Christians dealing with the issue of anti – Semitism are often given two false choices: accepting a re – interpretation of scripture that denies its truth, inerrancy, and inspiration that ultimately lead to denying Christ’s deity and/or the true meaning of His death, or adhering to traditional beliefs that are not only unhelpful in dealing with Jews because they are at best chauvinistic, but are also abiblical. But as usual, directly confronting the issue from a direct literal interpretation of scripture liberates Christians from the false choices presented to them by the world.
1. Claiming to be God is the crime of blasphemy according to the Jewish religion and law. Under Torah Judaism, the sentence for blasphemy: death by stoning. Therefore, anyone who rejected Jesus Christ’s claim of being deity would have had to condemn Him of blasphemy and advocate His education. That would have been working righteousness according to the law given to the Jews by God by way of Moses. The problem? The Jews were wrong, of course. Jesus Christ IS God. But the Jews did not know that! So at the very worse, the Jews’ delivering Jesus Christ to the Romans to be crucified was a mistake. A horrible mistake, of course, but a mistake nonetheless. Blaming the Jews for killing God is claiming that they somehow KNEW that He was the Son of God and had Him killed anyway. The problem with that: IT DENIES SCRIPTURE. Nowhere in scripture does it say that ANYONE who participated in the death of Jesus Christ accepted His claim of deity; quite the contrary it says precisely the opposite. (The only exception MIGHT have been Judas Iscariot.) Recall the scene of the crucifixion: people were saying that were Jesus Christ to get off the cross, THEN they would believe His claims. (Why? Because doing so would have been a public demonstration His ability to defeat the Roman Empire.) One would be tempted to claim that their seeking the execution of Jesus Christ was basically no different from any of the other cases when people have been wrongly convicted of and executed for crimes that they did not commit. But even that is not the case here! Because Jesus Christ DID IN FACT proclaim Himself as God! In John 8, the Jews were about to stone Him for it! So, the only crime of the Jews was not accepting Jesus Christ’s deity claim. And that is a spiritual crime for which only God can judge a person, and that judgment will come in the next world, not in this one. No man has the right to punish another for rejecting Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior; the man who does so will be judged Himself. Which, of course, is in the Bible and is the Words of that same Jesus Christ the Savior. And more still: how can we blame people for not believing deity of Christ at that time? After all, what proved and established Jesus Christ’s claims of deity and everything else? THE RESURRECTION. Furthermore, before the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, there was no Holy Spirit indwelling believers to perform the process of opening the eyes of and converting unbelievers. Scripture strongly hints that even some of Jesus Christ’s closest followers did not know of or believe in His deity until He resurrected. But after Christ’s resurrection was occurred and witnessed and the Holy Spirit came into the world, thousands of Jews, including some who participated in and were consenting to His crucifixion, were convicted of their sins and believed through faith after a single brief sermon by Peter. Thus, holding the Jewish nation – or any Jew for that matter – responsible for actions regarding the execution of Jesus Christ before His deity was established would be no different from holding YOU responsible for what YOU did before YOU accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. The Jews of that period were only doing what you did before you were saved and born again: what they believed to be right according to their own abilities without the knowledge of God. For you to judge any Jew living or dead according to the same standard that you yourself are guilty by makes you A) a hypocrite and B) acting in ignorance of or against scripture. Thus, anyone who calls Jews “Christ – killers” need to urgently examine themselves and see whether they truly be in the faith.
