Jesus and the Jews
Why did the Jews stumble over Jesus nineteen centuries ago? Why is he now an even greater stumbling stone to the Jews? What facts are a key to open minds long closed on this subject?
JESUS could turn water into wine. He could stop the wind and calm the waves and walk on water. He could feed thousands with a few loaves and fishes. He could cure cripples, cleanse lepers, make the blind see and the deaf hear. He could even raise the dead to life.
But he could not convert the Jewish nation.
He did not expect to. He knew that Isaiah had foretold that he would be “for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel.” God’s word would not be voided. He expected rejection and persecution and death.—Isa. 8:14.
Nevertheless, Jesus did cause thousands and thousands of individual Jews to switch over from Judaism to Christianity. Christianity rests on a Jewish foundation; all the apostles and early disciples of Jesus were Jews. Though the majority of these Jewish Christians were drawn from the humbler walks of life, many of them were formerly scribes and priests and Pharisees. (Acts 6:7; 15:5) Jewish characteristics have not changed. If racial traits did not prevent thousands from accepting Jesus then, these traits cannot now be rightly blamed for Jewish rejection of Jesus Christ. Why did so many Jews accept him then, but do so few now?
He did perform miracles then that Christians cannot duplicate now. These were impressive and striking and attracted great crowds, but Jesus did not stress the miracles. Miracles inspire awe and amazement and gain attention, but it is the gaining of accurate knowledge that converts, that makes the mind over and changes the personality from old ways of thinking and acting to new ways of Christian thought and conduct. Because more prophecies have been fulfilled now than in Jesus’ day there is more knowledge available for preaching now than there was then, so this should offset the inability to perform miracles today.—Rom. 12:2; Col. 3:9; Prov. 4:18.
If the Jewish nature has not changed, and with more knowledge now, which has more power than miracles to effect a lasting and enduring conversion, why are so few Jews accepting Jesus today? Has something happened between Jesus’ day and ours that explains the increased resistance to accepting Jesus as Messiah? Yes.
ATROCITIES OF THE MIDDLE AGESa
During this period the Roman Catholics ruled in western Europe. They placed oppressive restrictions on the Jews. Jews were limited to certain kinds of employment, could own no landed property, and were officially stamped by the Catholic Church as “perfidious.” They were herded into ghettos to live, which they could leave during the day but had to be back into by nightfall, when a “Christian” guard locked the only gate to the ghetto. They were forced to wear the yellow Jew-badge, about which the Dominican priest Pater Constant wrote: “How was it otherwise possible not to lose sight of the odd companion whom the compassionate hospitality of the church had imposed upon the Christian? Ever since the great betrayal at Mount Calvary the spirit of the Iscariot had infested the Jewish race. In the heart of every Jew there flows a traitor’s blood.”
Jewish children had to attend sessions for Catholic religious instruction, and each week a Catholic teacher was commissioned to preach theology in the synagogues. Many false and ridiculous charges were raised against the Jews, such as when a red bread mold appeared on the wafers used in communion the priests said Jews had stabbed it, killing Christ again and making the wafer bleed. Often Jews were charged with killing Catholic children and using their blood for the passover celebration. These charges tossed like firebrands among the Catholic rabble inflamed them to commit the most horrible outrages against the Jews. Whole Jewish communities were annihilated, thousands of Jews were burned at the stake, massacres made ghetto streets run red with blood.
All of this was done in the name of Jesus. It was to avenge the death of Jesus. Jews were given the ultimatum: accept baptism or be put to death. Their children were stolen from them and baptized, never to be seen again by the parents. Thousands of Jews were forcibly baptized to become nominal Christians only, while thousands of others refused and suffered torturous deaths. When Jews heard the Crusaders were coming they often killed their children and then themselves. Those who did not were trampled under the feet of the horses of these cruel, coarse plunderers, or put to the sword, or burned alive in their homes or synagogues. Many times the record shows that the Jews died martyrs’ deaths with the words “The Lord our God is One” on their lips, a protest against the unscriptural trinity doctrine that Jesus is God. Jews were wrongly charged with deicide, or murder of God.
