Why Did People Want to Kill Jesus?

Why did people want to kill Jesus? Although there are few ways we could answer this, it might be helpful to try to discover THE event that make people want to bring Jesus to be tried and killed. For much of Jesus’ ministry, he encounters opposition, especially with the Jewish authorities. When we examine the Gospels, however, there seems to be a turning point in each of them where the decision is made by the authorities to have Jesus put to death. Jesus did something which was “the straw that broke the camel’s back”, as the saying goes. So, what is this event? Remarkably, it depends on which Gospel you consult.

For the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) the turning point in Jesus’ ministry that leads to his death is the cleansing of the Temple. When Jesus enters the Temple, he takes possession of it and begins teaching. The crowds who were there listened attentively to his words. The authorities were indignant. They began to ask Jesus where his authority came from. Who was this man - this carpenter from an unimportant town in the north - to come into the Temple in this way and teach?! The authorities tried to trick him. They asked him questions in order to make him look foolish in front of the people. Jesus, however, responded to all comers. In each round in the battle, he was undefeated. The crowds continued to grow in their acceptance of him. Because they could not overcome Jesus directly and in the open, the authorities sought one of his own to betray him, Judas. Eventually, they trumped up charges against Jesus, and brought him before Pilate. Some of the people who clung on Jesus’ teaching called for his death. 

John paints a different picture. In John’s Gospel, Jesus does not cleanse the Temple at the end of his ministry, but at the very beginning. For John, the event that leads to the death of Jesus, the turning point in the Gospel, is the raising of Lazarus. After Jesus performs this great event, crowds of Jews believe in him. This worries the Jewish authorities. They feel like they are losing control. Eventually they decide to try to have him put to death.

So, what is the answer? Did the cleansing of the Temple lead to Jesus’ death, or the raising of Lazarus? Both the Synoptics and John convey a true message. They are meant to be heard in unison. From a chronological standpoint, the Synoptic Gospels are probably correct. The Synoptics challenge us to consider how we can be like the crowds. Often we can enthusiastically follow Jesus and his teaching when things go well. At times, however, we too can betray Jesus and what he calls us to, especially when there is pressure from others to do so. John, however, is not wrong. He is trying to make a theological point rather that recount the exact order of events. In John’s Gospel, Jesus needs to cleanse the Temple first because he replaces the Temple. The Temple was the dwelling place of God. In John, however, we read that the word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). Before, God dwelt on earth in the Temple. Now, God dwells on earth in the person of Jesus. In John’s Gospel, having the raising of Lazarus lead to Jesus’ death conveys a profound message. Giving life to Lazarus leads to Jesus’ death. Jesus’ death in turn will give life to us all. John reminds us that salvation from Jesus is a gift. Regardless of the fact that we are weak and betray Jesus, he gives himself up for us as a free gift.