Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts

Why Did Jesus Have to Die? One Jewish Perspective, Part 2

Why “One” Jewish Perspective?

As a young Christian, I had a clear picture of what happened to Jesus in the last week of his life. This picture resulted from my knowledge of the Gospels, and, to a great extent, from images I had seen in Sunday School booklets and filmstrips. My mind had been impressed with scenes of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, of his “trial” before Pilate, and of his being assaulted by Jewish leaders. These images led me to believe that Jerusalem in the time of Jesus was a relatively small town inhabited by a relatively small number of Jews, and that the same Jews who had welcomed Jesus into town as a king on Sunday had turned against him on Friday. From my juvenile viewpoint, “the Jews” of Jerusalem had, as a single group, both hailed Jesus and then condemned him. Since only a few close disciples supported Jesus until the bitter end, it would have seemed appropriate to me to speak of “the” Jewish perspective on why Jesus had to die. (Photo: Jesus on Palm Sunday in a classic film version of his life. For the other side of the story, check out this video from Vintage 21 Church.)


jesus-palm-sunday-vintage-21-5.jpgI no longer believe that my youthful picture of Jesus’ last week was historically accurate, though I do believe that the New Testament Gospels provide historically reliable viewpoints on what really happened that week. For one thing, the actual scale of life in Jerusalem was far greater than anything I had imagined. As I explained earlier in this series, it’s likely that the normal population of Jerusalem in the time of Jesus was around 35,000. But during the festival of Passover the population swelled to eight or ten times that number, perhaps even more.


This means, among other things, that a tiny percentage of the overall population of Jerusalem actually welcomed Jesus into the city on Palm Sunday or called for his crucifixion early on Good Friday. Since scholars cannot agree on the precise location of Pilate’s headquarters, we cannot say definitively how many people might have gathered in his courtyard to call for Jesus’ death. This number is probably less than 500, possibly quite a bit less. What this means, therefore, is that something like .2% of the Jews in Jerusalem were demonstrably eager to have Jesus crucified.

But, one might object, perhaps this tiny percentage represented the majority. This objection is unlikely for three reasons:

First, we know from the Gospels that Jesus was, for the most part, very popular among the masses (for example, Matt 4:25; 8:1; 9:8; 12:15; 13:2; 14:14; 15:30; 20:29; 21:8).


Second, we also know that the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem who wanted to have Jesus killed hesitated precisely because Jesus was so popular among the masses there (Matt 21:46). Nothing in the Gospel records suggests that this popularity ended magically by Good Friday.

Third, in fact the Gospel records suggest that large numbers of Jews were deeply distressed by the death of Jesus. For example, as Jesus was walking along the Via Dolorosa, Luke tells us that “A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him” (Luke 23:27). Then, after Jesus was crucified, the crowds who “saw what had taken place, . . . returned home, beating their breasts” (Luke 24:48). In other words, vast numbers of Jews were horrified by the death of Jesus.


Thus it’s historically accurate to speak, not of “the” Jewish perspective on the necessity of Jesus’ death, but of several diverse Jewish perspectives. It’s quite likely that the majority of Jews in Jerusalem did not want Jesus killed at all. But the perspective that had greatest impact on the fate of Jesus was that of Caiaphas and other principal leaders of Jerusalem. This is the “one” perspective I’ll begin to examine in my next post. 

  • Timothy Jerry

    Excellent post. This obviouly is wht the trial was so hurried, as the priests did not want the masses to find out or they may find a riot on their hands.

Previous Posts

More blogs to enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Mark D. Roberts. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Red Letters with Tom Davis Recent prayer post on Prayables Most Recent Inspiration ...

posted 2:09:11pm Aug. 27, 2012 | read full post »

Why Did Jesus Have to Die? Conclusions
In this series on the death of Jesus, I have presented four different perspectives on why Jesus had to die: Roman, Jewish, Jesus’, and Early Christian. I believe that each of these points of view has merit, and that we cannot fully understand ...

posted 2:47:39am Apr. 11, 2011 | read full post »

Sunday Inspiration from the High Calling
Can We Find God in the City? Psalm 48:1-14 Go, inspect the city of Jerusalem. Walk around and count the many towers. Take note of the fortified walls, and tour all the citadels, that you may describe them to future generations. For that ...

posted 2:05:51am Apr. 10, 2011 | read full post »

Why Did Jesus Have to Die? The Perspective of the First Christians, Part 3
An Act and Symbol of Love Perhaps one of the most startling of the early Christian interpretations of the cross was that it was all about love. It’s easy in our day, when crosses are religious symbols, attractive ornaments, and trendy ...

posted 2:41:47am Apr. 08, 2011 | read full post »

Why Did Jesus Have to Die? The Perspective of the First Christians, Part 2
The Means of Reconciliation In my last post, I examined one of the very earliest Christian statements of the purpose of Jesus’ death. According to the tradition encapsulated in 1 Corinthians 15, Jesus died “for our sins in accordance with ...

posted 2:30:03am Apr. 07, 2011 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.