Reviling Jews for Jesus: acceptable anti-Semitism?

Published 29 April 2014  |  
(Photo: YouTube/Jews for Jesus)

When it comes to the Holocaust, we are on uniquely sensitive ground.

So what are we to make of the organisation Jews For Jesus producing a video which shows Jesus carrying a cross into a Nazi concentration camp and being sentenced to death?

The video – a three-minute feature on YouTube entitled "That Jew Died for You" – was designed to coincide with Passover and Holocaust Remembrance Day.

As a Gentile, born well after the end of the Second World War, I feel it inappropriate to voice almost any comment on the Holocaust. I once visited Auschwitz and the sense of evil was sickening. For me, the only appropriate response is silence – and horror – combined with remembrance and a commitment to speak out against anything remotely similar.

And when others try to comment on these events, it is clear that – rightly or wrongly, but understandably – emotions are quickly stirred. In the last few days, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has called the Holocaust "the most heinous crime" in modern history. Was he sincere? Was it a cynical ploy? Either way, you can be sure the feelings generated by his comments will be strong.

And what about Jews for Jesus? In the past, they have been praised by theologians including J.I. Packer and John Piper. But were they right to produce this video, bringing Jesus, the cross and concentration camps together? You can watch it for yourself on YouTube – as nearly 1.3 million people have – and make up your own mind.

They may have been wise, they may have been unwise. But as Jewish people they are certainly more qualified to speak about the Holocaust than most of us who are not. And as Jewish people who recognise the Messiahship of Jesus they also have a right to share their perspective on the relationship between Christ and the terrible evil of that event.

What worries me about some of the reaction to this video is that if some of the comments (not least on YouTube itself) were being made about other Jewish groups, they would readily be labelled as anti-Semitic – and rightly so. Some of the criticism goes well beyond a legitimate discussion about the merits of the film itself and uses language that in another context would be roundly condemned.

So is there something about these particular Jews that somehow makes them fairer game than others? Is this even a socially acceptable form of anti-Semitism? I fear it may be partly so. But whether or not there is anti-Semitism involved, and whether or not the video was wise or unwise, there is a deeper, underlying point, of course. And that is simply that the message of the cross is offensive.

Not for nothing did that first century Messianic Jew, the Apostle Paul, write: "We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." (1 Corinthians 1v23-24)

The cross challenges us in a way that is unique.

Not for nothing, either, did Paul say how he and others were reviled as "the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world" (1 Corinthians 4v13) – a feeling I am sure that many Jewish followers of Jesus will be able to identify with in the middle of this controversy.

The YouTube video in question has a number of accompanying features entitled "Survivor Stories" – some accounts of Jewish Holocaust survivors who have come to faith in Christ. We need to be careful. If we as a society shout these people down, then in whose steps are we following?

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