The Apostles' Creed - "I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord, Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate." Answer the question, "Who killed Jesus?" from 3 angles - historically, spiritually, and ultimately.
The Creed passes immediately from the Virgin Birth to the death of Jesus with no mention of anything in between. In so doing the Creed teaches us that Jesus was born to die. The word "suffered" sums up everything that happened between his birth and his death. It is noteworthy that the Bible never tells us that Jesus smiled or laughed. I'm sure that he did - but the gospels never mention it. Isaiah 53:3 - "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." When he was born, Herod tried to kill him. When he began his ministry, the people in his hometown took offense at him. In the closing hours of his life, he was betrayed by Judas and denied by Peter. His sufferings did not begin on the cross, but it was his suffering that led him to the cross.
Why single out Pontius Pilate? Why not Caiaphas or Herod or Judas or the Roman soldiers or the howling mob? The answer comes from this scene. Jesus has just been scourged. He stands before Pilate, covered with blood, his flesh in tatters, his eyes nearly swollen shut, his face so marred that he barely looks human. Pilate looks at him in shock and pity and in a near-whisper says, "Don't you know I have the power to put to you to death or to free you?" That wasn't a boast-it was a statement of sober fact. As the Roman governor, he alone could condemn a man to death. If it is true that many of the Jewish leaders wanted Jesus dead, it's also true that they could do nothing without Pilate's permission. In the end, he must be held accountable for the death of Jesus. If the Jewish leaders loaded the gun, it was Pilate who pulled the trigger. Pilate comes across as a man who knows that Jesus is innocent yet lacks the courage to set him free. 3 times he says, "I find no fault in him." Pilate knew Jesus had committed no crime worthy of death. But like many a politician caught between a rock and a hard place, he caved in to pressure from his bosses in Rome and from the Jews who wanted Jesus dead.
His Guilt is Greater - That's why the Creed mentions Pontius Pilate. His guilt is greater because he condemned Jesus even though he knew he was innocent. Not all the Jews hated Jesus. At best it was only some of the Jewish leaders who hated the Lord. The Jews as a whole were divided over Jesus-some hated him, some followed him, many were undecided.
From a political point of view, Pontius Pilate was a minor figure in the Roman Empire. A Roman governor had only 2 jobs: collect taxes and keep the peace. Pilate had considerable trouble in that second category. But to the Emperor in Rome, neither Pilate nor the province of Judea mattered very much. It was a tiny spot in a vast empire that stretched across the Mediterranean. Why mention him at all then? First, because he is the person who condemned Jesus to die. Second, to establish a point in space-time history for the death of Christ. That drives a stake down at a particular moment in history. This means it really happened. The story of the death of Christ is true. And that fact drives some people up the wall because they are happy with Jesus as a fairy tale-but as the literal Son of God and Saviour of the world, forget it!
So the Creed tells us that Pontius Pilate signed the death warrant, so to speak, of Jesus Christ. And it tells us that these things are true. They really happened.
The fact that Pilate is the person most responsible for the death of Jesus does not end the discussion. But there is plenty of guilt to go round. It was our sin that nailed Jesus to the cross. When asked - “Who killed Jesus?” - our answer should be - "We all did."
Isaiah 53: 4, 5 - 4 times the prophet uses the word "our." Our infirmities. Our sorrows. Our transgressions. Our iniquities. In some profound way we were there that day, it was our sins that nailed Christ to the cross. "And the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6).
Our sins have cut us off from God. Most of us think of ourselves as pretty good people, or at least we're not as bad as the fellow next door. And it's true - we haven't done every terrible thing that others have done. But still our hands are not clean. We have cheated. We have lied. We have gossiped. We have falsely accused. We have made excuses. We have cut corners. We have lost our temper. We have mistreated others. When we get a glimpse of the cross of Christ, we see clearly how great our sin really is. In the light of Calvary, all our supposed goodness is nothing but filthy rags. That is why the greatest Christians have always had the most profound sensitivity to sin. The closer you come to Jesus, the more clearly you see your own sin. Isaiah 53 contains the good news we all need. He was bruised-for us. He was wounded-for us. He was beaten, betrayed, mocked, scourged, crowned with thorns, crucified-all for us. Our sins drove Jesus to the cross. But he did not go unwillingly. If our sins drove him there, it was his love for us that kept him there.
