It is sometimes stated, and at other times implied, that Jesus was killed for opening the doors of God’s mercy to prostitutes  and tax collectors. This is sort of true, but mostly misleading. It’s true to say, and needs to be said (as I will in my sermon this upcoming Sunday), that Jesus upset some of the Jewish leaders because he extended fellowship and mercy beyond their constricted boundaries. But it is misleading to suggest that Jesus was killed for just loving too much, as if inclusive tolerance were the chief cause of his enemies’ implacable intolerance.

Take Mark’s Gospel, for example (I pick Mark because it’s what I’m preaching through right now).  By my reckoning, Jesus is opposed once for eating with sinners (2:16), once for upsetting stereotypes about him in his hometown (6:3), a few times for violating Jewish scruples about the law (2:24; 3:6; 7:5); and several times for “blaspheming” or for claiming too much authority for himself (2:7; 3:22; 11:27-28; 14:53-64; 15:29-32, 39). As Mark’s Gospel unfolds, we see the Jewish leaders increasingly hostile toward Jesus. Although the fear of the crowds stays their hand for awhile, they still try to trap Jesus and plot his destruction (8:11; 11:18; 12:12; 12:13; 14:1: 15:3, 11). There is a lot the Jewish leaders don’t like about Jesus, but their most intense, murderous fury is directed toward him because he believes “I am [the Christ, the Son of the Blessed], and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (14:62).

The four gospels, as we might expect, emphasize different aspects of their opposition.  Luke, for instance, makes more of Jesus’ identification with the society’s cast-offs as an issue for the Jewish leaders, while John makes more of Jesus’ unique status as God’s equal. But the basic outline is consistent in all four accounts. As Jesus reputation as a healer and miracle worker spreads the crowds come to him in larger and larger numbers and the elite despise him more and more.  As a general rule, Jesus was popular with the masses (the exception being in his hometown of Nazareth). And as a general rule, as his popularity (but not necessarily success) increased with the crowds, so did the opposition from the Jewish leaders.

The Jewish leaders disliked, and eventually grew to hate, Jesus for many reasons.  They accused him of many things (Mark 15:3). They were angry with him for upsetting their traditions and some of their scruples about the law. They looked down on him for eating with sinners and associating with those the culture often despised.  Most of all, they hated him because he claimed to be from God and, in fact, equal with God himself. They could not recognize his divine authority and identity.

In a nutshell that’s why the Jewish leaders (religious and political), and later some of the crowd they incited, hated Jesus. Jealousy was no doubt part of it. But deeper than that, they simply did not have the eyes to see or the faith to believe that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God.  That’s why in all four gospels, when the opposition against him reaches its climax, Jesus is not charged with being too welcoming to outsiders (though they faulted him for that too), but with being a false king, a false prophet, and a false Messiah (Matt. 26:57-68; Mark 14:53-65; Luke 22:66-71; and less clearly in John 18:19-24).  In short, they killed Jesus because they thought he was a blasphemer.

In the end, it was the implicit and explicit claims Jesus made to authority, Messiahship, and God-ness, not his expansive love, that ultimately did him in. This is certainly not an excuse for our own hard-heartedness. Conservative religious people are often prone to distancing themselves from “sinners and tax collectors.”  We need Jesus’ example to set us straight. But we must put to rest the half-truth (more like a quarter-truth really) that Jesus was killed for being too inclusive and too nice. True, the Jewish leaders objected to Jesus’ far-reaching compassion, but they wanted him dead because he thought himself the Christ, the Son of the living God. If Jesus simply loved people too much he might have been ridiculed by some.  But without his claims of deity, authority, and Old Testament fulfillment, he would not have been murdered.

So as we tell people about Jesus, let’s certainly talk about his compassion and love (how could we not!). But if we don’t talk about his identity as the Son of God, we have not explained the reason for his death, and, just as crucially, we have not given people reason enough to worship him.

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25 thoughts on “Why Did They Kill Jesus?”

  1. John says:

    Well stated. This is a very important point.

  2. Reg Schofield says:

    Great point . As we come to to the Christmas season , I have always found most people like the “love guru” Jesus who ate with the low, loved the children , talked to women who were outcast . But once you confront them with the true Jesus , the one who preached repentance , claimed to be God and spoke of hell and judgment , well that’s another story.
    We should never divorce either elements of Jesus message of love and forgiveness plus the reality that he was the incarnate Son of God, the alpha and Omega who will be the dividing line when history as we know it , comes to an end.

  3. Pete Scribner says:

    Kevin, it sounds like you’re saying that the biggest problem the leaders of the day had was a faulty basic premise (i.e., Jesus is not the Christ). If this premise had in fact been correct, then they would have been perfectly right to not only reject Jesus, but to put him to death for blasphemy (Lev. 24:16). Am I overstating your point if I put it this way?

