Suffering is international and cross-cultural. It is something that unites all human beings, because we all experience it at one point or another. Therefore, suffering is not specifically Jewish—although in Jewish history there has been a great deal of suffering.
My country, Israel, was birthed from the pain of one of humanity's greatest experiences of suffering, the Holocaust. Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, said: "The Jewish question persists wherever Jews live in appreciable numbers. Wherever it does not exist, it is brought in together with Jewish immigrants. We are naturally drawn into those places where we are not persecuted, and our appearance there gives rise to persecution."1
Today, Jewish suffering continues, both in the diaspora with the resurgence of anti-Semitism, and even in Israel, the Jewish homeland, where we are always ready for, even expecting, war—not just against our external neighbors but also internally against terrorism.
Maybe it is ironic that most Jewish people in Israel do not feel compassion over Jesus' suffering, even though they know how painful suffering can be. For the most part I find non-believing Israelis to almost feel comfort in the knowledge that Jesus suffered. It is an attitude of, "I am glad that Jesus suffered, because we have suffered in his name—therefore he deserved to suffer."
This statement comes from ignorance, yet it also has some truth in it. John Stott, in his wonderful book The Cross of Christ,writes these words:
It is wonderful that we may share in Christ's sufferings; it is more wonderful still that he shares in ours. Truly his name is "Emmanuel," "God with us." But his "sympathy" is not limited to his suffering with his covenant people. Did Jesus not say that in ministering to the hungry and thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the prisoner, we would be ministering to him, indicating that he identified himself with all needy and suffering people?2
Yes, Jewish people have suffered in the name of Jesus. But the most amazing thing is that God came in the incarnation as Jesus, and chose to suffer and ultimately die for us. Our people have endured suffering. And Jesus' suffering was endured for us, and in spite of us.
Dan Sered is the COO of Jews for Jesus.
1. Theodor Herzl, The Jewish State, various editions.
2. John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove: IL, InterVarsity Press, 2012), p. 326.