Why Jews Have Trouble Accepting Jesus

by Lance Wonders

The Real Jesus? Jewish people have been presented with a "Gentilized" version of New Testament faith.

Generally, there are seven main reasons why Jews have difficulty in accepting Jesus as their Messiah.

1. Misrepresented History

The history of early Judaism has been misrepresented to them by standard Jewish literature and/or by their rabbis.

Most rabbinic literature has mischaracterized first century Judaism as being almost totally pharisaical, rather than admitting that the religious situation was one of great flux, in which six or seven different groups were struggling for ascendancy within the Israeli Jewish community, most of which were represented on the Council (Sanhedrin) but which frequently could not come to agreement even on essential matters. That diverse representation initially included the so-called "Nazarenes" or followers of Jesus of Nazareth (e.g., Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, who was an uncle or older cousin of Jesus).

However, with the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. (which the Nazarenes escaped, having been prophetically forewarned to re-locate to Pella in the Decapolis area before it occurred), only the lead-Pharisee, Rabbi Jochanan ben Zacchai, was able to fake his own death, be removed alive from the city during the siege, and re-organize the Sanhedrin in Jamnia (Yavneh) on strictly pharisaical grounds. His later successor, Rabbi Gamaliel (II), circa 90 A.D., in order to drive the Nazarenes out of the synagogues (they were numbering approximately 20-25,000 by that time in the region), added the "curse against the minim" (heretics) to the Eighteen Benedictions recited at every "authorized" synagogue, and closed the canon of Scripture not only against the apocryphal books, but also against New Covenant (New Testament) Scriptures referring to Jesus as Messiah that were being accepted by the Nazarene Jews.

Finally, in the 130's, Rabbi Akiva attempted to close the door altogether by:gathering all available talmudic commentary for the definition of "proper" Judaism, doing so in a way that was prejudicial against the claims of the Nazarenes;promoting a new (non-Septuagint) translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, with the elimination of key words in favorite texts that the Nazarenes used in their apologetics for Jesus as the prophesied Messiah; and altering of known Persian history, contracting it so that Akiva's own preferred candidate for Messiah-Bar Kochba-would fit within the parameters of the 483 (or 490) years prophesied by Daniel, chapter 9, verses 24-27, during which Messiah must appear (and remove the defilement of the Temple by rebuilding it, after first overthrowing Roman rule). (This alteration of Persian /Jewish history still exists today, reflected in the standard Seder Olam, that overall throws Jewish chronology off by some 150 years. No secular, Persian, or Christian scholars accept the shortened version of Persian history, and many Jewish scholars also now dispute it.)

Pharisaical (now called "talmudic" or just "rabbinic") tradition's prejudice against the Nazarene segment of the first century Jewish community was thus so strong as to deliberately and systematically attempt to disenfranchise all believers in Jesus from out of the circles of accepted Jewish faith and practice-even, apparently, to the point of being deceptive about early first century diversity within Judaism, Jewish Christianity's pervasiveness within that region initially, and the imperialistic tactics of Ben Zacchai, Gamaliel II, and Akiva to re-define Judaism in such a way as to exclude Jesus (and His Jewish followers, the Nazarenes) from their ranks without discussion. The issue, however, is, if Jesus really was the Jewish Messiah, then his Apostles became the proper successors to the previous jerusalem Sanhedrin, and all of Ben Zacchai's, Gamaliel II's, and Akiva's efforts to overthrow Nazarene Judaism (Jewish Christianity) were completely illegitimate.

The New Testament Scriptures-not the Talmud-thus becomes the proper completion of the Hebrew Scriptures, and Jesus continues to make claims upon the Jewish people as their long-prophesied Messiah. At the very least, then, thinking Jews need to examine for themselves whether or not Jesus is "their" Messiah, and not let the rabbis (successors of the pharisaic Sanhedrin after the destruction of the Temple) automatically decide things for them. The Dead Sea Scrolls prove the key contention, that other groups existed in first century Judaism, and many of them were, apparently, looking for their Messiah in that time frame. The issue is an open one once again, after all of these centuries; and the Jewish community owes it to themselves to find out for themelves the truth of the matter in this crucial area of God's ways with His people. Believers in Jesus, meanwhile, for our part, need to be aware of the facts of the matter, so as to be able to supplement what many Jews today simply are not aware of, in terms of their own history.

