By now the controversy surrounding the Jews for Jesus video “That Jew Died for You” has simmered down. Still the strong negative reaction by the Jewish community to the JFJ evangelistic effort remains a stain on Jewish-Christian relations.
At the release of the video prior to Holocaust Remembrance Day, a Jews for Jesus press release, explained the video seeks “to help redefine the conversation and reshape views of Jesus and His relationship to the Holocaust.”
The intentions of JFJ in the production of this video were honorable and aimed to initiate conversation among Jewish people regarding Christianity’s relationship to the murder of six million Jews under the evil Nazi regime.
David Brickner, Executive Director of JFJ offered his public commentary on the video, “The horrors of the Holocaust and the 6 million who died has gnawed at the consciousness of Jews for over 60 years. We want Jewish people to understand that the sufferings inflicted at the hands of the Nazi’s were in no way based on the teachings of Jesus (underlining mine). In fact, he suffered and died on our behalf to show us the love of God.”
Oddly, the majority of Jewish people do not think the teachings of Jesus are responsible for the horrors of the Holocaust. Rather, the Jewish community is more concerned with the antisemitic attitudes of Eastern European Christians prior to and during World War II that helped fuel the racist ideology behind the Holocaust. For example, the anti-Semitic teachings of Christian reformer Martin Luther were used to justify the hatred of Jews by European Christians who lived prior to Nazi Germany. At the same time we cannot forget a great number of Christians rejected the theological antisemitism of their day and sacrificed their lives to protect Jewish people escaping the Nazis.
In trying to figure out what to do with the Jewish people who refused to accept Jesus as Israel’s Redeemer, Luther wrote,
What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews? Since they live among us, we dare not tolerate their conduct, now that we are aware of their lying and reviling and blaspheming. If we do, we become sharers in their lies, cursing and blasphemy. Thus we cannot extinguish the unquenchable fire of divine wrath, of which the prophets speak, nor can we convert the Jews. With prayer and the fear of God we must practice a sharp mercy to see whether we might save at least a few from the glowing flames. We dare not avenge ourselves. Vengeance a thousand times worse than we could wish them already has them by the throat. I shall give you my sincere advice:
First to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of his Son and of his Christians.
The revered reformer of Christianity set the pace for actions that Nazis actually took against the Jewish people during World War II:
Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed.
Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them.
Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb.
Fifth, I advise that safeconduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews. For they have no business in the countryside, since they are not lords, officials, tradesmen, or the like. Let they stay at home.
Luther’s advice on how Christians should treat Jewish people who refuse to become followers of Jesus did not come from the teachings of Jesus, but from the antisemitic perspective of a noted Christian theologian.
Once we understand Luther’s attitudes towards the Jewish people, we can answer the question, “Why were Christians silent while six million Jews were transported to their deaths?” Answer: the Jewish people were deserving of divine punishment for their rejection of Jesus; therefore the silence of Christians towards Jewish suffering is justified.
“That Jew Died for You” would have made a greater impact on the Jewish community by exposing and denouncing the anti-Semitic theology that existed among Christians in pre-war Germany that influenced the actions taken by the Nazis.
Instead, the JFJ video produced a video that portrayed Jesus as a Jewish person living during World War II.
In “That Jew Died For You” Yeshua is shown carrying a cross up into the gates of the death camp Auschwitz. Next Jesus stands before a Nazi guard who assigns Him to be exterminated. The Nazi officer says regarding Jesus, “He’s just another Jew.” The idea in the video was powerful, but was filled with errors and createemore confusion than clarification.
Are the sufferings of Jesus comparable to the persecution of Jewish people during the Holocaust?
Implicit in the video is the idea Yeshua identified with the sufferings of Jews who died in the Shoah. Like those who suffered in the Nazi death camps, Jesus too suffered.
Despite the fact Jewish artists like French painter Marc Chagall depicted scenes of Jesus on the cross in connection with Jews suffering in the Holocaust, the chasm between the pain faced by Yeshua and that of the concentration camp victims is vast.
