Why Jews don’t believe in Jesus.
As a Jew living in a Christian environment I am often faced with the question: “Why don’t Jews believe in Jesus?”, or “Why don’t you accept Jesus as your personal savior?”
In a certain sense this question runs much deeper than it would seem at the surface. Jesus claimed to be the Messiah predicted by the Jewish prophets. He did not claim to be a fulfillment of a prediction uttered by the Greek Oracles, he did not claim to be the Messiah that the Gauls, or the Saxons were waiting for. Jesus did not claim to be the culmination and the apex of Roman or Spanish history. Jesus claimed to be the final fulfillment and the long awaited climax of Jewish history. Now, the Gauls, the Saxon, the Romans, the Greeks and the Spaniards are the ones who accepted Jesus as their Messiah. It is precisely the Jews who did not. The Jews who are supposed to be waiting for this Messiah are the very people who until today disregard the Messianic claims of Jesus from Nazareth.
The question actually runs even deeper. Jews didn’t simply ignore Jesus and disregard his claims. Perhaps that is what they would have done if the Church would have let them be, but the Church did no such thing. Throughout history, on many occasions, the Church thrust upon the Jew the grim choice; accept Jesus or die. While many Jews as individuals have accepted Jesus over the centuries, but the Jewish people as a national entity have invariably chosen death over Jesus. The Jewish resistance to the message of Christianity is not a peripheral aspect of Judaism. The struggle between Judaism and Christianity cuts to the heart of what it means to be a Jew.
Why indeed don’t we believe in Jesus? Why don’t we accept him as our savior?
What do Christians mean when they say “believe in Jesus”? What are they asking for when they encourage us to “accept Jesus as our savior”?
Missionaries often answer these questions by pointing to the Jewish prophets. The Jewish prophets predicted the future coming of a glorious king. This leader, who will reign over all men in a utopian world, is known as the Messiah. Christianity claims that Jesus is this future leader predicted by the Jewish prophets. On a superficial level, when Christians ask us why we don’t believe in Jesus, they are asking us why we do not accept the claim that he is the Messiah predicted by the Jewish prophets.
We can respond to this question by examining the various Scriptural texts that foretell the coming of the Messiah. We can analyze the various translations and interpretations of Scripture and try to determine if the Christian belief is truly loyal to the text and to the spirit of Scripture. In this brief article we will not take that route. Instead we will take the discussion above and beyond the pages of Scripture.
The debate between Judaism and Christianity is not a debate over the translation or interpretation about a few passages from the Bible. As serious as such a debate would be it would still not do justice to the divide that separates Judaism from Christianity.
When the Christian refers to “believing in Jesus”, it is not merely a matter of identifying one of the characters spoken of by the Jewish prophets. “Accepting Jesus” means accepting all that Christianity stands for. Judaism and Christianity are two different belief systems. The theological differences between Judaism and Christianity are not limited to the question: “Who is the Messiah”. These two world religions disagree over many foundational issues that precede a debate over the identity of the Messiah.
Judaism and Christianity clash over issues such as the focus of worship, the essential character of man, the correct process for validating the books of Scripture, the role of the Law of Moses in our relationship with God, atonement, and the underlying concept of Messiah and the Messianic age. It would be premature to discuss the identity of the Messiah before gaining an understanding of these elemental matters.
It is beyond the scope of this brief article to examine each of these concepts in depth. We will concentrate our attention on the first issue; the focus of worship. This issue stands at the heart of Judaism. But before we turn to this one issue, I will make a general statement about all of the issues that stand between Judaism and Christianity.
Christians encourage people to put their faith in Jesus on the basis of the predictions of the Jewish prophets. Missionaries point to various passages in the Jewish Bible and contend that these prophecies foretell the advent of Jesus. In essence, the missionary is advocating that we make a life-changing decision on the basis of words in a book.
If one is going to make an important decision on the basis of a book, there are some logical steps that he or she must take. First, one must acquire a familiarity with the doctrinal differences that stand between Judaism and Christianity. Then, the book must be studied seriously and intensely from cover to cover. Only after one has thoroughly mastered the book can they claim to base a decision on the book.
