Who Was Responsible for the Death of Christ
There are about sixty references in the New Testament to the Lord Jesus being ‘delivered up’, or ‘betrayed’; both of these English terms represent the same Greek word in the original. These refer to His trial and death. Another way of translating the word would be ‘handed over’. Some background information should help us to see the way in which the word was used.
Back in Classical Greece, in the fifth and fourth centuries BC, writers used the word paradidomi of people being handed over to law courts, to officials, to prison, to be executed, or in the case of slaves to torture in the process of forcing them to give evidence. There are also a few occurrences of the word to describe someone betraying someone else.
In Matthew chapter 5 verse 25 the Lord Jesus advised His hearers, ‘Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer (i.e, magistrate’s attendant), and thou be cast into prison’. The two occurrences of our word in this sentence are exactly parallel to the classical uses mentioned above.
In Matthew chapter 18 verse 34 the Lord describes the fate of the unforgiving slave in the parable as being ‘delivered … to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due.’ This again is a close parallel to a classical scenario.
In Matthew chapter 10 verses 17, 19 and 21, the Lord again uses the word in warning His disciples that they would be ‘delivered’ to trial and death. A reference in Mark chapter 1 verse 14 to John the Baptist being ‘put in prison’ contains the same word. The verse says, literally, that John was ‘delivered’, obviously using the word as a technical term.
In the Gospels the Lord Jesus is said to have been delivered into the hands of men, to be condemned to death and to Pilate, to be crucified. Since this last reference, in Matthew chapter 27 verse 26, is to what Pilate did, it seems to be clear that it was to the soldiers that he delivered the Lord Jesus.
A recent film entitled ‘The Passion of the Christ’ has been the subject of much public debate. Apart from the extremely violent nature of the scenes, as it was described by those who went to see it, there was controversy about who was presented in it as responsible for the death of our Lord.
Some said that the film blamed the Jews, some the Romans. Evidently few were made to think of what part God had in the events of that remarkable day. In this article we shall look at what the New Testament says about who ‘delivered up’ the Lord Jesus to suffer and die.
Judas delivered Him up
In the initial lists of the disciples there is the addition, so often repeated, that Judas Iscariot was the one ‘who also betrayed him’. About two-thirds of the occurrences of the words ‘hand over’ in the gospels, in respect of the Lord’s arrest and death, refer to the activity of Judas. We read in Matthew chapter 26 how Judas took the initiative in going to the chief priests and asking what they were willing to give him to hand Him over. A price of thirty pieces of silver was agreed. When Judas realized what he had done he flung the money into the sanctuary, thus implicitly indicating that it was for the money that he had betrayed Him. The fact that he called Jesus teacher, but is never said to have called Him Lord, might explain partly how he could sell Him so cheaply. The low value that he placed on his ‘teacher’ is remarkable, for he had no difficulty in shrewdly estimating the price of a pot of perfume. He could put a price on a commodity, but he had no idea of the value of a person, whether Christ or himself. His motive seems to have been gain. One wonders what was going on in Judas’ mind when the Lord Jesus handed him the sop, deemed a special mark of honour, at the last supper. Judas stands guilty of treachery, acting as a free agent until he was finally overwhelmed in the grip of a power greater than himself at the supper, see John 13. 2.
The Chief Priests, Scribes and Elders delivered Him up
The Lord Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 20 verse 19, that the chief priests and scribes would deliver Him up to the Gentiles, to be mocked, scourged and crucified. Mark describes His handing over by the Jewish leaders to Pilate, and lists those involved as the chief priests, the elders, the scribes and the whole council. Matthew says that when they accused the Lord, Pilate discerned their motive was envy. Matthew adds that the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude ‘that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus’.
In chapter 18 John tells us that when Pilate asked the accusers to be specific in their accusations, they replied, somewhat illogically, ‘If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee’. In the same chapter Pilate says to the Lord Jesus, ‘Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee up unto me’.