In fact, in a Jews for Jesus article author Rich Robinson attempts to justify the controversial video by comparing it to the artistic milieu of Chagal:
It took much courage for Chagall to deal with this theme [crucifixion] which, in the minds of so many Jews, is associated with persecution. In these canvases, we notice from the settings that Y’shua is being portrayed as an observant Jew. But more than that, the crucified Y’shua serves as a symbol of martyred Jews everywhere, and in particular those who were victims of the Holocaust. In these paintings, there is no hint of him being anything other than the symbol par excellence of Jewish suffering.
I certainly understand why JFJ would attempt to connect the suffering of the Messiah of Israel with the Jewish people who died in the Holocaust. However, the comparison between the two events, as will be shown in this article, are quite dissimilar.
Where the sufferings of Yeshua and the death of the six million are comparable
The one similarity I do observe is that the same power of the evil one [Satan] was at work to bring about both the destruction of the Messiah of Israel and the people of Israel.
Satan knew that for the Messiah of Israel to go to the cross would mean the redemption of Israel and the world as well as his demise.
As far back as Genesis 3;15, the Lord God prophesied regarding Satan that the Messiah would “crush your head” but the evil one “will strike his heel.” On the cross, we see the striking of the heel of the Messiah, but also the crushing of Satan’s head through Jesus’ conquering the power over death once held by the evil one.
Satan once again shows his hatred for God’s elect by trying to destroy the Jewish people during Nazi Germany. The existence of the Jewish people provides evidence that God is faithful to His covenant promises to the elect nation. Therefore, Satan’s empowerment of Adolph Hitler to exterminate the Jewish people was his attempt to annul God’s covenant promises to Israel.
Where the sufferings of the messiah and the victims of the Holocaust disconnect
I disagree with the JFJ writer Rich Robinson’s thesis that “the crucified Y’shua serves as a symbol of martyred Jews everywhere, and in particular those who were victims of the Holocaust.”
Jesus did not suffer on the Roman cross to serve as a symbol of “martyred Jews everywhere.” Robinson would be hard pressed to find this concept supported in the New Testament. Jesus was not a martyr, but the “lamb of God who comes o take away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).
Furthermore, the Jewish apostle Paul describes the purpose of Jesus’ death in Romans 10:9-10, ” Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”
Jesus’ death is an act of reconciling man to God due to our sins . His death was not that of a martyr who died for a political cause nor did He die like Spartacus who was crucified for his attempt to free the slaves living under Roman tyranny. Jesus never described His death in terms of dying as a martyr.
In the remainder of this article I will share my reasons why I believe comparing the death of Yeshua on a cross is dissimilar to the death of six million Jewish people murdered at the hands of the Nazis.
Jesus chose to lay down His life as an atoning sacrifice
Yeshua went voluntarily to the cross. In John 10:18 Yeshua said regarding His life, ” No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” The same is true in Isaiah 53:7 regarding the anguish of the messianic Suffering Servant:
He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
In comparison to the Jewish people who died in the Holocaust, these victims were transported by force to the extermination camps. Many young men and their fathers were ripped away from their families and shipped by trains to work at labor camps prior to their deaths. In contrast to the sufferings of Yeshua, there was no voluntarily aspect to their horrific extermination.
Jesus knew He would be resurrected in three days.
When Jesus claimed to have the authority to “take up it [His life] again,” He was speaking of His resurrection.
The Jews who died in the camps did not have hope that in three days they would rise from the dead. Yes, many Orthodox Jews who died in the Shoah held firm to the hope of the resurrection of the dead on the final day of judgement, but they did not have the “three day” window Yeshua lived with. Jewish Holocaust victims, who remained faithful to the teachings of Judaism, believed their spirits would be sent into the presence of God upon their deaths and their bodies would await resurrection in the age to come.
Regarding Yeshua, the angels told His followers who came to His tomb seeking His corpse, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.”
Between His resurrection and ascension to heaven Jesus appeared to His followers for a period of forty days. There is no hint that the Holocaust victims had any similar experience like the promised Messiah of the Jewish people.
Jesus did not die on the cross because He was Jewish.
