jesus was guilty


Jesus was not an innocent man.

As a matter of fact, the Son of God was profoundly guilty of the crimes for which the Romans executed him.

He consistently appropriated titles of divinity reserved only for Caesar to himself. During the Jewish high holy days of Passover, he rode into Jerusalem in open mockery of Caesar’s own entry, complete with kingly fanfare. Even worse, during a moment when thousands of Jewish pilgrims converged on Jerusalem — a time when the threat of seditious rebellion increased exponentially — Jesus interrupted the Empire’s commerce by wrecking the tables of the freelance bankers and merchants at the Temple, brandishing a weapon and making threats about tearing down the religious holy place.

Incitement. Sedition. Terrorist threats.

In the eyes of the Empire’s law, Jesus was guilty indeed of all these. And the Romans executed him for it, as was their law allowed. Even by the Christian scriptures’ own reasoning, Jesus’ execution was not a travesty of justice at all. As Paul writes in Romans, the government is “God’s minister, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil,” and the the government does not bear the sword in vain.

Regardless of what Christians have said for centuries, by the unreflective standards of Paul’s writing and by the weight of his lawful conviction, Jesus was not an innocent man.

He was guilty. And while the state had every right to execute him in the name of justice because of that conviction and his crimes against the state, his execution on a cross remains a disturbing example of immorality and a state’s all-too-frequent penchant for overextending its power.

Just like every execution by a state since and before.

The United States has endured a particularly brutal week or so as states have piled executions on top of each other. First, there was Troy Davis in Georgia and Lawrence Brewer in Texas, followed the next day by Derrick Mason in Alabama. This afternoon, Manuel Valle is scheduled to be killed by Florida, in spite of protests by the makers of the drugs that will be used to execute him.* Six more are scheduled before the year’s end.

As Christians, we can claim that Jesus was sinless, but we cannot claim his innocence. Those are two very different things. Troy Davis might have been innocent. The others who have been recently killed are likely guilty of the crimes for which the state convicted them, just like Jesus was.

But Jesus and these executed have other things in common besides their state-decided guilt. Most glaringly, with the exception of Brewer, they are all ethnic or racial minorities, because “justice” is applied disproportionately to racial minoritiesIf you are a black person — or any color other than white — on death row, you are much more likely to be killed by the state.

And they are all from poorer backgrounds, just like Jesus. And poor people, who have less resources to defend against death penalty verdicts, are also more likely to be killed.

And like Jesus, many of these men are being executed amid fanfare by those who have been wronged, as the daughter of Valle’s victim cried out on Facebook in joy, “To all my family and friends that have been anxiously awaiting with me for 33 years. The Governor has signed a death warrant for the bad guy who killed my father! WOOOOO HOOOOOO!!!!!!!!

It’s no wonder that when asked by baffled Pharisees when and where they had seen him, Jesus responded the Son of Man was anyone held in prison, whether for good reason or bad. Perhaps he knew that even if a criminal is profoundly guilty — if the verdict is indeed just — the punishment administer is often unjust and unfair for the poor and for racial minorities.

In evangelical circles, it is popular to talk of Jesus’ crucifixion in personal terms, that “my sins” were the nails that crucified him, my wrongs were what executed him, and that my daily sins crucify Jesus every day, over and over again in perpetuity, creating a metaphysical kind of purgatory for Christ on the cross.

But that is only half true in many ways. We do indeed continue to kill Christ, but not with the lies we tell or the extra M&Ms we take from our doctors’ candy dishes.

If Jesus is indeed our prisoners, as he says he is, then within the past week, we have killed him, in much the same way, four times over, in the body of Troy Davis, Lawrence Brewer, Derrick Mason, and Manuel Valle.

And their tombs are not empty.

So, if we want to seek and to find Jesus, or if we already are and want  to know why we can’t seem to find the Son of God active in our world today, perhaps we should look no further than these men’s graves.


* States have been forced to create new lethal injection concoctions after U.S. drug maker Hospira constricted supply in protest over states’ use of its drug for executions. Now the Danish maker of one of the drugs used in the new concoction is also protesting.

13 thoughts on “jesus was guilty

  1. I hope you know the difference between Jesus knocking over tables and brandishing sticks to attack those who defiled his Father’s house by practically selling forgiveness of sins–and a man who went out, followed his own fleshly lust, disregarded “do unto others as what you would have them do unto you”, and caught, strangled, raped, and murdered a three year old girl.Perhaps death by the state is not appropriate in either situation. HOWEVER, Jesus’ death on the cross is ABSOLUTELY NOT “just like every execution by a state since and before.”Jesus’ crimes against the state are not crimes against God, because the bible allows us to disobey the gov’t,when the gov’t forces upon you laws that contradict the laws of the bible. Of course, in all other cases, youmust follow the;dr: Jesus was NOT guilty in the eyes of God. Sure, he was guilty in the eyes of his corrupt government, but since his crimes were only against the corrupt state, and only against those laws that contradicted the bible, he might as well have been guilty in the eyes of Hell;rdr: Jesus was NOT guilty. Jesus WAS innocent where it counts.

