Who Is Responsible for the Murder of Jesus?

Yesterday was Good Friday, and on Good Friday we commemorated a very specific murder—perhaps the most significant murder in human history. We remembered that Jesus was murdered on a cross.

In this post, I want to answer a question. Who is responsible for the murder of Jesus?

Now, at the surface, you might say, “It was the Roman soldiers. They were the ones who beat him and crucified him.” Or you might say, “No, it was Pontius Pilate. Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor at the time, and he commanded the Roman soldiers to beat him and crucify him.” Or you might say, “No, it was the angry mob. They were yelling at Pilate, ‘Crucify him!’ And they were going to riot unless he complied.” Or you might say, “No, it was the Jewish religious leaders. They were jealous of Jesus, and they had been plotting his death for years. It was the Jewish religious leaders who brought false accusations against Jesus and turned the mob against him.” Or you might say, “No, it was Judas Iscariot. He was the one who originally betrayed Jesus and had him arrested in the middle of the night, and he turned Jesus over to the religious leaders.”

Who Is Actually Responsible?

The apostle Peter also had a response to this question, and his response is very different than all of the above. About fifty days after Jesus had died, Peter is talking to this large crowd in Jerusalem. Most of these people were not present when Jesus died. And he says to them in Acts 2:22-23, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”

So who is responsible for the death of Jesus? Technically Peter has two answers.

The first answer is found at the end of verse 23, where Peter says, “You crucified and killed Jesus by the hands of lawless men.” Notice that he is not saying, “Lawless men crucified and killed Jesus.” All of the above parties—the Roman soldiers, Pontius Pilate, the angry mob, the Jewish religious leaders, Judas Iscariot—were the lawless men. But Peter didn’t attribute the ultimate responsibility to them. He is saying, “You crucified and killed Jesus.” Now, how is it that these people, who weren’t even present at Jesus’ crucifixion, were responsible for killing Jesus?

There’s an interesting passage in Hebrews that sheds some light on this, “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt” (Heb 6:4-6).

The author is talking about people who are sinning against God, and he is describing these people as “crucifying once again the Son of God.” What this passage is hinting at, and what Peter was hinting at in Acts 2, is that any human being who has sinned is responsible for the death of Jesus. When it comes to who is responsible for the murder of any other person, perhaps one or two people may be guilty. But when it comes to the death of Jesus, everybody who has sinned bears the responsibility.

It wasn’t just the Roman soldiers, or Pontius Pilate, or the angry mob, or the Jewish leaders, or Judas Iscariot, who bears the responsibility of Jesus’ death. Every single person who has sinned—past, present, or future—bears that responsibility. And the reason is because every sin is first and foremost a sin against God, and Jesus is God.

It’s a sobering thought—that we are responsible. Nobody wants to be responsible for a murder. But all of our sins that we have committed have contributed to the murder of Jesus.

When we deceive and manipulate, we are nailing Jesus to the cross. When we lash out in anger, we are nailing Jesus to the cross. When we are spiteful and bitter, we are nailing Jesus to the cross. When we are lustful and jealous, we are nailing Jesus to the cross.

So that’s the first answer—we sinners are responsible for Jesus’ murder. But there’s a second answer.

In Peter’s speech, he says that Jesus was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God. In other words, Jesus’ death didn’t catch God by surprise. When Jesus was being accused, mocked, beaten, and crucified, God wasn’t looking at what was going on and thinking, “Oh no! What are you doing to him? This is not how I thought things would turn out!” It was all a part of God’s plan. In fact, in Isaiah 53:10, the prophet says of Jesus, that “it was the will of the Lord to crush him.” Jesus’ death was very much God’s responsibility, just as it is our responsibility.

But why did God kill his own Son?

Paul writes in Romans 5:8 that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

God killed Jesus out of love for us. God chose to give his Son up, and Jesus obeyed the Father’s will in going along with that decision, out of love for us. It was God’s love for humanity that held Jesus on that cross. For it was only through the death of Jesus that humanity could obtain life.

Paul writes in Colossians 2:13-14, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”

Before Jesus died on the cross, we had this record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This wasn’t a financial debt. It’s not like we owed God money. This was a moral debt, and it could only be paid by death itself.

But while we were dead in our trespasses, while we were still sinners, God paid off that debt through the death of Jesus. When God nailed Jesus to the cross, he also nailed our record of debt to that cross, so that our life sentence was paid by Jesus himself.

And this is also a sobering thought—that God is responsible for the murder of Jesus, for God loved us so much he would kill his own Son so that we could have life.

It’s a radically beautiful paradox—that we are so sinful that we nailed Jesus to the cross, but we are so loved that God nailed Jesus to the cross. And so when we look at the cross, we are reminded of our our love for sin, and it takes away our pride. But also when we look at the cross, we are reminded of God’s love for us, and it takes away our shame.

And that is what makes Good Friday so good.

You Meant Evil, but God Meant It for Good

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the story of Joseph. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt, where he eventually becomes a powerful ruler who saves the country from a devastating famine.

