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Louis Lapides: Why Jews Don't Accept Jesus
Spiritual Life
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Why Jews Don't Accept Jesus: A Look at History

By Louis Lapides
Guest Columnist - When you look at Jesus and His relationship with the Jewish people in the first century, the Jewish leaders didn’t accept Him because of His claims to deity. They did not believe the Messiah would be divine.

They balked at His interpretation of the law, that He was weaving through the lines saying, 'Hey, you are into all the rituals, but you are forgetting some of the weightier things, the love, the compassion, the justice. So what if you have clean cups. What about the heart? That needs to be clean.'

He was saying some pretty rebuking things to the Jewish community in the first century in telling them that they needed to repent, they needed a Savior, they needed a Messiah. In the first century it was pretty clear cut why they wouldn’t accept Him.

On the other hand, I’ve got to say, all of His followers initially were Jewish. He had thousands of people by the time the apostles came along. Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost. He had all of these Jewish people who were accepting Jesus.

Today people ask me the same question, 'Why aren't Jewish people accepting Jesus?'

My initial response is history, because in the name of Jesus, Jews have been persecuted. In the name of Jesus, we’ve seen the Inquisition, we’ve seen the Crusades, we have read from church fathers anti-Jewish, anti-Semitic statements in the name of Jesus. So, the response today is why would I want to believe in Jesus?

In the name of Jesus there has been so much persecution. And, of course, there’s recognition today, especially on the part of some of the popes of Vatican II, there have been a lot of changes in relation to the Jewish people. Christianity has done a tremendous amount of outreach telling Jewish people that we love them, that the things that have happened in the past were not representative of Jesus. He did not teach people to go out and slaughter and massacre in His name. Those are people who twisted and distorted Christianity.

I think when the Gospel went out to Greece, went out to Rome and into the gentile world, according to God's plan -- according to Acts 1:8, the Gospel goes to Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth -- you had a great influx of gentiles into the Church, so the Jewish part of it started diminishing.

In 325 A.D., Constantine, who was the emperor of Rome, he made some very deliberate decisions at the Council of Nicea to get rid of all Jewish elements within Christianity. Gentile Christians were actually celebrating what we know today as Easter, the death, burial, and Resurrection. They were celebrating it by partaking of the Passover. Constantine got rid of that. He said, 'No Christians shall keep the Passover.' In fact, he made sure that Passover and Easter didn't ever fall on the same day so they wouldn't get confused.

The church kept taking this anti-Jewish perspective. We actually have documents where a Jewish person accepting Jesus, this was in the Middle Ages, he or she would have to sign a document saying, 'Upon my acceptance of Jesus, I disavow all Jewish songs, all Jewish customs, foods, anything that has to do with my Jewish heritage.' That was the requirement. If you accept Jesus, you completely sever yourself from the Jewish roots and background.

Some Roman Catholic writers would say that the Greek culture and the Roman culture already had a lot of anti-Jewish sentiment inherent in them, and they brought it into the church.

Also, a lot of the gentile Christian theologians and church leaders couldn't face the fact that Jewish people weren't coming in droves accepting the Lord. It bothered them. If Jesus is the Messiah and the New Testament is the truth, why aren't God's chosen people responding? So, they started coming up with theories that Jewish people were demonic, that they were in cahoots with Satan, they signed a covenant with Satan and Satan had blinded them. It started getting bigger and bigger.

We have representations of medieval woodcuts of Jewish people with horns, shown as demonic, Satan with a Jewish star or the Antichrist with a Jewish Star. The Jewish people were painted as demonic.

In the Middle Ages, the morality plays, where they would reenact the last week in the life of Jesus, the Jewish leaders, the Pharisees didn't look good at all being involved in arresting Jesus and handing Him over to the Romans. The common people would look at this and say, 'Look how terrible the Jewish people are.' The Bible was kept out of the hands of people, so they couldn't read it for themselves. They only heard what was said to them from the pulpit in the Middle Age church. This was handed down to the people.

If a Jewish person accepted Jesus, he or she would be asked to sign a covenant saying everything that was Jewish, you have nothing to do with. You are now Christian. They would give them a Christian name. If it was Jacob, it is now going to be Tom. That's where the Christian name came from. They said, 'You will change your culture, you will change the food that you will eat.'

In the late '60s and into the1970s Jewish people were accepting Jesus in droves. It was the Jesus Movement. Now you have all these Jewish people, a lot of them are young, they are hippies, and professionals, who are accepting Jesus who are saying, 'I'm not going to buy this. I am still Jewish. Jesus is Jewish, the apostles are Jewish, the New Testament is Jewish. How do you understand the book of Hebrews unless you have some Jewish background?'

A revolution started happening among young Jewish people who were saying, 'We still want to maintain our Jewishness, and we love Jesus as Lord, as our Savior, as our Redeemer, as our Messiah. We want the whole thing. We want Christianity and we want our Jewish identity.'

I was brought up to believe that, as a Jew, stay away from Jesus. Jesus and people who follow Him are responsible for anti-Semitism. My parents never went as far as saying that Hitler was a Christian, but there were undertones that this is what Christianity has come to, this is what Martin Luther started by some of his negative statements about Jewish people. And it all just kept growing and growing. Finally, the top blew during the Holocaust.

My parents were well meaning, but I was taught to stay away from Christians, that we have had enough trouble, so keep the boundaries, keep the distance.

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