    If that is a fair restatement, then it simply underscores the point that I think you are making. The authorities’ ultimate problem was not a matter of having a wrong opinion, but of being wrong on the facts. In an age where we are being told to ever-increasing degrees (both implicitly and explicitly, and even within the Church) that truth is relative (or at least relatively unimportant), we adopt this view to our own peril.

  4. Kevin DeYoung says:

    Yes, if Jesus was not the Christ, the Son of the living God, then he would have been a blasphemer. The Jewish leaders were right to think that only God could make the claims Jesus was making. They were wrong in their failure to see that Jesus was God in human flesh.

  5. michael says:

    Jesus claims to the throne and to divinity were the main tool used to justify killing Him. That doesn’t mean those were the main reason behind his murder, though. Those things were just the tools the Pharisees used to get the masses “fired up” and convince the Romans to kill Christ. The actual motivations behind Christ’s murder were discussed mostly in secret by the Pharisees and Jewish leaders.

    The context of John 11:53 and Matthew 12:14 best explains the main motivations. Jesus was claiming power from God, and He was displaying it in ways the Jewish leadership simply couldn’t mimic. In short, Jesus was convincing people that He represented God better then they did. He stood against their legalism and self-righteousness, and He was convincing people that He was in the right on these issues. Therefore, those in power saw their power threatened by Him. They had to come up with a plot to kill him… and his claims to divinity and kingdom were the easiest tools by which to get the job done.

    I have little doubt Christ would encounter a similar situation in the church today if He were to return in the same humble way. The church today is dominated by “seminary educated”, relatively high-paid “professional” pastors. Christ, on the other hand, pastored and taught for free, like Paul and those who followed after. Christ, on the other hand, chose mostly those with no formal religious higher education to be His missionaries. Christ would stand in the face of much of the power structure in the church today, and I have no doubt the church “leadership” would feel better off with Him gone.

    When he comes back many will say “Lord, Lord… look at all these wonderful things we’ve done in your name…”, and He’ll say I never knew you. So much of modern church is just like the Pharisee’s back in the day… whitewashed, self-righteous tombs.

  6. Jr says:

    John 5:18 “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”

    That’s a pretty clear statement, which Kevin affirms in this post.

    And Michael: “Christ, on the other hand, pastored and taught for free, like Paul and those who followed after.”

    Seriously? This again? So all these poor men followed Jesus and never received anything from anybody? They “taught for free” as you say. OK.

    Let’s read Matthew past the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus, speaking to His disciples as he sends them out tells them not to take anything extra in Matthew 10. And why? “for the laborer deserves his food” (v.10). And the parallel passage in Luke 10:7 “for the laborer deserves his wages.”
    People would give them money/food/drink. In other words, they got paid.

    Paul speaking about elders, especially those who preach and teach (and these people are stationary, not missionaries): “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages’” (1 Tim 6:18).

    And I would beg you to read 1 Cor 9. Paul is explicit as to why he will not accept monies from the Corinthians and it had nothing to do with the case of pastors “not being paid” like some kind of polemic against paid ministries. He says specifically, for the Corinthian case, that he was “not [making] full use of [his] right in the gospel.” (v.18). Right for what I ask? Getting paid.

    In fact, Paul writes, “In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.” (v.14).

    The Lord commanded.

    Of course, men and women have abused this and sinned greatly against the Church and against God. And others may use their position as merely a way to earn a paycheck, and not in heart-service to the Lord and to others. But in no way do these examples that occur deserve that ridiculous vegetable throwing from the high-chair; nor the judgment you have passed on others with such a broad brush.

    Certainly, the self-righteous and those who are not truly born-again will hear such words from Christ come that Day; but I beg you to leave that judgment to Him.

    Grace be with you.

  7. michael says:

    Jr Sheets,

    John 5:18, which you cite, shows “why the Jews were seeking *all the more* to kill him.” They had already decided to kill him for the reasons I stated. John 5:18 just shows us why they wanted to kill him “even more.”

    Also, I didn’t say Jesus and the Apostles never received anything. I said they pastored and taught for free. In other words, they started pastoring and teaching with no set “salary.” They were willing to do it for nothing. If donations came in, so be it. That is totally at odds with today’s model in many churches. Today, people who want to become pastors are told to first pay “scholars” at seminary to teach them for pre-set prices. Then the “graduate”, apply for positions in churches, and settle into a church if it agrees to pay them a set salary. That is not the way Christ or the disciples did things *at all*.

