Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts

Why Did Jesus Have to Die? One Jewish Perspective, Part 1

Placing This Conversation in Context

Before I proceed to discuss one Jewish perspective on the necessity of Jesus’ death, I must say a bit about the contemporary context for this conversation. For centuries, many Christians hated Jews. Part of the Christians’ justification for their hatred was their belief that “the Jews killed Christ.” Even though Jesus himself had called his followers to love their enemies, somehow the belief that “the Jews killed Christ” justified a very un-Christ-like hatred of all Jews. This sort of twisted reasoning contributed to the unspeakable horror of the Holocaust, in which over six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis.

The ugly history of anti-Semitism makes it difficult to talk objectively about Jewish involvement in the death of Jesus. If one suggests that some Jews were in some way responsible for Jesus’ death, this person runs the risk of being labeled anti-Semitic. When I was in graduate school, I was encouraged to ask all sorts of creative and critical questions about early Christian history. But when it came to the death of Jesus, there was an unspoken rule that prohibited even discussing the possibility of some Jewish responsibility for the death of Jesus. The party line was that the Romans killed Jesus for their own reasons and that the early Christians made up the parts of the passion narrative that implicate Jews. The Christians did so, we were told, partly because they weren’t getting along with Jews during the latter half of the first-century A.D., and partly because they wanted to improve their relationship with the Roman Empire. This theory – filled with more holes than Swiss cheese – was something my colleagues and I were not welcome to examine critically. It was simply off limits. The painful history of anti-Semitism required that the history of early Christianity be told in a certain way, whether it actually happened that way or not. (Photo: Anti-Semitic graffiti in Lithuania in 2005.)


anti-semitic-graffiti-5.jpgTherefore, before I discuss Jewish involvement in the death of Jesus, I must say three things quite clearly:

1. Anti-Semitism is wrong. From a Christian perspective, it is a sin. No matter who was actually responsible for the death of Jesus, there is no excuse for anti-Semitism. It’s something that Christians and all sensible people should oppose.

2. Even if “the Jews” were completely responsible for Jesus’ death (which I’ve already shown to be false, given the involvement of Pontius Pilate), this would in no way justify anti-Semitism today.


3. Even if a Christian considered “the Jews” to be his or her enemies, that Christian would be compelled by the very words of Jesus to love the Jews, not to hate them.

4. Anti-Semitism is alive and well today (or, alive and sick, perhaps). All moral people, including Christians, should reject and oppose it. Anti-Semitism is morally wrong, unjustifiable, and unchristian.

As you can infer from this introduction, I am going to argue that some Jews were involved in the crucifixion of Jesus, and that they believed that Jesus had to die. But, I think it’s historically incorrect to speak of “The Jewish Perspective” on the necessity of Jesus’ death. If we wish to be accurate, we must talk in terms of “One Jewish Perspective” on the question: “Why did Jesus have to die?” I’ll explain what I mean in my next post.

  • Evan

    There are five points (in pretty much summary form) that I think are absolutely vital for a Christian when looking at the issue of “hating Jews.” I should think I am almost certainly covering here material that you will discuss in future posts, but I think they are vital to spell out at the outset of any such discussion.
    First off, if you want to know “who killed Jesus?”, it was me. The old song asks, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” Yes, I was and I hammered the nails. If I had simply followed God, there would not have been sin in my life, necessitating Jesus’ fatal rescue of me. From that theological perspective, every human is to blame. Again, this no doubt this previews a coming post from you, but on the topic of “Jewish blame,” it needs to be emphasized again and again. It was me, and it was you.
    Second, Jesus came into this world born into the tribe of Judah, so any way you want to slice it, He is Jewish. He ascended into Heaven still wearing His Jewish body. He is called “the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.” If you “hate the Jews,” Jesus is one of them. Do the math.
    Third, Jesus explicitly said of those causing His death, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” NOBODY understood that they were actually killing the Son of God, otherwise, they would not have done so, the Bible says. However one finally “assigns blame” for the death of Jesus, the victim Himself has pardoned the killers; end of the matter.
    Fourth, the Elite Media hones in on a statement in the Gospels in which the “Jewish crowd,” clamoring for the execution of Jesus, cries out “His (Jesus’) blood be upon our heads, and upon our children’s heads,” and pronounce the Gospels to therefore be “anti-Semitic.” While there are a number of responses to that, it comes down to this: see the Third point above. Jesus forgave them without any repentance or other act on their part, so there is no basis for proceeding against anyone. And if we all got held to foolish and/or stupid things we said in moments of anger, without any hope of forgiveness ever, then we are ALL headed to Hades.
    Fifth, Jesus explicitly said that “No man takes My life from Me, but I lay it down my life of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” There was no way for Jesus to die except voluntarily. No one can be blamed for taking His life; He laid it down. For us.
    All of this reiterates your point: Anti-Semitism is evil and wrong when practiced by anyone, but especially anyone calling themselves a Christian. (And you cannot be anti-Roman, either, because they were forgiven as well.) Just sayin’. :)

  • Iwe

    The anti-semitic graffiti is written in German. Therefore I can`t imagine that it is from Lithuania.

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