led to the death of the Son of God, and each suspect carried out their respective roles with malice in their hearts. However, there is a better “suspect,” if you will. There is a much greater answer we can give to this question. Who killed Jesus? God did. His motives were pure and his role was grand. God is ultimately responsible for the death of Jesus. The Father did not only send his Son to die, but he sent his Son to be killed at his hand. Realizing this radically changes our understanding of God and his love for sinners. In the active work of the Father in the death of his Son, we get a glimpse of his glory and incomparable love.

It is odd to speak of the death of Christ in this way. It seems quite blasphemous to even say, “God killed Jesus.” Killing connotes sin, and we know that God cannot sin (Titus 1:2; Heb. 4:15; 6:17-18). Nevertheless, this is the way the Bible puts it. In the great Servant Song in Isaiah 53, the prophet writes, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted…All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all…Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief (Isa. 53:4, 6, 10, emphasis added). Do you see the active language? God “crushed” his Son. He “put him to grief.” Jesus was “smitten by God.”

Still further in Acts 2:23, Peter proclaims this very idea of divine smiting: “Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” This tells us that behind the evil intentions and actions of the Romans, the Jews, and even Judas was God not merely passively observing, but actively working with the greatest intentions of all. God’s sovereignty over all sin, evil, and suffering is exemplified in the cross of Christ as God is the one who delivers Jesus to be crucified. God smote his Son. God crushed the Christ. God laid on him the iniquity of us all. Who killed Jesus? His Father did. Why? Because God is eternally holy and eternally love (Isa. 6:3; 1 John 4:8, 16). God’s love for his own righteousness and his love for sinners find reconciliation in the death of Jesus. God cannot justly magnify his glory and love sinners without a sinless sacrifice to atone for sin. John Piper words it this way:

The Son was bruised because God-dishonoring sin could not be ignored. And why couldn’t it all be ignored? Why couldn’t God just let bygones be bygones? Because God loves the honor of his name. He will not act as though sin, which belittles his glory, didn’t matter. It cannot simply be swept under the rug of the universe, as though nothing awesome were at stake. The judge of all the earth will do right. He will judge the world in righteousness.[4]

For Love and Glory He Died

God did not sit by idly as lawless men killed his Son. No, God actively killed his Son out of his indescribable love for those who have belittled his glory, defamed his name, and delighted in sin. Who killed Jesus? His Father did. And through this death, God put his glory, his love, his grace and his sovereignty on full display. The Father poured out his wrath on his Son so that guilty sinners would be counted righteous. Jesus bore the wrath of God in our place. Jesus hung in shame on a cross on a hill outside Jerusalem. He was slaughtered by sinful Romans, Jews, and even one of his disciples. Oh, but he hung in glory and love as he bore the sin of those whom God would save. The cross of Christ is a display of sinful man and a sovereign God. In his crucifixion, Jesus’ sinless death displays the glory and love of God for all to see.

In the cross of Christ, we see the righteousness of God in saving sinners. “It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). Christian, you can delight in God’s prerogative to kill his Son on your behalf. By your faith in the Son who was slain, you will enter into life. In the death of Christ, death found its death.

Because the Father is eternally committed to his glory and passionately loves sinners, he actively designed in eternity past and carried out at the perfect time the death of his Son (Acts 4:27-28). This is the greatest news for you and me. God vindicated his love for his glory and his love for sinners in the substitutionary death of Jesus. Jesus was forsaken, smitten, crushed, and ultimately killed by God all for love, all for glory, and all for the global worship of the Lamb who was slain (Rev. 5:9; 7:9). Rejoice in the God-designed plan of salvation that only comes through the Christ who was “pierced for our transgressions [and] crushed for our iniquities” (Isa. 53:5).

*This post originally appeared as a chapter in my book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God.


[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 326.

[2] Grant Osborne, “Cross, Crucifixion” in Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. Chad Owen Brand, Charles W. Draper, and Archie W. England (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 368.

[3] Scourging is the process in which a criminal was “beaten with a whip consisting of thongs with pieces of metal or bone attached to the end” (Ibid., 368).

[4] John Piper, The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God’s Delight in Being God (Sisters: Multnomah, 1991, 2000), 161.

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