During the Spanish Inquisition public burning, called auto-da-fé, that is, act of faith, was widely used against the Jews, and one historian writes: “For three centuries Europe witnessed the terrible spectacle of the smoke of carbonized innocent victims ascending to the sky.” Thousands of Jews died in this way, and this diabolical horror was perpetrated as an act of faith! What kind of religious faith would command such acts? Certainly not the faith delivered by Jesus Christ, the meek and lowly one, the one who advocated turning the other cheek, the one who said do not refrain just from murder but even from anger. Yet the history of the Middle Ages is a sickening carnage wreaked on innocent persons by those who claimed that they were thereby serving Jesus! In his name they robbed, plundered, massacred, burned and annihilated hundreds of thousands of persons just because they were Jews. What preposterous, diabolical blasphemy!
In our day one Catholic theologian tried to wash the church’s hands of this blood by saying that in the case of the Inquisition the state executed the sentences. But this church would never let Jews living centuries after Jesus’ death escape responsibility for it by saying the Roman soldiers impaled Christ. In both cases it was the religious leaders that goaded the state into its murderous action. Nor was it Catholicism alone that committed these atrocities against the Jews. In one of his works Martin Luther called the Jews ‘liars, bloodhounds, poisonous otters, spiteful serpents, children of Satan,’ and declared that had he the power he would assemble their scholars and ‘under the threat of tearing their tongues out of their throats’ would make them confess Christian teaching. It is nauseating to read of such human depravity. And as the seemingly endless pages of horror upon horror unfold the senses numb and the mind reels and staggers under the ungodly impact of such inhuman fiendishness.
NO CAUSE FOR STUMBLING
If those so-called “Christians” represented Jesus, can you blame Jews for despising the name? If their efforts to convert are proper missionary activity, can you condemn the Jews for detesting the term missionary? Centuries of persecution and torture and death have rolled over the Jews since Jesus’ day, and these things have been done to Jews in the name of Jesus and in the guise of missionary activity. That is the great difference in the Jews in Jesus’ time and the Jews now; that is why individual Jews accepted him more readily then than they do now.
The Jewish people have been shamefully persecuted and misrepresented. And the most misrepresented Jew of them all is Jesus! He has been grossly misrepresented by the very ones claiming to serve him, to speak for him, but who instead are by their fruits identified as the offspring of Satan. (Matt. 7:20; John 8:44) How could any intelligent person read just one page of Jesus’ words recorded in any one of the Gospels and still think the religious murderers of the Middle Ages represented Christ Jesus? When did he ever assail the Jews with false charges, or rouse rabble elements against them, or forcibly baptize them? When did he ever burn a Jew at the stake for not accepting him as Messiah? By what ridiculous stretch of the imagination, then, can it be said that those who do such things are following in the footsteps of Jesus? Some who have lived in modern times have committed such atrocities against Jews. Who has forgotten Hitler’s attempted genocide of the Jews? He was also a Roman Catholic, never excommunicated despite repeated requests to that effect, and his avowed aim was to reestablish the Holy Roman Empire, an empire characterized by just such Jewish persecution and slaughter that Hitler revived.
None of such fiendishness is representative of Jesus. He was a Jew, showed love toward Jews, confined his preaching to Jews, healed the diseases of many Jews, forgave the sins of many Jews, and when he laid down his life it was for Jews as well as for others. The Jesus of the Bible is so different from the one taught by orthodox religions of Christendom. If Jews will investigate this difference, learn of it, it will chip off much of the falsehood that makes Jesus such a stumbling stone to them. Their cause for stumbling will shrivel. They will see Jesus as he was and is, not as false Christians represent him to be.
WHY THE JEWISH NATION REJECTED JESUS
But why did not the Jewish nation accept Jesus when he came centuries ago? They saw him as he was. They had no false picture of him as Jews today have. Why did they reject him as Messiah? At that time the Jews were restive under Roman domination, were smarting under the Roman yoke. They anticipated a Messiah that would come as a great military figure to smash Roman power and break that yoke from off Jewish necks. Jesus did not measure up to these expectations, these hopes. They were disappointed in him and his talk of submissiveness under Rome displeased them. He exposed the hypocrisy of Jewish religious leaders, which first nettled them and finally enraged them to the point of demanding his death. As an unresisting lamb he was led to the slaughter.
Many prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures foretold Messiah’s coming. For instance, this Messianic promise: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore.” And this one: “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”—Isa. 9:6, 7; Dan. 7:13, 14, RS.
