The answer to this question would go a long way to determine the extent of commitment of the adherents of the faith. In addition, witnessing disciples, church leaders and missionaries have to continually dig into the theological answer of this question as the core of the gospel message.
The most common traditional answers to this question are: ‘Jesus was crucified because of our sins.’ ‘Jesus was crucified because He was destined so.’ These sorts of answers fall short of the full detail evangelistic records of the Gospels.
The following people in the gospel: the twelve apostles, other disciples, the crowds, the scribes, the Pharisees, the teachers of the law, the Sadducees, the high priest, the chief priests, king Herod and Pilate as eye witnesses would answer differently to this question as compare to contemporary people. The answers to this question in other Bible writings are expositions that are built upon theological narratives of the gospels. The Gospel writers as evangelists, theologians and teachers give the foundational answers to build our faith upon as on the ‘rock’ that would last and endure life’s ‘winds and storms.’ However, we need to dig deep into exegetical study and answer to this question for proper knowledge and understanding.
Findings from the Gospels
The opponents of Jesus crucified Him because of multiple consequent encounters on the following major religious, social and political issues and events:
- Controversy over the interpretation of Old Testament Scripture
- Controversy over the law of Sabbath
- Social confrontation on Jesus associations and influence
- Controversy over Jesus identity
- Confrontation with Jesus on exercise of authority
- Offences because of the teachings and parables of Jesus
- Jesus open/public rebuke of religious leaders for hypocrisy
- Jesus in a political mix up
- False accusations against Jesus
- Injustice in the law Court
The religious leaders – Pharisees, scribes and teachers of the law as the custodians of the Old Testament – the Law or Moses have interpretations including the following tradition of elders:
The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing and hold to other ceremonial washings such as of cups, pitchers and kettles. (Matt. 15: 2, Mark 7: 1-5) They have teachings on the duties of children to parents wherein they emphasise paying Corban. (Matt. 15: 4-9, Mark 7: 11)
Jesus was “knocking down”; refuting the scribes and Pharisees interpretation of the OT. Jesus denounced the teachings and observance of the tradition of elders as mere commandments of men (Matt. 12:1-8; Matt.15: 2-6; Mark 7:3-9; Luke 6:1-11) and not authoritative as the commandments of God. (Matt. 15: 3-20)
Jesus’ interpretation of Sabbath includes blessing people with concrete good such as healing the sick, relieving those who are oppressed of the devil and showing mercy. For example, Jesus defended and justified the disciples who picked some heads of grain on the field and ate them against the accusation of the Pharisees. (Matt. 12:1-8) On many occasions, Jesus would perform miracles of healing on the Sabbath against the expectation of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. (Matt. 12:10-13; Luke 6: 1-10; Mark 2:23-28; 13:10-17) Jesus went further to declare ‘For the Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath.’ (Matt. 12:8; Mark 2: 28; Luke 6: 5) “So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him.” (See John 5: 16-18)
Closely related to the above is that on some occasions of Jesus healing the sick or delivering the oppressed, He vocally and publicly exercises authority to forgive sins, which to the religious leaders is blasphemy. (Matt. 9:1-8; Mark 11: 27-35; Luke 5: 21f)
Jesus exercise His authority in the cleansing of the temple at Jerusalem by ‘driving out those who were buying and selling there.’ The chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders questioned His authority, confronted Him and consequently planned to kill Him. (Matt.21: 12-13, 23-27, 46; Mark 11: 15-18, 27-33)
Jesus used to openly rebuke the hypocrisy of the religious leaders directly and in parables. (Matt. 6:2-8, 16-18; 15: 1-9; 16: 1-12; 21: 33-46; 23: 2-33; Luke 11: 14-54; 12:1; 15: 1-9; Mark 12: 1-12) In this way, Jesus denounced the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Consequently, the Pharisees rejected Jesus, (Matt. 12:38-39; 15: 12; John 7: 48) the Sadducees also opposed Him, (Matt. 21:12f; Mark 11: 15f; Luke 19: 47) and they plotted to kill Him. (Mark 12:12)
