A Response to David Klinghoffer’s “Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point In Western History”

David Klinghoffer is a observant Jewish man who happens to be a big advocate of the Intelligent Design movement. He also is the author of the book  Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History.

Just glancing at the title alone may lead a reader to conclude that the Jewish people at the time of Jesus rejected him. Let’s look at the evidence:

In the Book of Acts (Acts 2:41) we see 3000 Jewish people come to faith at Pentecost  after Peter’s Sermon (goes up to 5000 in Acts 4:4);(Acts 6:7). “The number of disciples increased rapidly and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith”; (Acts 21:20) Within twenty years the Jewish congregation said to Paul, “You see how many thousands (in Greek, it is literally “myriads” or “ten thousands” or “countless thousands”; Hence, we see at least 100,000 Jewish believers in Jesus. Now I know not every single Jewish person accepted him as the  Messiah. But then again, where does the Bible say a sign that the Messiah has come means that He accepted by every single Jewish person (including all of the religious establishment)? The prophets were rejected by their people and Jesus is the ultimate prophet who is the one like Moses spoke about (Deut 18:15-18).  I won’t offer a full blown review of the book here. But I want to mention one major issue:

Klinghoffer summarizes Israel’s messianic expectation, articulated in the prophets such as Ezekiel, in the following list: (1) gathering of Jewish exiles; (2) the reign of a messianic king; (3) a new covenant characterized by a scrupulous observance of the commandments; (4) eternal peace; (5) a new temple; and (6) the nations recognize God. Klinghoffer argues that these criteria disqualify Jesus for any messianic claim because none of them was fulfilled during Jesus’ lifetime.—David Klinghoffer, Why the Jews Rejected Jesus (New York: Doubleday, 2005), 36.

Sadly, this doesn’t represent the entire scope of messianic thought. And it always lead to the “heads, I win, tails you lose approach.”  In other words, “Jesus doesn’t fulfill any of the messianic prophecies so we have that all settled and we can move on and wait for the true Messiah to come.”

The reality is that we have the same problem Jesus had when he was here. Hence, the Jewish expectations of the kingdom what would come would be (1) visible, (2) all at once, (3) in complete fullness, (4) when God’s enemies would be defeated  and (5) the saints are separated from the ungodly, the former receiving reward and the latter punishment. But  once again, as Beale and Gladd note in their book Hidden, But Now Revealed, the kingdom  that is revealed by Jesus is (1) for the most part invisibly, so that one must have eyes to perceive it (2) in two stages (already- and- not yet), (3), growing over an extended time from one stage to the last stage, (4) God’s opponents are not defeated immediately all together, but the invisible satanic powers are first subjugated and then at the end of time, all foes will be vanquished and judged and (5) saints are not being separated from the ungodly in the beginning stage of the kingdom, but such a separation will occur on the last day, when Jesus’ followers receive their reward and the latter punishment.

Also, the other problem with the assertion by Klinghoffer is that it ignores the contingent element to messianic prophecy. In other words, the covenants that were made between God and Israel both have a conditional and unconditional element to them. Obviously, we see for Klinghoffer and Jewish people, the redemptive work of the Messiah is a one act play that isn’t broken up into different time periods.  Thus, when the Messiah comes to bring his kingdom, it is to this world that he comes and in this world that he establishes his reign. Hence, the Jewish expectations of the kingdom what would come would be (1) visible, (2) all at once, (3) in complete fullness.

But what can be forgotten is that while God made unconditional promises to Israel in both of these covenants, Israel has to do their part to obtain the fullest blessings of the covenant. Because of the conditional nature of the covenant God made with Israel through the Torah, Israel was judged and sent into exile. Thus, there is a delay in the blessings. But even Israel’s failure to obey God’s commands doesn’t negate the promise. Therefore, the prophecy of restoration follows every message about the prophecy of judgment and doom. Hence, there are several passages that speak to the issue of a restoration of Jewish people back to the land (Isa.11:10-16; Jer. 3:11-20; 12:14-17; 16:10-18; 23:1-8; 24:5-7; 30:1-3, 10-11; 31:2-14; 32:36-44; Ezek. 11:14-20; 20:33-44; 28:25-26; 34:11-16, 23-31; 36:16-36; 37:1-28; 39:21-29).

 Notice that Klinghoffer says two of the messianic qualifications are that the nations recognize God and  there will be a new covenant characterized by a scrupulous observance of the commandments. It is true that the Jewish Scriptures say that Gentiles (goyim) will be restored to God as a result of Israel’s end-time restoration and become united to them (e.g., Ps. 87:4-6; Is. 11:9-10; 14:1-2; 19:18-25; 25:6-10; 42:1-9; 49:6; 51:4-6; 60:1-16; Jer. 3:17; Zeph. 3:9-10; Zech. 2:11).

Regarding what Jesus has done, even Jewish scholar  Michael Kogan says:

Has Jesus brought redemption to Israel? No, but he has brought the means of redemption to the gentiles—and that in the name of Israel’s God—thus helping Israel to fulfill its calling to be a blessing to all peoples. A Jewish Messiah for the gentiles! Perhaps, as I have suggested, an inversion of Cyrus’s role as a gentile Messiah for the Jews. Israel is redeemed by engaging in redemptive work. Perhaps redemption is not a final state but a process, a life devoted to bringing oneself and others before God. To live a life in relationship to the Holy One and to help the world to understand itself as the Kingdom of God—which it, all unknowingly, already is—is to participate in redemption, to live a redemptive life. This has been Israel’s calling from the beginning.”–Michael S. Kogan, Opening the Covenant: A Jewish Theology of Christianity (Oxford University Press. 2007), 68.

Because of the finished work of Jesus and the nations of the world have been allowed the opportunity to participate in the New Covenant, we need to heed the words of Paul who said that in the future God will fulfill his promises to Israel. For Paul, while Gentiles are experiencing spiritual blessings during the state of Israel’s “stumbling,” this will escalate with the “full number” of national Israel’s salvation (see Rom. 11:26). Hence, while Israel that has been hardened, in the future, all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable (Romans 11:26–29, quoting Isaiah 59:20–21).

In conclusion, Jesus has fulfilled these messianic qualifications. The issue is that it isn’t a one act play. Part two will happen in the future. This post isn’t meant to be a full review of the book. But I felt compelled to respond to this issue. Grace and peace!

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