In fulfillment of these prophecies the Jews expected a Messiah who would set up a victorious earthly kingdom that would remain forever. But they overlooked this vital point: Messiah was foretold to come twice, once as a sacrifice to die for obedient men, and then as a reigning king over an everlasting government. In their anxiousness to be delivered from Rome and be politically exalted immediately they overlooked the necessity of the first presence and had eyes only for the glorious second presence. They looked for Messiah to come in the clouds of heaven and set up an everlasting earthly government. Instead he came riding on the foal of an ass recommending submission to the Roman yoke!
How unattractive to those Jews! Of him they could well say: “He had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him,” and they could add: “He was despised, and we esteemed him not.” These Jewish sentiments for Messiah at his first coming were foretold in the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, and this chapter goes on to show that Messiah would be led like a lamb to the slaughter “when he makes himself an offering for sin” and when he shall “make many to be accounted righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities.” Only after this first coming and ignominious death as a sin-offering would he come again with everlasting kingdom power, as Jehovah said: “Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”—RS.
So at his first coming Jesus fulfilled Zechariah 9:9, RS: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass.” And he fulfilled Isaiah chapter 53 about dying a sacrificial death, despised and hated and classed with sinful transgressors.
It is at his second presence that he comes in clouds or in invisible heavenly kingship, and it is then that he is given an everlasting dominion from Jehovah that will administer peace and righteousness to all obedient mankind. Then will Isaiah 9:6, 7 and Daniel 7:13, 14 be fulfilled, at the second presence and not at the first as the Jews nineteen centuries ago erroneously expected. If he had set up his everlasting kingship then, when would the prophecies of Isaiah chapter 53 and Zechariah 9:9 have fulfillment? The Jews back there were looking for the wrong signs, for the wrong presence of Messiah, so they failed to recognize Jesus as Messiah. Nevertheless, thousands of individual Jews did recognize him, accept him, and become the first Christians. Today Jews and others can see the signs Jesus foretold for his second presence, for that time is here.
WITNESSING TO JEWS TODAY
When the apostle Paul witnessed to persons he adapted his words to their needs, to their viewpoints. He kept in mind what their background was. He said: “To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews,” and added: “I have become all things to people of all kinds, that I might by all means save some.” So should we keep in mind the false concept Jews have of Jesus because of past and present lies and atrocities in his name, misrepresenting him. We should rout this false picture, exposing the fraudulent Christians. Show the two comings, and that nineteen centuries ago the Jewish nation rejected Jesus because they looked for the wrong coming. Show the prophecies Jesus fulfilled the first time he came, and the ones now undergoing fulfillment at his second presence. Point out that soon Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Moses will be back, resurrected to act as princes in the new earth and inherit the promises long ago made to them. Depict the blessed conditions of unity among men then, with health and happiness and everlasting life for all obedient ones.—1 Cor. 9:20, 22, NW.
The Jewish religious leaders of ancient time demanded Jesus’ death as a service to Jehovah God, and Jesus rightly applied Isaiah’s words to them: “You hypocrites, Isaiah aptly prophesied about you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, yet their hearts are far removed from me. It is in vain that they keep paying respect to me, because they teach commands of men as doctrines.’” (Matt. 15:7-9, NW; Isa. 29:13) Past and present so-called Christians have persecuted and killed Jews and others in the name of Jesus and in imagined service to God, and to them also Isaiah’s above words apply. But many thousands of the common people, Jews, accepted Jesus long ago, and hundreds of thousands of the common people today are accepting him in this time of his second presence.
Talk about Jesus to the Jews. Do not avoid the subject. But show understanding of Jewish thinking, erase the false picture given by false religionists and Crusaders and Inquisitioners, ancient and modern. But talk about Jesus to the Jews, try to remove the cause of stumbling. “There is no salvation in anyone else, for there is not another name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must get saved.”—Acts 4:12, NW.
a Source of material in this section is mainly from Chapter III of Anti-Semitism Throughout the Ages, by Count Heinrich Coudenhove-Kalergi.
[Picture on page 325]
‘He comes with the clouds of heaven.’—Dan. 7:13, 14.
‘He comes riding on an ass.’—Zech. 9:9.