If you want to go to heaven, pay attention to Isaiah 53:6 - "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." It begins and ends with the word "all." The first "all" tells us that we are sinners; the last "all" tells us that Christ has paid the price for our sins.
Who is ultimately responsible for the death of Jesus Christ? The answer may surprise you. According to the Bible, God takes responsibility for the death of his Son. Isaiah 53:10 - As a father, I cannot fathom that, cannot imagine willingly putting one of my children to death, much less taking pleasure in it. But the truth stands and cannot be denied: Jesus died because his Father willed that he should die. The terrible suffering our Lord endured did not happen by chance nor did it happen solely because the Jewish leaders wanted it and Pilate caved in. Behind the evil deeds of evil men stands the Lord God Almighty. He and he alone sent Jesus to the cross. Until you understand that fact, the true meaning of the death of Christ will be lost to you.
John Piper in his book, "The Passion of Jesus Christ": "The most important question of the 21st century is: Why did Jesus Christ suffer so much? But we will never see the importance if we fail to go beyond human cause. The ultimate answer to the question, Who crucified Jesus? Is: God did! It is a staggering thought. And the suffering was unsurpassed. But the whole message of the Bible leads to that conclusion."
The Greatest Sin - That's why Jesus could truthfully take responsibility for his own death: John 10:17-18. No one "killed" Jesus against his will. If God had not willed for his Son to die, and if Jesus had not willingly laid down his life, all the armies of Rome could not have killed him. We can bring these truths together in 3 simple statements:
The Father planned it.
The Son embraced it.
Herod and Pilate (and everyone else involved) were unwitting actors in the great drama of redemption. They were truly guilty for their sins, but through their evil, salvation has come to the world.
What is the greatest sin in the world? Surely the answer must be: Crucifying the Son of God. Yet here is a mystery and a paradox that becomes a miracle: From the greatest sin has come the greatest blessing for the whole human race. The bloody death of Jesus opened the door of heaven for anyone who wishes to enter.
Let me then ask a more personal question. What is the greatest sin any of us can commit? None of us can literally crucify Jesus again. He died once and for all 2000 years ago. We cannot literally repeat the sins of those who put him to death. For us the greatest sin must be this: Ignoring the Son of God. We do this when we say: "Lord Jesus Christ, I know all that you did for me, and it doesn't matter to me at all." Indifference to Jesus means that we don't care about his death for us. But to ignore what Jesus has purchased at so great a cost is to place ourselves in grave spiritual peril.
No, we're not the sadistic Roman guards, and we're not the frenzied mob. We're not even party-boy Herod or pensive Pilate. We're like the educated elite who find the whole spectacle distasteful and unfit for public consumption. In a way, we're worse than Pilate or Herod or Caiaphas. At least they cared enough to take a side. We don't want to be involved at all.
I crucified my Lord.
Jesus prays to his Father because he knows that these things have been appointed for him from the foundation of the universe. As a man, he struggles. As the Son of God, he accepts the Father's will. I am guilty of crucifying my Lord. My sins nailed him to the cross. He is there because I put him there. My hands are not free of innocent blood. Like Pilate, I wash them but to no avail. The stain remains forever.
What they did to Jesus wasn't right. It was monstrous injustice. But before we condemn others, let's ask one question: Who did this? Don't blame the Jews. Don't blame the Romans. If you want to blame anyone, look in the mirror. You did it. I did it. We did it. The old spiritual asks, "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?" The answer is always yes. We were there-and not just as casual bystanders. The lash, the beatings, the spittle, the crown of thorns, the bruises, the ridicule, the nails, the spear, the desertion, the betrayal. We were there for all of it. None of it happened by accident. God planned the whole thing. And Jesus did it all for you and for me.
"He was wounded for our transgressions." The end of that verse adds a wonderful truth, "And by His stripes we are healed." After Calvary the message goes out to the world that there is no sin too great for God. There is no evil more powerful than Jesus' blood. If you feel unworthy of the blood Jesus shed, then the message has truly hit home.