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A Jewish Curse or a Tragic Blessing?


It is not uncommon to find ourselves in the midst of a religious brouhaha between Christians and Jews. Often the controversy centers around comments made about the charge of deicide – that Jews are uniquely responsible for the death of Yeshua. The charge of Jews being "Christ-killers" has long been rooted in Christendom. Down through the centuries, many supposed Christians have held this belief that Jews were somehow more responsible for the death of Yeshua than other people. The words of the so-called church fathers are severe and ruthless:

You [Jews] alone may suffer that which you justly suffer. . . because you have murdered the Just One.
- Justin Martyr, 2nd Century A.D.

[Jews] will never be restored to their former condition. For they have committed a crime of the most unhallowed kind, in conspiring against the Savior of the human race.
- Origen, 3rd Century A.D.

The Jews are always degenerate because of their odious assassination of Christ. For this, no expiation is possible, no indulgence, no pardon.
- John Chrysostom, 4th Century A.D.

As a result of these unsympathetic creeds, it became a widely held belief in the church that Jews carry some kind of all-inclusive curse. Advocates can point out verses to back up this position, and they describe the historical persecution of Jews as being God's just punishment.

The bottom line is that many well-meaning people today simply do not understand the nature of Messiah's death. And the accusations they make are distortions of the message of the Bible. In order to understand the implications of the death of Yeshua, we would all do well to go to the Bible for the actual context. We begin with an examination of the evidence cited against the Jewish people.

The evidence for the charge of deicide

"Jews are children of the devil"

Advocates of Jews being the enemies of God often point to a passage in the eighth chapter of John. Yeshua is speaking in a courtyard of the Temple to a group of Pharisees. And in response to their critical comments, Yeshua says to them:

"You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father" (John 8:44).

Look carefully at the paintings and sculptures from the Middle Ages to the Reformation and you will see Jews with horns. It is a manifestation of the popular belief that Jews are in league with the devil. Ultimately it would surface in its most virulent form in Nazi Germany – Jews as being subhuman and parasites. And although today this extreme view is largely relegated to fringe anti-Semitic groups and the world of Islam, the underlying belief that the Jewish people are intimately linked to Satan still exists in the church. I have personally spoken to people involved in Christian ministry who profess their love of Lord, yet cite John 8:44 as teaching the corporate wickedness of Jews.

Tragically, it is a teaching without context. In John eight, Yeshua was confronting a specific group of Pharisees who were, in fact, ungodly men. He was not speaking to all Jews in every place in every generation. He was not even speaking to all Pharisees, for there were some like Nicodemus whose Father was surely the true and living God of the universe.

In the greater context of Scripture, we are reminded that "the whole world lies in the power of the evil one" (1 John 5:19) and that all people, regardless of their heritage or identity, become children of God through faith in Yeshua the Messiah.

"Jews are a cursed people"

It is said by some opponents of the Jews that they are a cursed people, and refer to the 27th chapter of Matthew to support their position. In this passage a crowd is trying to influence Pontius Pilate into crucifying Yeshua. And to emphasize their point, verse 25 records, "All the people answered and said, 'Let his blood be on us and on our children!'"

It is argued that these words are in the form of a curse, and that God has granted their request. But the problem with this position is that God has never given humanity the authority to bring guilt on other people, even if they are direct descendents.

Here is the key question that is invariably overlooked – where in Scripture does it say that God will agree to any curse made by people that effects someone else? When the mob in Jerusalem cried out their anger, it was indeed a declaration of what was in their hearts and they will no doubt be held greatly accountable for their words and actions. But where does God say that anyone else shall be held accountable for an individual's decision?

Yes, there are plenty of references for corporate chastening, meaning that God brings punishment on nations that act in collective evil (cf. Deut. 28:15-68; Isa. 10:5-12). There are also some references in the Old Testament (cf. Exod. 34:7) that state that God "visits the iniquity of the fathers on children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations." But this is more of a statement on the effects of sin – if I sin as a father, it is likely that my descendents will experience the residual effects of my sinful actions, and that they may very well copy my actions. It is a statement about human nature, not about corporate accountability.

When we look at Ezek. 18:20, the picture becomes all the more clear:

"The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father's iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for son's iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself."

