many of the multitude believed in him…
many came to believe in him…
many of the Samaritans believed in him…
a great many of the priests became obedient.”
(John 2:23; 7:31; 8:30; 4:39; Acts 6:7)
of those who have believed,
and they are all zealous for the Torah.”
|IT’S A COMMON TEACHING that the Jews of the first century rejected Jesus as the Messiah and that every Jewish generation has done so ever since.As with many teachings passed down from our elders and through urban legends, it’s not exactly what happened—at least according to the New Testament. The NT portrays the Jewish people as being of divided opinion about him, not a unified, complete, hostile rejection. And it has also been the Jewish response over the centuries.
Countless Jews have believed in and followed Jesus, both in his own day and throughout history. Thousands of “Yeshua-believing” Jews are living in Israel today and throughout the earth.
But their stories have largely been discounted or suppressed by the Jewish community as aberrations and acts of apostasy.
Ironically, the Gentile Church over time also hushed up stories about Orthodox Jews who followed Jesus yet remained practicing, observant Jews. In the eyes of the Church, these “believers” were heretical: an embarrassing repudiation of universal, catholic (non-Jewish) Christianity.
So the Synagogue and Church have inadvertently conspired for most of history to conceal the truth: Not all Jews rejected Jesus.
[For some of their stories: Jakob Jocz, The Jewish People and Jesus Christ After Auschwitz (1981), Pinchas Lapide, Israelis, Jews and Jesus (1979), and Oskar Skarsaune, Jewish Believers in Jesus: The Early Centuries (2007).]
A “Jew” may be a Marxist atheist, or a Freudian Reconstructionist New Ager, or a Hasid who believes Rabbi Schneerson of Brooklyn will rise from the grave and become the Moshiach. A Jewess may be one who consults the Mazzalot, recites Buddhist mantras, and attends Taylor Swift concerts.
Each of these Jews can still define themselves as being a descendant of Abraham. But officially a “Jew” can’t believe in Jesus and retain his or her ethnic identity or membership in the community.
Even though thousands of Jews right now believe that Jesus was (and is) the Messiah, the larger Jewish community has determined they are no longer—by definition—Jews. It’s almost Websterian:
[Top]Another challenge to unravelling the urban myth is that many Jews think of Jesus and Christianity as synonymous.
When they look at the thousands of denominations and sects under the label “Christianity” and see a largely non-Jewish—and at times anti-Jewish—religion confronting them, they have reason not to be drawn to the “Jesus” they see.
Yet most of them choose not to see the often radical differences between these Christianities and Jesus himself.
Out of self-protection, some Jews comb the body of rabbinic tradition for reasons (justifications) why Jews can’t believe in Jesus. As expected, they find what they’re looking for. A person always does.
But those who feel comfortably fortified with reasons-for-rejection don’t realize that the rabbis—who lived and taught centuries after Jesus—were ignorant of the real story and merely passed on second-hand polemical comments about him and his disciples.
For example, the Babylonian Talmud contains many factual errors about Jesus and his disciples (Sanhedrin 43a) and is historically unuseful for gaining an objective hearing. Yet the Talmud stands as ultimate authority for many (Orthodox) Jews.
Burn the Land Tactics
One example. I once overheard a woman in a synagogue confidently say that “Jews don’t believe in resurrection.” But resurrection from the dead was (and still is) a central tenet of Orthodox Judaism, dating from biblical times. It is one of Maimonides’ 13 Principles of the Faith that all Jews should uphold.
To say resurrection is a non-Jewish concept is unhistorical.
Tragically, in burning bridges with the past—with motives of protecting their people from Jesus—some Jewish leaders have revised their own history and obliterated sources of hope their ancestors once held.
[For a study of the biblical basis of resurrection, please considerThe Third Day: Resurrection Patterns.]
But why are the Talmudic sources unreliable when reporting on Jesus and his teaching? Because the rabbinic opinions about him were colored by at least two agendas.
Without questioning, without opening the documents of the case, later rabbis accepted what their teachers—and their teachers and their teachers—believed to be a right legal decision regarding the young rabbi from Nazareth. They repeated and thus validated the original ruling as the authoritative Jewish position for all time.