    I’m not saying a laborer doesn’t deserve his wages. However, many people misinterpret Paul in 1 Cor. 9 by stripping your citation out of its context (“the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel”-1 Cor. 9:14). They leave out the next verse (“But I have not used any of these rights”) and the rest of the chapter entirely! Obviously Paul is not claiming to be disobedient to a command of Christ, is he? No, if you read the context you see that Paul is saying that the command of the Lord (that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel) is something that “should” happen in a perfect world. Jesus said they “should” get their living that way. But read the rest of the context of Paul’s words and you will hear Paul teach us that his way of ministering (for free) was the best, most effective way to do minister in this imperfect world. Jesus’ command was the way the world “should” be. Paul’s actual way (and Jesus’ actual way) is the way the world is. That is Paul’s whole point if you read the context!

    Keep reading 1 Corinthians 9 where Paul explains this. Paul says, “I offer [the gospel] free of charge, and so do not make use of my rights in preaching it… I make myself a slave to everyone to win as many as possible.” Also “follow my example as I follow Christ’s.” (1 Cor. 11). Paul taught us that preaching for free was the most effective way to do it, to “win as many as possible.” He did it this way in order to follow Christ’s example.

    Indeed, there are other references in other books where Paul speaks of working secular jobs so as to not burden the church and to teach them how to similarly minister. See 1 Thess. 3:8 – “we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow.” Paul wanted other pastors to follow in his footsteps! See also, 1 Cor. 4:11 where he wrote from Ephesus that he was working “with his hands”, perhaps as a tentmaker there also. This is how Paul taught those who followed after him to do it!

    And the Apostle Paul’s approach was very effective. It seems to have created churches exponentially (see Acts 19:10). Paul preferred to support himself on his missionary travels (1 Cor. 9:19, Acts 18:3). As a result, he didn’t just tell people to go evangelize in the secular workplace (where most people spend most of their time), he did it all week long as an example to those he converted. Then he replicated into similar pastors who worked while pastoring and who replicated themselves, ad infinitum.

    Paul did it this way because this is also how Christ ministered. Christ did not have a steady salary either. Although technically he “should” have earned a living from the gospel, as your out of context quote says, the facts and realities of this world meant that he didn’t have such a salary. The most effective ministry will not rely on salary. Sometimes donations came in. Other times Christ had nowhere to lay his head. He may have even worked odd jobs at times… he did many things that Scripture doesn’t record.

    I’m not saying any pastor who accepts regular salary is not a Christian. Certainly he may be a Christian or he may not be. Either way, he is not following Christ’s example in how to deal with ministry pay, nor is he following Paul’s example of how to most effectively do ministry. The ministry method of Christ and Paul is at odds with how ministers are taught to do it today. I am not throwing vegetables from a high chair. I am speaking the truth.

    God bless,

    Michael

  8. James Taylor says:

    Isn’t the point of the parable of the tenants (I’m looking at Mark 12:1-12) that the chief priests and the scribes and the elders killed Jesus precisely because they knew that he is the true Son of God the Father?

    Which suggests that we can’t simply tie this down to their concluding that Jesus was a blasphemer.

    And also suggests that the intention of man towards God is more wicked than we might otherwise have realised.

  9. Jr says:

    Michael: Paul is talking about his own relationship with the Corinthian church; he was not setting a teaching against getting paid. You must realize this. Paul is talking to the Corinthians about him not requiring money from them for a specific reason. He is not talking about the church universal. The Lord commands that those who proclaim the gospel should get paid for that function. Paul, for the Corinthian church, gave up that right for a specific reason. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t remain a right in general.

    The Lord commanded.

    Case in point…
    please address 1 Timothy 6:18 (in context) and answer this: Why does Paul quote Jesus when talking about paying elders who teach? (keep in mind, he is not talking about missionaries, he is talking about set people in set places).

  10. Jr says:

    Correction, 1 Timothy 5:17-18 (not 6:18). My bad on the typo.

  11. aman says:

    great try and find some more information

  12. Bill says:

    Murder, according to Genesis 9:6 is an act against the image of God. Genesis 1:26,27 (without getting into a detailed analysis of the distinction between likeness and image) makes it clear that the image has to do with dominion. Murder is an act of against another’s God ordained right to have a sphere of influence. It is a forceful removing of another’s dominion.
    Jesus came as the one who perfectly imaged God. All dominion was his. After his resurrection, he said it bluntly – all authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. At the heart of the murder of Jesus was the drive of those in power to eliminate Jesus for his claim to have ultimate dominion. It was an act against the image of God in Christ. Any claim that God was his Father, that he was “I am” before Abraham, was a claim that all dominion was his. They were not about to give up their dominion.
    I find it intriguing that the Lord’s prayer resonates with such a repeating resolve to recognize that dominion belongs to the Lord
    Our Father in Heaven
    YOUR kingdom come
    YOUR will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
    For YOUR’S is the Kingdom and the power the the glory forever, Amen.