2. This is the part that is explicitly given in scripture and has mystified me ever since I first became known of Christian anti – Semitism: only a few Jews participated in sending Jesus Christ to the Romans to be killed. If there was any responsibility to be borne at all, it should have been limited to the few dozen (if that many) long – dead Jews on the Sanhedrin council and similar who convicted Him. Thus, even only a fraction of the Jews’ religious leadership bore any responsibility. As a result, blaming any Jew living or dead for the execution of Jesus Christ is far worse than an Iraqi holding YOU (presuming that you are American or British) PERSONALLY RESPONSIBLE for their 650,000 dead countrymen. Or for a black person like myself to blame any white person living today for enslaving my ancestors. Also, even this is a gross oversimplification: those traditional Christian depictions of a bunch of bloodthirsty Jewish leaders sitting around gleefully plotting the death of Jesus Christ is completely ascriptural. Now though Christ was (by appearances anyway) guilty of the capital crime of blasphemy and this fact was well known, it was obvious that many Jewish religious leaders were unwilling to impose the sentence. Why? The simplest reason was that Jesus Christ was hastily tried (at night during Passover) and they were unable to produce the witnesses that they needed. Therefore, the proceedings under which Jesus Christ was convicted were themselves and illegitimate and illegal as our undeclared wars against Iraq. But there was another, bigger reason: a large percentage of the religious rulers thought that Jesus Christ was stark raving mad; literally insane. Again, read the gospels … it was a common charge levied against Him. Now Christianity has traditionally depicted all of the people who called Jesus Christ crazy as doing so out of the hardness of their evil hearts. Now clearly some of these did so, especially the ones who attributed Christ’s works to His being in league with Satan. But a great many people honestly thought that there was something wrong with the Man. Indeed, scripture suggests that some of Jesus Christ’s own disciples were bewildered at His sayings and doings. There was the amazing scene when Christ made a bold spiritual pronouncement that on its face seemed to be advocating that participating in a known evil pagan ritual (eating His Flesh and drinking His Blood was the way to eternal life … please know that Sun Myung Moon’s followers drink his blood) causing virtually all of His followers to leave. When Jesus Christ asked those who remained “Will ye go also”, they replied to the effect of “We have nowhere else to go! We left our jobs, our families, friends, reputations, everything behind to follow you!” (Please realize that Christians today are also called to get to the point where God is our only option.) So, these religious leaders were confronted by what they thought to be this righteous prophet (none could accuse Him of any sin, and this was well known to them) going around working these great miracles that was absolutely insane. They did not know what to make of Him or what to do with Him. How could an insane man have such spiritual power? Why would God allow a blasphemer to retain that spiritual power? Some of them were probably thinking that Jesus Christ was not responsible for His blasphemy on account of His insanity, and that accounted for God’s power not departing from Him. Others were probably wondering if Jesus Christ’s deity claims were merely more of His incomprehensible parables that most of His own closest followers did not understand. They were no doubt hoping to learn more about Jesus Christ during His trial, but His refusal to speak had to have been a huge frustrating disappointment and convinced some of them of His insanity.
Whatever the case, they were not ready to kill Him, and they CERTAINLY did not want the pagan Romans to kill a Jewish prophet. But they were caught in a tough situation. It was commonly known in Israel, including to the Romans, that this was the time of the Messiah, whom many felt would deliver them from Rome. While the Jewish religious leaders, especially the Sadducees, had shown a degree of loyalty to the Romans and worked to inhibit rebellion (in part by getting the people to wait on the Messiah, and that rebellion apart from the Messiah would be not only doomed to failure but a sin), the Romans knew that at any time a fellow whose Messiah claims the Pharisees and Sadducees accepted could come along, and the Romans would have open rebellion by the entire nation on their hands. Thus, it would have been in the interests of the Romans to replace the Jewish religious leadership with others more pliant, and of course this would have been done in their usual brutal fashion. Also, consider what a fellow going around calling himself the Messiah MEANT to the Romans. Please recall when shortly after Pentecost Peter and the others were brought before the Sanhedrin, and it was being discussed what to do with them, a Sanhedrin elder pointed out that there had been various people “claiming to be somebody”, meaning that they alleged to either be the Messiah, or paving the way for him. Of course, these fellows led insurrections. As usual, this needs context. Again, it was known that the Messiah was to come at this time, so you had a number of people gaining the conviction that all God wanted was for one righteous man to stand up and do God’s Will, and God would use that man to deliver Israel. At the very least, such a person would be used by God to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah after the manner of John the Baptist. You have to consider that there is not a whole lot wrong with that doctrine on its face (which incidentally is considered true by Christians to this day), especially when one considers the uprising of Judas Maccabeus against the Seleucids as precedent. The only problem was that these people did not know that the Will of God was not for the Messiah to be a political/military leader with an earthly kingdom. So, from Rome’s point of view, they were facing a series of “messiahs” leading rebellions in this place and that place, were none too pleased. Make no mistake, to the Romans, Messiah meant “rebel”, and the next Messiah might be the one to get the Jewish religious leaders behind them.