John in his record preserves for us an exchange between the Jewish rulers and Pilate. When they cried out that Pilate should crucify the Lord Jesus, he replied, ‘Take ye him and crucify him: for I find no fault in him’. This was a taunt, for Pilate knew that they chafed at their lack of authority to do so. Finally, however, under pressure from the Jewish leaders and the mob, Pilate ‘delivered Jesus up to their will’, Luke 23. 25. There is a suggestion that the parallel passage in John, chapter 19 verse 16, ‘Then delivered he him theref o r e unto them’, should end ‘at their insistence’ rather than ‘unto them’, which would be almost exactly the sense of ‘to their will’ in Luke. Pilate, says Peter in Acts 3 verse 13, ‘had determined’ to let Jesus go free, but the mob, insisted that He be crucified. The guilt of the people, so chillingly accepted by them in the memorable words, ‘His blood be upon us and our children’, was in the first instance the guilt of the leaders who persuaded them to intimidate Pilate.
Pilate delivered Him up
We have seen above that Pilate had decided that Jesus was innocent and wanted to release Him. His decision to reverse that verdict was in response to pressure from the Jewish leaders; therefore they had the greater sin. He bowed to ‘their will’. It seems best to translate the references to this fact as indicating his decision to placate the mob, rather than as saying to whom he handed over the Lord Jesus.
The natural sense of the words in Matthew 27 verses 26 and 27 is that Pilate handed Him over to his troops to crucify, ‘he delivered him to be crucified. Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus’. Peter, on the day of Pentecost, accused the Jews of slaying the Lord Jesus, but he puts it in an interesting way, see Acts 2. 23 RV. It reads ‘him … ye by the hand of lawless men did crucify and slay’. The lawless men were undoubtedly the Romans, perhaps even specifically the Roman troops. Those troops performed the act of crucifixion, at Pilate’s command, and indirectly at the insistence of the Jews.
The Father delivered Him up
So far we have looked at the surface of the events of that remarkable and awesome day. Perhaps we could say that we have looked at the events as someone making a film of the ‘Passion of the Christ’ might represent them. But these were the secondary aspects of the most tremendous story ever told. The heart of the story is wonderful, beyond our imagination.
On the day of Pentecost, Peter, in the sentence partly quoted above, explains that all that happened was within the framework of His being ‘delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God.’ That is not to say that God knew beforehand what would happen, but that He had foreordained it; compare the reference in 1 Pet. 1. 20, ‘who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world’. The same root word is used in both passages.
In Acts 4 verses 24 to 30 we have a wonderful account of the early believers at prayer. They speak to God about how men conspired together ‘against the Lord and his anointed’, with the result that they crucified the Christ. But their description of what the rebellious men effected in this action is of special concern to us. It reads, ‘to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done’. They were responsible agents, acting according to their own rebellious will, but they could not overthrow what God had already determined ‘should happen’. They could go so far and no farther. What makes the passage so wonderful is that it leads us to consider that, when human rebellion reached its highest point, God used their very rebellion as a platform on which to display the riches of His sovereign grace. Their rebellious plans were frustrated in that they could not get rid of Christ by killing Him, but in defeating their plans God provided a means by which they, as well as mankind in general, might have hope of forgiveness.
Paul sums it up beautifully in Romans 8 verse 32, ‘He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?’
Men could subject Him to brutal tortures and humiliations, but only God could lay on Him the iniquity of us all. He bore for us the full weight of divine wrath, without mitigation, ‘He spared not his own Son’. We sing of the ‘willing love of the Father’ for Calvary was no grudging provision of the heart of God.
The Son gave Himself up
We can see that before His incarnation the Son of God enjoyed unbroken harmony with the Father. We rejoice that in incarnation He had always unalloyed joy in doing the Father’s will. ‘They went both of them together’ might serve as the theme of that relationship in the days of His flesh when He was going steadily toward the cross.
The agony of Gethsemane was at the point when He was going to be delivered up into the hands of sinners. ‘Not my will but thine be done’ was His resolve. His will was always inseparable from the Father’s. If the Father’s will was that He bears that agony on the cross, it was the Son’s will too. Men could crucify Him in their self-will, but they could not prevent Him from going willingly, delivering Himself up for us. They could not choose even the time of His passing. They would have broken His legs as they broke those of the malefactors, but they found Him already dead, for His work was done and He had dismissed His spirit. We glory in the most amazing truth that, ‘the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself (up) for me’, for that is the exact wording of Galatians 2 verse 20.
All of those who are described above as involved in the ‘delivering up’ of the Lord Jesus acted freely and on their own responsibility. Men did what they chose to do, but God’s sovereign will was done in ways that only His infinite wisdom could devise. Truly the meeting-place of divine purpose and human responsibility is a place where we need to tread warily, for God’s judgements are unsearchable, and His ways past finding out.
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