Home » Israel & The Jews: Why Should Christians Care?

Israel & The Jews: Why Should Christians Care?

by Dr. Eitan Bar
11 minutes read

For several reasons! Israel, often referred to as the Holy Land, is regarded as the spiritual heart of Christianity. Primarily, it is the birthplace of Yeshua (Hebrew for “Jesus,” meaning salvation), the most renowned Jewish figure in history and the central figure of Christianity. According to the New Testament, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a small town in the Judean region of Israel. He spent most of his life and ministry in Israel, with significant events like his baptism in the Jordan River, the Sermon on the Mount, and the Last Supper all occurring in Israel.

Additionally, many early events of the Christian Church transpired in Israel. Apostles Peter and Paul, who played crucial roles in spreading Christianity, were both Jews who lived in the region. The Council of Jerusalem, considered a pivotal event in the early history of the Christian Church, also took place in Israel.

Besides its historical and biblical importance, Israel houses numerous holy sites considered sacred by Christians. These include the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, believed by some to be the site of Jesus’ burial and resurrection, and the Garden Tomb, another site some consider Jesus’ burial location. The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where Jesus is thought to have been born, is another important place for Christians.

In fact, any avid reader of the Bible will quickly notice the recurring themes within it. “Jerusalem” is mentioned over 800 times in the Scriptures, and “Israel” appears over 2,300 times. Additionally, the epicenter of events is primarily in the land of Israel, with most main characters being Israeli-Jews. The very first Church was in Jerusalem, and its members were predominantly Jews. The apostles were Jews as well. In those days, “Christianity” was a Jewish denomination or movement. As such, one would expect modern Israel to be the most Christian country on earth. I mean, Mecca, the birthplace of Muhammad and Islam, is 99.9% Muslim.

However, modern Israel is vastly different. Today, only 0.05% of Israel’s population consists of Jewish[1] believers in Jesus, and 1.9% are non-Jewish Christians.[2] So, as you can see, Jesus is not welcome here in His own land.

In most parts of the world, the name “Jesus” carries either a positive or neutral connotation. In Islam, Jesus is considered a prophet. In Asia, where there are already millions of gods, adding another deity is not usually an issue. For instance, in Hinduism, the term “deva” refers to deities or celestial beings worshipped as aspects of the divine. Hinduism features many devas, each with distinct forms, attributes, and responsibilities. So, adding one more to their list would likely not be problematic. In the West, even among secular people who may object to Christianity (sometimes for valid reasons), they typically have no issue with Jesus himself. However, in Judaism, there are many preconceived notions about Jesus, and these are overwhelmingly negative.

As you will soon see, there are several historical, religious, and political factors contributing to the current situation. Whatever the reasons, I will argue that behind these reasons lies a spiritual catalyst. I believe that on a cosmic level, nothing is as terrifying to the devil as the idea that Jews will turn to Jesus. Satan knows that once Israel believes, it means “game over” for him (Romans 11). As a result, he will do everything in his power to prevent Jews from accepting Christ. So far, he is doing a great job.

Israel can be likened to God’s baton or standard. In the past, the flag carried at the front of a military unit during a war was typically referred to as the unit’s “colors” or “standard.” These were banners or flags used to identify the unit and serve as a rallying point for the soldiers. In ancient armies, the flag/colors were treated with great respect and considered a symbol of the unit’s honor and traditions. In some cases, the colors were carried by a special guard of soldiers responsible for protecting the flag and ensuring it was not captured by the enemy. If the flag fell into enemy hands, it would result in chaos and disrupt the tactics of the army that lost it. In this sense, Israel is God’s flag. So when you read about Israel in the scriptures, think of it as God’s flag/colors that the enemy seeks to destroy.

 Before There Was Israel

In Hebrew, the word representing the act of “making a covenant” also means “excision” or “amputation,” implying the involvement of blood. This is also where the English expression “to cut a deal” comes from. When God called Abraham to leave his home and venture into the unknown, He established a covenant with him, promising numerous descendants, land, and authority in return for his faith.

In Genesis 15, God established a covenant with Abraham, incorporating a visual element that Abraham was already familiar with. He instructed Abraham to gather several animals, dissect them in half, and arrange the pieces into two rows with a clear path in the center. This act was known as forming a covenant, with both parties involved walking the path between the dismembered animals to declare their commitment. It was a non-verbal way of saying, “I swear my life on this!”

