I was talking with my son about this (we had just read about Pontius Pilate infamously “washing his hands” of the affair) and thought it might be interesting to pass along…
==> At the most direct level, the Roman soldiers who nailed Jesus to the cross (plus the one who speared Him) killed Jesus.
==> But the soldiers were of course “just following orders,” which had been issued by Pontius Pilate. There’s a legitimate sense in which we don’t really walk around horrified at the Roman soldiers who killed Jesus, just as we matter-of-factly talk about how many people Hitler or Stalin “killed.” And yet, they actually weren’t shooting people personally. (I don’t want to derail this post, but I just note that this is a big dispute over strategy when it comes to libertarian activism–some people think focusing on police should be paramount, whereas others think that’s small potatoes.)
==> As the picture (and link above) indicate, Pilate didn’t want to give the order to execute Jesus. He knew Jesus wasn’t guilty of anything worthy of death. But, he was afraid the Jewish crowds would riot, thereby jeopardizing his position (and generally just being a pain to deal with).
==> So were the Jewish people chanting, “Crucify him!” and asking Pilate to free Barabbas to blame? This after all is the basis for certain strands of anti-Semitism. (Note this verse in particular.)
==> Well no, because crowds are fickle. The mob was singing hosannas to Jesus just earlier that week when He entered Jerusalem. The chief priests and their cronies were the ones who deliberately riled the crowd up against Jesus.
==> Note that the person historically considered to have been the worst individual in this whole affair was Judas. And yet, Judas in a certain sense was far less responsible than anybody described above. But of course, it was the fact that he had been a close friend and then betrayed Jesus–and for mere money–that placed Judas at the bottom of Dante’s Inferno.
(If you don’t remember Judas’ fate in Dante’s vision, it’s pretty awful.)
==> Is it completely Judas’ fault? Well, Satan entered his heart and tempted him to betray the Lord.
==> Oh, so the whole thing is really Satan’s fault? Well no, God is in charge of everything that happens. Satan can only attack humans with the express permission of God. Jesus asked on the cross of His father, “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?”
==> OK, so the whole thing happened because God designed it that way from the beginning of time? Well, He also wanted us to have free will, and He is a just God. So faced with the choice of sending everyone to hell or having His Son die for us, God chose to sacrifice His only Son.
==> Thus, our sins ultimately killed Jesus, and we have no basis for wagging our fingers at anybody who participated in those events.
==> The core doctrine of Christianity is either horrifying or gorgeous, depending on your perspective: God takes the greatest crime in history, when humans try to murder their loving Creator, turns the other cheek, and transforms it into our salvation that reconciles us to Him.