2. "Gentilized" New Testament Faith

Most Jews have been presented with a "Gentilized" Jesus and a "Gentilized" extrapolation of New Testament faith and life, such that the original continuity between their own roots in Old Testament history and the Hebrew Scriptures and the fruit of Messianic fulfillment and lifestyle in the world has been obscured. The Jewish community therefore needs to see living examples of so-called "Jewish Christianity" that do not follow the "Gentilized" approaches, in order to see for themselves how at least one version (Messianic Judaism) today does continue their original Jewish roots, regardless of Gentile distortions that may well have developed historically.

3. Historical Christian Anti-Semitism

Most Jews struggle with the centuries of rejection by the (basically Gentile) Christian Church of anything Jewish, and grieve over the mistreatment of Jews everywhere by such acts as the ongoing pogroms in Russia and Poland, the Crusades, Inquisition, and Spanish Expulsion of the Middle Ages, and the Holocaust during World War II in recent times. They do not understand this anti-Semitism, and, as a result, are astonished when told that the "Christian" Jesus is actually for them and is their Messiah in a way that runs prior to any inclusion of Gentile believers as well. Only if significant numbers of Gentile Christians repent of those historic sins and mistreatment can Jews even think about re-examining Jesus, not as their enemy, but as their Messiah and Redeemer after all.

4. Unawareness of Messianic Tradition

Many Jews are unaware of the teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures, and so have no real context for understanding the need for, or expectation of, a divinely-sent Messiah at all. Groups that want to reach out to inquiring Jews must then offer courses in the Hebrew Scriptures, that demonstrate the growing Messianic tradition within even the Old Covenant books and history, so that the climax of the New Testament does not seem to appear out of nothing or without a clear salvation-historical context of prayer and expectation.

5. Non-Exposure to Accurate Representation of Jesus

Many Jews have never been exposed to the actual records or teachings of the New Testament Scriptures, and so have no clear idea of who Jesus was, what He did, what He taught, how He impacted the first century Jewish community, how He Himself lived out-and to some extent re-interpreted-the Judaism of His day, etc. Thus, if they reject Jesus, it often is not the real Jesus that they are rejecting, not having really encountered Him in the first place. Obviously, then, part of the task of those who would introduce Jews today to the real Jesus must make the New Testament available to them, in a translation that makes sense to Jews.

6. Secular World View

A large number of Jews are unopen to looking at Jesus, the Bible, or even the concept of a Messiah because the worldview that they have been brought up with is so secularized and naturalistic/humanistic as to make little or no room for a supernatural Creator/Redeemer God, miracles, an after-life, a final judgment, a coming resurrection Kingdom, real angels and a satan/devil, etc. Apart from experiences of divine intervention, revelation, unearned forgiveness, supernatural healing, or the like, such Jews are often intellectually incapable of the kind of paradigm-shift necessary for re-thinking life and faith-with or without Jesus-and they therefore need experience with God Himself, and not just rational or historical apologetics, in order to take a second look at Jesus. This means that groups majoring on Jewish outreach must also be groups very open to the working of the Holy Spirit, so as to provide raw material for such personal experience with God.

7. Non-Exposure to True Christians

Finally, many Jews are unopen to Jesus simply because they have never met a "real" Christian: someone who acts like Jesus, in terms of intimacy with God, love for others, refusal to partner with the powers-that-oppress, unswerving compassion for the hurt and discarded and broken of society, zeal for the truth no matter what the consequences, etc. A "real" Christian cannot prove the truthfulness of so-called "Christianity": but only real Christians can convince their Jewish audience that, indeed, there is something there worth investigating-something that could earn their respect and allegiance as Jews, if it did prove (on other grounds) to be seemingly "true" after all.

If all of the above criteria are met, there is no "guarantee" that the Jewish community will "change its mind" about Jesus; but at least there will be an opportunity. May God grant that we would make the most of it, and effectively present our Lord's claims until He comes again! Amen.