Antisemitism has marched through the centuries with boots, bombs, tanks, and terror. Its resurgence is no longer at the world’s doorstep; it has unashamedly penetrated organizations, institutions, governments, and yes, churches. Today “NEVER AGAIN” is “NOW AGAIN.” Was there a way to circumvent persecution of Jewish communities throughout millennia? Could emphasis on a specific New Testament bible passage have derailed the heinous genocide of the Holocaust?
What are the pivotal biblical verses which held the potential to diffuse Antisemitism? It’s the words of Jesus Himself in John 10:17-18; the redemption story. In response to His dust-up with the Pharisees because He healed a blind man on the Sabbath, Jesus boldly declared,
“The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
Some Pharisees accepted His words, some denounced Him. Yes, others in ancient times played a part in Jesus’ crucifixion but make no mistake: in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus agonizingly and fully embraced God’s redemptive plan to “lay down His life and take it up again.” He was, after all, God in flesh. Nothing and no one could have prevented Jesus’ death nor His resurrection three days later.
By blaming only the Jewish people for Jesus’ crucifixion and glossing over His words in John 10:18, Christianity’s divorce from its Jewish roots resulted in Christianity eventually becoming its own religion. The divorce took place even with God’s direct inspiration about the essential role of Judaism as the cradle of Christianity born in the Old Testament and culminating in the story of Christianity’s Jewish-born Savior. The human heart easily sank into the weakness of human nature by blaming the entire Jewish race for the worst murder in history. Recognizing the Jewish origins of Christianity became camouflaged in Christian self- righteousness looking to place blame instead of looking at ourselves. And here we are in the 21st century with Antisemitism surging again in waves of Jewish persecution on every front and spilling over into hatred for Israel, the Jewish ancestral homeland.
The context of history will help inform us on how the separation took place. As ardent Jewish believers, the Jewish disciples-and thousands more who embraced Jesus as Savior- traveled the Roman Empire with the Good News after His ascension where He instituted the Great Commission. Later, non-Jews embraced Christianity mostly through the Jewish Apostle Paul. When the Romans destroyed the second Temple in 70A.D., the narrative began to veer off.
Aided by the passage of time and Constantine, Rome’s first Christian Emperor, the Jewish roots wilted, and Christianity blossomed when Constantine made Christianity the official state religion in 381A.D. Although Paul’s 30 years and 10,000 miles of travel lit Christianity’s fire for Gentiles roughly 350 years before Constantine, a precursor of already embedded disdain of its Jewish origins had crept in. Beginning around 150A.D some early church fathers, although deserving veneration, unfortunately brewed a bitter poison which blinded Gentiles in the Medieval and Renaissance era.
Centuries later Martin Luther, the preeminent leader of the Protestant Reformation, inflamed Antisemitism with his anger at the Jews for rejecting Jesus. It marred his otherwise profound legacy. Luther’s 1523A.D. pamphlet “That Christ Was Born a Jew” transitioned into a slanderous “On the Jews and Their Lies” twenty years later. In a dreadful manipulation of Christianity in the 20th century, Hitler drew from Martin Luther’s writings.
Fueled by history’s emphasis on the New Testament, it became commonplace to accuse only the Jews for killing Jesus. Gentile Christian populations pointed deadly fingers of blame at Jewish Pharisees and Sadducees and the Jewish disciple Judas who betrayed Jesus during Passover. Yet, the early Jewish believers responsible for spreading the gospel to the nations were eventually martyred for their faith. With their monumental, world changing message, how did they and the Jewishness of Jesus slip into the background of gentile minds where even today some Christians express surprise to learn that Jesus was Jewish?
Is it too late for modern day Christians to help stem the tide of hatred? No! I suggest that God has given us a second chance to show our good will toward the Jewish people as evidenced by friendships and cooperation growing between the two communities in the last 20-30 years.
Take these steps. First, become familiar with the bible’s Jewish context. In doing so, our faith not only enjoys an infusion of Jesus’ own Jewishness, but we are reminded that He read from the Old Testament scrolls, not the New. And in synagogues not churches. Plenty of fine teaching is available today from teachers, pastors, and rabbis about Christianity’s Jewish roots. Share the richness of Christianity’s midwife, Judaism, with others. Reach out to build friendships with Jewish people near and far. Learn about Israel, the innovation nation and its contributions to the world. Defend Israel where needed and choose to support a Jewish or Christian organization focused on advocating for and helping Israel.
Finally, when faced with Antisemitism, make sure you have prepared yourself by memorizing John 10:18 to quote the actual redemptive plan from Jesus’ own words. Speak the truth in love. Take a pro-active posture to defuse Antisemitism in your own sphere of influence.
Today, more than ever, sincere Christians-those who take the bible seriously-compose one of Israel’s greatest allies against antisemitism. And here is inclusion at its very finest; Christians are, after all, grafted into an ancient Jewish olive tree by the grace of God. We benefit from the eternal promises God bestowed thousands of years ago through Abraham!