The New Testament and the Kinsmen of Jesus
Is the New Testament anti-Semitic? Unfortunately, many Gentiles have used it to vent their ingrained hatred and unholy wrath on the Jewish people. But if we read it the way God intended, we see the wonderful story of God’s love. This article originally ran in the December/January 1973–1974 issue of Israel My Glory.
To millions of people, the New Testament reveals God’s love for all men. However, it has been attacked as responsible for Christian hostility toward the Jews, particularly when it comes to the narrative concerning Jesus’ crucifixion, which is said to cast the Jewish people in the role of “Christ killers,” thus fostering “Christian anti-Semitism.”
It should be remembered that the first disciples and followers of Jesus were all Jewish, most of them Galileans, a simple and patriotic people who often rebelled against their Roman oppressors. They shared the trials and tribulations of their Jewish countrymen and hoped, as their brethren did, for a speedy redemption from their oppressors and for the coming of the Messiah to deliver them.
The figure around whose life and message the New Testament is centered is Jesus, the Man from Galilee, an impoverished descendant of the house of David (cf. Mt. 1:1–25; Lk. 3:23–38). He lived a holy and blameless life and was the only Person in history who could challenge His opponents with the question, “Which of you convinceth [convicts] me of sin?” (Jn. 8:46, KJV).
Contrary to being anti-Semitic, this is a Book that breathes a spirit of love and compassion for all men and tender feelings for the Jewish people, the kinsmen of Jesus.
Like the Prophets of Old
Like the prophets of the Old Testament, Jesus called His people to repent and return to God. He grieved over Israel’s disobedience to God and its unbelief. On one occasion Jesus wept over Jerusalem and lamented,
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate (Mt. 23:37–38, KJV).
Some 40 years later, His words came true. Jerusalem became desolate, and the Holy Temple was razed by the Romans.
Both Jesus’ love for Israel and His faith in His people’s high calling to be a light to the nations were beyond question. Speaking to a Samaritan woman at the well in Sychar (modern Nablus), Jesus pronounced these timeless words: “Salvation is of the Jews” (Jn. 4:22, KJV).
His words of rebuke were of a similar character as that of a prophet, of a lover of His people, and not of an enemy. This is also true of the famous apostle Paul, who was once an ardent Pharisee and persecuted Jewish believers in Jesus. Paul gave us a glimpse into his own heart when he said, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they might be saved” (Rom. 10:1, KJV).
To this, Paul added this affirmation of Israel’s final redemption and glorious destiny: “And so all Israel shall be saved” (11:26, KJV).
All the apostles were loyal sons of Israel and, like the prophets of old, burned with a holy fire of indignation against their disobedience to God. They possessed an unquenchable desire that Israel may be saved.
Long before Jesus, we find that the Israelites objected to the prophets because they did not like to listen to things that interfered with their selfish ways or made demands on their moral or spiritual lives. Isaiah accurately described the attitude of Israel’s leaders: “Which say to the seers: See not, and to the prophets: Do not prophesy to us right things, speak to us flattering things, prophesy delusions” (Isa. 30:10, Buksbazen translation).
Was the prophet Isaiah an anti-Semite because He called the leaders of his time “rulers of Sodom” and his kinsmen “people of Gomorrah” (Isa. 1:10, KJV)? Of course not! The prophets were impelled by God and by their own overburdened hearts to speak the truth as they saw it. The same was true of Jesus and His apostles, who taught in the prophetic tradition. Their castigation had one purpose: to bring about repentance and spiritual rebirth. This type of teaching has always provoked resentment.
The Gospel of John, which often refers to “the Jews,” was written after the AD 70 fall of Jerusalem, when the synagogue changed its liturgy to make it impossible for Jewish believers in Christ to stay inside the Jewish community. It was a time when the synagogue persecuted the young church in Jerusalem. John’s is the Gospel of an embattled and harassed minority—Jewish people persecuted by their own and torn between their love for their people and loyalty to Jesus, their Savior.
Later, Jewish hostility to the Gospels arose because of how the story of the crucifixion was abused by so-called Christians to accuse the Jews as “Christ killers,” an accusation that can only be labeled as grotesque and unfair.
