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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Betrayal, Trial, and Death of Jesus

Don Stewart :: Why Did the Religious Leaders Want to Kill Jesus?

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Why Did the Religious Leaders Want to Kill Jesus?

The Betrayal, Trial, and Death of Jesus – Question 4

The New Testament records that the religious leaders hated Jesus Christ to the point that they arrested Him, tried Him, and brought Him to Pilate for a sentence of death. What made them so angry at Jesus that they wanted to see Him dead?

There Are Many Reasons They Wanted Jesus Dead

There were a number of things about Jesus that infuriated the religious leaders. These included the following:

  1. The claims that He made.
  2. The deeds that He did.
  3. His threat to their religious system.
  4. His threat to their way of life.
  5. The people with whom He socialized.
  6. The lack of respect He had for their religious traditions.

These six things caused outraged among the religious rulers. Consequently they wanted to see Jesus dead. We will consider each of these reasons.

1. Jesus’ Claims Outweighed Their Authority

When Jesus claimed to be the Messiah it meant His authority outweighed their authority. The religious leaders did not believe His claims and were angry that some of the people did. They said the following:

Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them. (John 7:48, 49 NIV)

The religious leaders assumed that the belief of some of the crowd was due to their ignorance. But the attention Jesus was getting brought out the leaders’ hatred and jealousy. The jealousy of the religious leaders caused them to want Jesus dead.

2. His Deeds Outraged the Religious Rulers

The deeds of Jesus also angered the religious leaders. After seeing Jesus heal a demon-possessed man some of the multitude questioned if Jesus could be the Messiah. Matthew records the following:

And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” (Matthew 12:23, 24 ESV)

The miracle was undeniable, for the man was blind and mute as well as demon-possessed. Rather than believe Jesus to be the Messiah, these religious rulers attributed Jesus’ power to the devil. Thus, their “official” explanation was that Jesus’ power came from Satan. This was another cause for which they wanted Him dead.

3. Jesus Was a Threat to Their Religious System

Jesus was also a threat to their religious system. He pointed out the hypocrisy that was connected with their practice. The Bible records that on two different occasions He came into the temple precincts and drove out the moneychangers. John records the following incident:

It was time for the annual Passover celebration, and Jesus went to Jerusalem. In the Temple area he saw merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves for sacrifices; and he saw money changers behind their counters. Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and oxen, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables. Then, going over to the people who sold doves, he told them, “Get these things out of here. Don’t turn my Father’s house into a marketplace!” Then his disciples remembered this prophecy from the Scriptures: “Passion for God’s house burns within me.” (John 2:13-17 NLT)

He claimed greater authority over the temple than them. This angered them to the point that they wanted Him dead.

4. Jesus Was a Threat to Their Way of Life

There were political reasons that the religious leaders wanted Jesus dead. There was an unstable situation between the Jews and the Romans. The thought of a Messiah who may lead an uprising against Rome was not something these people wanted. We read of the opinion of the High Priest Caiaphas:

Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish”. (John 11:49, 50 NIV)

He was afraid the Romans would intervene if Jesus gained the support of the people. This is why he insisted that Jesus must die.

5. The People with Whom He Socialized Outraged the Religious Rulers

The religious leaders were filled with pride and arrogance. They were particularly proud that they did not socialize with “sinners.” They did not believe that the genuine Messiah would socialize with such a crowd. When one Pharisee saw Jesus allow a woman to wash His feet he was outraged. Luke writes,

Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner”. (Luke 7:39 NKJV)

The fact that Jesus would allow this to happen further convinced these religious leaders that He was not the Messiah.

Jesus noted their opinion of Him:

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds. (Matthew 11:19 NRSV)

The religious rulers believed themselves to be righteous by avoiding sinners. When Jesus kept company with these individuals, it infuriated the proud Pharisees and other religious rulers.

6. Jesus Had a Lack of Respect for Their Traditions

As much as anything, the lack of respect that Jesus had for their religious traditions incensed the religious leaders. Jesus ignored these traditions, which they observed so minutely. He knew they were human-made rules that had not come from God.

And it was Jesus’ disregard for their traditions concerning the Sabbath that caused the most outrage. God had commanded the Sabbath to be a day of rest from labors and a time to worship Him. The religious leaders added all types of restrictions to the Sabbath making it difficult, if not impossible to observe.

Jesus was grieved and angry at the way they had perverted the Sabbath observance. He asked the religious leaders a number of specific questions. Mark records this particular episode in the following manner:

Then he turned to his critics and asked, “Is it legal to do good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing harm? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?” But they wouldn’t answer him. He looked around at them angrily, because he was deeply disturbed by their hard hearts. Then he said to the man, “Reach out your hand.” The man reached out his hand, and it became normal again! (Mark 3:4, 5 NLT)

Jesus then healed a man in their presence on the day of the Sabbath. This healing on the Sabbath was more than they could endure. They concluded that the genuine Messiah would not dare do such a thing. Their response was immediate:

The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. (Mark 3:6 NRSV)

They were convinced that Jesus had to die.

They Had No Godly or Righteous Motive

In sum, it was not for anything godly or righteous that the religious leaders wanted to put Jesus to death. It was their hypocrisy, pride and arrogance that caused them to bring Jesus before Pilate to be crucified. They did not want to hear the truth of God.

Summary – Question 3
Why Did the Religious Leaders Want to Kill Jesus?

The New Testament says that the religious leaders wanted Jesus Christ dead for a number of reasons—none of the reasons were righteous. These unrighteous reasons can be listed as follows.

First, the claims that Jesus made demonstrated that His authority was greater than theirs. The religious leaders could not accept this. They could not believe that He was the genuine Messiah so they rejected His claims.

The miraculous deeds that He did, demonstrated His superior authority. These religious leaders could not deny the miracles. Since they rejected the idea that Jesus was the Messiah they concluded that His miracles were done by the power of the devil.

Jesus was also a threat to their religious system. He went the temple and condemned their current practices. By doing this He claimed that His authority was greater than theirs. They could not accept this claim.

These religious leaders also considered Jesus a threat to their way of life. They assumed that the following He had gathered would cause the Romans to come and remove them from their land.

Thus, Jesus had to die to save the nation from becoming extinct. The people with whom Jesus socialized offended the pride of the religious leaders. Indeed, these men could not comprehend how the real Messiah would mingle with “sinners” as Jesus did. Thus, they concluded He was not the Promised One.

Above all, it was the lack of respect for their religious traditions that caused them to desire to kill Him. This is particularly true of Jesus’ attitude toward the Sabbath. When Jesus broke their human—made traditions by healing on the Sabbath this was more than they could stand. Immediately they began to plot His death.

All of these things contributed to their evil desire to want Jesus dead. Yet, as noted, none of the reasons were godly. Indeed, by rejecting Jesus Christ these religious leaders rejected their only hope of salvation from sin.

Why Was Jesus Betrayed by Judas Iscariot? ← Prior Section
Was the Death of Jesus Planned Ahead of Time? Next Section →
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