As a Jewish person, it’s not uncommon for me to hear the occasional comment about penny-pinching frugality. It’s not irregular for me to be asked abrupt questions about my religious practices or political stance. Occasionally, I’m simply the recipient of a string of incoherent obscenities.
But over the last two weeks, I’ve personally witnessed at least five instances of hearing this: “The Jews killed Jesus.”
And I’m not alone—such condemnations have plagued the Jewish people for the last two thousand years, acting as the fuel behind countless anti-Semitic atrocities throughout history. They have emerged from the mouths of self-proclaimed Christians, from atheists—from both those who consider themselves religious and those who do not. And it has to stop.
Here are four ways to respond to someone who accuses the Jews of killing Jesus:
- Jesus was Jewish. All of His first followers were Jewish.
Behind a statement like “The Jews killed Jesus” often lies anti-Semitic bias. This is especially ridiculous when you consider one simple fact: Jesus was a devout, Torah-following Jew. He was born and raised in Israel. All of his first followers were Jewish. It was these early Jewish believers in Jesus that spread the Good News to Jew and Gentile alike. There remain a substantial number of Jewish people who believe today—our organization is living proof.
At no point did Jesus ever reject His cultural background. The apostle Paul said, “I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. No, God has not rejected his own people, whom he chose from the very beginning.” (Romans 11:1-2)
- How could you blame an entire people group for something that happened two thousand years ago?
Let me put it this way: it makes as much sense as walking up to Mindy Kaling, star of The Mindy Project, and accusing her of murdering Mahatma Gandhi. Or shouting at Robert De Niro for his hand in the death of Julius Caesar. Ridiculous. Just like it’s preposterous to blame all Indians for Gandhi’s assassination, or all Italians for the fall of Caesar, it’s ludicrous to chastise an entire people group for the death of Jesus—especially two millennia later.
- Christianity wouldn’t have been offered to the world if Jesus hadn’t died.
In order for salvation—the inheritance of the Jewish people—to be available to Gentiles, it first had to be rejected by most of it’s beneficiaries. If a majority of the people of Israel had not rejected Jesus as being the Messiah foretold in the Tanach, the story would have ended early. The Jewish people would have claimed their inheritance, and the rest of the world would have remained in ignorance. But because many did not recognize Jesus as the fulfillment of their scriptures, His message of reconciliation with the God of Israel was extended to the rest of the world.
And that was always the plan. Way back in the book of Isaiah, God said of Jesus: “You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)
Does this mean that His chosen people, the Jews, are no longer offered their own inheritance of salvation? No. As the apostle Paul puts it: “Did God’s people stumble and fall beyond recovery? Of course not! They were disobedient, so God made salvation available to the Gentiles. But he wanted his own people to become jealous and claim it for themselves. Now if the Gentiles were enriched because the people of Israel turned down God’s offer of salvation, think how much greater a blessing the world will share when they finally accept it.” (Romans 11:11-12) The role, then, of the Gentile Christian is to make the Jewish people envious of their inheritance, drawing them to their own birthright—not to push them away in hostility.
- Nobody “killed” Jesus.
The splendor and power of the cross lies in its sacrificial nature. Jesus voluntarily laid down His life. In that sense, nobody killed Jesus. It was His sacrifice.
Jesus Himself said: “No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” (John 10:18)
19th Century preacher Octavius Winslow said: “Who delivered up Jesus to die? Not Judas, for money; not Pilate, for fear; not the Jews, for envy; but the Father, for love!”
God killed Jesus, because of our sins.
So if you’re looking to place blame, consider this: every human individual is responsible for the death of Jesus. It was because of our sin that He willingly succumbed to the death penalty, experiencing the punishment for our fatal mistakes.
“But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands.” (Isaiah 53:10)