When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire under Emperor Theodosius in AD 380, it was by then largely non-Jewish and hostile to Jews and Judaism—hostile even to Jewish believers in Jesus. The new religion had little outward Jewishness about it. Emperor Constantine had seen to that earlier at the Council of Nicea in 325 when he warned church bishops that they should have nothing to do with the practices of the“odious Jews.”
Then, as the philosophically-trained theologians of the Church evolved their abstract doctrines about God and distilled them into a series of creedal formulas, the rabbis discerned no connection with Israel’s scriptures or faith. So they rejected Christianity—and Jesus—as a package.
But Jesus and Christianity aren’t always synonymous. The Church, in its actions and teachings, does not always represent the faith and doctrines depicted in the New Testament.
The NT is not anti-Judaism. It is against hypocrisy and unbelief and phoney religion.
Jesus’ first disciples continued living as practicing Jews. And nowhere does the NT incite contempt or hatred for the Jewish people as a whole because some of their members rejected Jesus. When he was hanging on the tree, he asked God: “Forgive them, Father, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Gradually, the Myth set in. A corolllary of it is that after the Jews repudiated him, Jesus’ disciples decided to preach his gospel of the Messianic Kingdom to the non-Jews, the Gentiles, who then open-heartedly accepted him and founded “Christianity.”
Let’s examine these two truisms to see if they are true.
When our common parents (Adam and Eve) sinned and were sent into exile from Gan Eden, their children descended into futility and death. They became “goyish” in their corruption. But God immediately moved to rescue the human family (us)—because he loved them (us).
Early on, he formed a people named Israel to be the channel of redemptive revelation to the human race. Regathering his exiled creation to himself became a central task. Reaching all the Goyim (nations) was the plan from the start.
The New Testament inherits these biblical mandates and assumes nothing changed with the coming of Jesus. God’s Plan had simply entered its final stages. He was still intent on reaching and delivering the Goyim out of their darkness.[Top]
There, Paul says, God exploited the rejection of Jesus by the majority of Jewish leaders and the reception of Jesus by many non-Jews to His advance His purposes—His original, eternal Purpose. The way Paul saw the events of history unfolding, it appeared as though the Gentiles got the good food because Jews said no to it. But that wasn’t the truth.
In reality, the NT shows it was because Jews did believe in Jesus of Nazareth that the message went out to Gentiles.
His apostles (agents, shlichim) who gave the gospel to the world were all Jews. They were as much “Israel” as anyone else. Time after time, they tried to recruit fellow Jews to join the messianic campaign (Acts 28:23-29), and frequently gained volunteers in Jerusalem and throughout the Diaspora.
All Are Summoned, Many Say Yes
The Plan went on, even though many refused to join the Jewish disciples in being messengers of redemption. Those who rejected their national calling were left behind, and strangers gratefully entered (Acts 13:26, 46-48). But (again) Jewish rebellion and lack of concern for the Goyim didn’t thwart God’s Plan for Gentiles or for Israel herself. He didn’t lose heart when some of His people rejected His will.
Goyim For Jesus
The Gentiles who lived within the light of “Judaism” of the time and knew the Hebrew Scriptures were the most responsive to Jesus. Those who were ignorant of the Bible generally chose to remain so. So the blackwash that only pure pagans—devoid of Jewish teaching—could swallow the Gospel has no historical basis. This is just polemical propaganda.
The reception of Jesus by Gentiles was actually a fulfillment of an 800-year-old prophecy.
Jesse was the father of David; David was the “grandfather” of Jesus, who was a “root” from Jesse. There is no question that Jesus has fufilled this prophecy.And Among Jews?
(Contrary to Later Teachings)
Many believed; it doesn’t say, “Everyone rejected.”Am Ha’Aretz
Thus, educated and patriotic Jewish leaders saw no reason to reject Jesus, even though the majority eventually did. That these men were willing to stand their ground in an avalanche suggests they weren’t in it for prestige or advantage. No one was buying them off to be “Yeshuahnic.”
Yes, there is another side to the story.
