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Among the many sweet sounding platitudes in our day, one I hear often is that Jesus was killed for being exceedingly inclusive and kind. He was crucified for welcoming the outcasts, it is said. He was murdered for hanging out with prostitutes and half-breeds. He was killed because he was so courageously loving and his enemies just couldn’t take it anymore.

Much is true in these statements. Everyone who truly knows Christ will embrace his amazing grace, celebrate the expansiveness of his mercy, and shudder to be among those who do not know what it is to be forgiven or what it is to forgive. But this does not make the platitude true; neither does it make it harmless. Many Christians, many churches, and not a few once proud Christian institutions have so swallowed our culture’s values that sentimentality now passes for theology and slogans get mistaken for exegesis.

For the facts of the story—which the gospel writers everywhere try to belabor—are that Jesus was crucified for his God-like behavior and his outrageous claims to deity.

Matthew 26:63-66 But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”  Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.”

The people grumbled against Jesus for eating with sinners and tax collectors (Luke 15:2), but they killed him for claiming to be the Son of God and the King of Israel.

Matthew 27:39-43 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.'”

Jesus consistently upset Jewish scruples about Torah, but it was his self-identification that drove them to murder.  “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” (John 5:18).  “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’ So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple” (John 8:58-59). Before another commentator or pastor or journalist suggests that Jesus was hated most of all for being so good and tolerant, we should recall that the Jews said explicitly, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:33).

Did Jesus upset the delicate scruples of the perfunctorily religious? Yes. Did he anger the hard-hearted with his soft heart? Yes. Did he bother the gatekeepers by offering forgiveness for any sinner who repents and believes? Indeed he did. But let’s not sell off the scandal of the gospel story for a mess of populist porridge. What infuriated the establishment most were the claims to Lordship, the posture of authority, the exalted titles, the exercise of Messiahship, the presumed right to forgive, the way in which Jesus put himself in the center of Israel’s story, the delusions of grandeur, the acceptance of worship, and the audacity of man being God. Jesus did not die because the Jerusalem nasties couldn’t stand a souped up incarnation of Sesame Street. He died because he acted like the incarnate Son of God, spoke like the incarnate Son of God, and did not deny the accusation when the world hated him for being the incarnate Son of God.

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18 thoughts on “Why Did They Crucify Jesus?”

  1. Kevin Jandt says:

    Great article Kevin.

    Not to mention it was God’s plan.

  2. L. Westerlund says:

    Large subject. What you write is true and perceptive. The teaching that Jesus was crucified for being intolerably loving fits well with the teaching that sin is against fellow humans, not against God. If there is no judgment to fear, there is no need to see that the Father delivered up his loved son because he loves us sinners. It was his claim to deity that offended; it was his deity that saves us.

  3. Excellent, meaty, argument. Goes right along with C.S. Lewis’ famous point in Mere Christianity: “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

    It is also fascinating that St. Paul got into trouble with the Jewish crowd in the temple, not so much for his faith in Jesus as Messiah–or his dramatic conversion, and even his teaching of Jesus’ resurrection, rather what upset them most (and caused a literal riot) was his own calling to go to the Gentiles… (Acts 22:22)

  4. Paul Janssen says:

    IMO one must be very careful with this subject. As Kevin Jandt says, “God’s plan.” The religious reasons you adduce have over the centuries led to vicious and virulent anti-Semitism (the blood libel). Only problem is, as is widely known, Jews did not have the authority to kill anyone. The Romans did. So — while it is true that Jesus’ claims to Lordship and authority, etc., were troublesome to the religious establishment, the most they could do is raise such a ruckus in the eyes of the local Roman establishment that the pressure was so great that the Romans couldn’t ignore it any more. The chief job of bureaucrats (and for that matter Mafiosi) then, as now, was to make sure that trouble didn’t work its way up the line. There’s no doubt Jesus made impressive claims about himself. There’s no doubt that crowds got riled up about him. There’s no need to say “this is the REAL reason “THEY” killed Jesus.” Better to stick with Kevin Jandt’s brief response.

  5. Mike Savage says:

    Dear Pastor DeYoung:
    Excellent analysis from man’s perspective of the cross. I think the more magnificent and staggering truth, though, is that Jesus was sent to the cross “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23, see also, Acts 4:23-28). Before the foundation of the world and before Adam drew his first breath, God determined, according to His perfect will, that the Son would be crucified to redeem Adam’s helpless race. Only Paul’s exclamation is appropriate: “Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15)

  6. Brent says:

    I don’t think it is wise to separate Jesus’ claim to be God from his scandalous tendency to associate with sinners. Jesus was hated by the religious leaders because of his actions combined with his claim to deity.

  7. John says:

    Paul, are you implying that the Jewish leadership bore no responsibility for the death of Jesus, and to say otherwise is to court anti-Semitism? If so, then the apostle Peter stands guilty in your book: “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” (Acts 2:23)

  8. anaquaduck says:

    “sentimentality now passes for theology and slogans get mistaken for exegesis.” I would say this is much clearer for a pastor who appreciates the defining characteristics of each meaning & discipline rather than the average person/Christian.

    What they did to Jesus, they did to the prophets also, rebellion & ignorance has many faces.

  9. Jimmy says:

    I’ve gotta watch more sesame street.

  10. Paul Janssen says:

    @john…no. I was not implying what you claim. You inferred it, mistakenly.

  11. Dee Tee says:

    This article is written only for “clever” people, like some other articles on here. Because some parts of the article are hidden by using words that the others do not understand. If it isn’t written
    for them, it’s not written for anyone!

  12. The fact that vicious, anti-Semitic, actually non-Christian persons–royalty, bishops, popes, fuhrers, and other persons of power, used the false “blood libel” to whip up hatred for Jewish people of their day, doesn’t change the fact that the Jewish authorities–a coalition of Pharisees, Saducees and Herodians (very strange bedfellows, interestingly), of Jesus’ day–killed Jesus, ALONG with the Romans …according to St. Peter (Acts 22:23) should not prevent us from speaking the truth.

    Is anyone today responsible for Jesus’ death?

    Yes. ALL OF US.

  13. Jesus died because He wasn’t the God they wanted. Geoff Holsclaw has a good response here: And I would argue that He’s not the God many Christians want today which is why they have to invent a bad cop / good cop duality between Father and Son so that instead of Jesus revealing the Father’s nature to us, we reinterpret everything about Jesus to fit the mostly honor-seeking, only secondarily loving God who makes Christianity feel hard enough so that we can earn something by believing in it.

  14. Ken Abbott says:

    The term “blood libel” refers to the medieval false accusation against Jews that they stole and killed Christian children to use the blood of the latter in arcane religious rituals. It does not refer to the guilt of the Jewish leaders or people in pursuing the death of Christ.

  15. The reason why Jesus was crucified inthe cross because he was the one who declared He is God

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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