On Saturday, October 27, 2018, a hate-filled gunman entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh while a Jewish congregation was holding Sabbath (Shabbat) services, killing eleven worshipers and injuring seven more. This trajedy was the deadliest attack on Jewish people in U.S. history, and its shocking nature, as well as its implications for the Jewish comunity in the Western world, reverberated through the press and social media.
Condemnation of anti-semitism in light of this horrible massacre was certainly justified, and was almost universal, although it is noted by some that while Jew-hatred in the West is condemned across the political spectrum, the same cannot be said of the Western prejudices that Jewish people face who are in their homeland, defending it from their Middle Eastern enemies. It is probable that very many who now give lip service in opposing anti-semitism will in the not-so-distant future be indifferent to the Great Tribulation persecution that Jesus foretold would come upon the Jews, who are properly the decendents of the biblical nation of Judah.
How ought those Christians who love the God of Israel regard and respond to events like this, or more broadly, to enmity against Jews wherever they are found in the world? In the Christian profession, attitudes toward the Jewish people range from indifference to emulation, advocacy, or solidarity, but perhaps relatively few seek to understand the mind of God on this important subject. Resorting to humanistic political reasoning is exclusive of seeking to intelligently understand the dispensational ways of God, as laid out in His word.
It is possible to grieve for and with the Jewish people when such hatred is displayed against them, without running ahead of God’s program for them. In due time, He will bring them through intensely deep tribulation before blessing a large remnant of all twelve tribes of Israel in sovereign grace, by which He will quicken millions of souls and establish them in their land for a millennium. As Christians, we ought to look forward with great expectation to that time, for we will be reigning with Christ in glory, enjoying His rightful exaltation over this world that crucified Him. Our primary business as Christians is to wait for the coming glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, while showing compassion to, and grieving over the injustices perpetrated on, all the “offspring of God” (Acts 17:29) because of the corruption of sin.¹
At the present time, God is dealing with all of mankind according to this framework: “Jews . . . Gentiles . . . and the church of God” (I Corinthians 10:32). The church (assembly) of God is made of both Jews and Gentiles (all who were by nature not Jewish) who have received the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, and the “middle wall of partition” has been torn down by His mighty work on the cross.² Not only is there no longer a wall between Jewish and Gentile believers, there is also no recognition by God of a different pattern of worship for Christians of Jewish heritage. We all know that the first Christians were Jews by birth, and God was patient with them as they continued their Jewish rituals, feasts, and even sacrifices for decades after Pentecost, but in the Epistle to the Hebrews, God makes clear that the era of Jewish tradition in the assembly of God was over. “We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle”, and “Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach” (Hebrews 13). It seems evident that this reproach accompanies a leaving behind of all that pertained to the camp of religious Judaism. And this direction to separate themselves was given to believing Hebrews after the writer of the epistle goes to great lengths to show how that Jesus Christ is better in every way than the shadows and figures that the Law of Moses prescribed.
Let me hasten to make clear that there is nothing wrong with a Jewish believer in Christ having an interest in and a gratitude for his or her heritage as a child of Israel, any more than it would be wrong for me to have similar sentiments for my lineage that goes back almost exclusively through the Swiss and German Anabaptists. But neither case, neither heritage, justifies a sectarian communion or a differentiated program of worship, and Colossians 3:11 (among other passages) makes that abundantly clear: “There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.”
A regrettable incident took place in the days after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. Vice President Mike Pence, an unabashed Christian, invited a rabbi from the Messianic Jewish group “Jews for Jesus” on stage at a campaign event to pray for the fallen Jewish worshipers and for their families, and for the United States as a nation. The Messianic rabbi, Loren Jacobs, invoked his “Lord and Savior Yeshua, Jesus the Messiah” in his prayer. The Vice President was strongly criticized by the Jewish community for this incident, and while his motive may have been commendable, his understanding was faulty, and the backlash he received online and in the press should not be surprising to an instructed Christian. It is wonderful that many Jewish people have come to faith in their Messiah in recent decades, but there is still, twenty centuries after Pentecost, a real need for them to leave that attractive legal system of worship and religious identity in order to enjoy spiritual maturity as members of the body of Christ. God now sees them that way, as the scriptures make plain.
Judaism and Christianity ought not be conflated, for the Christian faith and its spiritual worship is not compatible with Jewish worship.³ The Lord Jesus taught this by parable in Luke 5:36-39: “No man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved. No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.” We see the “bottles” of Judaism and Christianity both compromised when men try to bring them together or bridge the gulf between them, whether for political or sentimental reasons, or even to mitigate the reproach of Christ that usually accompanies the conversion of a Jew to Christ. No doubt new Jewish believers of the both the first and the twenty-first centuries tend to feel that “the old is better”, and God is patient with that sentiment, but at the same time, His desire is that they come into the full enjoyment of the better things* of Christianity. The path of an ethnic Jew that believes on Jesus and embraces the simplicity of biblical Christianity is often not an easy one, but our God is so patient and merciful, and His grace is sufficient for it. He has promised it would be.
¹ Matthew 24; Ezekiel 36-37; Revelation 20
² Ephesians 2:11-22
³ Philippians 3:1-11; Hebrews 13:15-16
* The Epistle to the Hebrews uses the term “better” many times to distinguish between the old (Mosaic legal system) and the new (Christ and Christianity).