The Primitive Church and Jewish Militarism

5/3/13, by Clement Pulaski

Christian Zionists, who believe that it is a Christian duty to support the current Israeli state, often argue that we must return to the primitive Church that existed in the years immediately following Christ's earthly ministry. This primitive Church, they claim, existed in a Jewish culture and was free of the "anti-semitism" that later crept into the gentile Church. These Zionists fail to understand the history of the early Church and the Jews, and arrive at conclusions completely at odds with the truth. Indeed, the first Christians were ethnic Jews: both fleshly sons of Abraham and members of Christ's mystical body; but even these Christians who were Jewish by blood and lived in the Holy Land did not support the militarism of the Christ-denying Jews. In the years following the foundation of the Church, the Jews who rejected Jesus sought to achieve political independence and establish a Jewish state by military means; however, the Christian Jews living among them refused to support these military efforts.

In the first century AD the Jews were ruled by the Roman empire. A series of unsuccessful Jewish revolts from 66-135 AD led to the destruction of the Temple and ultimately to the expulsion of the Jews from the Holy Land. The Church at Jerusalem, composed of Christian Jews, lived through these tribulations, and their experience is most instructive to the Christians of today about how to view Jewish militarism.

We look first at the destruction of the Temple, which occurred during the first major Jewish revolt. Up until fairly recently, it was universally held by Christians that the destruction of the temple was God's punishment of the Jews for rejecting the Messiah and was also the fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy about the Temple (Matthew 24, Mark 13). Jesus, in speaking of the Temple, tells his disciples that "There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down" (Matthew 24:2), and that in those days there "shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be" (Matthew 24:21). When these things came to pass, the Jews living at Jerusalem suffered horribly, but the Christian Jews were spared. According to Eusebius, the most important historian of the early Church, the Christian Jews were miraculously saved from the sack of Jerusalem that resulted in such death and suffering for the Jews. Eusebius relates how the destruction of the city occurred only after its Christian inhabitants had left:

the people of the church in Jerusalem had been commanded by a revelation, vouchsafed to approved men there before the war, to leave the city and to dwell in a certain town of Perea called Pella. And when those that believed in Christ had come there from Jerusalem, then, as if the royal city of the Jews and the whole land of Judea were entirely destitute of holy men, the judgment of God at length overtook those who had committed such outrages against Christ and his apostles, and totally destroyed that generation of impious men.

These Christian Jews did not "stand with Israel", but followed God who led them away from the carnal and godless Jews and their military efforts.

The primitive Church was consistent in its opposition to Jewish militarism, and we see this again when we turn to the final Jewish revolt (132-135 AD), which was led by the false Messiah Bar Kokhba. The hard-hearted Jews who rejected the spiritual kingdom of our Lord eagerly followed this worldly, brutish military leader, mistakenly thinking him to be the Christ. These beliefs were obviously rejected by the Christian Jews who already knew the true Messiah, and the Bar Kokhba's rise to prominence intensified the conflict between Christians and Jews. According to Justin Martyr, a Christian author who was alive during these events, the Christian Jews suffered greatly during the revolt:

in the Jewish war which lately raged, Bar Kokhba, the leader of the revolt of the Jews, gave orders that Christians alone should be led to cruel punishments, unless they would deny Jesus Christ and utter blasphemy.

The rebellious Jews did not see their Christian kinsmen as allies, nor even as a neutral party, but as enemies, and they used their military power to persecute the Church.

For the sake of those modern Christians who, against all reason, prefer to trust Jews over ancient Christians, we turn to the account of the revolt given in the Jewish Encyclopedia. While the Encyclopedia entry denies that Bar Kokhba killed or tortured Christian Jews, it does admit that there was conflict between the two groups during the revolt, and says that the cause of the conflict "seems to have been that the Christians refused to unite with the Jews in the struggle."  Whether or not one accepts that Christians were persecuted for their beliefs, it is evident that the Christian Jews did not aid the Jews in their revolt against the Romans, and did so on theological grounds. The Jews carrying out this revolt thought that they were acting in accordance with Old Testament prophecy. Because they rejected Jesus, they still were still looking for the Messiah, and thought that they had found him in Bar Kokhba. Today's Zionists act from the very same motivation. Although they have not identified their Messiah, the Jews do justify their military activity by appealing to Biblical prophecy, ignorant of the fact that only through the grace of Christ can anyone accurately understand the Old Testament. When Christians support Zionist Jews, they support the Bar Kokhbas of our day, and dishonor the memory of those Christian Jews who resisted the error of the antichrist Jews during the early years of the Church.

Christian Jews rejected Jewish militarism and Jewish efforts to establish an earthly kingdom as the fulfillment of prophecy. This rejection proved to be a decisive moment in the history of the Church. After the failed Bar Kokhba revolt, the Romans banished the Jews from the Holy Land. The pagan Romans apparently made no distinction between the Christian and non-Christian Jews, and both groups were barred from entering Jerusalem. After being expelled from their native land, there was no longer anything to bind together those Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah and those who did not. Because they no longer shared any common territory or institutions, there was no reason for Christian and non-Christian Jews to maintain a community or common identity. The antichrist Jews, trusting in their carnal hope and rejecting the Kingdom of Heaven, had their temple and their land taken away from them by God's will. The Christian Jews, who throughout their tribulations always looked to the Kingdom of Heaven, never confused the earthly military objectives of the godless Jews with their true home and salvation. Not supporting the military objectives of Christ-denying Jews was a defining feature of the Jewish Christian community, and if modern Christians truly wish to return to the primitive Church, they should follow their example.

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