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Who is responsible for Jesus' crucifixion and Death - the Jews, Caiaphas, Judas, Pilate, or You? by Dr. Terry Harman

Who is Responsible for the Death of Jesus vs Who Killed Jesus?

One of the most complicated characters I have portrayed is Joseph ben Caiaphas the High Priest involved in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. Trained in theater means I must conduct background research on the period, religious and political tensions, and cultural overtones, surrounding the character I will portray. Building a good backstory on your character helps the actor to become the character and stay in character during the performance.

As part of my preparation to understand the character of Caiaphas, I explored the other characters and events of the crucifixion of Jesus. This blog will be more of a historical exploration rather than a theological exposition of the characters and events of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth.

Is Caiaphas to Blame?

In the performance of Jesus of Nazareth, liberty is taken to retell the events of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. After Judas returns the thirty pieces of silver, there is a scene in which Caiaphas is surrounded by darkness with a single spotlight focusing on the face of Caiaphas. In this scene, Caiaphas hears a voice of accusation. The voice is not identified. It may be the voice of Caiaphas’s inner conscience, the “still small voice.”

The accusatory voice demands, “Caiaphas, it’s your fault that Jesus is dead.” To which Caiaphas emphatically, “It’s not my fault. I am not responsible for this man’s death. It was my father-in-law Annas' plan. It was Judas who betrayed him. It was Pilate who crucified Jesus. I am not to blame.” Although these lines are not found in the New Testament, Caiaphas’ response does echo an age-old question. “Who killed Jesus?”

Are the Jews Christ-Killers?

For centuries, “The Jews” have been scapegoated as "Christ-Killers" and held responsible for being the main culprits in the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. In part, the Church turned to Matthew’s depiction of Jesus standing before Pilate to determine his fate and the response of “all the people” (Jews).

When Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but that instead a riot was starting, he took some water, washed his hands before the crowd, and said, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. You take care of it yourselves!” In reply, all the people said, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” Then he released Barabbas for them. But after he had Jesus flogged, he handed him over to be crucified. (Matthew 27:24-26 NET Bible)

Decades ago, the Roman Catholic church changed its stance on Jews being "Christ-Killers." Unfortunately, with the recent rise in outward antisemitism and the resurgence of blood libels, all Jews may return to being seen as "Christ-killers" and become the world's scapegoats for a troubled world. Jews have been there and seen this before. Jews endured hatred and persecution back then and Jews will overcome again. If not the Jews, then who? Someone must be responsible.

Who is Responsible?

The question of responsibility shares the blame with many individuals, both religious and governmental figures, and even one of Jesus’ close associates. The chief priests and Caiaphas the High Priest do not avoid responsibility, and Pilate is not scapegoated as the main culprit in Jesus’ death sentence.

People rightfully consider Judas the "betrayer" in the death of Jesus. But there was an entire cast of others that helped set the stage for the crucifixion of Jesus. Each person or group had their motivation, but the outcome was the same: the death of Jesus.

1)    The Pharisees, devout interpreters of Jewish law, sought a Messianic figure who would embody and enforce strict adherence to religious traditions. Jesus did not fit their expectations and the Pharisees believed they were protecting the Temple and their religious way of life.

2)    The Sadducees, aristocratic and aligned with the Temple priesthood, anticipated a Messiah who would stabilize their religious and political influence. In their opinion, Jesus was nothing more than a rabble-rouser who would eventually bring down the wrath of the Romans.

3)    The Zealots longed for a revolutionary Messiah, envisioning a leader who would liberate Israel from Roman oppression through armed resistance. Jesus was too passive. However, the situation could be used to bring about an end to their means. Is it possible that Judas may have thought along these lines?

4)    The Sicarii, a faction seen as radical within the zealot movement, sought a Messiah who would violently oppose any Roman rule. Jesus talked about turning the other cheek. This tactic would not bring about the change the Sicarii longed for.

5)    The Essenes, who were ascetic and withdrawn, anticipated a spiritual Messiah ushering in a utopian era of righteousness. The Essenes were not concerned about Jesus or his followers. They had given up on the impure Temple and the religious leadership. Their solution? Run to the caves. The Essenes were not responsible for the death of Jesus.

6)    High priest Caiaphas and his Father-In-Law Annas aimed to maintain the status quo, apprehensive of any Messianic movement that could disrupt their collaboration with Roman authorities and prompt their removal from religious office and a loss of status and power. Jesus had to be dealt with and stirring up dissent for Jesus was part of the game.

7)    Pontius Pilate exercised caution regarding any Messianic figure that could be perceived as a political threat. His primary concern was to prevent any uprising or disturbance that could lead to Roman intervention and potentially jeopardize his position. He was between a rock and a hard place - the Jews were demanding action, the streets were in an uproar, and Rome expected him to keep the Jews in line.


Here is something to ponder. If, God's redemptive plan required Jesus to die for the sins of humanity for salvation to be realized. If, Judas was part of the overall plan of God to bring about the arrest of Jesus. If, God used the chief priests and Caiaphas to stir up the people against Jesus. If, Pilate was used to bring about his crucifixion and eventually death.

Then why do we scapegoat anyone involved in the trial, judgment, and execution of Jesus of Nazareth?

The Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the church in Rome, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23 KJV). Are not all culpable in Jesus' crucifixion? If, the book of Hebrews is correct in stating "If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame" (Hebrews 6:6 KJV). Are not all responsible for the crucifixion and death of Jesus? As I understand it, in Christian theology, everyone in the past, present, and future, is responsible for the death of Jesus.


Cover Photo:

The photo was given to me in 2023 by Malachi Munsey the Assistant Director of Jesus of Nazareth, a production of Refuge Productions. The play is a production of Refuge Productions. The picture is me in the role of Caiaphas immediately after Judas returns the thirty pieces of silver he received to betray Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. For further information see

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Apr 01

Good summation... was it God the Father who delivered Christ up?

Isaiah 53:10. "It pleased the LORD to bruise Him .."

Acts 2:23. "Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands and put to death".

Romans 8:32. " He who did not spare his only Son but delivered Him up for us all..."

Replying to

I may go and include your additions to the blog. I’m not a New Testament scholar so I appreciate the feedback. Thanks, Terry

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