An Evangelical View of the Jewish People
The subject was about anti-Semitism in the United States and what, as a Jewish businessman and state senator, the gentleman being interviewed had encountered personally. He spoke about exclusions from local clubs and a number of minor and major slights he and his family had endured over the years.
Then, after a moment’s hesitation, he said, “I suppose every Jew, whether he is consciously aware of it or not, from time to time looks around at his circle of friends and acquaintances and asks himself a question. It is this: ‘If an Adolf Hitler ever rises in America, who among these people will give me a place to hide?’”
Whether we like it or not, anti-Semitism is still being used to bludgeon Jewish people. In the Middle East in particular, the notorious and viciously anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, is now widely circulated.
Here in the West, including the United States, there has been an alarming proliferation of anti-Israel/anti-Jewish activism. A recent telephone poll asked 7,500 Europeans to state what they considered to be the greatest threat to world peace. Fifty-nine percent said, “Israel.” Among the Dutch, 74 percent named Israel as the number one threat.
On the campuses of major universities in Europe and America, attacks against Jewish students occur with increasing regularity. Some may regard these trends as nothing more than the inevitable evolution of contemporary activism on the part of frustrated minorities. But in fact they are dangerous throwbacks to eras of oppression that made scapegoats of those they considered undesirable and placed entire societies in jeopardy.
Contrary to these disturbing trends, most evangelical Christians feel a sense of gratitude and indebtedness for what has passed to us through the Jewish people: the Savior, the Book, and the heritage. When we think of the riches that have accrued to us through the Jewish prophets—revelation of the glory and the covenants and the giving of the law and the promises—we should have a profound sense of appreciation. Of course, for evangelical Christians the consummating consideration is found in the Bible’s phrase “and of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came” (Rom. 9:5).
Evangelicals have no qualms about Jesus of Nazareth being Jewish. Moreover, His descent impacts dramatically our view of the Scriptures and how they should be interpreted. Our theology gives Israel and the Jewish people the place properly appointed them by God. Recognizing that Jesus came to earth as a Jew buttresses the concept that Scripture can best be understood by studying it through the historical and cultural context in which it was given.
There was a reason why Jesus was Jewish. Therefore, it is vital to view His life and teachings through the prism of His people and the culture in which they lived. Above all, it is important to connect His associations with the Hebrew Scriptures and the great, festive commemorations that were at the heart of the religious and social life of the nation of Israel.
From time to time I have heard Jewish people say that Christians have so “Gentilized” their approach to the Scriptures that Jews can find little in Christian teaching that relates to the Jewish people. Unfortunately, in much of Protestantism this analysis is true. It is also true that certain Protestants hold significant misconceptions about some of the New Testament’s teachings.
The vast majority of evangelicals understand that God’s stated purposes for Israel and Jewry are irrevocable, that Jesus came to us as a Jew, and that He was careful to address us from a Jewish frame of reference. Once we comprehend these facts, it seems inevitable that we should sense a kinship with and appreciation for the Jewish people.
‘I Am a Debtor’
Interesting words, these. The apostle Paul, referring to his burden to deliver his message to the world, said, “I am a debtor both to the Greeks and to the barbarians; both to the wise and to the unwise” (Rom. 1:14). Such were the sentiments of this Jewish man toward unregenerate Gentile pagans whom he described as “having no hope, and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12).
It is an admirable statement of dedication to his mission, and each of us believing Gentiles can affirm that we are direct beneficiaries of Paul’s commitment. Should we not, therefore, understand that we, too, are debtors and take Jesus’ message of love and life to all men everywhere?