The current war in Israel against Hamas is highlighting the climate around the world regarding the attitudes toward the Jews. Antisemitism is rearing its ugly head all over the world, evidenced by protests and other public displays against Israel’s right to defend itself against the horrific evil perpetrated by Hamas against the civilian population near Gaza on October 7, 2023. It is of great importance for the Christian believer to understand the history and the nature of this condition.
According to the U.S. State Department, “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” It exists prevalently not just in nations that are opposed to Israel and its existence, but even within the Christian community in America and worldwide.
History of Israel
Understanding the nature of antisemitism requires an active look at the history of the Jewish nation and the world’s response to its existence. It begins with Abram and God’s promises to be a blessing to the nations of the world (Genesis 12:1-3). In Genesis 13:15-17, God promised Abram a particular tract of land, commonly referred to as the promised land: for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever. “I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth, so that if anyone can number the dust of the earth, then your descendants can also be numbered. “Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you.” According to many Scripture references, God promised that He would give it to Abram and his descendants forever!
The actual birth of the nation of Israel did not take place until Jacob moved himself and his family to Egypt with Joseph’s family. They were held in slavery in Egypt until Moses led them to the wilderness and eventually, the promised land. Joshua led them to take control of the promised land and the land was distributed among the twelve tribes according to God’s commands.
A Partial Hardening
For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION, HE WILL REMOVE UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB.” “THIS IS MY COVENANT WITH THEM, WHEN I TAKE AWAY THEIR SINS.” From the standpoint of the gospel, they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. (Romans 11:25-29)
The rejection of Jesus as Messiah by the Jewish leadership of Jesus’s day was not the end of the story for Israel. Paul writes to the Roman church that the partial hardening that has happened will not be ended until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, referring to the end of the church age and Jesus’s return in the second coming. God promises that her sins will be taken away and that the Jews are still the people of God since the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Paul teaches that their rejection of the gospel had a purpose: But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous (Romans 11:11). God will use their jealousy, that other nations have access to some of the same privileges previously reserved for Israel, to bring them back to God. The Jews will be the center of attention in the Kingdom Age, when “In those days ten men from all the nations will grasp the garment of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you” Zechariah 8:23.
Laying Down Your Life for the Sheep
“I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. For this reason, the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.” (John 10:14-18)
The world would blame the Jews for Jesus’s death even though Jesus gave up His life willingly. The Roman Emperor Constantine had a Christian conversion experience around 312 and declared tolerance for Christianity in 313. The Council of Nicaea took place in 325, and he wrote a letter referring to Jews as polluted wretches and to have no fellowship with the perjury of the Jews and that we have nothing in common with the usage of these parricides and murderers of our Lord. Even Martin Luther had strong feelings of antisemitism, as he wrote in The Jew and Their Lies (1543):
What shall we Christians do with this damned, rejected race of Jews? Since they live among us, and we know about their lying, blasphemy, and cursing, we cannot tolerate them if we do not wish to share in their lies, curses, and blasphemy. In this way, we cannot quench the inextinguishable fire of divine rage (as the prophets say) nor convert the Jews.
Antisemitism Throughout the Church Age
Several early church fathers saw the Jews as somewhat or totally culpable for the death of Jesus Christ. Justin Martyr (100-165) thought that the Gentiles replaced the Jews in God’s redemptive plan. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, wrote that those who celebrated Passover with the Jews were partakers with those who killed the Lord. And Tertullian (160-220), in his work Against the Jews, blamed the entire Jewish race for the death of Jesus.
Various Catholic leaders who had great influence over public thought throughout the church age, including Saint Gregory of Nyssa (335-394), Saint Augustine (354-430), Saint Jerome (374-419), Pope Innocent III (1160/61-1216), and Pope Pious IV (1499-1565), had varying feelings of antisemitism. Pope Pious made the following statement: The Jews who deny that Messiah has come and that He is God, lies. Herod is the devil, the Jews demons; that one is King of the Jews, this one the King of demons.
Antisemitism in America
Peter Stuyvesant, the first governor of Manhattan, was strongly antisemitic, constantly seeking ways to disqualify the Jews from public benefits to make them feel unwelcome. He referred to them as repugnant, blasphemers of Christ, and “Christ Killers.” He wrote the following in the 1650’s:
“We have, for the benefit of this week and newly developing place and the land in general, deemed it useful to require them (the Jews) in a friendly way to depart; also praying most seriously in this connection, for ourselves as also for the general community of your worships, that the deceitful race – such hateful enemies and blasphemers of the name of Christ – be not allowed to infect further and trouble this new community.”
In the 1920s, Harvard and Yale began to restrict Jewish acceptances in response to the fact that they had been outperforming their Gentile classmates. At Yale, Dean Frederick Jones got the administration to consider “character” in addition to scholarship. He stated, “In terms of scholarship and intelligence, Jewish students lead the class, but their characteristics make them markedly inferior.” His perceived solution to this character flaw would be conversion to Christianity.
A Kingdom That Endures Forever
When Israel was finally recognized as a nation by the world in 1948, the Jews had just experienced the extermination of 6 million of its own, nearly 1/3 of the world’s Jewish population, by the Nazis. Immediately after May 14, 1948, five surrounding Arab nations declared war on the fledgling nation and this condition has defined Israel’s history since. The six-day war in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973 were intended to destroy Israel completely, but miraculously, Israel ended up adding territory in both wars. Israel has demonstrated throughout modern times that it is only interested in co-existing with Arabs, but the Moslem nations surrounding Israel, for the most part, are not interested in negotiating a lasting peace; their primary motive is in its destruction.
In the end, God will use all of the persecutions and other unfair attacks against the Jews to bring them to a knowledge of their Messiah. Israel and the Jews will be on center stage as the Kingdom Age is established by the Messiah.