Why Do Most Jews Not Believe in Jesus?

There are approximately 6.7 million Jewish people in the United States[1] out of about 14 million worldwide.[2] It’s fair to say that most of these do not embrace Christian belief, nor believe that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. Radio talk show host, Dennis Prager, explains, “Judaism does not believe that Jesus was the Messiah.”[3] Furthermore, when a Jewish person embraces Jesus, most Jews feel he or she is no longer Jewish. Why do most Jews reject Jesus? Furthermore, why do many Jewish people take exception to those who do embrace Jesus? People arrive at their religious beliefs for many reasons: family upbringing, moral values, history and traditions. Many reasons for not embracing Jesus can be grouped into three categories: cultural, historical, and religious.

Cultural: When a Jew Embraces Jesus, He or She Is No Longer Jewish

Many Jewish people will explain that they do not believe in Jesus simply because they are Jewish. They were raised being taught that Jews do not accept Jesus, while Christians do. As a minority in a society considered at one time as Christian, this one belief has come to define the most significant difference between Jews and Christians in the West. Moreover, if a Jew embraces Jesus, they have converted to Christianity and are no longer Jewish. “Jews should call themselves by the name of the faith whose religious doctrines they now embrace.”[4] At one point in history, such converts were considered lost to the Jewish community, even apostates. For a Jewish person to consider faith in Jesus, he or she must consider the social stigma they face from friends, family and the larger Jewish community. Would a rabbi ever agree to marry them? Would they ever be allowed to make Aliyah? Would they be prohibited from joining a synagogue? These are the implications many Jewish people face on considering Jesus.

The fact is, most Jewish people hold that a person is Jewish according to their birth and not according to their religious belief. The 2013 Pew research study of Jews in North America found that 22% of Jewish-Americans have no religious belief whatsoever.[5] Moreover, 62% believe “that being Jewish is mainly a matter of ancestry and culture.”[6] For centuries, Orthodox Judaism has maintained that a person is Jewish according to their maternal lineage (Talmud Bavli, Kiddushin 68b). Being Jewish refers to an ethnic or genealogical lineage. Judaism refers to a family of religious beliefs (Orthodox, Reform, Conservative) for which there is diverse opinions.

In fact, a significant segment of American Jewry hold that a Jew who has embraced Jesus is still Jewish. “34% [of Jewish-Americans] say a person can be Jewish even if he or she believes Jesus was the messiah.”[7] The question remaining is not “Can a Jew embrace Jesus and remain Jewish?” but “Is Jesus the promised Jewish Messiah?” If he is, then how does the God of Israel expect His people to respond to that truth?

Historical: For Centuries Christians Have Tried to Convert or Kill the Jews

It is said that the history between the church and the synagogue has been written in blood and punctuated in violence. It seems from the foundation of the early church, Christians have accused the Jews of rejecting their Messiah and killing the Son of God. Consequently, early Christian leaders held that God has rejected them. Augustine wrote, “Jews have been scattered throughout all nations as witnesses to their own sin and to our truth…Scatter them abroad, take away their strength. And bring them down O lord.”[8] Such inflammatory language was echoed through the centuries as Christian leaders maintained that the Jewish people were scattered and preserved in order to be punished for rejecting Christ. Down through the ages, atrocities, murders and massacres were justified on this basis.

On May 27, in 1096, over 600 Jews were massacred in Mainz at the start of the first Crusade.[9] In 1492 King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella signed the order to banish the Jews of Spain unless they converted at sword point to Christianity. Even the Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, late in life, was unreserved in his venomous language calling for the destruction of German Jewry. “First, set fire to their synagogues … Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed.”[10] Many historians maintain that fifteen centuries of anti-Jewish sentiment laid the foundation of the worst atrocity Jews have endured—the Holocaust. Holocaust survivor Rose Price recalls when the camp guards struck her, they told her they were following Jesus’ orders.[11]

These many atrocities and this tragic legacy are a stain on those who call themselves Christians and identify with those who claim to share the same faith. However, we must ask ourselves, is any of this what Jesus taught his followers to do? Is there a single New Testament writer who advocated violence and called for injury to the Jews? Jesus himself declared, “all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52, ESV). Contrary to the early church fathers, Paul declared that God has not rejected the Jews. “Has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite” (Romans 11:1, ESV). It is clear that this tragic legacy of those who identify themselves with Jesus does not follow the instructions of Jesus or the New Testament writers.

Throughout history, people have carried out violence and injustice in the name of liberty, democracy and social justice. From Khrushchev to Khomeini, from Mao to Machiavelli, religious and political leaders have justified their means under the banners of noble principles and religious causes. None of their crimes reflect the merit of these principles. Rather, they reflect their evil agenda. We must ask the question: What did Jesus truly teach? Why did so many first-century Jews follow him and establish a community of Jewish following? In spite of what people have done in the name of Jesus, is he the Messiah?

Religious: Jesus Did Not Fulfill the Requirements for the Messiah

Rabbis, religious leaders and religious followers will respond to this question that Jesus cannot be the Messiah because he did not fulfill the job requirements. “Judaism does not believe that Jesus was the Messiah because He did not fulfill any messianic prophecies. ‘Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war anymore’ (Isaiah 2:4).” [12] Far from establishing world peace, Jesus himself said he came to divide “father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother” (Luke 12:53, ESV). In fact, there has been more bloodshed in the name of Jesus rather than peace. How can anyone argue that Jesus is the promised Messiah according to the Jewish Scriptures?

In the first place, it is important to understand all the prophecies describing the Messiah in the Jewish Scripture and not just selected passages. The Jewish Bible relates that the Messiah will first suffer and die for the sins of the world. “He [Messiah] was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people [Israel]” (Isaiah 53:8, ESV). When the Messiah does come, those who witness his arrival will see the wounds in his hands and his feet and weep rather than rejoice at his advent. “They will look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child” (Zech. 12:10, ESV).

It was necessary for the Messiah to first come, suffer and die as an atonement for sin. By doing so, he brought peace between humanity and God. However, the Jewish Scriptures go on to explain that he will return and at that time establish peace on earth. If Jesus is the Messiah, then the God of Israel wants Jews and Gentiles to embrace him as their sin bearer. He came to preach life everlasting, not violence and bloodshed, especially against his own people. He will return one day in the future. Until then, he offers peace with God for those who will embrace him, Jew or Gentile.