I wonder if some Christian doctrines about salvation and the afterlife were formulated to exclude Jews from heaven. It is curious to me the Christian scriptures describe the heavenly city with detailed Jewish imagery. The city is called the New Jerusalem and Mt. Zion and when the city descends out of heaven to earth it sets down in Israel not Rome. Curious as well, the gates into the city are named after the twelve tribes of Israel rather than twelve church fathers, or twelve popes, or twelve Evangelical evangelists. And yet, some Christian doctrines proclaim: “No Jews allowed!”
In classical Roman Catholic tradition, it was taught that Jews would eternally be excluded from heaven. According to early Catholic doctrine, God rejected the Jews because of deicide – the false accusation the Jews murdered Jesus. To ensure heaven would be cleansed of Jews, early Catholic theologians taught that Jews who were not baptized in the Catholic church and who did not receive the sacraments would be eternally damned. The church would eventually move away from these views in Vatican II.
Today within Evangelicalism, supersessionistic views about the afterlife are becoming mainstream. Supersessionism is a theology that proclaims Christians have replaced Jews both now and forever. It teaches the covenants and promises God made with Israel have been given to Christians and the Jewish imagery about heaven in the Christian scriptures are simply metaphors describing the Christian church. Supersessionism – also known as Replacement theology – has sown deep contempt in American Evangelicalism toward Jews – especially when it comes to its views on the eternal destiny of Jews.
Some of Christianity’s present and historical views of heaven have been a final attempt for Christians to triumph over Jews. The line of reasoning is, “If we can’t convert them to our beliefs we can – with the brush of a theological pen – write them out of eternity.” Driving Jews out of heaven is for some Christians the final pogrom – a last attempt to deny Jews a home – in this case an eternal one.
The theologies we have been taught – whether true or false – shape our opinions. It is shocking to me how some Christian theologians can with casual arrogance denounce Jews to eternal hell without the slightest mercy. In one Evangelical author’s online article about the imagery of heaven a reader responded with this comment:
“I am a believer in Jesus Christ as my savior. The Bible states in very clear terms that if one rejects Jesus as the Messiah then you will not get to be in heaven…period! Since Jewish people do not accept Jesus as their Messiah according to God’s word they will not be in heaven. My question is why is there even one single symbol (like the twelve gates on the walls in the New Jerusalem being named after the twelve tribes of Israel) used in heaven or the New Jerusalem that references a group of people that rejects God’s son?”
The exclamation point used in that comment is revealing. Based on this reader’s presumptuous view about the eternal destiny of Jews he angrily – gleefully – kicks Jews out of heaven. Not only that, but he also wants a heaven that is free of even the Jewish names of the tribes of Israel. Pedantic.
Christians should not be so presumptuous about Jewish damnation nor about their own salvation. In many Christian circles it is believed and taught the deeds done in this life do not have bearing on a person’s entrance into heaven. This reflects an attempt to reject Judaism’s focus on an individual’s responsibility to follow God’s commandments in favor of a more grace filled approach to salvation. The reasoning that Christians are under grace gives those who hold to this view of eternal salvation license to live however they choose and still receive entrance into heaven. However, Jesus the Jewish theologian rejects this view when he states, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
The Christian scriptures are more Torah centric than many think: “Then someone came to him and said, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ And (Jesus) said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the mitzvot” (Matthew 19:6-7). Presuming I can gain eternal life while not living a righteous life in the present is not taught in Judaism or in the Christian scriptures. Mercy towards others is required: “Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7). Arrogantly proclaiming Jews have no place in heaven leads Christians to a precarious place: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1). Pronouncing a curse over the Jewish people and proclaiming they have been rejected by God is dangerous as well: “If you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell” (Matthew 5:2).
It is time for Christians to rethink their presumptuous views of their own eternal destinies and become mindful of the fact they do not have all the answers concerning God’s plan for the eternal destiny of the Jews. In speaking of the Jewish people, the Christian scriptures proclaim, “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises” (Romans 9:4). And then again in Romans 11:28 it says, “as regards to election, they (the Jewish people) are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” An amazing fact is that both Romans 9:4 and Romans 11:28 are in the present tense! According to these two scriptures God has not forgotten His eternal covenant with the Jews! They are still God’s covenant people! They still partake in God’s glory and in His promises! And they are still loved by God and will be for eternity.
It is time Christians affirm the Christian scriptures that proclaim “do not be arrogant toward the branches (the Jewish people). If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you” (Romans 11:18). It would seem appropriate then for Christians who according to Christian theology have been organically ingrafted into the olive tree of Israel, to humbly set aside centuries of presumptuous and arrogant contempt for the Jewish people whom they have declared are eternally rejected – and take some well needed time to work out their “own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) rather than attempt to decide the eternal destiny of Jews.