In Genesis 50:20, Joseph says to his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

The brothers meant to do evil to Joseph, but God incorporated those evil plans into his good plan, to save people from famine, so that even Joseph’s brothers—the people who committed those evil acts in the first place—benefited from the goodness of God.

This paradox—that what people mean for evil God means for good—is ultimately realized on Good Friday.

On Good Friday, God invited all of the evil of the world to come at him, to take him head on. It was like one big cosmic showdown, an open invitation to all the evil of the world to challenge him. Every sin ever committed from the dawn of human history conspired together to attack Jesus. So Jesus took the betrayal. He took the corruption. He took the pain. He took the beatings. He took the abandonment. And he took even death itself.

But it was all a trap. Because what the world meant for evil God meant for good. When Jesus died, all the evil that came to him died with him too.

Two parties are responsible for Jesus’ death on the cross—people like us, who meant Jesus’ death for evil, and God, who meant Jesus’ death for good. And in the greatest irony of ironies, we nailed Jesus to the cross by sinning against him, and God nailed Jesus to that same cross to pay for that sin. Thus, God nailed Jesus to the cross as a direct response to us nailing Jesus to the cross.

John Stott wrote about this dual responsibility in his book The Cross of Christ, “On the human level, Judas gave him up to the priests, who gave him up to Pilate, who gave him up to the soldiers, who crucified him. But on the divine level, the Father gave him up, and he gave himself up, to die for us. As we face the cross, then, we can say to ourselves both, ‘I did it, my sins sent him there,’ and ‘He did it, his love took him there.’ … For the cross which… is an exposure of human evil, is at the same time a revelation of the divine purpose to overcome the human evil thus exposed.”

During this Easter weekend, may we hold this dual responsibility in beautiful tension—that the cross is the climax of our sin and that the cross is the climax of God’s love. And may we always remember that when life is filled with evil and sin and suffering, God will provide a way out. For what the world means for evil God means for good.


Yesterday was Good Friday, and on Good Friday we commemorated a very specific murder—perhaps the most significant murder in human history. We remembered that Jesus was murdered on a cross.

In this post, I want to answer a question—the same question that all of these cops ask when they find a dead body. Who is responsible for the murder of Jesus?

Now, at the surface, you might say, “It was the Roman soldiers. They were the ones who beat him and crucified him.” Or you might say, “No, it was Pontius Pilate. Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor at the time, and he commanded the Roman soldiers to beat him and crucify him.” Or you might say, “No, it was the angry mob. They were yelling at Pilate, ‘Crucify him!’ And they were going to riot unless he complied.” Or you might say, “No, it was the Jewish religious leaders. They were jealous of Jesus, and they had been plotting his death for years. It was the Jewish religious leaders who brought false accusations against Jesus and turned the mob against him.” Or you might say, “No, it was Judas Iscariot. He was the one who originally betrayed Jesus and had him arrested in the middle of the night, and he turned Jesus over to the religious leaders.”

Who Is Actually Responsible?

The apostle Peter also had an answer to this question, and his answer is very different than all of the above. About fifty days after Jesus had died, Peter is talking to this large crowd in Jerusalem. Most of these people were not present when Jesus died. And he says to them in Acts 2:22-23, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”

So who is responsible for the death of Jesus? Technically Peter has two answers.

The first answer is found at the end of verse 23, where Peter says, “You crucified and killed Jesus by the hands of lawless men.” Notice that he is not saying, “Lawless men crucified and killed Jesus.” All of the above parties—the Roman soldiers, Pontius Pilate, the angry mob, the Jewish religious leaders, Judas Iscariot—were the lawless men. But Peter didn’t attribute the ultimate responsibility to them. He is saying, “You crucified and killed Jesus.” Now, how is it that these people, who weren’t even present at Jesus’ crucifixion, were responsible for killing Jesus?

There’s an interesting passage in Hebrews that sheds some light on this, “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt” (Heb 6:4-6).

The author is talking about people who are sinning against God, and he is describing these people as “crucifying once again the Son of God.” What this passage is hinting at, and what Peter was hinting at in Acts 2, is that any human being who has sinned is responsible for the death of Jesus. When it comes to who is responsible for the murder of any other person, whether a fictional character in a TV show or a real figure in history, perhaps one or two people may be guilty. But when it comes to the death of Jesus, everybody who has sinned bears the responsibility.

It wasn’t just the Roman soldiers, or Pontius Pilate, or the angry mob, or the Jewish leaders, or Judas Iscariot, who bears the responsibility of Jesus’ death. Every single person who has sinned—past, present, or future—bears that responsibility. And the reason is because every sin is first and foremost a sin against God, and Jesus is God.

It’s a sobering thought—that we are responsible. Nobody wants to be responsible for a murder. But all of our sins that we have committed have contributed to the murder of Jesus.

When we deceive and manipulate, we are nailing Jesus to the cross. When we lash out in anger, we are nailing Jesus to the cross. When we are spiteful and bitter, we are nailing Jesus to the cross. When we are lustful and jealous, we are nailing Jesus to the cross.