And this was no ordinary Messiah, either. This was one that had fulfilled messianic prophecies, had a huge band of followers, and whose spiritual power was such that even Roman centurions were coming to Him for help! And more than that, THIS fellow was calling Himself the Son of God, making Him greater than Caesar, who according to the Roman state religion was a “minor god”. So, it is not hard to consider that from the Roman perspective, if ANYONE was a threat to get the Jewish leaders behind Him and lead an all out military rebellion against Rome, the likely candidates weren’t going to be any better than Jesus Christ! So, for the Jewish leaders to have this Fellow in their hands only to let Him go would not have been good for their situation once the Romans heard of it; it could have easily been interpreted that that Jewish leaders had found their Messiah and would shortly start planning and preparing for an intense rebellion by a united nation of religious fanatics. So, yes, the Sanhedrin Council was in a real bind.
And that was when Caiaphas, the high priest, able to step in and exploit the fear and uncertainty of the council, who had to deal with an insane prophet (in their minds), His zealous followers, powerful people angered by Christ’s challenges against them, a whole nation enquiring of them when and in whom the messianic prophecies would be fulfilled, and Rome being not the least bit happy with any of it. Caiaphas presented the same false set of choices that the world presents to Christians in so many situations: either deliver Jesus Christ to be executed or have the Romans destroy Jerusalem and the temple to remove all hope of the Messiah. (The Romans knew the prophecies that the Messiah would rule from Jerusalem and the temple, and that was why both were destroyed in AD 70 when the Romans finally lost patience with the messianic rebellions.) Now for Caiaphas to make this proposal meant little to him; as a Sadducee, he did not believe in the resurrection, so Christ’s death would have been ending the life of another poor laborer who had lived His entire life under Roman oppression; probably better off anyway. As for the Pharisees; well if Christ was a righteous man; He would be fine anyway; with God in the bosom of Abraham. If He WAS a blasphemer; well then He was getting no less than what He deserved.
Even with this, many of the Jewish leaders STILL didn’t want to deliver Him to the Romans, but Caiaphas was the high priest, the supreme authority in Israel on earth according to the law. (People who are in love with or have a high regard for power or people in it should consider what happens when wicked people take power, as in this case.) He did not have absolute authority, but in the midst of all the fear and uncertainty and the absence of a solid alternative, Caiaphas’ manipulation was able to carry the day. Were they responsible for their decisions, even in capitulation? Of course. But to claim that they were all united and zealously seeking the death of Jesus Christ from the beginning is just scripturally false. And again, see point 1: it is not as if they did this knowing that Jesus Christ was God, or even the Messiah.
It is incumbent upon all Christians to not only reject and contend against the lie that Jews are to be held responsible for the death of Jesus Christ, but to know the scriptural basis for doing so. Claiming that Jews bear any collective or current guilt for the death of Jesus Christ simply opposes scripture, which is a sin. However, it is not sufficient for one to reject that claim blindly, even out of a legitimate desire to reject and oppose anti – Semitism and support and defend Israel and the Jewish people. The reason is that as with anything else, doing so without being properly grounded in scripture as a firm basis opens the door to deny scripture itself, especially the claims to the effect of “while the claims in the gospels are accurate, they were written long after the life of Jesus Christ at a time when the church was under extreme persecution by the Romans and great efforts were being made to evangelize Gentiles, including Romans, and they were written for a Gentile audience, so it was in their interests to portray the Jewish leaders in the worst possible light and the Romans in the best light” sort of justifications for “contextual revisionism” that have become fashionable even among fundamentalist and evangelical Christians. None of those things are necessary. When one casts aside the prism of some of these abiblical traditions and instead allows a study of the Bible to be their guide, it reveals to the Christian a New Testament that is neither false NOR anti – Semitic.