Home » Who Killed Jesus: God or People? (rebuttal to John MacArthur)

Who Killed Jesus: God or People? (rebuttal to John MacArthur)

by Dr. Eitan Bar
6 minutes read

Calvinist preachers made their view clear: It is God who killed Jesus, not men. For example, John MacArthur said:

We must remember, however, that sin did not kill Jesus; God did. The suffering servant’s death was nothing less than a punishment administered by God for sins others had committed.[i]

God put his own Son to death? That is precisely what Scripture teaches.[ii]

In his sermon titled “The Pleasure of God in Bruising the Son,” John Piper preached:

Jesus was not swept away by the wrath of uncontrolled men. He was bruised by his Father.[iii]

The New Testament authors, however, went out of their way to emphasize that the suffering, torture, and death of Christ were caused by wicked men and not by God, who merely allowed them to act. Jesus, only days before his crucifixion, told a parable about a man who planted a vineyard and then went to another country and left the property in the care of tenants (Matthew 21:33–41). When it was harvest time, he sent servants to get his fruit. Rather than give him what was owed, the tenants beat one of the servants, killed another, and stoned the last. Thinking they would respect his son, the landowner sent him over to the vineyard, but the tenants killed him as well. Then, Jesus asked, “When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” (verse 40). Jesus answered his question: “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons” (verse 41).

In this parable, Jesus clearly predicts his death, but by whom? A cruel and violent death by his Father who sent him? Or to be tortured and die by men? If the parable itself is not enough, the hearers’ reaction seals it: “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them” (verse 45). Thus, in this parable, it was not God the Father who killed God the Son, but the wicked tenants. Indeed, days later, Jesus was tortured and brutalized to death, not by his Father but at the hands of wicked men.

If Jesus did not see men as responsible for his suffering, why would he ask the Father to forgive them when hanged on the cross? (Luke 23:34). The authors of the gospels went out of their way to describe and explain every aspect of Jesus’s torture, attributing them only to men:

The Sanhedrin bound Jesus. (Mark 15:1)

 The crowd: “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me?”(Matt. 26:55)

Then the high priest tore his clothes.
(Matt. 26:65)

Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him. (Matt. 26:67)

He was accused by the chief priests and the elders… (Matt. 27:12)

He was humiliated by governor’s soldiers.
(Matt. 27:28-29)

They spit on him and took the staff and struck him on the head. (Matt. 27:30)

 There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall. (Matt. 27:34)

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled …and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. (Matt. 26:2-4)

Those who passed by hurled insults at him.
(Matt. 27:39)

In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. (Matt. 27:41)

In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
(Matt. 27:44)

Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. (Matt. 27:48)

The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.” (Matt. 27:49)

Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. (Luke 23:11)

The rulers even sneered at him. (Luke 23:35)

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged.
(John 19:1)     
The soldiers… they slapped him in the face.
 (John 19:2-3)

One of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear. (John 19:34)

Even his disciples forsook him: “Then all the disciples deserted him and fled” (Matthew 26:56). The book of Acts, too, contrasts between evil men who caused Christ’s suffering and death and the good God who resurrected him:

You crucified and killed [Jesus] by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up. (Acts 2:23)

You killed the Author of life,
whom God raised from the dead.
(Acts 3:15)

Jesus Christ of Nazareth,
whom you crucified,
whom God raised from the dead.
(Acts 4:10)

They put him to death
by hanging him on a tree,
but God raised him on the third day.
(Acts 10:39-40)

These examples alone should be sufficient to close the case with the proclamation that God did not kill Jesus; Mankind did. However, preachers of Divine Abuse insist the suffering, abuse, and death of Christ were the work of God himself. They say it was God’s wrath that was poured on Jesus. In “Desiring God,” a popular website founded by pastor John Piper, it says:

Jesus was primarily the object of his Father’s wrath — the most just, righteous, and terrible wrath there is…Jesus, our Propitiator, absorbed the Father’s wrath against our sin and satisfied it in full…The cross of Christ. What a terror and glory. The worst brutality meets the mightiest meekness. Unfathomable horror meets unsurpassed beauty. The most righteous condemnation meets the most gracious pardon. The greatest justice meets the greatest mercy. The fiercest wrath meets the most bountiful favor. And such love.”[iiii]

The assumption behind this and similar quotes is that individuals can get away with violence and abuse if they decorate it with enough positive words. It’s as if mixing words like “mercy,” “justice,” “holy,” “love,” and “righteousness” when describing how the Father allegedly brutally abused the Son will somehow make it sensible and acceptable.

But there is also a premise behind this doctrine, which is philosophical. Divine Abuse claims to rely upon a biblical argument. However, underlying it is the idea that everything that happened, happens, or will happen — evil included — was all ordained by God, who planned each event in advance. Therefore, God himself ordained and designed the rejection, torture, abuse, and death of Christ — not men. Philosophers call this “religious determinism,” and it’s the opposite of free will.

This article is based on my new book, ‘The “Gospel” of Divine Abuse,’ available on this Amazon page.
free sample is available here.

[i] John MacArthur, “Sin Didn’t Kill Jesus, God Did,” Crossway, 28 March 2018.
[ii] John MacArthur, “Who Killed Jesus?” Grace to You, 10 July 2009.
[iii] John Piper, The Pleasure of God in Bruising the Son, March 8, 1987.
[iiii] Jon Bloom (co-founder of John Piper’s Desiring God), “The Wrath of God was Satisfied“, February 2020.

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Dr. Eitan Bar
Author, Theologian, Activist