Our mission to Jewish people presents a unique challenge and opportunity for Seventh-day Adventists as well as for other Christians. Since the expansion of British Empire began in the 19th century, Protestant Christianity has understood its mission as going out to bring the Gospel to the different corners of the globe to the people who do not have knowledge of the Bible.
With the Jewish people, the situation is totally different. They are the “people of the Book.” The Apostle Paul said: “They were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:2). Not only were the Old Testament prophets and writers from Moses to Malachi Jews. The authors of the Gospels and epistles—Matthew, Mark, John, Peter, James and Paul—were also Jewish.
Among Christians, Seventh-day Adventists also consider themselves to be the people of the book. We accept the Bible as our only creed and hold certain fundamental beliefs to be the teaching of the Holy Scriptures. As stated in the first of our 28 fundamental beliefs, “The Holy Scriptures are the supreme, authoritative, and the infallible revelation of His will. They are the standard of character, the test of experience, the definitive revealer of doctrines, and the trustworthy record of God’s acts in history.” As a people of the Book, we have a unique opportunity to reach out to the People of the Book with the message of love from Jesus the Messiah.
However, there remains a challenge, and this challenge lays at the heart of the mission of Beit Shalom Balevav (House of Peace in the Heart) Jewish Adventist Congregation. To meet this challenge—to become successful witnesses—the Christian people of the Book should overcome inherited beliefs, which, at best, create hindrances to their effectiveness and, at worst, strip them of motivation to pursue the mission.
The goal of this article is to address these issues by sharing fact-based answers to questions which many Christians ask.
Didn’t the Jews reject and kill Jesus?
For many centuries, Christendom cultivated in the minds of Christians the image of the Jewish nation, which being stiff necked, stubborn in their apostasy and rebellion, rejected Jesus as the Savior of the world and the Son of God. Until the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic church held the doctrine of Jewish deicide, which accused Jews of killing God.
The stories of the Gospel and the Book of Acts present a contrasting picture. While Jesus definitely encountered opposition from the high priests and Pharisees, the Gospel of John states “Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him” (John 11:45). Not only did the miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus cause Jews to accept Him as the Messiah, but also His teaching was convincing for many. The Gospel of John states: “As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him. So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:30-32). All the disciples of Jesus during His walk on this earth were Jewish.
While it was the high priest Caiaphas (with the support of Sanhedrin) who initiated the process leading to the crucifixion of Jesus by the Romans, many Jews did not support the actions of their leaders. The book of Acts chapter 2 cites the speech of Peter given before Jewish pilgrims from all corners of the earth for the celebration of Pentecost. Reacting to his appeal, many Jews “… were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?” (Act 2:37). As a result, “… those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls” (Act 2:41).
The book of Acts says that despite serious resistance, many Jews and gentile converts to Judaism accepted Jesus through the work of Paul. “In Iconium they entered the synagogue of the Jews together, and spoke in such a manner that a large number of people believed, both of Jews and of Greeks” (Acts 14:1). “The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men” (Acts 17:10-12).
Wasn’t the trial period for the Jewish nation completed, and now God has abandoned them and speaks to gentiles?
Often, Christians are misled by incorrect interpretation of 70-weeks prophecy found in Daniel 9:24. It is taught that the words “seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place” were fulfilled with the stoning of Stephen recorded in the book of Acts 7. Therefore since the Jews stoned Stephen, they completely rejected God’s grace, and thus the gospel is no longer preached to them but rather to gentiles.
Rather than getting into the exegetical details of the text of Daniel 9:24 and the intricacies of the Hebrew language, consider the text from the book of Acts, which states the following. “So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone” (Acts 11:19). This verse demonstratively states that the interpretation and assumptions described in previous paragraph are simply incorrect. As Paul states in Romans chapter 11, “I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be!” (Rom. 11:1).
The fact that the Old Covenant, theocratic, Temple-centered Israel ceased to exist does not mean that God rejected the Jewish people. Since the destruction of the Solomon’s Temple in 586 BC. Jews have lived in all corners of the world. They built synagogues where they studied and taught the Scriptures. Before Jesus and Paul, these synagogues became beacons of God’s truth in the pagan societies of the Persian, Greek and Roman empires.