What makes the covenant in Genesis 15 extraordinary is that God Himself appeared and alone passed between the pieces of the slain animals, staking His life on his promises to Abraham. This one-sided covenant was not contingent on anything Abraham had to do; it was solely up to God. All Abraham had to do was believe. Through this covenant, God conveys that regardless of Abraham’s actions, God will always uphold his end of the agreement.

Interestingly, God promised Abraham both a land and a nation. The two (the land of Israel and the nation of Israel) are woven together:

I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. (Genesis 12:2-3)

I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God. (Genesis 17:7-8)

There above it stood the Lord, and he said: ‘I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. (Genesis 28:13-14)

These verses, among others, attest that Israel came from Abraham and that God’s promise to him is fulfilled through his descendants- the people of Israel.

Centuries later, a vast nation of approximately two million people emerged. As the inhabitants of this nation prepared to enter the land promised to Abraham, God demanded their unwavering obedience. He cautioned them that if they neglected to heed His warnings, other nations would rise against them and expel them from their land (Deuteronomy 28:49). If Israel chooses to worship other gods, the God of Israel won’t protect them. This passivity was known to Israel as “God’s wrath.” Furthermore, God declared that the Israelites’ disloyalty would lead to their dispersion to the farthest corners of the earth, where they would dwell as strangers without respite:

Then the Lord will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship other gods—gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your ancestors have known. Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the Lord will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. You will live in constant suspense, filled with dread both night and day, never sure of your life. In the morning you will say, “If only it were evening!” and in the evening, “If only it were morning!”—because of the terror that will fill your hearts and the sights that your eyes will see. (Deuteronomy 28:64-67)

Since that promise, Israel’s sufferings prove that Israel is indeed God’s chosen people. However, God also vowed to honor His original covenant and ultimately bring them back to their Land again (Deuteronomy 30:1-10). Despite these admonitions, the Israelites sinned, leading to their exile from their homeland.

In the 8th century BC, the Assyrian Empire invaded Israel, taking many Israelites captive and causing most of Israel’s Tribes to disappear. Later, in the 6th century BC, the Babylonian Exile occurred when Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah, destroyed Jerusalem and the First Temple, and took many Jews captive to Babylon before Persian king Cyrus the Great allowed them to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. During the 2nd century BC, Greek persecution under Antiochus IV Epiphanes led to the Maccabean Revolt, impacting Jewish religious practices.

In the New Testament, Jesus spoke outside the temple and prophesied its destruction (Matthew 24), which came to pass in 70 AD as Jerusalem was destroyed, and about 65 years later, the people of Israel were exiled following the Bar-Kokhba rebellion.

Evidently, Israel did indeed suffer the consequences of her wrongdoing, yet was never entirely destroyed.

Ever since and throughout history, Jews have faced expulsion from numerous countries, such as Spain, Portugal, and England.

However, alongside prophecies of wrath, wars, and attempts to exterminate the Jewish people, God promised that the people of Israel would never be destroyed and would ultimately return to their land:

 For I will take you [Israel] out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.
(Ezekiel 36:24-29)

Likewise, Isaiah prophesied:

He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth. (Isaiah 11:12)

What God was doing with Israel served as a banner for the nations. This, I believe, hasn’t changed today.

Jeremiah, too, promised that Israel would never cease to exist  (Jeremiah 31:35-36). Astonishingly, the Jewish people withstood the relentless assaults of not just one but six superpowers: Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, and Nazi Germany. Not only did they survive, but they also flourished! And that, in the words of Mark Twain, the Jews did “with their hands tied behind their backs.”

Defying all odds and without any natural explanation, the Jewish people continued to exert a disproportionate influence on the world by preserving and transmitting the Word of God, as well as making significant contributions to scientific and medical advancements, literature, art, and more.

For this reason, “Why, the Jews, your Majesty – the Jews!”  was the response of the 17th-century French mathematician and theologian Blaise Pascal to King Louis XIV when the king asked him to provide evidence for the existence of God.

