Mel Gibson is still reeling from all the criticism he got for his film, “The Passion of the Christ.” But he didn’t get hardly any criticism for it from Evangelicals. We loved it. Why? The film is pretty much biblical except for some scenes Gibson admittedly drew from documents purporting to be recorded visions of two Roman Catholic nuns of previous centuries: St. Anne Catherine Emmerich and Mary of Agreda. And, yeah, maybe Jews are right that Jewish characters in the film are unfairly presented in their appearances.
But the film rightly shows Jewish Sanhedrin leaders pressuring Roman Governor Pontius Pilate to crucify Jesus even though the governor didn’t think Jesus was deserving of death. Folks, that’s biblical! Read the New Testament; it’s all there, almost entirely in the four gospels and the book of Acts. These gospels say that after the Jewish religious leaders condemned Jesus and brought him to Pilate, he examined Jesus privately three different times and each time came out to the Jewish leaders and told them, “I find no guilt in him/this man” (Luke 23.4, 14, 22; John 18.38; 19.4, 6 NASB). Both the gospels of Matthew and Mark say those Jewish leaders—the elders and chief priests—“stirred up the multitudes” (Mark 15.11), and “persuaded the multitudes” (Matt. 27.20), to put Jesus to death. Thus, they cried out repeatedly, “Crucify him.”
Now, don’t for a minute think that the naysayers are right in alleging that the Jewish people were not guilty for Jesus crucifixion, that only their leaders were. The gospels repeatedly include “the elders” calling for Jesus’ crucifixion, as the above says. They were representative, tribal, aged men who were leaders of the people. As the peoples’ representatives, they make the people just as guilty as they were. And they did not use force, but merely persuasion, in influencing the crowd. Thus, the people could have resisted their persuasive powers.
The Apostle Peter made this perfectly clear in his sermons to the Jewish people recorded in the book of Acts. He said of Jesus,
- “you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law” (Acts 2.23 NRSV).
- “God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified” (v. 36).
- “Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him” (Acts 3.13).
- “The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree” (Acts 5.30).
Then the Gospel of John says, “the chief priests and officers” told Pilate, “‘We have a law, and by that law he ought to die because he made himself out to be the Son of God.’ When Pilate therefore heard this statement, he was more afraid” (John 19.6-8).
Yes, “more afraid.” But many historians say that doesn’t correlate with what history records about Pontius Pilate. They say he was a brutal character who cared for no one. But that description of Pilate has now been challenged by other historians. Pilate earlier came under sharp criticism from Rome for his handling of an incident that involved the temple at Jerusalem. So, Pilate may have changed somewhat by then. Regardless, Christians should believe the NT gospels that are founded on strong oral tradition that would have been reliable and would have included eye-witness testimony rather than what some historians think 2,000 years later.
The clincher in the drama of Pilate and these Jewish leaders arguing back and forth about the alleged guilt of Jesus was that these men then said to Pilate, “If you release this man, you are no friend of Caesar” (John 19.12). “Friend of Caesar” was an important expression to Roman citizens. Each member of the Roman Senate was a “friend of Caesar.” Any Roman official who was declared no friend of Caesar was relieved of his office, if not worse. This implied allegation against Pilate could recall his mishap with the temple incident. That may have worried Pilate. Then Pilate asked them, “‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar’” (v. 16). WOW! Their Torah says their king is to be God.
Then Matthew says, “when Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting” (Matt. 27.24), he caved-in to this Jewish pressure. Luke says, “Pilate pronounced sentence that their demand should be granted” (Luke 23.24). So, although Pilate, as a Roman official, declared Jesus guilty of treason with what appears to be a mocking charge placed on the headboard of Jesus’ cross—“Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews”—the New Testament is very clear that Jewish leaders were mostly responsible for Jesus’ death, and that is how Mel Gibson and his scriptwriter, Benedict Fitzgerald, a friend of mine, portrayed it in The Passion.
Although some in the Catholic Church said The Passion does not adhere to Church guidelines for passion plays, Father Augustine Di Noia of the Vatican’s Doctrinal Congregation said, “Mel Gibson’s film is not a documentary … “Gibson’s film is entirely faithful to the New Testament.”
Many critics have alleged that the violence against Jesus in The Passion film was excessive? I don’t think so. Gibson probably had in mind Isaiah 52.14. Christians regard it as a description of the crucified Jesus. It says, “So his appearance was marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men.” And historians tell us Roman crucifixion was a ghastly punishment to produce fear for wrongdoing.