So that’s the first answer—we sinners are responsible for Jesus’ murder. But there’s a second answer.

In Peter’s speech, he says that Jesus was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God. In other words, Jesus’ death didn’t catch God by surprise. When Jesus was being accused, mocked, beaten, and crucified, God wasn’t looking at what was going on and thinking, “Oh no! What are you doing to him? This is not how I thought things would turn out!” It was all a part of God’s plan. In fact, in Isaiah 53:10, the prophet says of Jesus, that “it was the will of the Lord to crush him.” Jesus’ death was very much God’s responsibility, just as it is our responsibility.

But why did God kill his own Son?

Paul writes in Romans 5:8 that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

God killed Jesus out of love for us. God chose to give his Son up, and Jesus obeyed the Father’s will in going along with that decision, out of love for us. It was God’s love for humanity that held Jesus on that cross. For it was only through the death of Jesus that humanity could obtain life.

Paul writes in Colossians 2:13-14, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”

Before Jesus died on the cross, we had this record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This wasn’t a financial debt. It’s not like we owed God money. This was a moral debt.

It may seem like an odd concept to have moral debt, but I think we all by nature understand it. Even in the secular world, we often talk about relationships with economic language. If somebody does us harm, we may feel a desire for revenge or justice, and we may something like, “That person needs to pay.” So we direct anger at that person. Or we give that person the silent treatment. Or we report that person to the authorities. But whatever the case, we recognize that because that sin had caused a relational rift, there are consequences for the harm done to us. We understand that when sin is committed, debts need to be paid.

It’s the same way with our relationship with God. But because we had sinned against God, we all had this mountain of debt that stood against us. And because the one we had sinned against is God himself, the holy Creator and Sustainer of all things, our debt is a massive debt. And the only way to repay this massive debt is through death itself.

And so while we were dead in our trespasses, while we were still sinners, God pay off our debt through the death of Jesus. When God nailed Jesus to the cross, he also nailed our record of debt to that cross, so that our life sentence was paid by Jesus himself.

And this is also a sobering thought—that God is responsible for the murder of Jesus, that God loved us so much he would kill his own Son so that we could have life.

It’s a radically beautiful paradox—that we are so sinful that we nailed Jesus to the cross, but we are so loved that God nailed Jesus to the cross. And so when we look at the cross, we are reminded of our our love for sin, and it takes away our pride. But also when we look at the cross, we are reminded of God’s love for us, and it takes away our shame.

And that is what makes Good Friday so good.

You Meant Evil, but God Meant It for Good

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the story of Joseph. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt, where he eventually becomes a powerful ruler who saves the country from a devastating famine.

In Genesis 50:20, Joseph says to his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

The brothers meant to do evil to Joseph, but God incorporated those evil plans into his good plan, to save people from famine, so that even Joseph’s brothers—the people who committed those evil acts in the first place—benefited from the goodness of God.

This paradox—that what people mean for evil God means for good—is ultimately realized on Good Friday.

Two parties are responsible for Jesus’ death on the cross—people like us, who meant Jesus’ death for evil, and God, who meant Jesus’ death for good. And in the greatest irony of ironies, we nailed Jesus to the cross by sinning against him, and God nailed Jesus to that same cross to pay for that sin. God nailed Jesus to the cross as a direct response to us nailing Jesus to the cross.

John Stott wrote about this dual responsibility in his book The Cross of Christ, “On the human level, Judas gave him up to the priests, who gave him up to Pilate, who gave him up to the soldiers, who crucified him. But on the divine level, the Father gave him up, and he gave himself up, to die for us. As we face the cross, then, we can say to ourselves both, ‘I did it, my sins sent him there,’ and ‘He did it, his love took him there.’ … For the cross which… is an exposure of human evil, is at the same time a revelation of the divine purpose to overcome the human evil thus exposed.”

Good Friday is the beautiful display of God’s response to evil. He does not hide from evil. He does not cower away from evil. But instead, at the cross, he invited all of the evil of the world to come at him, to take him head on. It was like one big cosmic showdown, an open invitation to all the evil of the world to challenge him. And evil eagerly arose to the challenge, throwing everything it had at Jesus. Every sin ever committed from the dawn of human history conspired together to attack Jesus. So Jesus took the betrayal. He took the corruption. He took the pain. He took the beatings. He took the abandonment. And he took even death itself.

But it was all a trap. Because what the world meant for evil God meant for good. When Jesus died, all the evil that came to him died with him too.

When Jesus died on the cross, it may have seemed that the goodness of God had been overcome by the evil of the world. But in reality, it was the opposite. Through this very act of allowing himself to be overcome by evil Jesus actually overcame evil itself. For evil itself died when Jesus died. And so, on Good Friday, the evil of the world was thwarted by the goodness of God.

Larry Lin

Larry was born and raised in San Jose, CA, and he serves as a pastor at The Village Church in Baltimore, MD. He has a BS from Cornell University and a MDiv from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Larry is the husband to Van-Kim and the father of one daughter, and he enjoys songwriting, basketball, Wikipedia, and conversations about politics and culture.

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