Jews were sent to the death camps because they were Jews. Their mass transportation to Auschwitz and other camps was the result of a master plan engineered by Germany’s dictator Adolph Hitler and Nazi SS lieutenant colonel Adolph Eichmann. Eichmann only cared about how many more Jews he can exterminate in a given period of time. He killed Jewish people because he was an anti-Semite and believed Jews are subhuman.
Jesus was not sent to the cross because He was Jewish, according to the New Covenant text. None of the Romans officials like Herod or Pllate said Jesus should go to the cross because He was Jewish. Rather, Jesus was sent to the cross by a select group of religious leaders who believed He had broken Jewish law and was deserving of death. Matthew 26:62b explains:
The high priest said to him [Yeshua], “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” “You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” “He is worthy of death,” they answered.
Jesus died at the hands of several but not all the Jewish leaders in light of His claim to be the Son of God. He did not die due to any Final Solution plot to destroy the Jews masterminded by the Romans.
Jesus did not live under a regime comparable to the Third Reich
The Roman regime was not the Third Reich and quite different from the Nazi Regime. The Nazis were committed to Hitler’s master plan of exterminating the Jewish people until none were left. Rome did not have a similar program.
In contrast to the Jewish people who died during the Holocaust, Jesus was given an opportunity to be set free and not face crucifixion. Read Matthew 27:19-20, “While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.”
Here we observe a Roman official who tried to release Jesus from His suffering. Did the Nazis give Jewish people an opportunity to be released by appealing to a German crowd? We are comparing apples and oranges when we study the events of Jesus’ suffering and that of Jewish people suffering in the Shoah.
According to “That Jew Died for You” Jesus carried a cross into Auschwitz. I find it hard to believe, even with the dramatic license used by the directors of the JFJ video, the Nazi guards, who had some or much exposure to Christianity would allow a man carrying a cross, wearing first century clothing, beaten and wearing a crown of thorns into a concentration camp.
The Jews for Jesus video clip was filled with anachronisms. Yet I give JFJ great credit for their attempt to use this production to try to distance Christianity from the Holocaust and demonstrate that if Jesus was alive during World War II, He would have been treated “just like any other Jew” and sent to the camps. However, the presence of the cross – the sign of redemption not martyrdom – was a red flag that contradicted their message.
Perhaps if Jesus walked into Auschwitz without the cross, then He truly would be “just another Jew.” Since JFJ included the cross, Jesus was immediately taken out of the category of being “just another Jew.”
Yeshua is the Messiah of Israel sent to die for our sins. His demise in a death camp would be completely unlike the deaths of any other Jewish person in the camps. None of those unfortunate victims of Nazi evil died for any other reason other than the fact that they were Jews. None of them died in order to make atonement for the sins of others.
Jesus’ death was prophesied in the Jewish Scriptures
It was prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures the Messiah would die as a result of being pierced through not by dying in a gas chamber as implied by the JFJ video “That Jew Died for You.”
Dragging a cross into a gas chamber as depicted in the video never would have happened. The Nazis camp guards would have confiscated Jesus’ wooden cross, hit him with batons, and probably put him into a labor squad because of his young age. The video is inaccurate and completely out of historical context with the concentration camps and the historical means by which Yeshua died.
By dying in a gas chamber, Jesus would not be the Messiah and fulfill Jewish biblical prophecy (Psalm 22:16; Isaiah 53:5) about the means by which the Messiah is put to death: “He was pierced through for our transgressions” (Isaiah 53:5).. Therefore, the JFJ film goes against Scripture and presents Jesus as a questionable Messiah!
I am sure this was not JFJs intention since the organization has held to a conservative evangelical theology ever since their founding. The video does not reflect their theology of the cross nor does it coincide with their views of the prophetic Scriptures regarding the means by which the Messiah was to die. In the name of art and attempting to identity the sufferings of Jesus with the afflictions of Holocaust victims, the JFJ video unwittingly created a confusing image of Christ entering the gates of Auschwitz.
The intensity of Jesus’ suffering is not comparable to the Holocaust victims.
