Persecution in the name of Jesus is the most emotionally charged strand of the net of objections. More than anything else, many people point to "Christian anti-Semitism" as a reason to dismiss Jesus. When Jewish people find themselves questioning whether Jesus might be the Messiah, thoughts of the Crusades and the Holocaust quickly rush to mind, setting off a warning signal Jews who believe join the same league as those who hate our people. When Jewish people allow that signal to block any further contemplation of Jesus, they base their decisions not upon who Jesus is, but rather upon who they do not want to be (namely, among those who persecute Jews).
How can a Jewish believer respond to the accusation that we have joined the persecutors? Anti-Semitism is a fact that should never be minimized or pushed out of mind. Nor can we avoid the fact that many people have used the name of Jesus as a justification for their anti-Semitic crimes. Yet we need to ask questions. For example, can we truly blame our sufferings on Jesus and the things he taught? Can those who have wrongly used the name of Jesus make it wrong for us to believe and trust in him? Can the evil committed in Yeshua's name free us from the responsibility of considering his true identity? These are important questions, because if the answer is no and we continue to allow anti-Semitism to prevent us from considering Jesus, we allow anti-Semites to keep us in the dark about the greatest Jew who ever lived--which produces an even greater injustice against us.
It is important to remember that Jesus never taught hatred of Jewish people, nor did that hatred begin with the church. Persecution was a fact of Jewish existence in the days of Pharaoh and Haman. People justify their hatred in various ways, and some of the worst sins committed are cloaked in false piety. It is human nature to justify ourselves, no matter how ugly our actions. To claim loyalty to a noble person or cause is the perfect justification for the worst possible crimes. Such associations (however false) enable people to deceive themselves into believing that their wicked deeds are righteous.
The French Revolution was a bloodbath in the name of liberty, fraternity and equality. But who would say that liberty, fraternity and equality are ideals to be despised because of that bloodshed? People have committed terrible acts in the name of freedom and justice, but that doesn't make freedom and justice wrong. Nor do we label everyone who advocates freedom and justice as murderers, even though so many criminals have attempted to justify their terrible deeds in the name of those noble causes.
Jesus and his teachings have no connection to crimes committed in his name.
How can we blame Jesus for those who claim to follow his teachings but do not? We might say that if he had never existed, no one could misuse his name, but that is like burying our heads in the sand. Jesus is not to blame for the misuse of his name. In the same way, how are those who wish to explain his teachings to be blamed for those who have distorted them? If (as some have done) we blame all believers in Jesus for killing people they never knew, we become guilty of the same thing our persecutors do when they wrongly blame all Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus.
What a frightening (but not unnatural) phenomenon it is when the wrongly judged and hated turn around and wrongly judge and hate others. It takes tremendous determination for those who have been persecuted not to persecute others in turn. We must remember not to do to others what we hate having done to ourselves. As Jesus put it, "And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise"(Luke 6:31).
This article originally appeared in The Yeshua Challenge booklet.