Light for the Last Days

The New Testament and anti-Semitism – a blessing or a curse to the Jews?

Traditional Christians have taught that ‘Jews killed Jesus’ and are therefore under a curse from God which goes from generation to generation.  Certain verses from the Gospel have been used to perpetuate this lie

Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.  John 5.18

You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. John 8.44

And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children.”  Matthew 27.25

These verses need to be put in context and explained.  I believe the Bible teaches us that God wants us to bless the Jewish people and not to curse them.  They are beloved for the fathers’ sakes (Romans 11.28).  Back in Genesis God spoke to Abraham and said to him ‘I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.’  Genesis 12.2.  This applies to Abraham and his descendants through Isaac and Jacob to all generations. 

I want to say something about the use of the words ‘the Jews’ in the Gospel of John. Now, this is one of the phrases which has been used most to ferment the idea that you have Jesus and the disciples who are the good guys, who are Christians, against ‘the Jews’ who are the bad guys. And it’s been used to stir up anti-Jewish feeling down through the centuries.

In the Gospel of John, the words ‘the Jews’ are often used to speak of the Jewish religious leaders in Judea, ‘the Judeans’ versus ‘the Galileans’. And we do see that the centre of opposition to Jesus did come with the Jewish religious leaders in Judea. John also tells us that there was a division of opinion amongst the people, some said he was the ‘Prophet’ (John 6.14) or the Messiah (John 7.26, 31) or a deceiver, a good man or a demon (John 7.12, 20).  Almost all of the people who supported Jesus in the Gospels were Jews.  So were those who opposed him.  Note that when Jesus comes into any situation amongst the Gentiles there is also a division of opinion about him, some for, some against and some undecided.  There was an issue with the religious leaders over allegations that Jesus broke the Sabbath and claimed to be equal with God.  I have written about the Son of God issue in this article

Even though it wasn’t universal, the opposition was there, and the Gospels, John in particular, tell us that there were Jews in Judea who sought to kill Jesus. Jesus, for His part, says that behind this opposition there is the spirit of the Devil. So, He says ‘You’re of your father the Devil’ not to ‘all Jews’ but to some of the Jewish religious leaders who did want to kill Him.

That doesn’t mean that Jesus is saying that all Jews are of the Devil, and not that all Jews sought to kill him. I would say on this subject that the spirit which came upon the church later on and sought to kill the Jews in the name of Christianity was certainly of the Devil. We have a wrong influence bringing this hatred towards Jewish people.

When you look at the use of the term ‘the Jews’ in John, there are certain phrases where it’s clear that he’s not talking about ‘all Jewish people’ (after all he is Jewish and so are his disciples). One of them particularly, is the verse John 11.54 which says: ‘Therefore Jesus no longer walked openly among the Jews (Judeans), but went from there into the country near the wilderness, to a city called Ephraim, and there remained with His disciples.’ Was Ephraim a kosher place? Well, Ephraim was the name which is used in the Prophets to speak about the Northern Kingdom of Israel. He moved out of Judea, a place where Jews lived, into the area of Ephraim, a different area where Jews lived.

So, when we read ‘the Jews’ in John’s Gospel, we’ve got to discern what He actually means by it. And for the most part, He’s talking either about ‘Judeans as opposed to Galileans’ or the ‘Jewish religious leaders’. Now, the Jewish religious leaders, particularly Caiaphas, the Chief Priest, did want Jesus to die. He was opposed to Jesus. In one statement within John’s Gospel (11.50) he said that Jesus ‘should die for the people because if we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation‘. This actually shows you that Jesus had a large following amongst the Jewish people and that this following was so large that Caiaphas was afraid. That, if he didn’t do something to remove Jesus, He would create an issue which would upset the Romans and would then cause the Romans to come and take their nation away. John says this was the reason Caiaphas moved the motion to have Jesus done away with.  Incidentally Caiaphas was appointed by the Romans himself and had a bad press with the Jewish people. 

Let’s move on and look at this statement: ‘His blood be on us and on our children.’ This verse, which can be found in Matthew’s Gospel chapter 27 verse 25, has been used, perhaps more than any other, to say that because certain Jews made this statement before Pontius Pilate, calling for the death of Jesus, therefore, the death of Jesus should be avenged upon all Jews, for all time, to all generations.

This is clearly a false interpretation of the scripture. If you read carefully, in the book of Matthew, you’ll see that this was happening at the time when you had a crowd gathered in front of Pontius Pilate in the Praetorium, probably at the Antonia Fortress, which is to the North of the Temple site. Scholars say there’s a maximum of perhaps 500 to possibly 2,000 people who could be there at one time.

