What Do Christians Do With the Jews?
So the other day I met my friend for coffee and chatting. He's a pastor. When I arrived at the coffee shop, I saw he was on his laptop.
"Whatcha workin' on?" I said.
"At my church I'm teaching a five-week class on Romans," he replied. "So I'm just working on the handout for week four."
"Can I see it?" I ask. He handed me his laptop, and I spent about fifteen minutes reading the below.
"Whoa," I said. "This is amazing. I can't believe how much I just learned. So I'm bitter about that; I think you know how much I loathe learning. But, really, this is crazy rich stuff. I want to share this with readers of my blog. Can I?"
"It's all right with me," he said. "But why would you want to?"
"Well, for one, because this content is extraordinary. But also because I think it's good for all of us normal, everyday-type Christians to be reminded that there are people out in the world, like you, who, when it comes to Christianity, really know what they're talking about. You're digging deep beneath the surface upon which most of us just happily skip along. I mean, look at this stuff. This is the real deal, man. You're awesome. Plus, you're saying some really new stuff here, which is so exciting. I just think it'd be fun for people on Crosswalk to see this, to be reminded of the quality of work people like you are out here actually doing. They're a brainy bunch. They'll dig it."
Hope I was right about that! Because here's the hand-out my friend used for his Sunday adult ed. class!
WEEK #4 OF 5 of ROMANS: “THE JEWS?”
THE HOLY LAND: A SERIES OF OCCUPYING EMPIRES
o Controlled the area of Palestine many times over the centuries
o The Hebrew people or “Israelites” emerged as a people from their bondage in Egypt (~1300 BCE)
- Surrounding smaller empires
o Philistines (David and Goliath, ~1000 BCE)
o Phoenicians (controlled the seas)
o Conquered the northern Kingdom of Israel and sent the members of the social elite into diaspora (722 BCE)
o Conquered the southern Kingdom of Judah (588 BCE), destroyed the 1st Temple in Jerusalem and sent the social elite to Babylon (called the Babylonian captivity)
o After conquering the Babylonian Empire, the Persians allowed Jews to return to Jerusalem (537 BCE) and for the temple to be rebuilt (2nd Temple).
o After conquering the Persians, Alexander and later, his generals occupied the land, but more importantly brought Greek language and culture.
o In revolt to decrees by a Seleucid King, an independent Jewish Kingdom arose (165 BCE to 63 BCE) called the Hasmonean Dynasty (also known as the Maccabees).
o Involved during the Hasmonean Dynasty, the Romans began to actively control the region during the Herodian Dynasty (37 BCE – 92 CE) and was responsible for the expulsion of Jews from Jerusalem in response to Jewish revolts (~70 & 132 CE)
PERSECUTION OF THE JEWS
- Diaspora = “dispersion”
o In order to literally dismantle a people’s resistance or influence, and/or out of punishment, conquering powers would disperse the conquered people into other lands—a Diaspora.
o Assyrians (722 BCE): Exiled Jews from the Northern Kingdom of Israel (“10 Lost Tribes”)
o Babylonians (~588 BCE): Exiled Jews from the Southern Kingdom of Judah (70 yrs)
o Romans (70 CE & 132 CE): Jews exiled from Jerusalem after revolts
- · Under Emperors (Early Christian Church)
o Constantine (4th century): Capital punishment for teaching the Torah or encouraging conversion to Judaism.
o Theodosius & Justinian: Jews could not testify against Christians or gather in public.
- · Middle Ages
o Crusaders (1096-1292): Jewish communities slaughtered by Crusaders and others
o 1215: Jews have to wear different clothes than Christians
o Driven out of England (1290), France (1306 & 1394), Austria (1420), and Spain (1492)
- · Reformation & Counter-Reformation
o Protestants and Catholics (1500’s): Persecute Jews and segregate them into ghettos and many Jews end up in Poland
- · Late 1800’s up to WWII
o Russians: Numerous “pogroms” (anti-Jewish riots) against Jews in Russia and elsewhere
o Nazis (1930’s to 1945): Holocaust of Jews resulting in the death of 6 million
o Soviets under Stalin carry out programs that lead to the death of an estimated 10 million Jews
- · Reflections on Anti-Semitism
o Jews have continually been oppressed, openly persecuted, driven from their homes and killed.
o The reasons for persecution include:
§ Being a minority community: Jews, as a minority population who often isolated themselves from the majority population (for their own protection and maintaining of identity) became scapegoats for any problems, including the bubonic plague!
§ Jealousy and greed: Jews traditionally took on the role of bankers (because loaning with interest, “usury,” was forbidden for Christians at the time (and for Muslims), therefore Jews also often served as the trade brokers between Christians and Muslims. Nations would drive out the Jews to avoid paying their debts.
o Two large groups of Jews:
§ Sephardic Jews: Largely flourished under Islamic rule in Spain (700’s – 1300’s) and driven out by Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain (1492), they settled in the Ottoman Empire and other places in Europe.
§ Ashkenazic Jews: Named from the Hebrew word for “German,” these Jews settled in Poland, which by the 16th century extended to the Baltic Sea and into the Ukraine.
WHAT DO CHRISTIANS DO WITH THE JEWS?