Right from birth the identity of Jesus by the Magi as King, (Matt. 2: 1-2) was disturbing to the King Herod, and all Jerusalem with him. (Matt.2: 3-18) This disturbance continued until the era of Herod the tetrarch who mistook Jesus for John the Baptist and sought after to see him. (Matt. 14: 1-2; Luke 23: 8-12) At a time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to Him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.” (Luke 13: 31) In addition, the Jews who were expecting the Messiah – the Christ, look up to the religious leaders as the authorities to conclude whether Jesus was the Christ. (John 7: 25-27) However, Jesus claimed to be from God, (John 7:28-32) the Messiah, (Luke 4: 20-28) the Son of God, (John 5: 18; 19: 7) God (John 7: 33) the Christ (Matt. 26:62-64; Mark 14: 60-64; Luke 22: 66-71) the King of the Jews. (Luke 23: 1-3) Because of this identity claim, Jesus was alleged of blasphemy and worthy of death. (Mark 14: 64-65; Matt. 26: 65-66 John 18: 33-40)
The climax of all these confrontations happened at the temple in Jerusalem. There, the religious leaders raised false accusations and false witnesses against Jesus. (Mark 14: 55-59; 15: 9,15; Luke 23: 4,5,16,16 22-25, 37-38) Consequently, Jesus was unjustly condemned at the Temple Court by the High priest. In addition, according to the gospel writers, they handed Jesus over to the Roman government because of envy and jealousy. (Matt. 21, 23; Mark15: 9-10; John 11:45-53) The reason for the envy was that Jesus was performing many mighty miracles and was gaining many large following of the crowd. (John 11: 47-48; 12:19,57) The corruption in the Court of Law was depicted as Pilate declared Jesus innocent and yet sentenced Him to death just to please the people. (Matt. 26:59-62; 27: 18-26; Mark 14: 53-63; 15: 10)
Exegesis of the Gospel Texts on Why Was Jesus Crucified
Jesus new ways of association (inclusive) versus Pharisees’ old way of association (exclusive) was continually in conflict. [Matt. 9:9-17, 34-38] The Pharisees have generated evil social structure by their interpretation of the law. The Pharisees have become a kind of closed segregation party.
Jesus evaluated that the Pharisees gave oppressive unjust interpretation of the law and wanted to maintain the status quo. On the other hand, Jesus is re-working the law to give people relieve and rest. Further, Jesus was confronting them publicly that they were not interpreting the law and what He was doing correctly. (Matt. 11:25-12:14; 12:22-37) The honourable positions of these religious leaders were at stake. Moreover, Jesus was calling others unto Himself and obviously, He was gaining large following of the populace. The Pharisees and Sadducees were unable to interpret the significance of Jesus deeds while the ordinary people could discern them as the signs of the kingdom (Matt.16: 1-4; cf. 12: 38-45)
Jesus by the Spirit is interpreting the law and proclaiming justice. He is putting a better social structure in place by building a new community of believers – apostles, disciples, and believing followers among the crowds. Jesus challenged the religious leaders of evil control over the people. Hitherto, the people held the Pharisees in high esteem and honour. (Matt. 23: 2-7) Even the disciples of Jesus reported to Jesus that He was upsetting the so-called “good people”, the religious leaders. (Matt.15: 12) Jesus was also concerned about social inequality. He addressed this both in His teachings and in exemplary living. Jesus emphasised servant-leadership attitude as against the prevailing trend of domination by religious leaders. For example, Jesus ruling on the issue of divorce was to correct social imbalance, which worked for the detriment of women. (Matt. 5:31-32; 19:3-11)
The reformation of the Temple depicted the climax of Jesus attempt to restore the mission of God and social justice. (Matt.21: 12-17) He meted out retributive justice by driving out those “buying and selling”—moneychangers and those selling doves who were profiteers from the Temple commercial business. On the other hand, Jesus extended distributive justice to the disadvantaged ones – the blinds and the lames. (Matt.21: 14) The “neglected children” also found place in worship as they rejoiced and praised the Lord shouting in the temple area, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” Afterwards, the religious leaders – the chief priests and the teachers of the law were indignant and looked for a way to arrest and kill Jesus. They questioned Jesus about what authority to act in the Temple. (Matt. 21:23-27) The Jews also rejected Jesus as they judged that He was a political threat to the ruling Romans. (John 19: 12) They further confronted Jesus with hard questions to trap Him. (Matt. 22: 15-40) Subsequently, this led to violence: of Jesus arrest, prosecutions and crucifixion. (Matt. 26 & 27)
Finally, the world hated Jesus because of who He was and He still is today – the Truth. The world hates Jesus because of what He stands for – the Light, which stands for righteousness and justice. Moreover, Jesus is testifying against (confronting) the world that its works were evil. (John 7: 7) The kingdom of God is forcefully advancing (Matt. 11: 12) through the Bringer of Justice – The Lord Jesus Christ. In doing so, that was why Jesus was violently confronted and crucified.