The Jew’s influence within the countries they had been dispersed to, attracted many gentiles to became proselytes in their midst. Paul used these diaspora synagogues as startup hubs for his reach into the cities he visited during his missionary journeys. A number of these Jewish communities, such as in Berea, embraced Jesus as their Messiah. In other places, synagogue communities were split on the issue and those who accepted Jesus formed their own Judeo-Christian communities.
Consider this. The destruction of the Second Temple did not cause the Jews to disappear like the Phoenicians, Philistines, Babylonians and other ancient civilizations who were doomed to perdition in the prophetic books of the Bible. There is no prophecy in the Bible that dooms the Jewish people to perdition or makes them a subject of everlasting divine vengeance. The Jewish people have survived into the present—in spite of the fires of the inquisition and the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
For anyone who believes that God is in control of human history, this fact is hard to ignore.
Why have Jews not accepted Jesus as the Son of God for all these centuries?
Christians who don't see Jews actively accepting Jesus, or who have tried to witness to them in the manner they are used to approaching people with, often ask this question. It’s not uncommon for a Christian to experience resentment after a Jew responds negatively to the typical Christian witnessing approach.
While it is very tempting to begin comparing our current experience during religious interactions with Jews to the times of Jesus, this is not correct. Remember, almost two thousand years separate our reality with what happened at Calvary. This time gap is full of bitter history—including Christian apostasy from the principles of the Biblical law (not just the fourth commandment) and Christian hatred and stereotyping Jews as the servants of devil and killers of Christ.
These are the few examples of what Jewish people had to endure living side by side with their Christian neighbors in the Christian kingdoms of Europe
• In Medieval England Jews were forbidden to farm the land and join the guilds of craftsmen. Money landing merchandising and medicine were the only trades allowed to them. However, in 1290 English king Edward II ordered all Jews to leave the country and their property be confiscated by royal treasury. Jews were accused of usury, witchcraft and murders of Christian babies with the purpose of using their blood for in baking of Passover mazza (unleavened bread).
• To convert to Christianity in the Middle ages in Spain Jews had to publicly renounce their allegiance to the principles of Torah and pledge to keep Sunday and the new Sabbath and eat pork. Jews were supposed to reject their identity abandon their language and cultural traditions. Those who converted to Christianity were carefully watched by inquisition. Under smallest suspicion for such innocent thing like praying in Hebrew or singing Hebrew lullaby to a baby a person could be arrested and charged in being insincere Christian. The admission of insincerity would be extracted through severe torture and those who admitted their guilt under such a duress were sentenced to burning.
• Most Christian kings and dukes in medieval Western Europe Jews did not consider Jews as the citizens of their domains and treated them as second class persons. Jews were ordered to live in special gated areas called ghettos. They could not own land or any immovable property and forced to pay exuberant rent for their crammed houses in the city areas designated for them. To get outside the walls of the ghetto a Jew had to wear special markings such as a large yellow star attached to their coat and funny clowns’ hat.
• In 1421 Austrian duke Albert demanded from the Jews who lived in Vienna to convert to Christianity offering them opportunity to become equal citizens of his duchy. When he heard polite decline from Jewish leaders he ordered his troops to take 200 prominent men of Jewish community in Vienna to be burned at the same time. Their children were taken to different monasteries and ordered to forget their names and their Jewish origins. The widows of these men were given option to convert and marry Christians or be raped. Under duress many of these women committed suicide in order to avoid this horrible humiliation.
• In 19th century Russian Empire special military recruiting teams sent by Russian tsar were abducting 10-12-year-old Jewish boys from their parents in order to force their conversion to Christianity during their 25-yearlong military service in Russian army. A new Jewish recruit was through the line of soldiers who bit him with the stick until he would renounce his Jewish faith and convert to Russian Orthodox church.
