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When we remember that Jesus only ever said what His Father told Him to say, we shouldn’t be surprised to find Him making a lot of nasty cracks about Israel during His brief time on earth. God has been insulting Israel ever since she first met Him as a nation back in Exodus and all of His insults were well deserved. Though she was chosen out from all the other nations in the world to be invited to come close to Yahweh, Israel never mustered up one ounce of sincere appreciation. Oh, sure, she would sing His praises for a few minutes whenever He saved her from the brutal clutches of those who hated her, but as soon as the crisis was over, she always returned to fawning over her stupid idols. How should we expect the Almighty God to react to His chosen people bowing down to some block of wood that they just finished carving and propping up on a shelf? We should expect Him to be outraged, and that is what He was. Both in the Old Testament and in the Gospels, we find God making all sorts of derogatory comments about what stubborn idiots His people are and how impossible they have been to work with.
What about modern day Israel—what about all the biological descendants of those ancient Israelites? Are we seeing any improvement? Not hardly. There isn’t a nation on this planet that reveres God today. Israel should be the exception to this rule, but she’s so not. Yet despite her inexcusable treatment of Yahweh and her blatant rejection of Jesus, she still claims rights to God’s special favors. After all, she’s His “chosen nation”, therefore she ought to be able to spit in His face and still have Him bless her. Doesn’t work that way. All those who cling to Judaism today and reject Jesus as their Messiah are still trying to operate under God’s Old Covenant—the one in which He promised to curse, punish, cut off and destroy His chosen nation if she refused to obey Him. Funny how we Christians only ever talk about the happy half of God’s original covenant with Israel. We are just as bad as she is when it comes to ignoring the complete contract He drew up with her which she swore allegiance to over and over again in the Bible.
Perhaps it is because we Christians have been so poorly taught about God’s view of Israel that we have become blind to all of the raging God does towards her in the Bible. In the Gospels, Jesus blatantly looks for opportunities to rip on His people and point out that He has always gotten further with foreigners than He’s ever gotten with her. In this post, we’ll look at two great examples of Jesus going out of His way to insult Israel. In both cases, His shocking comments were unprovoked and completely voluntary. There’s no question that He was looking for opportunities to vocalize His disgust with Israel’s attitude—a pattern we find over and over again in books like Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah. Israel hasn’t changed, and neither has God.
Our first example is found in Luke 4. In verse 14, we read that Jesus returns to His hometown after traveling around the countryside doing miracles. At this point, news about His special powers has spread far and wide. When Jesus walks into a synagogue one Sabbath day and picks up the scroll to read, everyone is eager to listen. Someone hands Him the scroll of Isaiah. How convenient, since that’s exactly what He’s in the mood to read. (Let’s remember that there are no coincidences in God’s universe.) Unrolling the scroll, Jesus comes to a well-known Messianic prophecy in Isaiah, He reads it, and then He says “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk. 4:21). In other words: “I’m the Messiah.”
You can hear a pin drop. No one protests, which should strike us as a bit odd since the Jews were constantly erupting whenever Jesus claimed to be the Messiah. We have to remember that this is early on and these people have all heard rumors that Jesus was recently doing miracles in a place called Capernaum. We also need to remember that this is Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. The people in this particular audience are not strangers, but those who have been watching Him grow up for the last thirty years. Their response to Him gushingly positive.
All spoke well of Him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from His lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s Son?” they asked. (Lk. 4:22)
It sounds to us like everyone’s being pretty friendly, but Jesus’ reaction is shockingly hostile. Instead of smiling or saying something complimentary about their faith, He snaps:
“Surely you will quote this proverb to Me: ‘Physician, heal Yourself!’ And you will tell Me, ‘Do here in Your hometown what we have heard that You did in Capernaum.’” (Lk. 4:23)
These people are only being sugary with their words because they’re hoping to get some miraculous favors out of Jesus. God has always been disgusted by such blatant hypocrisy. Jesus lets these people know that He knows exactly what they’re really thinking. Then He goes on to massively insult them:
“Truly I tell you,” He continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.” (Lk. 4:24-27)
Elijah and Elisha were two of Israel’s biggest heroes. Everyone would have been very familiar with the portions of Scripture that Jesus was referring to here. Up until now, these accounts would have just made Elijah and Elisha sound like awesome prophets. But now Jesus is interpreting these events to be not just examples of God doing great things through His anointed servants, but also of God’s intentional rejection of Israel. Why wasn’t Elijah sent to help a Jewish widow during the brutal years of famine? Why wasn’t Elisha ever sent to heal a Jewish leper? Certainly at the time these two men lived, Israel had plenty of people in need. Jesus is saying, “Don’t miss the point, guys: Yahweh rejected you on purpose and intentionally sent His prophets to bless foreigners instead.” The reason? Because Israel rejected Yahweh, therefore she consistently rejected those He spoke through. Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah—all of God’s Jewish prophets were treated terribly by their own people while foreigners proved to be far more receptive to their messages. Jesus is saying, “It’s because you guys are such pills that Yahweh withheld blessings from you in the past, and that’s why I’m going to withhold blessings from you today. You’ve heard how I did great things for strangers, and you think now I’m going to do great things for you because I grew up with you. You’d better think again.”
This is enormously insulting language. Jesus just slapped them across their smiling faces right there in the synagogue. The Jews are outraged by His slanderous talk about Israel. They don’t like His interpretation of Scripture one bit.
