Do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you.–Romans 11:18
In recent years, God has been turning the hearts of Christians toward the Jewish people and toward the nation of Israel. This phenomenon can be seen among Christians of every race and nation. As Christians begin offering their prayers, their love and their friendship, they must not be naïve as to the difficulty Jews and Israelis have in accepting what is being offered. To understand the reason for this Jewish reticence, we must look at how the Jew perceives Christians’ beliefs as well as the Christian Church. Let’s try to see us from a Jewish point of view.
First, let’s look at some major differences between Christian and Jewish beliefs (and why the Jew doesn’t believe in Jesus).
Original sin and fallenness:
In the mind of most Christians, Jesus is first, and foremost, our Redeemer. Jesus came to earth to redeem mankind from a state of fallenness (brought about by Adam and Eve in the Garden). Fallenness is that evil, depraved state into which all mankind is born and which energizes all mankind to sin and be unable to please God in his natural (unredeemed) state.
In Jewish theology there was no original sin. It follows, then, that if there was no original sin, humans are not born into a state of fallenness. If humans are not in a state of fallenness, they can have no evil (depraved) nature that causes them to sin. Conclusion: Without a depraved nature caused by fallenness, there is no need for a Redeemer. Jews don’t believe that man is depraved or that he is unable to please God. They believe that the natural state of man is good, not evil.
Jews believe that God would never require man to obey something he was incapable of obeying. Therefore, since man can obey God’s Law, man must obey God’s Law. All of it!
Christians hold that mankind will always attempt to reach God through his own efforts (whether by building a tower to heaven or seeking to obey a set of religious laws). The Law was given precisely because God knew man would not be able to obey it (due to man’s depraved nature). By giving a set of laws which man could not obey, man would eventually have to face the fact that the problem is within himself (his own fallenness) and seek God’s “cure” which is a new nature that comes through man’s identification with Christ’s death, burial and resurrection (Romans 6-8 and all of Galatians, especially Gal 3:24). Man’s desire to obey God’s law, coupled with man’s inability to do so, would eventually lead man to Christ who satisfied the requirements of God’s Law for all humankind.
Christians believe that man’s (depraved) nature cannot change (man cannot repent of his behavior) until he accepts Christ’s death on the cross for him, personally. This is because his natural tendency is toward evil, and his first act of repentance must be to accept what Christ has done for him: that is, change his relationship to God through the individual’s identification with Christ. Then, and only then, does he please God because God sees him “in Christ” (he is no longer the depraved individual he was born to be). Further, since his very nature is changed through this “identification”, he can go on to please God by his life (Romans 6 & 8).
To the Jew, if man’s natural state is good, it follows that any act of evil, or of disobedience to God’s law, is unnatural. Therefore, repentance is a simple act of asking forgiveness and agreeing to do the right thing at the next opportunity, thereby immediately returning the individual to God’s favor. Also, whatever sins a Jew has committed unintentionally throughout the year, these sins are forgiven in the annual “day of forgiveness” known as the Day of Atonement.
The Messiah and Monotheism:
To the Jew, the Messiah has always been a political/spiritual leader. The concept of God sacrificing His son is beyond comprehension to Jews.
The Jew considers himself to be the guardian of monotheism: the belief that there is only one God. The idea of believing in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit means, in the mind of the Jew, that Christians are polytheists—believers in more than one god. So, to the Jew, Christianity is similar to the beliefs of the Greeks, the Romans, the Hindus, and any other group which does not believe in one God only.
Christianity has one similarity to Islam: it is an evangelistic religion. However, whereas Islam has mainly evangelized through fear and the threat of death, Christianity at least began by evangelizing by the word, by love and by supernatural power. Unfortunately, throughout its history, the Church has done much of its evangelism the same way the Muslims have: by killing or impoverishing those who refused to accept Jesus.
Judaism is not a missionary religion. Jews believe that Judaism is for Jews only. God never intended any other peoples to follow Judaism or obey the Law.
If Judaism is only for Jews and only Jews need to obey the Law, how then does the rest of mankind follow God and please Him?
Whereas Christians would say that one must become a believer in Christ and Muslims would say one must become a follower of Mohammed and the religion of Islam, the Jew would say that one should not become a Jew unless he simply can’t help himself. Even then, it will be made very difficult for him.
The Jewish answer to pleasing God is to say that God actually made two separate covenants of Law for two separate groups of people. One covenant of laws for the Jew and another covenant of laws for everybody else.
The second Covenant of Law God gave to the sons of Abraham through Moses. This is the path all Jews are to follow, forever. [A discussion of The Law appears in a different Note].
The first Covenant of Law God gave to everyone else—all the Nations—and that Covenant was given to all non-Jews through Noah. This is called the Noahide Covenant, or the Seven Laws of Noah. Many of these seven laws are similar to the 10 Laws of Moses. You may read about this Covenant by googling Noahide Covenant. (Noahide is becoming an official religion in many countries as it already is in the U.S.) Some believe the Noahide Covenant is what is referred to in Acts 15:19-21. Noahide is not Christianity.
From a Jewish perspective, there is only one reason a Christian would want to have a relationship with a Jew: the Jew’s conversion to Christianity. A Jew would tell you (tongue in cheek, but quite seriously) that “to convert or burn in hell” strikes him as somewhat of a lose-lose proposition. One can imagine why Jews are hyper-sensitive to any question or remark that appears as an attempt to draw them into a discussion concerning their salvation.