Furthermore, in order to base a decision on the Jewish Bible one must first accept the principles that were used to authenticate the Bible. Who were the people that wrote the books of the Bible? What process was applied in order to determine if these men and women were truly sent by God? Which people implemented the procedure that served to validate the books of Scripture, and under what authority did they operate?
If this book was given to you in order that you turn your life around on the basis of its content, then we can be sure that whoever gave it to you expected you to be confident with the validation process that authenticates the book. He certainly expected you to know this information and take it seriously.
What indeed is the validation process that was used to authenticate the prophets of Scripture?
In order to determine the authenticity of the prophets of Scripture, the Jewish people had to apply the axioms that were presented to them when Judaism was established. It was necessary to determine if the prophet and his or her message conformed to the foundational truths of Judaism. We can only be confident that this process was applied accurately and efficiently if we accept that the religious leadership of the Jewish people was indeed commissioned by God to implement this process.
We will not analyze every link in the chain of this process, although that would be a worthwhile undertaking. Just the last step of the process, standing alone, does not leave room for the Christian application of the Jewish Scriptures. The religious leadership of the Jewish people did not recognize Jesus’ claims to prophecy. Christendom rejects the authority of this body of religious leadership in determining the authenticity of a prophetic claim. If that is the case, then they cannot expect people to take the Jewish Scriptures seriously, much less base life-changing decisions on the basis of the Bible. If the religious leadership of the Jewish people cannot be trusted to sort out the true prophets from the frauds then the canon of their Scripture ought to be rejected outright. If the Church insists on rejecting the process through which God validated the Scriptures, the Church must realize that their quotations from the same Scriptures will not be taken seriously.
Let us now turn to the primary distinction between Judaism and Christianity; the focus of worship.
The central message of the Jewish Bible is that God is the One Master of all. Everything came into being at His command, and the continued existence of all that we can comprehend is but an expression of His love. All religious devotion belongs to Him and to Him alone. Devotion and worship belong to Him to whom all belongs. Directing worship to one of His creations is a denial of His absolute sovereignty.
The calling of the Jewish people as a nation before God is to give testimony to this ultimate truth. God chose the Jewish people to testify to the world that there is but One Creator of all.
When the Churchmen gave the Jew the choice; accept Jesus or die, the Jew had no choice. Acceptance of Jesus meant directing worship, the type of worship that is appropriate to Creator alone, towards an inhabitant of God’s earth. The devotion demanded by the Church would constitute the deepest violation of the relationship that the Jew shared with his or her God. This was not an option for the Jew.
Over the course of history, many Jews have strayed far from the theological roots of Judaism. Sadly, many Jews don’t see their relationship with the One Creator of all as a cause for which it worth sacrificing everything. It would be an understatement to say that a large number of Jews do not identify a positive relationship with the God of Israel as an important feature of their lives. Yet there is one aspect of this relationship that is still recognizable even in Jews that have wandered far from the paths of their fathers.
The aspect of the relationship with God that is still maintained by most Jews is the refusal to submit themselves in religious devotion to any other entity. Israel’s core mission to bear witness to the absolute sovereignty of God has two practical ramifications. The first ramification of this truth is that devotion and worship ought to be directed to God, and it is this aspect of the relationship that many Jews no longer identify with. The second ramification of God’s sovereignty is that devotion and worship should not be directed towards any creation of God. This part of the relationship is still alive and strong in the heart of people who identify themselves as Jews.
When the surrounding populations were steeped in the belief that some people are intrinsically higher than others, or that man should consider himself lower than one power or another, the Jew stood apart. When the Romans were deifying their Emperors, when the pagans were surrendering themselves in worship to various supernatural entities, and when most nations believed that the nobility was intrinsically superior to the serfs – the Jew stood apart. The Jew stood for, and still stands for the knowledge that no created being is intrinsically higher than any other creation of God. This truth is the foundation of a just society. The world was blessed through the loyalty that the Jew maintained towards this belief. When a Jew accepts a theology that attributes divinity to a human being, he or she has betrayed the very core of the calling of the Jewish people before God. “Believing in Jesus” means giving up on what it means to be a Jew.