Who killed Jesus?
Most of us have been brought up to believe that the Jews killed Jesus. To say the Jews killed Jesus is like saying that the Americans elected Barack Obama president in 2008. The majority of American voters did indeed vote for him, but some voted for his opponent, while others did not vote at all. Likewise, those who saw to it that Jesus was killed were indeed Jews, but Jesus’ followers during His ministry were also Jews, while other Jews probably never heard of Him. Why so many Jews in the story? Because Jesus’ crucifixion took place in Judea. Everyone there was Jewish, except for some Romans keeping watch (Judea was under control of the Roman Empire at that time).
It wasn’t the Jews who rejected and killed Jesus. It was the proud! The Pharisees and Sadducees, the arrogant leaders of the conservative religious establishment, saw to it that He was put to death. To conclude that the Jews killed Jesus is to view the situation from a racist or nationalist perspective, as most of us tend to do. That’s not how God sees the world. He judges our individual hearts rather than our races or nations. And to God, those with proud hearts are Christ’s crucifiers.
It was out of the Pharisees’ arrogant belief in their own perfect spiritual knowledge that they hated Jesus for teaching biblical truth that differed from their traditional beliefs. Why did they believe their spiritual knowledge was perfect? Because, as a result of their pride, they desired to be on the same level as God, just like Adam and Eve did. The fall of mankind and the crucifixion of Jesus were the result of the same sin: the prideful desire for perfect spiritual knowledge. Adam and Eve were seeking it; the Pharisees thought they had already attained it. How many of us Christians today think we have attained it, as well?
If pride is responsible for both the fall of man and the killing of Jesus, what then is the number one worst sin in the Bible? That’s right—it’s pride! If pride is so bad, shouldn’t churches focus on it more than once every one thousand sermons? How can we continue being one-dimensional or preaching man-made religious rules while practicing the Bible’s greatest sin?
The Conservative Religious Establishment
The Pharisees’ pride was not unique. They were a part of something much larger; something I call the conservative religious establishment. The Pharisees and Sadducees were the religious conservatives of their day. Jesus, His disciples, and those who believed in Him were the liberals.
Why do I label the Pharisees as conservatives? Because Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th Edition, defines the word conservative as “tending to preserve established traditions or institutions and to resist or oppose any changes in these” (this is the 2nd of six definitions listed). Out of their arrogance, the Pharisees were the epitome of conservativism.
The conservative religious establishment existed not only in the time of the Pharisees, but it has always existed. And it has always been God’s greatest enemy, just as it was in Jesus’ day. As we look back on the history of the church, we learn of people other than Jesus who tried to promote the truth of God, but were persecuted by the conservative religious establishment. Here are some examples:
Arnold of Brescia urged the church to surrender its property and secular powers. He was burned to death in 1155.
Peter Waldo of France promoted a Bible-focused, back-to-the-simple life movement that appealed to many people. He was excommunicated in the late 1100’s. Many of his followers, the Waldenses, were tortured and killed during the Inquisition.
John Wyclif of England opposed papal power and luxury, as well as other non-biblical church doctrines. He faced fierce opposition from the Church, but was too popular for the church to persecute.
John Hus of Bohemia promoted Jesus, rather than the pope, as the head of the church. He was burned at the stake in 1415
Martin Luther, father of the Protestant reformation, was excommunicated from the church, and declared an outlaw, but managed to escape death.
Felix Manz was the first person to receive adult baptism (1526). He was a leader of the Anabaptists, who sought to return to the lifestyles of the Apostles and to separate the church from the state. He and over 4,000 other Anabaptists were killed by both Lutherans and Roman Catholics.
William Tyndale pioneered the movement to translate the Bible into English so everybody could know it. He was burned at the stake in 1537.
Throughout history, the conservative religious establishment, full of arrogance over its spiritual knowledge, has violently opposed those who introduced the beliefs we hold so dear today. As we look back on these examples, we wonder how the conservative religious establishment could have opposed God’s biblical will. Additionally, we are appalled at their persecution of those who promoted it.
If we can look back on history and wonder at the sins of the conservative religious establishment, isn’t it likely that Christians in the future will look back on our time and wonder at the sins of today’s conservative religious establishment? Surely, we are wrong about some things. The statistical probability of our being correct in all doctrines is extraordinarily low. Since this is the case, how can we be arrogant toward those who disagree with us on theological issues?
We often fail to equate ourselves with the church of the late Middle Ages, which persecuted the martyrs I just listed, because we Christians today lack the political power to put those with differing beliefs to death. However, Jesus showed us in Matthew 5:21-22 that we are guilty of murdering those with differing beliefs when we have hatred for them in our hearts. He said, “You have heard the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to His brother ‘Raca,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.”
In other words, when we hate people, we desire to kill or hurt them. But we choose not to, because we might be imprisoned or sentenced to death as a result. So we do the only thing we can get away with—we call them the worst name we can think of. In God’s eyes, this hatred and slander that we project toward those with differing theologies is as evil as the murder of the reformers by the church of the late Middle Ages.
What names do we call those Christians who differ from us in their views or lifestyles? The most common names sound rather mild, such as non-Christian or unsaved. A traditional creation enforcement web site once referred to a pastor with a differing view as an enemy of the cross.
Regardless of the term used, the purpose of its use is to pronounce damnation on the individual holding the opposing view. By doing so, we seat ourselves on God’s throne and pronounce judgment in His place. It’s as if we want our theological opponents to go to hell for having different views on such things as creationism, polygamy (Mormons), penance (Roman Catholics), or the Trinity (Jehovah’s Witnesses), even though salvation comes by faith in Christ, not by having perfect theological understanding.
Fortunately, it’s not our right to send others to hell; it’s God’s right. Unfortunately, this verbal judgmentalism can lead those with theological differences to doubt their own salvation, and it can ruin their relationship with God. When this happens, Satan succeeds in using our pride to carry out his purposes.
This pharisaic hatred of those with differing beliefs is also directed outside the church. How many times have we heard preachers spew venom at celebrities and politicians? Take the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinski scandal of the 1990’s. Bill Clinton committed adultery and lied about it. But didn’t King David, whom the Bible refers to as “the man after God’s own heart,” also commit adultery and even have the woman’s husband killed? King David’s sin was worse than that of Bill Clinton, yet conservative Christians embrace King David as a hero and damn Bill Clinton as a villain.
The biblical account of King David’s evil deed is one of many examples of how God chooses and loves His people even when they commit major sins. While God did discipline David, He did not reject Him. Some conservative Christians may argue that the celebrities and politicians they attack are not Christians and, therefore, are not God’s people. Perhaps, a reminder is needed here: we Christians are to lead people to Christ; and to us, every person is a potential Christian, because we do not know what the future holds. Remember that even Jesus, who had the authority to judge, said that He “did not come to judge the world, but to save the world [John 12:47].” Are we to be like Jesus and His Apostles leading people to salvation, or are we to behave like the Pharisees by judging the world?