Over a century ago, Mark Twain endeavored to unravel the extraordinary existence of the Jews, ultimately finding himself in awe and unable to fully grasp their remarkable resilience and impact:

If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one quarter of one percent of the human race.  It suggests a nebulous puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way.  Properly, the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of.  He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine and abstruse learning are also very out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers.  He has made a marvelous fight in this world in all ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself and be excused for it.  The Egyptians, the Babylonians and the Persians rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greeks and Romans followed and made a vast noise, and they were gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, and have vanished. The Jew saw them all, survived them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmaties, of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert but aggressive mind.  All things are mortal but the Jews; all other forces pass, but he remains.  What is the secret of his immortality?[i]

Mark Twain lived and died before the Holocaust attempted to eliminate the Jewish people. Despite six million Jews dying in Holocaust, the Jews continued to shine in the last 75 years:

Jews are a famously accomplished group. They make up 0.2 percent of the world population, but 54 percent of the world chess champions, 27 percent of the Nobel physics laureates and 31 percent of the medicine laureates. Jews make up 2 percent of the U.S. population, but 21 percent of the Ivy League student bodies, 26 percent of the Kennedy Center honorees, 37 percent of the Academy Award-winning directors, 38 percent of those on a recent Business Week list of leading philanthropists, 51 percent of the Pulitzer Prize winners for nonfiction.[ii]

Perhaps even more astounding than Twain’s amazement are the words of the individual who seemingly inspired Twain’s thoughts, the 19th-century British theologian Charles Spurgeon. Before anyone could even fathom that the people of Israel would once again reside in the Land of Israel, Spurgeon wrote:

Israel has now become alienated from her own land. Her sons, though they can never forget the sacred dust of Palestine, yet die at a hopeless distance from her consecrated shores. But it shall not be so forever, for her sons shall again rejoice in her: her land shall be called Beulah, for as a young man marrieth a virgin so shall her sons marry her. “I will place you in your own land,” is God’s promise to them . . . They are to have a national prosperity which shall make them famous; nay, so glorious shall they be that Egypt, and Tyre, and Greece, and Rome, shall all forget their glory in the greater splendour of the throne of David . . . I there be anything clear and plain, the literal sense and meaning of this passage [Ezekiel 37:1-10]—a meaning not to be spirited or spiritualized away—must be evident that both the two and the ten tribes of Israel are to be restored to their own land, and that a king is to rule over them.[iii]

Spurgeon’s words must have been seen as completely disconnected from reality by his friends. After all, history teaches that people who leave their homeland typically lose their identity within three to five generations. They simply vanish. However, the people of Israel have maintained their identity for thousands of years. While nations such as Moab, Ammon, Edom, and the Philistines, who once fought against Israel, have been wiped off the map, the Jews withstood the test of time.

Based solely on the Holy Scriptures and defying all expectations or logic, Spurgeon astutely recognized that the people of Israel would eventually return to their land. No other nation in history can be compared to Israel, which, despite its modest size and the constant animosity and attempts to eradicate it, has not only endured but also reclaimed its original homeland, as prophesied in the Bible. The very existence of the Jewish people serves as a testament not only to the reality of God but also to His unwavering fidelity to His promises.

The nation of Israel has persevered through thousands of years of conquests, wars, pogroms, crusades, the Holocaust, inquisitions, and exiles. Remarkably, and against all odds, the State of Israel was re-established in the Land of Israel. On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel in the Land of Israel. Since then, Jews have returned to their homeland from all corners of the world. My family, for instance, came to Israel from Europe after surviving the Holocaust. Even after the state’s founding, Israel has faced numerous challenging wars but has remained unscathed.

Great empires and entire civilizations have either disappeared entirely or been assimilated into other cultures, leaving no trace behind. Yet, the people of Israel have persisted. We never hear about a Swede of Philistine origin, a Russian of Edomite origin, or a Yemeni of Ammonite origin. However, here in Israel, we have Jews of Ethiopian, British, Moroccan, Polish,  and many other origins. The nation of Israel continues to exist, and its identity has been preserved.

Concurrently, and founded on the same biblical assurances, the Zionist movement arose. However, much to the astonishment of many, this movement lacked a religious character. From the very first Zionist Congress, a fervent debate emerged among rabbis and ultra-Orthodox Jews who voiced concerns about aligning with the Zionist movement due to its overtly secular nature. Consequently, the people of Israel appeared to forsake the religion of Israel (that is, the orthodox rabbinic version of it) and migrated to Israel, leaving their faith behind in the old continent. This phenomenon sets the stage for a later discussion – the distinction between the people of Israel and the “religion of Israel.”

This article was taken from my book, “Why Don’t Jews Believe in Jesus.

[1] Whereby your parents are Jewish.

[2] Of all denominations. About half are Catholics.

[i] Mark Twain, September 1897 (Quoted in The National Jewish Post & Observer, June 6, 1984

[ii] https://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/12/opinion/12brooks.html

[iii] Spurgeon, “The Restoration and Conversion of the Jews,” MTP, 10:426.

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Dr. Eitan Bar
Author, Theologian, Activist