  2. I think you misunderstood the article, or perhaps I have. What I think David Henson is saying is that there is a bit of a contradiction between our belief in Christ and what he stood for and our somewhat sadist attitudes when it comes with dealing with “enemies of the state”, whether this is true or not I do not know, but I am reminded of Thom’s article on the Eucharist and torture.
    Anyway good article, David. I found it very provocative.

  3. Thanks Brian. You’re one the same track I am. 

    To Nicolas’ point, every state execution is like Jesus in that it is an overreach of its use of power against people found legitimately guilty under its legal system. It is exactly like every other execution because EVERY execution represents a profound injustice and immoral use of power. That is a critical thing the cross reveals: the bankruptcy of violence, particularly that of the state. 

    But, my primary point is not that Jesus’ actions and those listed in the article are the same (clearly there is a difference to our modern moral minds between turning over tables and murder — though I will point out that sedition/treason on par with Jesus is still punishable by death I believe). The point, rather, is that Jesus calls us to see that he is those prisoners. And socioeconomically, they share many striking similarities, which in turn, reveal those most vulnerable to state-sanctioned violence have remained largely the same over the years. Jesus was indeed guilty, and using Paul’s own logic of the governments’ (on its facile literal face, that is) uses of violence through law, Rome was acting on God’s behalf. 

    Now is this true? That is the point of this article: to show the misuse of this scripture in defense of the death penalty. Because, carried to its logical extension, then Rome was acting out God’s wrath, appropriately and not in vain, on Jesus. Pretty twisted isn’t it?

  4. wow. mind = blown. Never thought of those perspectives before: Jesus being guilty according to the state, us killing Jesus again each time we enact the death penalty. You’ve definitely given me some things to think about. 

  5. Hey David,

    You said, “Incitement. Sedition. Terrorist threats. In the eyes of the Empire’s law, Jesus was guilty indeed of all these.”

    How does that view of Christ’s civil “guilt” line up with the Roman Governor Pilate declaring, “I have found no guilt in this man” in Luke 23:13-14, 23 and Matt 27:24, etc.?

  6. Blasphemy against the state? If it was blasphemy against the God of the Jews, he would have been stoned, not crucified. Jews didn’t crucify. Romans did. 

    The charge tacked on the cross was “King of the Jews” which was essentially treason/sedition, as there was only one King of the Empire.

  7. Blasphemy against Caesar? Sure I can buy that. It’s essentially the same thing as sedition/treason. Blasphemy against God? I can’t buy that. If that was the charge, the Jewish leaders would have stoned him, not crucified him. Jews didn’t use crosses. Romans did. It was a Roman method of execution, and Romans didn’t execute for blasphemy against a Jewish God. 

    The charge tacked to the cross, by his prosecutor, was King of the Jews, which was blasphemy against Caesar, sedition/treason, etc. Because there was only one King of the Empire.

  8. The charges that Jesus we brought in on, were charges against Jewish Law, not Roman. Jesus had claimed to be ‘the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of Heaven,’ which meant that Jesus was to share God’s throne and to judge the Temple authorities. The high priest considered this blasphemy. Blasphemy against GOD. 

     It is true that he was guilty of predicting the destruction of the Temple, and he had -in a fit of temper- overturned the banks of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, however, they were just serious misdemeanor and not sufficient to have a man executed. It is a Biblical Truth that Pilate could NOT find fault in him. It is strange, and without sound reason, that the Jewish leaders handed Jesus over to Pilate to have him executed.  He broke JEWISH law.

    Pilate was not interested in a blasphemer, and therefore Caiaphas presented him a different case: Jesus had claimed to be the ‘King of the Jews’. In other words, he was charged with high treason. But Ciaphas even stated that “he knew that the chief priests had handed him over because of envy” (Mark 15.10) not because he was guilty.

    Jesus was not guilty of breaking Jewish law, or for that matter, Roman law.  He indeed WAS the Messiah and the King of the Jews.  No blasphemy.

    Jesus could not as was not guilty, and was not found so in the court of law.  The Roman leaders let the PEOPLE decide what to do with a man they could not convict.  Because of the custom at the festival, the Jews could choose a prisoner to be released. When Barabbas was chosen to be granted freedom, and Jesus was to be crucified, even Pilate asked, “Why? What crime has he committed?” (Mark 15:14).  Pilate knew he was NOT guilty. His question was not met with an answer.  Just a loud roar for Jesus to be crucified. 

    Pilate, and the government, did indeed abuse their power.  There was no reason for Jesus to be sentanced to death.  Pilate was just a chicken who would rather save face than to administer true justice.

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