12 June 2006

Who Killed Jesus?

by John MacArthur

The murder of Jesus was a vast conspiracy involving Rome, Herod, the Gentiles, the Jewish Sanhedrin, and the people of Israel—diverse groups who were seldom fully in accord with one another. In fact, it is significant that the crucifixion of Christ is the only historical event where all those factions worked together to achieve a common goal. All were culpable. All bear the guilt together. The Jews as a race were no more or less blameworthy than the Gentiles.

This is very plainly stated in Acts 4:27, a corporate prayer offered in an assembly of the very earliest believers: "For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together." So there is no justification whatsoever for trying to fix the blame for Jesus' death on any one people group. This was, in essence, a corporate act of sinful humanity against God. All are guilty together.

And yet even that does not exhaust the full truth about who killed Jesus. Scripture emphasizes from cover to cover that the death of Christ was ordained and appointed by God Himself. One of the key Old Testament prophecies about the crucifixion is Isaiah 53. Isaiah prophetically describes the torture of the Messiah at the hands of a scoffing mob, and then adds, "Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief" (Isaiah 53:10).

God put his own Son to death?

That is precisely what Scripture teaches. Why? According to Isaiah 53:10, it was to "make His soul an offering for sin." God had a redemptive purpose.

The designs of those who killed Christ were entirely murderous. They are by no means exonerated from their evil, just because God's purposes are good. It was still the act of "lawless hands" (Acts 2:23). It was, as far as the human perpetrators were concerned, an act of pure evil. The wickedness of the crucifixion is in no sense mitigated by the fact that God sovereignly ordained it for good. The truth that it was His sovereign plan makes the deed itself no less a diabolical act of murder.

And yet this was clearly God's holy and sovereign plan from before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). Look again at that prayer from Acts 4, this time in its full context:
Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the mouth of Your servant David have said: "Why did the nations rage, And the people plot vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, And the rulers were gathered together Against the LORD and against His Christ." For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done (Acts 4:24-28, emphasis added).
Acts 2:23 echoes the same thought: "Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death" (emphasis added).

God ordained the murder of Jesus. Or to put it starkly in the words of Isaiah 53:10, it pleased the Lord to bruise Him.

In what sense was God pleased by the death of his Son?

He was pleased by the redemption that was accomplished. He was pleased that His eternal plan of salvation was thus fulfilled. He was pleased with the sacrifice of his Son, who died so that others might have eternal life. He was pleased to display his righteous anger against sin in such a graphic way. He was pleased to demonstrate His love for sinners through such a majestic sacrifice.

For all the evil in the crucifixion, it brought about an infinite good. In fact, here was the most evil act ever perpetrated by sinful hearts: The sinless Son of God—holy God Himself in human flesh—was unjustly killed after being subjected to the most horrific tortures that could be devised by wicked minds. It was the evil of all evils, the worst deed human depravity could ever devise, and the most vile evil that has ever been committed. And yet from it came the greatest good of all time—the redemption of unnumbered souls.

The cross is therefore the ultimate proof of the utter sovereignty of God. His purposes are always fulfilled in spite of the evil intentions of sinners. God even works His righteousness through the evil acts of unrighteous agents. Far from making Him culpable for their evil, this demonstrates how all He does is good, and how He is able to work all things together for good (Romans 8:28)—even the most wicked deed the powers of evil have ever conspired to carry out.
John MacArthur

This article was excerpted John MacArthur, The Murder of Jesus (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2002).


Steve said...

John said: "The cross is therefore the ultimate proof of the utter sovereignty of God. His purposes are always fulfilled in spite of the evil intentions of sinners."

This is the supreme affirmation of God's total sovereignty!

Adrian said...

Thanks Phil for posting this. Over the weekend certain commentators were trying to make out that I was totally alone in saying God killed Jesus

Its great to be able to add John MacArthur to Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John Piper and CJ Mahaney as people who agree with my interpretation on this issue.

What happened over the weekend on my blog further confirmed in my mind the truth that I am not at all sure I want as many comments as you get over here Phil.

I found myself too affected by the thought that some of those commentators may be deceiving themselves into thinking they are Christians and all the time drifting to hell on a river called "good intentions".

But, having said that, it would be good if some of your orthodox readers could pop over just this once and leave a supportive comment on the post I have linked to in this comment - this is to show them that far from my view being some kind of strange anomaly, many Evangelicals hold to it.

For some of my commentators, who knows their eternal destiny might hang in the balance - for what is more important than our understanding of the gospel?

centuri0n said...

Since you brought it up, Adrian, there is something more imortant than understanding the Gospel -- because I dare say that there are atheists who understand the Gospel but reject it and Christ who is at the center of the Gopsel.

If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts. Your responsibility to accept the Gospel is not mitigated by Calvinism or anything else, and in accepting the Gospel your life is to be changed.

Let me be clear that I am sure Adrian knows this and lives this out -- but because this is TeamPyro country, let's also be clear that saying "cool! I get it!" is not the purpose of the Gospel. Seeing the high cost of grace to God and the high cost of discipleship because grace changes you from the old man to the new man is equally important to the rudimentary propositions of the Gospel.

