Antisemitism is just as rampant today as ever. Jews have been vilified throughout their history to a degree unlike any other historic group of people. Although there certainly are reasons, I suggest that they are often misunderstood to our own detriment.
You are about to travel a shocking, scriptural path that few, even among Christians, have likely recognized. In spite of all the swirling hatred between people, it must be clearly acknowledged that Jesus, the one and only savior of mankind, was a Jew!
Relating more carefully to a Jew will directly impact our own ability to see ourselves more clearly. Not only is the Son of God revealed to humanity as a Jew, but the entire Israelite race functions as a reflective mirror of the intersection between humanity and God. Understanding Jews as real people with real struggles, who are passionate about God and strive to live according to a God-given standard, translates to our own level of self-perception before a holy God.
To dis a Jew is to disrespect ourselves. To single them out for special judgment, is to ignore how the sliver in their eye should remind us to look for the mote in our own.
To recognize their flaws and failings, is to highlight our own shortcomings. They are a historic and contemporary mirror. What we see in them ought to forewarn what exists in ourselves. When it all comes down to how we stand before a holy God, we are not so different, in spite of what we think of their history, and in spite of what we see of cultural oddities.
As a Christian, of likely Gentile roots, I am not suggesting that Jews are good of themselves, any more than I am suggesting that Christians who profess faith in Jesus are good of themselves. Both groups of people have a biblical history of engagement with God. Both are mirrors to the rest of humanity of why we exist on this spinning orb, of why we are all similar in some respects and starkly different in other ways, and ultimately both groups demonstrate a very unique and special revelation of God’s expectations and interest in people.
Recently, I listened to a pastor that spoke about the wicked Pharisees. The picture painted was not pretty, and frankly factual and justified in some respects, but we would do well to not distance them too far from ourselves. To use their own words prayed regarding their view toward outsiders, “God, I am glad I am not like that sinner”, would be an unwise approach to repeat back toward them.
Ancient Israel became the people of God through fulfillment of a promise and not because of a law. The Law came later; Grace came first. That is not all that different for a Christian. However, in their freedom of identity as God’s chosen people, they drifted into idolatry and pursuing their own ideas on how to live in and interact with this world. The result was God’s judgment of sending them into captivity and to the sword.
Christians have been called by Grace to New Covenant faith in Christ, set free from living according to that Old Covenant Law, and are also warned to not use our freedoms to indulge ourselves, but rather to serve the Lord alone and to put to death our own natural-focused desires. To dismiss the Jews as failures in this life, which in many ways history does confirm, is to ignore our own peril in how God expects us to live.
“’Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.’ Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again…I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited”. (Rom 11:19-25)
Notice how the Spirit speaks about how Christians are to view the Jews, as well as themselves: “Do not be arrogant, but be afraid.” They are not all that different from us, nor from revealing what God expects of those who are graciously called his people.
At the time that Jesus walked this earth, the Jewish people as a whole, and especially the Pharisees, rejected the Lord. Paul, a Christian and an amazing Apostle of Christ, belonged to the Jews and was a zealous Pharisee. In his own words, he admitted that he and they were wrong, but still deserving of respect, both for who they still are to God, as well as for the evidence of their honorable passion toward God.
“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.” (Rom 10:1-2)
Do you have that view of Jews? Does your heart go out toward them for their good? Do you recognize that as a people, a huge part of what makes them stand out so much in this world is their passionate efforts to try and follow God? That was Paul’s view, and by example ought to be ours.
As God reveals, “first for the Jew, then for the Gentile”. The concept is that one of the ways humanity ought to recognize the expectations and revelation of God for themselves is by first looking at the Jews. What God has done, is doing, and will do regarding Jews, is directly linked to the rest of humanity. Jewish history is recorded as a significant part of the biblical record: “for us upon whom the ends of the age has come, so that we will not set our hearts on what they desired.”
Of course, not all Jews want to obey God, nor do all have pure hearts cleansed from private agendas or selfish interests. The Jewish people then and now, and those Pharisee’s in Jesus day, are (and were) real people who struggle with all the same issues evident in every race of people.
One might ask, how can they be credited as truly zealous for God, if they wanted to kill Jesus, and eventually succeeded in leading the Creator of Life to be crucified? Listen carefully to this answer. Without excusing the jealousy and wicked motives also present at that time, their desire to specifically kill Jesus came directly from God’s own Law—God commanded them to kill prophets like Jesus! They were trying desperately to obey God (as will be quoted from God’s own mouth shortly), so be careful about the degree to which you are inclined to vilify them for the crucifixion.
They were not simply fulfilling prophecy; they were striving to obey God by trying to kill Jesus. When Paul contributed to the stoning of Steven, and then went about trying to destroy the early Church, he did so because he understood God’s own Law that commanded such an approach. He, and they, were wrong, but not because they were entirely disobedient.
Think about the life and ministry of Jesus from a faithful, religious, Law-abiding Jewish perspective. Jesus was heard teaching things like: “you heard it said in the past [by God]…but I tell you” to do something completely different and in many cases the very opposite of what the Law of God commands. The Law required that a woman accused of adultery while within the city to be killed, but Jesus wouldn’t do what the Law commanded.
The Law expressly stated that no Jew was to go out into the fields to gather food on the Sabbath. In fact, that was the exact context of the very first time the Sabbath was commanded by God at the time he rained Manna down as food. Yet, that is exactly what Jesus was teaching and leading his followers to do—to go out into fields and gather food off the ground to eat, in direct violation of God’s Sabbath command.