• During the horrible year preceding the World War II Nazis would force churches in Germany and on occupied territories to give them the names of their Jewish members and excommunicate them. These German and Austrian Jewish Christians became the victims of the concentrations camps together with their non-Christian Jewish brothers and sisters. While number of good and honest Christian leaders refused Hitler’s orders and defended Jews, many priests were explaining the horrors of Holocaust as the expression of God’s vengeance upon Jews for killing Christ 1900 years after the event. In addition to that most SS members presented themselves as Christians. Many Jews who survived concentration camps talk about their Nazi tormentors as Christians because they saw them celebrating Christmas and Easter singing Christian hymns and praying prayers. Unlike the events of Crucifixion Holocaust happened only 70 years ago and is still considered as the main reason for Jewish distrust of Christians.
• In 1883, Russian Jews were falsely accused Jews of assassination of tsar Alexander II. These accusations became primary reason for thousands massacres or pogroms which happened in Russian Empire from 1880s to 1920s. These pogroms became primary reason for mass immigration of Russian Jews to the United states in the early 1900s.
Over 60% of American Jews trace their roots to the Russian Empire and from where their ancestors came to the US in early 1900s. Many more Jews who survived Holocaust in Europe came to America after the WWII seeking freedom from persecutions. The wounds and memories of pogroms and holocaust are still fresh. This is the main cause of their resentment to Christianity. The absolute ignorance regarding these basic historical facts is the major reason why Christians today fail to establish productive spiritual conversation with Jewish people.
Wouldn't these historical facts be a testimony of divine curse, which befell upon Jews?
Many Christians misinterpret the words of Jesus found in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 23 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!” as a prediction of the everlasting curse upon Jews. Such erroneous interpretation is based on these words taken out of their larger context. The phrase about the house being left desolate is clearly spelled out in the next chapter where Jesus speaks about the destruction of the Temple “not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down” (Matt. 24:2).
By prediction the destruction of the Temple Jesus doesn't pronounce any curse on Jewish people most of whom don't even reside in Jerusalem or in Judea. More so He acknowledges that inside Jerusalem there will be His followers to whom He commands to leave town as soon as they see Roman troops besieging it.
“Therefore, when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house. Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath” (Matt. 24:15-20).
The historians attest to the fact that many Jewish followers of Jesus took heed to His words and left Jerusalem on time to be saved.
While Jesus predicts about the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, nowhere in the Bible can we find any prophecy that God will continue punishing and cursing Jews even 1900 years after the events that happened at Calvary. Those Christians who adhere to such views grossly misrepresent God’s character. Instead of loving gracious and forgiving Creator they present a vindictive tyrant. It is also important to notice that those in the Middle Ages by who degraded Jews to the status of second class citizens professed to be Christians and were doing this for the sake of protecting Christendom from corrupt Jewish influence. Those who were killing Jews and raping Jewish women called themselves the soldiers of the cross and carried out their horrific deeds to avenge Jews for killing their God. However, there is no prophecy in the Bible, which would state that God has ever charged the followers of Christ to be the executors of His retribution upon Jews.
If early church was Jewish how did this happen that Jews aren’t in the church now?
This is true that the first Christians were in fact Jewish believers in Jesus who brought the Gospel to Greeks and other people of Roman Empire. The Book of Acts chapter 11 tells the story of how Christianity emerged.
So, then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred about Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. … And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. (Acts 11:19-20, 26).
Jewish Christians who were persecuted in Jerusalem following the stoning of Stephen left Judea and witnessed to the Jews scattered in the surrounding countries. Instead of Jerusalem Antioch became a new hub for what historians now call First Century Judeo Christianity.
The fact that the first century church was predominantly Jewish could be seen in the story of conversion of Cornelius, the first Roman known to become the follower of Jesus. Simon-Peter who came to witness to Roman centurion in Caesarea was criticized by his fellow Jewish believers for going to uncircumcised men and eating with them (Acts 11:3). The main issue of in the first-century church was how to integrate gentiles into the congregation of Jewish believers in Jesus.
