Why Would Anyone Want to Kill Jesus?

If you stepped into a room full of Christians, skeptics, and atheists and asked, “Who likes Jesus?” there’s a good chance almost every hand would go up. Even those who deny the divinity of Jesus think he was pretty swell.

Taking things a step further, if you walked into the same room and asked, “Who wants to kill Jesus?” I doubt a single hand would go up.

Ignore Jesus? Sure. Plenty of people do that today. But actually plotting to kill a guy who healed lame people, fed the multitudes, and elevated the social standing of women?

Not cool.

In fact, I would argue that the reasons for the conspiracy behind the execution of Jesus are a bit of a mystery for modern readers. Do we fully grasp the reasons why a bunch of people, who really wanted God to show up, would murder God when he actually did show up as promised?

cross Good Friday Jesus

It’s a mystery of sorts, and we have to step back into their world, kicking our imaginations into high gear.

It’s true that Jesus threatened the religious leaders of his day. They didn’t see how they could worship God without their strict interpretations of the law and their rigorous system of sacrifices and holy days at the temple.

They had a lot at stake, but that wasn’t the whole picture.

The religious leaders who opposed Jesus and eventually plotted his death saw him as far more than a breaker of the law and opponent of the temple system that supplied them with power and security. They saw a blasphemer who claimed to be God. There was only one thing you could do with a blasphemer: kill him.

There was one thing the religious leaders couldn’t do: kill him. Thanks, Rome!

However, even more than their jealousy of Jesus and their theological disagreements over his claims, there was something possibly even larger looming in the background: ROME.

The only solutions back then were basically “kill him” or “Rome.”

If the Romans found out that a miracle-happy Messiah was multiplying bread and speaking of God’s Kingdom being established in a Roman territory, there was only one thing Rome could do to Jesus and everyone who followed him: kill them.

Rome had no problem with the mass destruction of entire villages and cities in rebellious territories. When Caiaphas snapped at his cohorts that they were fools if they couldn’t understand the stakes attached to Jesus, he wasn’t bluffing. He literally believed that Jesus could spark Messianic fever and lead to a doomed rebellion against Rome. That’s exactly what happened during the rebellion of 66 AD that ended with the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.

There are many reasons why the religious leaders plotted the death of Jesus, just as we could say that there are many “reasons” why Jesus died. However, we shouldn’t forget that looming large in the story of Good Friday is the very human need for self-preservation.

The religious leaders were high stakes political gamblers who reasoned that they had a better chance of surviving without Jesus than with him. They didn’t see how God could deliver them from the power of Rome to kill them, let alone from the grip of their religious system that had become a harsh task master.

In the background of the story of Good Friday is a question: What do you think God can do?

Those who didn’t think much of God’s power or concern sought their own solutions that alienated themselves further from God. As they sought to save their own lives, they lost themselves in the process. The sharp edge of human power left a wake of death and depravity.

On the other hand, Jesus entrusted himself into God’s hands, even if he prayed that the “cup” of suffering would be taken away from him. His faith was wholly in God even as his accusers plotted to kill him because they couldn’t imagine any way that God could save them from Rome.

Why would anyone kill Jesus?

For self preservation, to protect one’s prosperity, and to handle the things you believe God can’t do. In two words, we could say that Good Friday revolves around power and control.

How strange it must seem to us that Jesus demonstrated his power by letting go of control and trusting himself to God—even a God who can raise the dead.

Interested in reading more about Good Friday?

The chapter about Pontius Pilate from Unfollowers is free today.


5 thoughts on “Why Would Anyone Want to Kill Jesus?

  1. Ed thanks for the succinct and poignant post. Power and control – I so realize that I too am fearful of having all the time dedicated to navigating the work of God’s grace supplanted by others… I think I could raise myself up to level of Pharisee easily toward the evangelical right because of their determined use ofsubtle power and control… I need to be constantly reminded that I am not above using power and control to protect my well crafted way of faith… It is not about me!

    Ed, you are very gifted and your humility is trustworthy! Thanks


  2. I like a couple of veiled aspects of this story:
    At first glance, it’s easy to think that Jesus is on trial in front of Pilate. But actually it turns out that it’s Pilate on trial in front of Jesus. “What shall I do with Jesus, who is called Christ?” is a vital question that we, like Pilate, must find an answer to.
    Also, it’s easy to read the passage and think that the destiny of Jesus is in the hands of the crowd. But when we understand the story more fully, we recognise it is the destiny of the crowd that is in the hands of Jesus.


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