Did the people in Matt. 27 say those harsh words? Absolutely. But it was no more possible for the people to curse their descendents than it was for Pilate to do the exact opposite when he "washed his hands" and declared himself to be innocent of Yeshua's death (Matt. 27:24). His actions did not exonerate himself, neither did the words of the crowd condemn people who were yet to be born. In every generation, every individual shall be held accountable for his or her own actions.

In addition, not only was it impossible for the crowd that called for the crucifixion of Yeshua to represent every Jewish person born throughout history, they did not even represent the entire Jewish nation alive at that time. They were a local mob raised up at a very early hour of the morning by the chief priests (Matt. 27:20). Indeed, great numbers of Jews followed Yeshua and believed in him as Messiah. Their existence makes it all the more apparent that national guilt as Christ-killers is illogical and impossible.

Lastly, we need to remember that the inspiration of Scripture includes accurate reporting of the historical events, not just accurate doctrine. Just because someone says something does not mean it falls into the "Thus saith the Lord" category.

What does the Bible actually teach about the death of Yeshua?

He died because we are sinners

The ultimate calling and ministry of Yeshua is summed up in these words:

"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Messiah died for us" (Romans 5:8).

That is truly a powerful statement. It wasn't like God did a truly noble thing for innocent victims – the "good guys," like you would see in the movies. The Bible tells us that at that time we were His enemies (Rom. 5:10). Now when have you seen that in a movie? – a noble hero giving his life for the "bad guys?" That is the big picture of Romans 5.

But there is another point that we need to recognize. When we read these words – "while we were yet sinners," we need to ask – who are the "we?"

Scripture does not single out the Jewish people as being exclusively responsible for the death of Yeshua. Instead it makes it very clear that it was the sins of all humanity – both Jews and Gentiles that caused his death. Acts 4:27-28 tells us:

"For truly in this city there were gathered together against Thy holy servant Yeshua, whom Thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Thy hand and Thy purpose predestined to occur."

No one – neither Jew nor Gentile – is given any greater share of the blame in Scripture. It is a problem for all humanity. In fact, we all would do well to think of his death as being our own personal responsibility. I crucified him. Period.

Rembrandt, the renowned Dutch artist, understood this concept well. If you look closely at his painting, "Raising of the Cross," one of the persons helping to erect the cross is a self-portrait of Rembrandt himself. "My sin," said the artist, "sent my Lord to the cross."

When considered in this light, the words, "His blood is on all of us" takes on a whole new meaning.

The death of Yeshua was part of God's plan

Acts 4:28 further makes if very clear that God is ultimately responsible for the death of Messiah. It was "predestined to occur" according to His purpose.

Moreover, it was Yeshua's decision to willingly die for sinners –

"I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again" (John 10:17-18).

A more relevant question is this: why would Yeshua willingly give up his life? The Bible gives this reason: the sins of the entire world demanded payment (Isaiah 53:5,12; Romans 3:25,26). And Yeshua was willing to make that payment on our behalf.

Because "all have sinned" and all people will stand before God in judgment, our witness must always remain universal in scope. God's message of love is truly impartial – it is the Good News for all people, not bad news directed only at Jews.

Yeshua's death does not give us an excuse to blame others, it is a source of great blessing

Time and time again, people have considered the death of Yeshua as an excuse to blame other people. Perhaps out of pride we tend to put other people down, which appears to put us in a more favorable light. Without question, the Jewish people have long been the favorite whipping boy of the world, and even of the church.

Rather than being accusatory, a true follower of Yeshua ought to recognize that blame also points in his or her own direction, which will go a long way to fostering gratitude, humility, and compassion toward others. Let us all be reminded that God promised to Abraham that through his descendents – the Jewish people – "all the families of the world shall be blessed" (Gen. 12:3). It was the matchless promise of redemption through Messiah.

In reality, the death of Yeshua is not a curse that needs condemnation, but it is a blessing to all of us. A tragic one, but nonetheless the greatest blessing of all.
May we recognize these principles, apply them to our own lives, and stand ready to defend them to a world that needs to know the way, the truth and the life that God has graciously given to us.

Dr. Galen Peterson
© 2001 American Remnant Mission