Jesus answer to this was in two parts. The first was that he was Lord over the Sabbath, which meant that, unlike all other worldly kings, he was not under law, but over it, in such a way that he could change it whenever he wanted. According to the OC Law, his disciples were violating God’s commands, but as Lord over those Laws, Jesus was demonstrating his Sovereign right to allow them to eat in violation of that Law, but without sin. The same truth is displayed when Jesus tells the healed paralytic to take up his mat and go to the Temple (through the city gates from where he was when he got healed)…in direct violation of God’s command that no one carry their mat through the city gates.
Secondly, Jesus asked a question about what is lawful under the Sabbath “to do good or to do evil”. This was an invalid question for a Jew. They did not ever have the right to disobey God’s Law whenever they thought they were doing something that would be better or good. Remember when Uzzah was leading the return of the Ark of the Covenant back to Israel, to the celebration of the people of Israel and the passionate dancing of King David? He thought he was doing right when the oxen stumbled and the Ark was at risk of falling over—he put out his hand to stabilize the holy box, and in anger, God struck him dead on the spot in front of everyone. They did not have the right to “do what is good” according to their own minds on the Sabbath, or in any other circumstance, if it violated the directly stated command of God. Jesus confronted them with this question to emphasize his divine shift toward New Covenant living before God, rather than under OC obedience, but that was not something they understood was allowable under that previous system given by God.
Over and over again, Jesus did things that taught the people to act in ways that violated that former Law of Moses, but without sinning. He even called himself the Son of God, “making yourself equal with God”, when they all knew that there was only one God. This was an idea about God that they did not know, that was not taught by Moses, and looked suspiciously like he was promoting a false god, even allowing people to worship him. How could they view him as doing anything other than leading people away from God, with strange and new teachings, and into idolatry?
The fact that he was performing amazing miracles was not sufficient for them to dismiss their concerns. It is easy to ridicule them for not celebrating when Jesus healed someone, but they were under the direct command by God to focus on the words given through Moses, and not be distracted by amazing activity. In fact, that was something that God warned them would happen—that prophets would come and even perform amazing things, but if they taught the people to stray from how the Law pointed them toward God, they were to be killed.
Did you hear that? God commanded the Jews to kill people, and especially prophets who performed miracles, but led the people in ways that conflicted with God’s commands under that Old Covenant.
“If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, ‘Let us follow other gods’ (gods you have not known) ‘and let us worship them,’ you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he preached rebellion against the Lord your God…you must purge the evil from among you.” (Dt 13:1-5)
With regard to followers of Jesus, those Christians who were teaching people to worship a human named Jesus, the Jews were under strict orders to stone such people:
“If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closets friend secretly entices you, saying, ‘Let us go and worship other gods”…do not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. You must certainly put him to death. Your hand must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the people. Stone him to death, because he tried to turn you away from the Lord your God…You must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. Destroy it completely, both its people and its livestock.” (Dt 13:6-18)
Jews who obeyed by killing such people, were then promised to be blessed by God, that he would increase their numbers and show them mercy, because they did “what is right in his eyes” (v.18).
Is this how you view Jews? That their passion to kill Jesus and get rid of Christians, who all live and teach contrary to that former Law of God, could well be thought of in their mind as right in God’s view? In truth, they certainly were not right in killing the Messiah, nor in abusing Christians, but without understanding the cosmic shift revealed through the NC gospel in Jesus, they were trying desperately to obey what God commanded. Jesus’ ministry looked very much like a biblical test from God, to see how much the Jews, led especially by the passionate obedience of the Pharisees, truly loved God.
Are you passionate toward striving to obey Jesus like Jews who still try to obey pre-Jesus Scripture? You might think so, but repeatedly Scripture warns Christians that they are equally susceptible to thinking they are right with God, when they are not. Christians can be deceived into religious arrogance, just like Jews. We are not so different. It is a human problem, not specifically a Jew flaw.
Many Christians throughout history, including influential names like Justin Martyr, Chrysostom, and Martin Luther, have vehemently attacked Jews as somehow worthy of greater rejection and abuse than other people, but that is not godly or biblical. The Jews are not primarily responsible for Jesus dying on the Cross–every human being holds that hammer in their own hand! Jesus was crucified from the foundation of the world for the sins of humanity, not because of rejection by one small tribe of people in history.
Jews certainly were the instruments, along with the Romans, who put him to death and shouted, “may his blood be upon us and upon our children”, but don’t forget that Jesus shed his blood because of your sin and mine. That blood is on our own heads, too, because all have sinned. As Jesus declared, the greater sin belongs upon those who turned him over to die on the Cross–ultimately that means Jew, Gentile, Christian, everyone. We are all naturally evil and unworthy, no more and no less than a Jew! Racism is ignorant because it claims superiority over others who all came from the same family tree and who all have committed the same thing against the Lord.
The Jews thought they were guaranteed to remain the people of God, no matter what, because they were the obvious descendants of Abraham, but John the Baptist and Jesus both warned them against thinking like that. Believers today tend to make the exact same mistake. Christians think they are guaranteed salvation, no matter what, because they profess faith in Jesus, but the writers of New Testament Scripture warn believers not to think like that.
Admittedly, Jesus is confusing at times. Many of his disciples left him because his teachings were hard to accept (like eating his flesh), and often his faithful didn’t understand him any better. However, true Christians have learned the approach expressed by Peter and by Martha: “where else can we go, you have the words of truth. You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”.
“Blessed are those who do not fall away on account of me”. (Jesus)
Do you see yourself in a Jew? You should.