The situation and demographics began to change in the second century after 135 AD, when Roman emperor Hadrian crushed Bar Kohba rebellion also known as the Second Judean war. Before that rebellion, Judaism was legitimate religion of Roman Empire. Roman law exempted Jews of all sects, including Christians, from worshipping emperor as god replacing it with special tax (see Matthew 22:17-21). Any gentile who would become a Christian was considered by Roman authority as a convert to Judaism. Romans did not make any distinction between Pharisees, Sadducees or Christians. Anyone who worshipped one God was a Jew in the eyes of Roman jurisprudence. After 135 AD Romans outlawed Judaism and began vicious persecution of anyone who professed One God including Christians.
It was this period when a number of Christian leaders such as Justin the Martyr, Ignatius of Antioch, Origen of Caesarea and others, known as Early Church Fathers, began to discuss in their books the idea of change the day of worship. All above named leaders were had their background in philosophy. Before their conversion to Christianity they were students or graduates of famous Hellenistic philosophical schools.
It is obvious and unfortunate that they brought their past baggage to the church and with it came rejection of Divine revelation found in the Torah (Law) and the prophets. As a result, by the late 2nd century Christian tradition began dividing the Holy Scriptures into the Old and New Testaments with the New Testament having supreme authority over Old. The God of the Old Testament was labeled as Jewish God who was demanding exacting and punishing. On the contrary, the God of the New Testament, Christian God, was loving accepting and merciful.
Since its emergence Greek philosophy had propagated values ideas and methods contrary to the ones, which were developed in Early Judaism. Influenced by the prophets of Israel, Hebraic mentality relied on revelation from God as the primary source of knowledge and worldview. Greek mentality, on the other hand, was founded on human reason and human desire to comprehend the universe.
Despite its problems highlighted in the Gospels, first-century Jewish tradition presented to the world high view of Divine Law found in the Torah. On the contrary, early church fathers mocked Judaism for its strife to follow the precepts of the Law. Heavily influenced by Hellenistic philosophy saw the revelation and statutes which God gave to Moses as mere allegories. Some early Christian authors in their letters ridiculed Moses for actually building sanctuary, arguing that God intended it to be just a symbol. The same ridicule was directed towards literal observance of Sabbath through abstaining from work on the seventh day, which Origen labeled as Jewish foolishness and argued absolute impossibility of such endeavor.
By the end of 3rd century the ordinance of Lord’s Supper, remembrance of the death of Jesus instituted by Paul based off Jewish Passover tradition, which Jesus himself followed during the last supper, was substituted with ordinance Eucharist or mass. Unleavened bread was no longer a symbol, but rather literal body of Christ, which came to be through transubstantiation during a quasi-sacrifice performed by the priest on the church altar. Thus, instead of teachers, church leaders became priests who through sacrifice of mass would control peoples’ eternal destiny.
In the 4th century when Christianity became official religion of Roman empire emperor Constantine demanded church leaders to make sure that Christians would completely seize any celebration of Jewish Passover. He believed that remembering the events of exodus from Egypt by Christians maintains them bound to the Jewish identity which he personally hated. He believed that Christians had to take new identity and have their own celebration focusing on the resurrection of Jesus, which Constantine likened to a rising sun.
For the same reason, he liked the idea of having the first day of the week, the Roman day of Sun-god to be the unified day of worship to replace Jewish Sabbath. Constantine embraced the idea, put forward by the 2nd century church fathers, of instituting the 8th day as the day of resurrection, which supersedes the 7th day Jewish Sabbath as a way to demonstrate the distinction between Christians and Jews. He considered the institution of the first day as unifying factor for the empire that would bring pagans closer to the Christian faith.
By the mid 4th century Sabbath observance was officially condemned by the church. The 29th canon of the Council of Laodicea labeled the Christians of Phrygia as Judaizers and decreed that they were supposed to abstain from work on Sunday instead of Sabbath. Many modern Christian and Jewish historians believed that this was the last of the chains of events that pushed Jews away from the church. Christian rejection of the Torah prevented many Jews from accepting Jesus as their Messiah. The actions of Constantine and bishops regarding the Sabbath pushed Jewish Christians away from the church.