  13. javad says:

    peace be with you
    “It’s fun to debate with Christians because there are so many contradictions in the Bible.”
    your sincerely,
    javad

  14. javad says:

    peace be with you,
    “It’s fun to debate with Christians because there are so many contradictions in the Bible.”
    your sincerely,
    javad

  15. What would god call me? :) says:

    Jesus claimed to be not just the son of God, but also the creator. If you watch movies about him, there is a scene in each of them, where he explicitly states that he created everything.

    What’s really interesting is that, supposedly, his miracles helped him prove that he was indeed the creator/son of god, however, he did not do a great job during the trial where the court accused him of blesphemy. The question is how can a person, who is proven to be god, be accused of blesphemy? In other words, how can god blespheme against himself?

    Did the court view him as human? If not, how could these people kill god with absolutely no fear of consequences?

  16. What would god call me? :) says:

    I think, the only explanation that fits in here is that he failed to prove that he was God because he wasn’t god.

  17. I believe people not says:

    Jesus was an atheist, that’s why he got killed for blasphemy!!!

  18. I believe people not says:

    Otherwise, why would you want to convince people that there is god out there, when they already think and are absolutely convinced that he exists. Jews would never kill anyone trying to convince them of god’s existence, which is precisely what Christ was doing according to the Biblical records.

  19. I believe people not says:

    Then they labelled Jesus as “god” in a mocking manner. That’s what people do to atheists even these days.

  20. Teren says:

    If there was such person as Jesus, he was most likely a religious schizophrenic or bipolar, and was picked up for bullying during his manic episodes, then after he was brutally mocked and crucified, the bullies started portraying him as “god”, and forcing everybody to view him as such. Plus, they used him to bully and kill other people. If you know people and human nature, and studied bully behavior, that’s exactly what they do in cases like this. Jesus’ example, whether he was a real person or a fictional character symbolizing these type of incidents, is classic.

  21. Do not discriminate against God's Children says:

    Can you imagine going to paradise with those people, who converted you to Christianity in a brutal, terrorizing and cruel way? Wouldn’t you wonder what these scum are going to do to you there as well?
    At least leave it up to the messiah himself to do this job, if there is a messiah. At least, the messiah supposedly proves to people EMPIRICALLY, by manipulating the physical matter and performing the miracles no human can perform of his own essence and the existence of god. People should not act like messiahs, and forcibly and manipulatively convert people into Christianity because people are considered imperfect, and cannot deliver the “truth” in pure perfect form. Only true entity, obviously the messiah to everyone, who witnesses him, can deliver the truth to people. Let’s hope that there is such, and that people are indeed telling the truth. Though if you look at the crime report of humanity, collectively, you realize that such criminals are capable of making up any kind of story and convince you of any kinda lies.

    That’s why Christians should leave non-Christians alone. If you’re trying to convince people that they were created by god, you should keep in mind that you cannot discriminate against their creation no matter what they think.

  22. Roman Law says:

    The reason why Jesus was killed was because the Roman government failed to protect him from people, who were trying to act upon their religious beliefs. Jesus was a Roman citizen, and no government is allowed to put religious and political beliefs above the government law because religious and political beliefs can be simply false. Obviously, Jesus failed to prove to many people in the Roman Empire that he was real God, the creator of everything, as he claimed to be, because the Romans would’ve definitely hesitated killing God as it might be a threat to national security. Killing God can be very dangerous and followed by unexpected and possibly fatal consequences. This probably explains why Jesus, while talking to god on the cross, meaning that he wasn’t really god, asked god to forgive all those people, who crucified him because they “DID NOT know what they were doing” meaning that what they did was obviously WRONG!!!

  23. Roman Laws says:

    If Jesus was innocent, most likely he did not break any of the Roman government laws even during his attempts to convince people that he was the Messiah. Thus, the government had no problem with him in terms of the law, and even Pontius Pilate didn’t seem to harbor any evil feelings towards him as personal feelings are irrelevant when it comes to prosecution. Pilate simply made a judgment error when he surrendered his decision making to a crowd of belligerent homicidal lunatics looking for any opportunity to kill, therefore, putting the Roman law under human nature. By doing this, Pontius Pilate broke the law, and should’ve been fired for that right on the spot. He was most likely fired eventually. After all, no matter who a Roman citizen is or claims to be, they are a citizen, and the law is there to protect them. If a Roman citizen failed to provide enough proof to the government that he was God or the Messiah, knowing that the government relies on pure empirical evidence only, there is no need to put such person above or beyond the law.

  24. smantha says:

    god was always there for us

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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