The Crucifixion: Its True Meaning—and Its Perversions
Some people believe the crucifixion narrative singles out the Jewish people as a nation of “Christ killers.” The Gospels record how a Jerusalem mob, incited by the priests, demanded from Pontius Pilate that he free the criminal Barabbas and crucify Jesus (cf. Mt. 27:15–26; Mk. 15:7–15; Lk. 23:13–24). To prove the rightness of their demand, the mob shouted, “Let him be crucified” and “His blood be on us, and on our children” (Mt. 27:22, 25, KJV).
Many misguided Christians have argued that, with these words, the Jewish people called down God’s wrath upon themselves and all the generations that followed and consequently deserve to be punished.
What a perverted and preposterous idea, that God should act contrary to His own righteousness and to all the promises He made to Israel and that He should listen to a frenzied, howling mob and not to His beloved Son, Jesus, who prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34, KJV).
Did this mob really represent all the Jewish people who would ever live, including those who had no part or knowledge of the crucifixion? Of course not!
Should we condemn all the Greeks of every generation for the judicial murder of Socrates? Should we condemn every Russian for the bloody murders of Josef Stalin or every German for the heinous deeds of Adolf Hitler and his henchmen?
For every Jew who shouted “Crucify Him, crucify Him” there were many devout Jewish women who followed Jesus to the cross, weeping. There were also countless thousands of Jews who lived and died for Jesus during the past 19 [today, 20] centuries. Were these Jewish people not more truly representative of Israel in the eyes of God than the ignorant mob in Jerusalem?
It is unfortunately true that many Gentiles have used the wonderful story of God’s love to vent their ingrained hatred and unholy wrath on the Jews. These so-called Christians, who make Christ’s death an excuse to hate and persecute others, would have readily found some other reason to justify their wickedness.
The pagans of the pre-Christian era hated the Jewish people, persecuted them, and often resorted to pogroms centuries before Christ. They found other excuses for their wicked acts, such as calling the Jews atheists because they worshiped an invisible God or calling them lazy because they refused to work one day a week, on the Sabbath.
With memories of what a corrupt church in the Middle Ages did to the Jewish people, it is no wonder some Jews connect Jesus’ death with anti-Semitism. But this is not what the New Testament teaches.
The meaning of the cross is summed up by the apostle John: “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16, KJV).
God has chosen that amazing land of the patriarchs, of Moses, and of the great prophets to reveal His holiness and justice, His love and His judgment upon all sin. And since this happened in the land of Israel, it was natural the Jewish people should play a major role. The Jews in the New Testament are representative of the human race—its saints and its sinners.
Furthermore, they were not the only participants in the drama of Calvary. The Jewish people lived under Rome, whose chief representative was Pontius Pilate, a vicious and corrupt man who, in spite of the washing of his hands, had much Jewish blood on his conscience. Jesus’ actual executioners were not Jews but brutal Roman soldiers who, in in the course of history, also crucified thousands of Jewish people.
About His life and death Jesus said this: “No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it again” (10:18, KJV). Jesus went to the cross willingly to become the final blood sacrifice for sin, as prescribed in Leviticus 17:11.
The clearest New Testament evaluation of those who nailed Jesus to the cross was expressed by the apostle Peter when he told a large Jewish gathering in Jerusalem,
For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou has anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel were gathered together…to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done(Acts 4:27–28, KJV).
Peter enumerated all the participants in the crucifixion. On the human side there was Herod, the half-Jewish puppet-ruler of Judea; Pontius Pilate, the bloodthirsty Roman governor of Palestine; the Gentiles, represented by the Roman soldiers; and finally, the people of Israel.
But the main actor was God Himself, who “anointed Jesus,” that is, made Him the Messiah, and by His predetermined will and purpose, brought about His death on the cross for the redemption of men and the forgiveness of sins.
The whole emphasis of the New Testament is not on people but, rather, on God Himself and His eternal purpose of reconciling the world to Himself through the sacrifice of His Son. To indulge in blaming the Jewish people for the crucifixion is to distort the crucifixion’s meaning. The person who blames the Jews, rather than himself, has completely missed the significance of the cross.
Far from being anti-Semitic, the New Testament breathes the spirit of God’s love for all mankind, Jews and Gentiles.