Disciples Deserted Him
And though it seems unbelievable, even when he appeared to many after his resurrection, the text says “some doubted” (Matt 28:17). The NT doesn’t gloss the picture of what happened. If it wanted to convince later readers that “all the Jews” either rejected Jesus or totally accepted him, this mixed-reaction report isn’t the best way to do that. You’d want to color your stories. That’s just why these reports ring true to history.
To press the point: the gospels portray an Israel of divided, not one-sided, opinion. Many leaders and many ordinary people stood on opposite sides regarding Jesus. [Note 1]
Special mention is also made of Jewish leaders and hasidim, both within Israel and in the Diaspora.
A Remnant of All
In Acts the nation continues to be divided on the issue of Jesus.
Those who believed in his messiahship were a minority of the nation, but that was nothing new. Only “some” ever obeyed God in Israel’s history. There was always just a remnant, an inner core of faithful. Elijah led such a group in his day (1 Kings 19). Isaiah led a remnant (Isaiah 8). Ezra and Nehemiah led a small contingent of believing exiles back from Babylon to rebuild the temple.
In the case of the Messiah Jesus Movement, the remnant was a sizable one (“tens of thousands,” Acts 21:20). But the size of a remnant is irrelevant. That it simply existed (and now exists within the Jewish community) is the point.
At what point should we admit that the Messiah Jesus Movement was credible or authentically Jewish—when every Jew believed in and obeyed him? By that measure the Moses Movement cannot be deemed credible or authentic, because never in Jewish history hasevery Jew followed Moses or obeyed God. So the Jews rejected Moses too?
The authenticity of a work of God needs no validation by majority vote.
And let’s be historically accurate about the Gentiles. The majority of them mentioned in Acts who heard the Good News about Jesusdeclined to accept it. Should we also say the “non-Jews rejected Jesus,” ignoring those many who did not? What about the Gentile Remnant then and now? (Some of you are part of it yourselves.)
Polishers of the Icon
This thinking, of course, relieves social tensions between Christians and Jews. It promotes pluralism and tolerance. It pays homage to the great idol to which Western civilization now bows down: “There is no truth and all gods are the same. You have yours; I have mine. (And I don’t want yours.)”
But this idol denies the unique validity of the Hebrew Scriptures upon which Jewish identity depends. If the Bible isn’t true, Jewish claims of self-identity and national purpose are meaningless. Obeying the idol also leads to denying Jews the God-given right to hear the facts of the original case about Jesus to make decisions about him—free of bias.
For those who dwell under the deluding cloud of the Myth of Rejection, the New Testament itself is the best tool for evaporating it and exposing the Issue again to those of our generation.
The Walls of Walls Protecting the Icon
No one can rewrite the terrible volume of Christianity’s history. That wall will always remain; though it’s not impenetrable (as many Jews can attest). But the Paganization Barrier could come down immediately if Christians decided to demolish it and return to authentic New Testament “Olive Tree” faith (Romans 11).
We’re All Alike
But since this sounds so brash and childish—so filled with hubris—most of us find other reasonable reasons for keeping God, Jesus, and a contrite spirit at bay.
In the end, only the individual standing alone without his tribe—like an Abraham, Moses, David or Job—can say to God, “Here am I. I repent in dust and ashes.”
1 Thanks to the helpful work of Jacob Jervell, “The Divided People of God,” in Luke and the People of God: A New Look at Luke-Acts(Minneapolis, Minn.: Augsburg Publishing, 1972). [Return to text]
There is another prophecy Jesus fulfills, also related to our study.
(2) Isaiah 49 describes God’s missionary Eved, his Servant, who is both “Israel” (v. 3) and distinct from Israel. It is his calling to “bring Jacob back to [God] . . . that Israel might be gathered to Him” (v. 5), to “raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel”—and to be “a light to the Goyim” (v. 6).
The Eved thus has a dual assignment. According to Isa 11:10, he will be successful among many of the Gentiles. But amazingly to Jacob/Israel he is “the Despised One, the One Abhorred by the nation” (v. 7).
Why would a prophet of Israel foretell such a thing? Wouldn’t that undermine the credibility of God’s Servant and thoroughly invalidate his calling if his own people from whom he arose despised him?