His blood be upon us?

In view of the controversy that the film “The Passion of Christ” stirred up, perhaps it is necessary to examine this important and extremely sensitive subject which is capable of eliciting such a passionate emotional response.

What disturbed certain Jewish groups is the question of collective Jewish responsibility in the death of Christ and that the movie would serve to fuel anti-semitism. Out of deference to Jewish sensitivities the line that was deemed to be most offensive – “His blood be upon us and on our children” – was removed from the subtitles of the film, although it was left in the Aramaic. Rather than commenting on Mel Gibson’s portrayal of the crucifixion, let us consider the accounts of the crucifixion that were recorded in the gospels by Jews who were eye-witnesses to the events of those days.

Jesus was born in Israel during a period of great messianic fervour and expectation. He travelled throughout the land of Israel teaching the word of God. His message of freedom for those who were in bondage, and healing of the blind, the lame and the deaf, attracted great crowds. All this was expected of the Messiah according to the prophecies of Isaiah (35:5, 42:7, 61;1) and many thought that he was the Messiah whom the Jews were expecting would liberate them from their Roman oppressors and establish them again as a proud and godly nation. He indeed claimed to be the Messiah, but his popular following was perceived as a threat to those who held positions of authority among the Jews and they plotted to arrest him and have him killed. He was brought before the Romans by the Sanhedrin (the Jewish court of law) and, after first being mocked and brutally scourged, he was killed in the most inhumane and shameful manner – crucified naked on a Roman cross.

The gospels make it quite clear that Pilate had no particular interest or desire to have Jesus killed and that he succumbed to pressure from the Jews, led by the high priest Caiaphas. The Sanhedrin insisted that he must die according to their law under the charge of blasphemy because he claimed to be the Son of God, but when Pilate was reluctant to judge in a matter concerning Jewish Law, they added to their charge of blasphemy the charge of treason against Rome, saying that Jesus had claimed to be a king and that anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar. When Pilate realized that they were determined to have Christ crucified, he symbolically washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood, it is your responsibility!” to which the Jewish people responded, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:25).

As was prophesied in the Tenach, the people of Israel, represented by the chief priest, Caiaphas, rejected the Messiah: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3). The apostle Peter, himself a Jew, did not protest their innocence, but on the contrary said, “Let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Some have suggested that the gospel accounts are biased, or unreliable or later redactions, but their argument is then with the Christian canon of Scripture itself.

Jewish people all too familiar with accusations of deicide and “Christ killers,” but such accusations only reflect a gross misunderstanding of the message of Christ or the purpose of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Almost two thousand years after the death of Jesus Christ, Jews, Romans, and everyone else are all trying to wash their hands of the blood of Jesus and to evade any responsibility for his death. Many people become angered at any suggestion of their responsibility in his death, while others attempt to lay the blame elsewhere, as if the guilt of another will somehow absolve them of any guilt.

Where do you, the reader, stand in regard to this case? Whether you are a Jew or Gentile, are you in any manner responsible for the death of Jesus Christ? Is his blood upon you in any manner? Surely it is quite reasonable to protest that no person can be held liable for a crime committed long before they were even born.

Everyone, whether Jew or Gentile, who tries to absolve themselves of the guilt associated with the death of Jesus, will no doubt be shocked to learn, that according to the Scriptures, if they protest their innocence their guilt remains. The reason is that Jesus died as a sacrifice for our sin, but if we reject the forgiveness of our sins through his atoning sacrifice we remain condemned in our sins. Jesus said, “If you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins” (John 8:24).

Hundreds of years before his atoning death Isaiah prophesied of it as follows: “. . . he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5-6).

Commenting on Isaiah 53, Rabbi Eliyya de Vidas said, “The meaning of ‘he was wounded for our transgressions, . . . bruised for our iniquities . . .’ is that since the Messiah bears our iniquities, which produce the effect of his being bruised, it follows that whoso will not admit that the Messiah thus suffers for our iniquities must endure and suffer for them himself.”

To many Jews, it seems that Jesus has become their enemy and the primary cause of their misery, but even this was predicted, for Isaiah wrote of their unbelief and rejection of Christ: “Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit. So he turned and became their enemy and he himself fought against them” (Is. 63:10).

The blood of Jesus is indeed upon us all, with one of two effects – it either covers (atones) for our sin, or it exposes our sin: Jesus said, “When he (the Holy Spirit) comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer” (John 16:8-9).

Hosea prophesied precisely this: “Then I will go back to my place until they admit their guilt” (5:15).

The Jews, together with the Romans, on behalf of fallen mankind, may have killed Jesus with evil intent, but God intended it for good. Through the gospel of Jesus Christ many nations have turned aside from the worship of dumb idols and to worship the only true and eternal God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

No matter how much we pretend that the issue of Jesus’ death and the question of who was to blame does not concern us, it remains an unavoidable issue. We are all made to confront our guilt in regard to the death of this innocent one in whom not even Pilate was able to find fault. (Truly he was the Passover Lamb without blemish or defect.) We are all made to confront the fact that: “It was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer” and that the Lord made “his life to be a guilt offering” on behalf of us, the guilty ones (Isaiah 53:10).

How does the death of Jesus relate to Passover? Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:15). Before the Israelites were delivered from their slavery in Egypt, they were required to sacrifice the Passover lamb, which had to be a lamb without defect. They had to apply the blood of the lamb to the sides and tops of the doorframes of their houses. The LORD said that the blood was to be a sign for them – “for when I see the blood I will pass over you,” but only those who applied the blood of the Passover lamb to the doorposts of their homes were saved and delivered from the judgment that came upon Egypt.

At the final Passover meal Jesus took the cup and said, “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt.26:27).

May his blood indeed be upon us all, to save, to cleanse and to protect, but not to condemn. Jesus prayed for all those who either killed him or demanded that he be killed, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

“Who killed Jesus?” Every one of us is guilty as charged, but we will be declared righteous in the sight of him who is also the Judge, if we acknowledge that Jesus paid our debt and we are now covered by the blood of the Lamb, the blood of the New Covenant – For the Lord still says, “when I see the blood I will pass over you!”