by J. Rottenberg
Many Jews, as well as Christians, think the New Testament has an anti-Jewish character and believe the Lord Jesus had only a few Jewish disciples. But is that true?
At the beginning of the New Testament our attention is fixed by those who were expecting Israel’s comfort, the Messiah and His kingdom. Among them were the shepherds of Bethlehem, Simeon, Anna, Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary and many others. Thousands of them in Judea, Samaria and Galilee felt blessed by listening to Jesus explaining the Word of God to them. The Lord Jesus had many followers, both publicans and Pharisees. One of them, Nicodemus, a Pharisee, said: “Rabbi, we know that Thou art a teacher come from God.” (John 3:2)
He came unto His own
Referred to the Jewish believers the Lord spoke in John 17: “I have manifested Thy name unto the men which Thou gavest Me out of the world: Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me; and they have kept Thy word.” Even Jews, who refused to accept Him as Messiah, were not indifferent towards Him. Remember the answer the disciples gave Jesus at His question: “Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?” The disciples answered: “Some say .. John the Baptist; some Elijah, and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” (Matt. 16:13). The notions of the people were different and confused, but all of them cherished good thoughts about Him. When the priests and scribes were looking for a way to get Him killed, they tried to keep it out of the people’s sight “for they feared the people.” (Luke 20:19, 22:2) Why were they afraid of the people? Because the people cared about Jesus, were following and adoring Him. The priests’ and scribes’ excuse for their murderous ways: “If we let Him thus alone, all men will believe on Him.” (John 11:48)
His enemies didn’t only respect the Lord Jesus, but they also feared him because of the people. When the priests were looking for witnesses against Him, in order to get Him killed, they couldn’t find any witness among the people. This proves a difference in thoughts between the Jews as a nation and the individual Jews. Concerning the priests and scribes it can be said: “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.”
But of the people it can be said: “as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God.”
It is a denial of New Testament facts when somebody suggests that the Jews didn’t accept Jesus of Nazareth. If the Jews didn’t accept Him, then who would? The fear and influence of the scribes and Pharisees eventually caused a prejudice against Jesus of Nazareth. And then provoked by them, in the end, the people’s cry sounded: “Crucify Him”.
Jews in the Diaspora
After the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, the Gospel was being proclaimed. The first congregation at Jerusalem existed of Jews only. According to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, Jesus appeared to more than 500 brothers at one time. 120 members of the congregation were present when the apostles chose a substitute for Judas. At Pentecost, 3000 people came to faith. After this the New Testament tells us that a lot more people got saved. Due to the growth of believers in Jerusalem, deacons had to be appointed. We read: “So mightily grew the Word of God and prevailed.”
In spite of the death of Stephen and the following persecution, Paul discovered thousands of believing Jews when he visited Jerusalem for the last time. (Acts 21:20)
Not only in Jerusalem do we read about a congregation of believers, but also in Caesarea, Antioch, Berea, Philippi and Rome.
The seven congregations to whom the letters were written in the book of Revelation were founded by Jews; Peter wrote his first letter while he was in a congregation in Babylon. He sent his first letter to the chosen ones in the Diaspora in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia. (1 Pet. 1:11) James wrote a letter to the twelve tribes in the Diaspora (James 1:1), that is to the Jewish believers who were living across the world as it was then known. And the book of Revelation tells us about a future sealing of 144.000 Jews out of all tribes of Israel, 12.000 out of each tribe. (Rev. 7)
After the crucifixion and the destruction of the Temple the people tended to accept Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah ben Joseph the suffering Messiah. They were taught two Messiahs were needed to save Israel. One of them Messiah ben Joseph would live in poverty and would be killed while the other, Messiah ben David, would live and rule forever after he redeemed Israel.
Nobody knows when the idea of the Messiah was being split up into two Messiahs. But when we read about the first discussions in rabbinical literature on the concept of two Messiahs we understand how this idea came into being. The text of the discussions only refers to Jesus of Nazareth, the true, suffering Messiah which also proves how the people were willing to accept Him as their Messiah. That Jesus was considered to be the suffering Messiah can be read in Luke 4:22: “Is not this Joseph’s son?”
When the Romans conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple, the opinion of the Jews towards Christ and Christianity changed. Like the Romans, they attributed the conquest of Jerusalem to their positive opinion towards Christ and his disciples. The change of their opinion was being expressed in the second century when Jewish believers refused to accept Bar Kochba as their Messiah.
From that moment on Christianity is considered to be Judaism’s worse enemy.
The gap between Jews and Jewish believers became bigger. From that time on Jews consider Jesus to be a wandering star, instead of the bright shining light of the Morning Star. Jews throughout the centuries accepted only the lamp light of the rabbinical teachings, which caused them to draw away from the Torah. Fortunately we can see a change today as many Jews come to faith and believe in Jesus as their Messiah.