Even So... said...

Keep it going, guys, 'cause this one is big, real big. I like JM using Acts 2:23, and I thought James Spurgeon did a masterful job at tackling this already. God is just and the justifier of the ungodly.

This is important on so many levels, some greater and some lesser, of course. For an example of just one, consider that if we understand that the ultimate, or seemingly ultimate injustice is actually justifiable by the three points James mentioned in his earlier post, then it helps us to understand that whatever injustice we may see in this life, God is completely justified in doing it.

Oh, I could go on and on and preach for hours on this, and that is exactly what I did last week.

I am praying for the threads in this line to continue. I believe it gives glory to God, it helps us to articulate to others, and it helps us with our own understanding of verses such as Romans 8:28, etc.

philness said...

1 John 3:16 By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us.

SolaMeanie said...

I would love for Brian McLaren, Steve Chalke and other EC adherents who disdain the substititionary atonement to read this and smoke it in their hookahs.

I really needed to see an encouraging post like this today. After reading a USA Today article this morning documenting the mewling and whining of several so-called "clergy" about intolerance of homosexuality in the church, I had to hear some sound orthodoxy or lose my mind. :)

Sadly, the apostasy seems to be matastasizing like Stage Four brain cancer. Biblical conservatives are increasingly in the minority. Yet, God always has His remnant who have not bowed the knee to Baal (or Greenwich Village).

James Spurgeon said...

In a real sense, from the standpoint of those who perpetrated it, the crucifixion of Christ was the ultimate blasphemy - the ultimate sin.

And yet the very act itself was turned by God and used to save many of the perpetrators from that sin along with all their others.

Romans 11:33 (ESV)
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

Seth McBee said...

I completely agree and love the doctrine of God's sovereignty in Jesus' death on the cross, though it still just makes my mind go in circles on the whole subject. To try and understand God's sovereignty is like asking where a circle starts. Of course we have other Scriptures that place God's sovereignty in all cases of humanity: Genesis 50:20 when Joseph speaks to his brothers and states: although you meant it for evil God meant it for good. God being sovereign even in Joseph being sold. Many other Scriptures as well, what great comfort it brings to know that if I lose everything it is by God's plan to purify me and make me more of His own. Soli Deo Gloria!

LeeC said...

I think Seth has hit on a major point in that often we get caught up on insisting that we fully comprehend that which is higher than us.

Not that we should not try to, but when we insist that things like Gods sovereignty fits in OUR neat little box of what we deem to be logical we can get tripped up and led to error. We do not sit in judgement of Him, or His Word. He is who, and what He says He is.

It's not "God said it, I believe it, and that settles it!" but simply God said it, therefore it is. My comprehension of Gods truth has absolutely no bearing on its veracity. In spite of what Eve may have thought at the tree.

donsands said...

Thanks Phil. And thanks Pastor MacArthur. What a truth to make the heart humble.

The Father loves the Son with perfect holy love, and the Son loves the Father with perfect holy love; from all eternity to all eternity. The Son lays down His life for the Father, and the Father allows and ordains His Beloved Son to be killed.
Why am I allowed to enter into this loving relationship? Why am I not judged and punished for my blasphemies and disregard for God?

I'll never know. But I now love Him, because He first loved me.

Austin said...

Thanks for this post. A few months ago MacArthur preached this sermon at church - I had to physically restrain myself from jumping out of my seat and releasing a charismatic Hallelujah!

Brian said...

I shall state up front that I am an agnostic, so I'm coming at this from a different angle.

I read that even if the act was ordained, planned and plotted by God, this in no way exempts the culprits who did it. In their minds, it was an evil act, and therefore they did an evil thing, even in the fulfilling of God's plan.

I see an issue here:

Hypothetically, let's say Pontius Pilate had looked at the crowd and said, "Mmmm, know what? This Barabbus guy, he's like the 1st century Jeffery Dahlmer, and I'm not turning him over. Forget it. Jesus goes free." (in Latin, of course) Now...since Pilate has gone against God's plan in doing a good act - not killing Jesus - is what he did evil even so, for thwarting God's plan, a mirror image of 'evil done for good's sake/end is still evil'? (If you cannot imagine Pilate doing this, saying he had to condemn Jesus since it was God's plan, he had no free will to resist the evil act in the first place...so how is it his sin that is borne out?)

Does free will account for anything here? In order for God's plan to be fulfilled, everyone had to conspire to kill Jesus. Therefore, they did a bad thing. Yet, if they had not done a bad thing, God's plan would not have been fulfilled. Would that also have been a bad thing as well? Where is the free will in this case - it seems like damned if you do and damned if you don't. In the same light, if God's purposes are always fulfilled no matter what the intentions of sinners, how is there free will there as well?

I do wholeheartedly support the turning over of the Gibson-esqueness of "Jews are to blame", don't get me wrong. I'm just curious as to how other people see the issue of people something foretold and foreseen and neccesary as being culpable for the sin attached.

Thanks in advance.