Jesus suffered at the hands of the chief priests and the Sanhedrin and the Roman soldiers for under a 24 hour period.
I do NOT want to belittle His suffering and what He underwent for us, but He only spent three agonizing hours on the cross before He died.
Jews in Nazi termination camps spent days, weeks, months and even years (if they survived) in the Nazi death camps. How can the duration of the suffering of Jesus be compared to the prolonged suffering of Holocaust victims: starvation, daily beatings, separation from loved ones, instant executions at the hands of Nazi guards, continued torture day-after-day, working in frigid temperatures in clothing unfit for such drastic weather, no medical attention, etc?
Yes, Jesus was beaten to the point beyond facial recognition, his skin ripped open on his back due to the Roman barbaric tool of flogging, had a crown of sharp thorns forced down on his head, slapped, mocked, spit upon, ridiculed, had a robe ripped off his back filled with gaping wounds and finally had nails driven into each of His hands and both His feet. His suffering was horrific. Matthew 27:26-31 reads:
But he [Pilate] had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
Yet, His suffering was different than those who suffered under Hitler.
If Jesus’ suffering was anything like those who died at Dachau, his mother would have been placed on the cross next to him along with Jesus’ sisters and brothers. Most likely, Jesus would be forced to witness his mother beaten and raped by the Nazi guards. His disciples would have had their businesses destroyed and their possessions confiscated, their homes burned and then shipped off to extermination camps. The synagogue in Nazareth where Jesus was trained would have been demolished. Any remnants of his father’s carpentry business would have been destroyed as well.
I am NOT belittling Jesus’ suffering. He died at the hands of the brutality of the Roman soldiers depicted in the film The Passion of the Christ. However, by the time the Nazis came to power these diabolical fascists had perfected the ability to induce human suffering that had far exceeded the evil treatment of humans by the Roman Empire. Let it not be forgotten the pain inflicted on a human being on a cross had been perfected by the Romans.
Jesus did not die due to the antisemitism of the Romans
The Romans were executing people who were political enemies and revolutionaries against the Roman Empire (Matthew 27:38). In Matthew 27:11 the chief priests asked Yeshua if He was the king of the Jews. They were seeking a political reason to put Jesus to death based on an accusation of treason against Rome. There is no hint in any of the Gospels that Jesus died as a revolutionary against Rome like the other two thieves who died on the crosses adjacent to Jesus.
Yes, He was ridiculed by the Roman soldiers because they believed He claimed to be the King of the Jews. They even placed a sign over His head on the cross that read, “The King of the Jews.” This was part of their mockery of Christ by the Romans, but not the reason for His death.
According to the Scriptures Yeshua died because He claimed to be the Son of God. He did not die because of antisemitism. Were the chief priests and he Sanhedrin antisemitic? Of course not. Were the Romans antisemitic? Most likely they were. However, there is no evidence in the New Testament or other historical sources that the Romans launched a plot to kill Jesus because He was Jewish as part of a larger Nazi-like scheme to exterminate the Jewish people.
The historical facts surrounding the death of the Messiah found in the New Testament do not fit the portrayal of Yeshua in the Jews for Jesus video.
Furthermore. despite Chagall’s paintings in which he attempted to connect Jesus’ sufferings with the sufferings of those who died in the death camps, his interpretations are erroneous. Chagall was not a Christian theologian and did not understand the redemptive nature of Christ’ death. Jesus died for totally different reasons than those Jewish people who were exterminated during the Holocaust.
The sufferings of the Jewish people are not comparable to the sufferings of the sinless Son of God who died on the cross for our sins.
Those Jews who died under Nazi rule were not performing an act of redemption for anyone-Jew or gentile. Their deaths serve as an example of the evil heart of humans who surrendered their souls to the impurity of their own wretched hearts. The deaths of six million Jews are a testimony to the power of a racist ideology that disregards the value of human life.
To compare the death of Christ to the deaths of Jews under Hitler diminishes the significance of the death of the Lord and the deaths of the victims of the Holocaust-Jew and gentile. Jesus was more than “just another Jew”; He is God’s only begotten Son who died for our sins.