The Cross and Participation

Who was responsible for handing the Lord Jesus over to death? The historical narratives and doctrinal statements of Scripture that answer this question repeatedly use the Greek verb paradidōmi, usually translated “hand over,” “deliver up” or “betray.” In these passages, the responsible parties are the subjects of this verb.1 Acting concurrently, different actors with disparate motives took Christ to the Cross.

The Roman government was the immediate cause of Christ’s crucifixion. On His final journey to Jerusalem, the Lord explained to His followers what was about to happen: “[The Son of Man] will be delivered* over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise” (Luk 18:32-33).2

Days later, the Lord Jesus stood before the bar of Pontius Pilate, the fifth procurator (governor) of the Roman province of Judaea. Christ’s accusers insisted that He was misleading the Jewish nation, forbidding payment of tribute to Caesar, and claiming to be King (23:2). Sensing that their true quarrel with this Man was religious, not political, Pilate told the crowd to go and judge Him by their Jewish blasphemy laws. The mob made clear, however, that they brought the Lord to Pilate because only the governor could order His execution, and they would be satisfied with nothing less (Joh 18:31). Annoyed, Pilate began to question Christ about this claim that He was King of the Jews. Christ affirmed that He was a king, but also stated that His kingdom was not of this world and that His servants would not fight (v36).

Concluding that the charge of sedition was baseless and the threat to Rome negligible, Pilate badly wanted to release this innocent Man. He began to look for a way to sidestep the case. When he learned that the Defendant was a Galilean, it occurred to him to transfer Christ to Herod Antipas, the tetrarch (subordinate ruler) of Rome’s client state of Galilee and Perea. Although eager to meet Christ at first, Herod grew furious when the Lord failed to perform a miracle for him and remained silent under his interrogation. So, Herod and his soldiers treated Christ with contempt and remanded the case to Pilate (Luk 23:11).

Pilate next decided to make Christ the recipient of his annual Passover amnesty program (Joh 18:39). He calculated that the crowd would grudgingly side with Christ if their only other choice was Barabbas, his worst prisoner. But their instant choice of Barabbas put Pilate on his back foot again (v40; Mat 27:21). Desperate, the governor gambled that a severe flogging of the Defendant – though illegal – might appease them. But they kept yelling, “Crucify, crucify him!” (Luk 23:21). Pilate buckled when the Jewish leaders threatened to inform Emperor Tiberius that his Judaean procurator was tolerating a self-proclaimed king. They claimed to be more loyal to Caesar than Pilate himself (Joh 19:12)! “So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered* him to be crucified” (Mar 15:15).

The High Priest Caiaphas and the other Jewish leaders put Pilate in this predicament. Before delivering the Lord to the governor, they had arrested Him in Gethsemane and hastily convened an illegal night trial. Some stacked witnesses began to give false, contradictory statements. Caiaphas, however, decided that no witnesses were needed, because his mind was already made up. The charge was blasphemy and the penalty must be death (Mat 26:65).

Pilate saw through their charges and knew that “it was out of envy that they had delivered* him up” (27:18). The Pharisees could not compete with this Man who spoke with divine authority (7:29) and worked with divine power (Luk 4:36). And the Sadducees perceived Christ as an existential threat to their financial empire, a pawn that they needed to sacrifice to protect their racket. So “they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered* him over to Pilate” (Mar 15:1).

On their way to Jerusalem, Christ told His followers that “the Son of Man will be delivered* over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death” (Mat 20:18). But at their Passover Seder, He added a shocking detail: “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray* me” (26:21). Unaware of Judas Iscariot’s embezzlement, the disciples never suspected that the traitor would be one of them. But Judas had already negotiated with the chief priests, asking, “What will you give me if I deliver* him over to you?” (v15). With a kiss (Luk 22:48) he handed the Lord over to the Jewish leaders, who in turn handed Him over to Pilate, who then handed Him over to the execution squad. The lowest act of hateful treachery prompted the highest act of loyal love – the cross.

Scripture, however, widens culpability for Calvary from individuals to everyone, Jew and Gentile. The Lord Jesus was “betrayed* into the hands of sinners” (Mat 26:45) and “delivered* into the hands of men” (17:22). The sinners responsible for this atrocity acted as our representatives. We are as depraved as they were and would have done the same thing. We are responsible for our sin because we would have done what Adam did, and we are responsible for Calvary because we would have done what Judas did.

But the willful people who executed the Lord Jesus on April 3, A.D. 33, also unwittingly executed God’s will. Nothing – not even the wrongful death of His Son – can happen apart from God’s sovereign control. The early chapters of Acts teach concurrence, the compatibility of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Although the murderers of the Lord Jesus carried out God’s plan, they remained morally responsible and fully accountable agents. As Peter preached, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Act 2:23). The apostles later prayed, “Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (4:27-28).

The Lord Jesus died by God’s will. Christ affirmed, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord … This charge I have received from my Father” (Joh 10:18). In the face of His enemies’ reviling and threatening, He “continued entrusting* himself to him who judges justly” (1Pe 2:23). At the cross, the Lord “gave* himself for our sins” (Gal 1:4). Paul further writes, “Christ loved us and gave* himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph 5:2), and “Christ loved the church and gave* himself up for her” (v25), and “the Son of God … loved me and gave* himself for me” (Gal 2:20). When His suffering was finally done, He said, “‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave* up his spirit” (Joh 19:30).

God’s love supersedes every other explanation of Calvary. It was the Lord’s will to crush Him, to put Him to grief, and to make His soul an offering for guilt (Isa 53:10). God “delivered* [him] up for our trespasses and raised [him again] for our justification” (Rom 4:25). In the climax of his letter to the Romans, Paul clinches his argument for the everlasting love of God by asking, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave* him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (8:32). “Who delivered up Jesus to die? Not Judas, for money; not Pilate, for fear; not the Jews, for envy – but the Father, for love!”3

1 In the biblical quotations included in this discussion, I have marked translations of paradidōmi with an asterisk (*).

2 Bible quotations in this article are from the ESV.

3 Octavius Winslow, No Condemnation in Christ Jesus (London: John Farquhar Shaw, 1852), 367.