Were they ‘all the Jewish people’? The entire Jewish people? No, they were a selection of people, a selection of people who were probably picked by Jesus’ enemies to shout for His execution. Estimates of the number of people who had been in Jerusalem at this time, for the Passover, were in the hundreds of thousands, and many of them, many Jews, who were there, were in favour of Jesus. In fact, if you look in Mark’s Gospel, it says that the common people heard Him gladly.

You had a crowd of people who were at the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, who were greeting Him with the words Baruch ha ba be shem AdonaiBlessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord, the greeting for the Messiah, Hoshianna / Lord save us, Son of David, Melech Israel, king of Israel. Clearly they were supporters of Jesus and it is highly unlikely that in the few days between Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the trial before Pilate that they had changed their mind to calling for His death. It’s also interesting, if you read Matthew 26.3-5, that Caiaphas organized a meeting of the chief priests to take Jesus by treachery.  It says ‘they plotted to take Jesus and kill him by treachery but ‘not during the feast lest there be an uproar among the people‘. So, he’s discussing how to arrest Jesus. If Caiaphas said ‘Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people, we must ask ourselves: ‘Why should there be an uproar among the people if everyone hated Jesus and wanted to get rid of Him?’ There would only have been an uproar amongst the people if there were many people who ‘were for Jesus’ and could cause a riot if they arrested Him publicly.

That’s why they actually had to recruit Judas, so that he could lead them to where they could arrest Jesus secretly, at night, and take Him to trial, to lay charges against Him with a verdict deserving of death; then, hand him over to Pontius Pilate. I’ve written articles on this subject in which I go into the detail on the trial and the role of Judas.

My understanding is that Pontius Pilate was, in a way, being manipulated by the chief priests to do something which he didn’t want to do. He knew that it was a setup, but he was basically being blackmailed by the chief priest to pass the sentence of death upon Jesus. There was an idea behind it that, if Pilate didn’t do that, the chief priests would report him to Caesar as someone supporting a rival claimant to be King; or else, as having caused a riot which would look bad on his record. So, Pilate knew that the accusation wasn’t true, but he didn’t have the courage to just throw the case out. He went along with it and handed over Jesus to be flogged, and to be put to death, even though he knew that there was a false case against Him. When we come to the text in point, it says: ‘When Pilate saw that he could do nothing to prevail at all, but rather that the multitude was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude saying: ‘I’m innocent of the blood of this just person. You see to it.’ And all the people answered and said ‘His blood be upon us and upon our children.’

Was it all the people, the entire Jewish people for all time, or all the people who were there, at that event, who said ‘His blood be upon us‘? It was spoken to Pilate, not to God. It was spoken by Jewish opponents of Jesus, not by all Jews. I have said that there were many Jews who were for Him. It was a foolish word which is also not binding upon their children or their descendants, or their future descendant generations. There are other foolish words recorded in the Bible, which we would never take as a justification for how we should behave.  For example Job’s wife says ‘Do you still hold fast to your integrity?  Curse God and die.’  Job 2.9.  No one would say on the basis of this verse that the Bible teaches us to curse God. 

The Bible doesn’t teach collective guilt but personal responsibility before God. In Ezekiel chapter 18 it says: ‘The soul that sins will die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father will bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.’  In other words we are responsible before God for our own sins, not the sins of our forefathers.

And you have similar concepts in the New Testament teaching. On the cross, Jesus pleads for forgiveness, not vengeance on those responsible. It says: Father forgive them they know not what they do. When you come to the New Testament, it actually defines who is responsible for the death of Jesus. In the Book of Acts 4.27 it says: ‘For truly against Your Holy Servant Jesus whom You appointed, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate with the gentiles and the people of Israel were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined, to be done so.’ It actually says that it was the Will of God that Jesus should die in order to save us from our sins.

Finally the Bible does actually say that we are all under God’s judgement for sin and that ‘All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.’  Romans 3.23.

The Torah says ‘Cursed is the one who does not confirm all the words of this law by observing them.’ “And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’ ”  Deuteronomy 27.26.

Since everyone, Jewish and Gentile, fails to keep the commandments of God we can say that we are all under a curse. Jesus became accursed of God on the cross to redeem us from this condition so that we can find forgiveness and new life and become the children of God and have eternal life in Him.

Tony Pearce