- There have been a number of responses
o Earliest followers of Christ were Jews
§ Jews who understood Jesus as the Messiah, a Jewish sect
§ With Gentile converts, there became a Jewish-Christian, Gentile-Christian distinction
§ Jewish religious leaders (obviously early on!) realized the distinctive claims of Jewish and Gentile Christians regarding Jesus as the Son of God
§ Any connection of the emerging Christian church being “Jewish” was being lost certainly by the 60s and definitely the 70s after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem
o Persecute the Jews
§ As Christians gained power and became a majority instead of a minority, they unfortunately used the Jews as their “scape goat” using Jesus’ crucifixion centuries before as reason enough to treat Jews with distain, de-humanizing language and treatment, as well as active pogroms that moved or destroyed whole Jewish communities—as well as stealing their land and resources.
§ Between Hitler and Stalin during the 30s and 40s it is estimated that some 16 million Jews were killed. Enough said.
§ There are a number of Anti-Semitic organizations (who also understand themselves to be Christian) at work today that use similar or the exact same language as the Nazis to dehumanize the Jews and other groups such as LGBT and currently in the news—Muslims. Groups like the KKK, Skinheads, and Arian-Nation related groups are overtly active in their persecution of Jews and these other groups.
- Interestingly, despite the enmity caused by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Jews in the U.S. are in the beginning stages of publically defending the rights of Muslims who are the current targeted group for defamation of character, dehumanization and active hate crimes. Jewish Americans are realizing that this kind of treatment is all too familiar…
§ Treat Judaism as simply the foreshadowing of Christianity, a stage in the development of Christianity
§ This in effect is to treat Judaism as a kind of former religion, one that was useful but gone astray and therefore not really valid by itself.
o Christianize the Jews
§ Actively proselytize Jews
§ This has been the hope of Christianity from its beginnings (certainly in Paul; Rom 10:14-17)—that the Jews would claim Jesus as their Messiah.
§ Martin Luther thought that his new understanding of the gospel in terms of justification by grace through faith alone would cause Jews to embrace Christ, but later he became bitter when it did not happen.
§ In 1973, the “Jews for Jesus” movement began in the U.S. as a Christian evangelical expression of Judaism. Members understand themselves as Jewish and either have Jewish ancestry or are married to a Jew. They are “Jews for Jesus” in that they believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and part of the Holy Trinity. Their mission is to actively proselytize all the Jews and they are evangelical in their approach and in their relationship with other Christian groups. The Orthodox, Conservative, Reformed and Reconstructionist Jewish communities are publicly critical of the Jews for Jesus movement.
o Jews are the People of God’s Continuing Covenant
§ Jews haven been and will be the beloved chosen people of God’s covenant (also very Pauline; Rom 11:1-5).
§ There are variations on this theme:
- Following Paul, some believe that it is through the Christians that the Jews will eventually (inevitably?) turn towards Christ and be saved (Rom 11:11-12).
- More strongly, it is understood that God would simply not forsake God’s covenant with God’s people—even if they have broken that covenant (also Paul; Rom 11:25-26). Therefore, the Jews will be claimed as God’s children just because it is God’s will (Paul leaves this option open; Rom 11:28-36). “For who has known the mind of God?” (Rom 11:34).
o The destiny of Jews and Christians are bound together in the modern State of Israel
§ A growing group, particularly comprised of evangelical Christians, believe that Judaism as expressed in the modern-day State of Israel plays a key role with Christians in the End Times.
§ Using a selective reading of the Biblical Books of Daniel and Revelation (particularly Rev. 20:4-6), combined with a concept developed in the mid-1800s called “dispensationalism” by John Nelson Darby, and with observations about the creation of the modern State of Israel, these Christians perceive the world as ending in this sequence:
- Christ returns for the “rapture” that extracts the true believers instantly into heaven (interpreted from Mt. 24:36-42).
- The remaining people (who are not true believers—nominal Christians, the Jews, and everyone else) suffer through a time called the “tribulation,” an apocalyptic time where some feel that the Jewish Temple must be rebuilt in order for Christ to return again.
- After the Jewish Temple is built, and among other things, an unblemished calf is sacrificed, etc., Christ will return and establish an earthly kingdom for 1000 years, hence “millennialism,” which will conclude with the general resurrection of the dead and the Last Judgment.
§ These Christians believe that the creation of the modern State of Israel is a sign from God that the End Times are upon us, that Christians are to work to convert the Jews, work with the Israelis to rebuild the Jewish Temple, and hope to be among the chosen for rapture.
§ This conception has been popularized in the Left Behind book and movie series. It is alive and well in America and plays a key role in religious and political perceptions.
o We just don’t know. Love them?
§ Christians naturally tend to use their own Christian lenses when viewing Judaism. This means a few things:
- We view Judaism in terms of 1st century practices as seen through the Bible and miss the two millennia that have followed.
- We transfer our own expectations of faith, worship and piety upon the Jews (and other religions), which distorts our perceptions and understanding.
- We tend not to really “listen” to Jews because we “already” understand them.
§ Treat Judaism as a separate religion unto its own.
- Christians miss the obvious point that we are the odd duck among the monotheistic faith traditions with our Trinitarian language for God. This does not mean that we should not claim Christ as our Lord and Savior with every fiber of our being, but rather, we should not miss (as our Bible declares) that this appears as “foolishness” to the world. Therefore, it is in humble faith that we declare Christ as God, not in pride, but as Paul says, “in awe”.
“So do not become proud, but stand in awe.” (Rom. 11:20b)