Ever since the horrible Holocaust of WWII, we have been living in a western world that has been climbing out a pit of guilt. The Catholic Church had a sorry history of anti-Semitism. Thus, Vatican II has been an important reversal about this. But both it and much of Christianity has swung like a pendulum to the other extreme. Thus, it is now an abhorrence to accuse those Jews in Israel during Jesus’ time of being mostly responsible for his death. The politically-correct view nowadays is that Roman officials, mostly Pontius Pilate, was mostly or entirely responsible for Jesus’ death. But that does not square with the New Testament gospels.Some have said that if anyone is guilty for the death of Jesus, it is God. Well, Jesus’ death as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of others was the primary reason God sent Jesus and thus the main act in God’s plan for Jesus’ life. The Apostle Peter made this clear in his first sermon to the Jews, on the Day of Pentecost, by declaring, “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know—this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law” (Acts 2.22-23). Yet, GOD IS NOT GUILTY for wrongdoing. He merely orchestrated some events; yet those who participated in accomplishing Jesus’ death will be accountable at the judgment. This has to do with reconciling the sovereign plan of God with the responsibility of man, which is a lifelong learning process.
So, Pontius Pilate is guilty of killing Jesus. He should have continued to resist the Jews’ pressure, even if his resistance had resulted in him being no friend of Caesar and thereby risking his removal as governor. But Jewish leaders were guiltier for Jesus’ death than Pilate was. For we read that Jesus informed Pilate, “the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin” (John 19.11). That would be the high priest, Caiphas, who was the head of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious council that was sort of a Supreme Court.
Some say that God forgave Pilate, Caiaphas, and all the others because Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23.34). That popular teaching is a misunderstanding. Jesus was only praying for those soldiers who carried out orders to crucify Jesus. See my post on May 26, 2014, “Did Jesus Ask God to Forgive Those Who Killed Him?” and read my post on February 15, 2015, “Must Christians Forgive Unconditionally?” Also, read Barbara Buzzard’s excellent article posted here, “A Plea for a Return to Biblical Repentance: Is Forgiveness Unconditional?” She says forgiveness is conditional, with which I heartily agree. That’s the way it is with God, otherwise he wouldn’t tell people to repent (change of mind) and confess their sins.
Thus, the Johannine Jesus made it pretty clear that Jews were the most responsible for killing Jesus. But that does not mean we non-Jews should hate Jews as “Christ-killers.” Just the opposite. Christians should love Jewish people. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have had the law of Moses to lead us to repentance, the other written oracles of our God to encourage us, or our Lord and Messiah Jesus to save us.
This truth about the necessity of Jewish penitence regarding the death of Jesus is very important to the entire world. Jesus cannot return to earth with his promised, worldwide kingdom until Jews repent of inherited guilt—the guilt they inherited from their forefathers for killing Jesus. Many will object to this assertion. But that is because, to put it bluntly, they either ignore or are ignorant of scripture.
When Daniel learned that the seventy years of Jewish exile in Babylon, which Jeremiah had predicted, was about to be completed, Daniel prayed earnestly, “O Lord,… let your anger and wrath, we pray, turn away from your holy city Jerusalem, your holy mountain, because of our sins and the iniquities of our ancestors” (Daniel 9.16). Daniel says he was “confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel” (v. 20). That is a type of what will happen at the end of this age. A Jewish remnant in Israel will gather at a future, third temple at Jerusalem and repent at the end of this age for their own sins and the sins of their forefathers in killing Jesus (e.g., Zechariah 12.10-14; Malachi 3.7), and then Jesus will return and make Israel the greatest nation in his worldwide kingdom, with his capital at Jerusalem.
The Apostle Peter made this clear about the necessity of Jewish penitence in his second sermon to the Jews following the first Day of Pentecost of the Common Era. Peter declared, “God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets” (Acts 3.18-21 NRSV). That time of restoration will not come until a substantial Jewish remnant repents, confessing their sins and the sins of their forefathers in crucifying he who will then come to be the Savior of the world.
To see a list of titles of 130+ posts (2-3 pages) that are about Jesus not being God in the Bible, with a few about God not being a Trinity, at Kermit Zarley Blog click “Chistology” in the header bar. Most are condensations of my book, The Restitution of Jesus Christ. See my website servetustheevangelical.com, which is all about this book, with reviews, etc. Learn about my books and purchase them at kermitzarley.com. I was a Trinitarian for 22 years before reading myself out of it in the Bible.