All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove Him out of the town, and took Him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw Him off the cliff. (Lk. 4:28-29)
Unrepentant people are quick to resort to violence when their sins are brought out into the open. Jesus saw right through the buttering up job these people were giving Him and called them out to be the carnal twerps that they were. Now they’ve got Him pinned against a cliff and figure they’ll back Him right over the edge. Where is all of their admiration now? Where is all of their sweet talk? There’s no denying the records of Elijah and Elisha—Yahweh did indeed send these prophets out of their way to help non-Israelites instead of His own chosen people. It’s Israel’s own fault that God snubbed her both then and now. She could have fixed it back in Elijah’s time with some sincere repentance, just like this murderous mob could get back on Jesus’ good side by repenting of their irreverence. But they’re not about to stoop to that. It’s more satisfying to kill Him.
The next sentence is shocking and mysterious: “But He walked right through the crowd and went on His way” (Lk. 4:30). How on earth did Jesus manage to get through a mob like this? No one was about to get out of His way. This is nothing short of a miracle. Clearly Jesus did something to block these people from following through with their evil plans. Maybe He disappeared for a second. Maybe He temporarily paralyzed them so that they couldn’t move. We don’t know exactly what happened, we just know that this was a supernatural rescue that leaves Jesus free to continue on His way to Capernaum to do more miracles for the people who have better attitudes.
We often hear from the pulpit about how Jesus insulted the religious teachers of His day. But as this first example shows, He also insulted the entire nation of Israel. From God’s perspective, there’s so much to complain about when it comes to His chosen people. Certainly there were some good exceptions—like King David, Moses, and some of Jesus’ disciples—but when it comes to the nation as a whole, God has never been pleased.
The healing of a centurion’s paralyzed servant is one of the more well-known stories about Jesus that some of us have heard many times. Yet rarely do we appreciate the insult Jesus pays to Israel in this account. The centurion is not a Jew—he would have been a Roman soldier working for the empire that was currently oppressing Israel. The Jews hated the Romans intensely and their Messiah was supposed to be driving Rome out of their lives, as far as they were concerned. Instead, after a brief conversation with the centurion, Jesus announces:
“Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 8:10-12)
In a matter of seconds, Jesus has said that the entire nation of Israel is pathetically lacking in faith and that a bunch of Jews are going to end up in Hell. WOW. Plus He has just elevated a hated Roman centurion above all Jews everywhere. To say that NO ONE in Israel has the faith of this foreign soldier—what an insult! And then to list off some of Israel’s greatest heroes—Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and say that a bunch of non-Jews will be feasting with them in eternity? What an upsetting picture! Every Jew listening would have been scandalized by this talk. The fathers of Israel should obviously be surrounded by other Jews at that heavenly feast, not by a bunch of outsiders. The Jews are the chosen ones—they are the rightful heirs to Heaven; they are the subjects of God’s kingdom. Well, yes, they were. But since they can’t be bothered to revere God properly, Jesus says that plenty of them are going to be cast out of His Presence for eternity. To top it all off, He says all of these terrible things about Israel while the Roman soldier is standing there. No doubt the centurion saw the expressions on the Jews around him and figured out that Jesus was saying something very shocking, but as a Roman, he wouldn’t have appreciated just how vicious Jesus was being. After He’s done ripping Israel’s inheritance away from her and handing it to jerks like this Roman soldier, Jesus tells the centurion that He would indeed heal the man’s paralyzed servant.
What are we to make of this? Does God still love the Jews? Of course He does. He loves all people and wishes they would all come to Him. But let’s not get carried off into unbiblical conclusions just because it’s become some kind of fad to support Israel. As Christians, our first loyalty is to Christ, His Father, and the Holy Spirit. Any nation which spits in our God’s face—which every nation down here does—should not be getting our devotion. And Israel, with her impossibly stubborn rejection of God despite thousands of years of special revelations, is ten times as guilty as anyone else. God is clear that He expects more from those whom He has given more illumination to. How can Israelites today study the Old Testament (which is basically one long record of Israel’s bad attitude) and then expect God to be smiling on them? How can we Christians blindly defend a nation that rejects Christ? What are we saying to God when we side with His enemies? Jesus was clear that whoever was not for Him was against Him. There is no neutral position. It’s the same with us Christians: to ask God to bless, protect and help those who defy His Authority is totally irreverent.
Happily, not every Jew today is as stubborn as their ancestors. Today there are many who have received the Spirit’s illumination and submitted to Jesus as their Lord and Savior. These people are in a great position: they have the rich heritage of God’s special revelations to Israel as well as the freedom that the New Covenant brings. Someday they will join David, Job, Moses, Elijah, and Isaiah in Heaven, along with every other Jew who did choose the path of obedience. But as always, the faithful remnant is only a small part of the total population. Most Jews and non-Jews will die rejecting Christ—either pretending that there is no God, or thinking they can get into Heaven on their own terms. Meanwhile, we who claim to care about God’s heart need to read our Bibles more closely and stop pretending that Jesus was a soft-spoken, polite, unoffending Personality who never talked about anything but love and grace. Jesus was and is just like His Father. They call things like They see them and They don’t mince words or spare feelings when They are dealing with stiff-necked rebellion. They hate sin and irreverence and They aren’t about to spend eternity with any human being who refuses to submit to Them.
Believers in Judaism today who are trying to pretend the Old Covenant is still in effect will not be disappointed. Yahweh will indeed do exactly as He said He would if His chosen people disobey His commands: He will cut them off and cast them out of His Presence forever. Submitting to Jesus is one of His commands.
“There is a judge for the one who rejects Me and does not accept My words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day. For I did not speak on My own, but the Father who sent Me commanded Me to say all that I have spoken. I know that His command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told Me to say.” (John 12:48-50)