1st Century Christians and Jews: Fractured Relations

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Pull up a chair!  We’re gathering at the virtual study table to follow up on yesterday’s foundational discussion about early Jewish-Christian relations, and God’s call of the Apostle Paul as a missionary to the Gentiles.  If you missed yesterday’s discussion, scroll back to it for a good foundation for today’s topic.

We have established that early relations between Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus were tenuous because of the differing backgrounds and traditions each brought to Christianity.  For the most part, Gentiles had pagan, idol-worshiping backgrounds, while Jews had temple worship and sacrifices.  Once Jesus came on the scene and Jews and Gentiles became believers, they faced obstacles.

However, another highly significant event, the destruction of the temple, occurred in 70 AD.  Keep in mind, Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection happened around 32-33 AD and the book of Acts was written in the late-30’s or early-40’s.  There were a few decades of Jewish-Christian history prior to the destruction of the temple, and it wasn’t a smooth ride! (Keep in mind, “Christians” included Jews who followed Jesus!)

For example, there was evidence of persecution against Christians.  Birkat HaManim (“blessings”) were added to weekday Amidah (Jewish prayer liturgy) to invoke curses on followers of Jesus.  Therefore, Jews who followed Jesus and were unwilling to recite the Birkat HaManim were excommunicated.  Jesus followers were conflicted!  Wanting to continue with their traditional prayers, but resisting the new Birkat HaManim!

Then it happened!  In 70 AD, the Temple was destroyed and it turned the Jewish world upside down.  Even Jewish Christ followers still observed the feasts and many of the Jewish traditions that God had set forth for them in the Mosaic Covenant.  What were practicing Jews to do now that there was no longer a place to worship or offer sacrifices?

Not only did they not have a temple in which to worship or sacrifice, but the Romans siege scattered the Jewish people to the four corners of the earth following the destruction of the temple!  It was hopeless for practicing Jews!

It was at this point in history that Rabbinic Judaism arose.  This Pharisaic, law-imposing form of Judaism was birthed out of a Rabbinic Counsel meeting at Yavnah.  Because temple worship and sacrifices were no longer possible, these three things became the primary tenets of Judaism:

  1. Prayer (even today, observant Jews faithfully go to the Western Wall to pray)
  2. Good deeds (the idea of Tikkun Olam became woven into their DNA)
  3. Fasting on Yom Kippur (retaining an emphasis on repentance)

Thus, Judaic “religion” would now be based upon the interpretation of rabbinic laws by rabbis.

Consider, however, that the Jewish people were still seeking the messiah.  They did not recognize Jesus as Messiah, so they remained anxious for the one who would deliver them from Roman oppression.  Thus, in 132 AD when a man named Shimon Bar Kochba was declared to be the messiah, Jewish believers in Jesus were faced with still another dilemma.

A revolt of the few Jews still left in Israel was taking place, and Bar Kochba was seen by many to be their salvation.  Yet, by this time, Jewish believers were well aware of the New Testament warnings against false messiahs, so now they were faced with controversy among their kinsmen.  Gentile believers wanted nothing to do with it, so they distanced themselves from their Jewish believing brethren and, therefore, from their Jewish roots.

In the Gentile Christian sphere, there was little concern for anything Jewish and, in fact, the church became:

  • Less Jewish (little regard for Jewish roots), then
  • Non-Jewish (separation of Jewish/Gentile believers), then
  • Anti-Jewish (animosity toward Jews)

As a result, through the years, historical events such as these occurred in the name of Christianity:

  • Middle Ages – chastisement of Jews for killing Jesus
  • Crusades – Jews killed by European Christians in attempts to conquer Jerusalem
  • Spanish Inquisition – Roman Catholic attempts to force conversion of Jews
  • Renaissance/Reformation – continued forced conversion of Jews
  • Holocaust – attempt at the hands of European Christians to exterminate the Jewish people

Now, think back to last week’s focus.  What we see in today’s lesson is such a far cry from the Romans 9-11 blueprint of Jewish-Christian relations that we studied last week.  Furthermore, put that into context of our time frame: the Church Age.

Is it any wonder a dramatic split occurred, lasting into the 20th century?  As a Jewish person, what would be your perception of Christians and Christianity?

Food for thought….until we meet again tomorrow.  See you then.

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