Jewish attitudes toward the Church:
The idea that the Christian Church has turned its attention and its heart toward the Jewish people and toward Israel is difficult for many Jews to accept at face value. One woman recently told me, “Look, it’s taken us 2,000 years just to get to the place of being cynical! We’d love to believe in your intentions, but look at your history: all you’ve ever done is hurt us!”
This sentiment is, of course, not totally accurate. Few Israelis are aware of the part many Christians played during the 19th and 20th centuries to help turn world opinion in favor of the acceptance of Palestine as the Jewish national homeland, or of those who helped Jews during the war years. However, a Christian with even a superficial knowledge of history must admit that the institutional Church has done vast evil to the Jewish people in the name of Christ during most of its existence.
“Christian”, or believer in Christ:
One thing Jewish people have a hard time comprehending is that there can be a difference between one who belongs to the institution called “The Church” and one who believes in Jesus. They have not always been the same and are not necessarily the same today. Whereas many people who belong to institutional churches have a heart for Israel and the Jewish people, quite often, those who have a heart for the Jewish people and for Israel don’t want to be identified with the historic institution, the Church, because of what the church has done historically to the Jewish people.
Every person has the choice either to live under religious laws or under grace. Law is available in every religious system, including the religious system called Christianity. Christianity is rightly called one of the “great religions of the world” because it is, in reality, a religion. Grace is not available in religion because grace requires a relationship with a Person and not with a system. Just as every person has the choice to live either under law or under grace, every person also has the choice to live either by the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil or the fruit of the Tree of Life. The fruit of the first is law (which produces fear, shame and death) while the fruit of the second is a relationship (which produces freedom, peace and rest). Living by laws is much easier because it allows one to know, at any given moment, where one stands in relationship to a set of objective requirements. Grace is more difficult because it requires one to trust that, at any given moment, he is accepted and loved no matter how he seems to be “doing”.
Warning to Believers:
In the Christian Bible (Romans 11) there is a warning which few Christians have heeded throughout history. The warning states that any Christian who takes an arrogant attitude toward the Jewish people is in trouble with God. The true followers of Christ have never been arrogant toward the Jews; however, many who would call themselves Christians, have.
A further issue in the land of Israel is the growing Messianic Movement. A number of Jews have come to believe that Jesus is their Messiah (it is estimated that there are approximately 20,000 of these believers in Israel today and the number continues to grow). Since Jesus was an Israeli and a Jew, these Messianics consider him “one of us”. Many do not call themselves Christians just as the earliest believers in Jesus didn’t call themselves Christians (Christian was a label given to Jesus’ followers later—see Acts 11:26). Many in this Messianic Movement act much like the very earliest believers before the influence of the writings of Paul and the influx of the gentiles changed the Church’s composition and altered its initial Jewish theology.
The growing Messianic Movement has had the overall affect of turning religions Jews, the Israeli government and Israeli citizens against Christians and their organizations within Israel. These organizations are increasingly perceived as having the not-so-hidden agenda of evangelizing Jews inside their own land. The assumption is that any Christian is a potential evangelist. After all, it is the nature of their religion to make converts. This is not something Jews feel they can allow and so even the most well-meaning non-evangelistic Christian is not allowed to move to, nor find work in, Israel except under unusual circumstances.
From the above discussion, several things should be clear about Jewish attitudes toward the following:
1. The phrase Messianic Jew is an oxymoron if the term is being used to refer to Jewish Christians. Jews believe that the two religions are not similar and cannot be spoken of as being complimentary or one being a fulfillment of the other.
2. Attempting to understand Judaism in order to better understand Christianity is absurd to the Jew.
3. The growing practice among Christians to celebrate Shabbat meals; to celebrate the Jewish feasts, the holy days, the holidays, and other Jewish activities, is probably due to Christians having become bored with their own religion and having found Judaism more interesting and fun.
4. Any organization made up of Christians that exists to benefit the Jewish people (or the nation of Israel) is immediately suspect as it is probably only a front to evangelize the Jews.
Are Jewish attitudes changing:
In spite of the general suspicion and skepticism towards Christians that pervades Israeli society, Israelis are pragmatic people. They appreciate tourism. They appreciate bold people (ie. anyone who is willing to visit Israel when the media portrays their country as somewhat dangerous). They appreciate American investment dollars. They understand that when someone has few friends in the world, Christian friends may not be so bad after all (as long as Jews remain cynical to the Christians’ underlying purpose of evangelizing them).
Why Christians are favoring the Jewish people:
It is certainly true that there is a sweeping change in Christians’ attitudes toward Israel and the Jewish people. What has caused this dramatic focus and what is its purpose?
First, and foremost, it is God who has done it. Second, it has taken Christians a long time to discover that their Christianity makes far more sense when one understands its roots. Third, Christians are realizing that love is what we are really supposed to be all about. Finally, Christians who understand that only God can bring a person to Christ, are turning to prayer rather than evangelism.
An Israeli once asked me quite emphatically, “Why have you come to my country?” This was stated more as a demand than a question. I didn’t have an answer that I knew would satisfy either my inquisitor or myself. I just wanted to be in the Land and I felt an unexplainable love for the Land and the people. Why? I don’t know. I am still trying to figure it out.
Israelis would like to believe that attitudes can change, even among those who have historically been the means of much of their suffering.
It is not for us to be offended by a Jew’s hesitation to trust our show of interest in them, their culture and their country.