The Jewish ‘No’ to Jesus is a ‘Yes’ to the Messianic Future

Genesis of Ann Arbor“, which hosts both Jewish and Christian Congregations

“We shall only put antisemitism behind us when we succeed theologically in making something positive out of the Jewish “no” to Jesus Christ’.” (F.-W. Marquardt, as quoted by Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ (WJC), Kindle Loc. 647)

Since Trinity and the Kingdom at least, Moltmann has been arguing that the divide between Christian and Jew is the first “schism” among the people of God, one that we should seek to overcome rather than simply accept (see previous post, “Overcoming Schismatic Thinking“). The divide between Christian and Jew centers around the question of what to do with Jesus. As Moltmann articulates at the beginning of his section on “Christology in Jewish-Christian Dialogue” in WJC: “At the centre of all Jewish-Christian dialogue is the inexorable messianic question: ‘Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ The messianic hope leads us to Jesus, but it also hinders Jews from seeing Jesus as the expected messiah who has already come.” (Kindle Loc. 546)

WJC is an exploration of a Christology of the Way: “Every human christology is a ‘christology of the way’, not yet a ‘christology of the home country’, a christology of faith, not yet a christology of sight. So christology is no more than the beginning of eschatology; and eschatology, as the Christian faith understands it, is always the consummation of christology.”  (Kindle Loc. 94)  Moltmann uses the contributions of Jewish theologians (Martin Buber, Schalon Ben-Chorin, Gershom Scholem) to explore the divide between Christian and Jew, offering a suggestion as to where there might be a convergence: Embedded in the emphatic Jewish “no” to Jesus is a “yes” to the messianic future. In other words, we could say that Jews, along with Christians, can develop a messianic theology “of the way.”

Schalon Ben-Chorin summarized the tension between Jewish and Christian thinking on this subject this way: “The concept of the redeemed soul in the midst of an unredeemed world is alien to the Jew, profoundly alien, inaccessible from the primal ground of his existence.” (Quoted by Moltmann in WJC, Kindle Loc. 563)  In Moltmann’s view, this objection doesn’t so much call Jesus and his mission into question, but rather calls “in question only what they suppose to be the Christian ‘concept’ of redemption.” (Kindle Loc. 586) It must be emphasized that “Israel’s ‘no’ is not the same as the ‘no’ of unbelievers, which is to be found everywhere. It is a special ‘no’ and must be respected as such.” (Kindle Loc. 637) We needn’t seek to overcome the Jewish “no” with our “yes.”

Below are some key selections on this topic from this section in WJC, beginning with an extended quotation from Jewish theologian Martin Buber, in which a Christian eschatologically-oriented Christology can find much to affirm!

Buber had a profound respect for Jesus, and even for Christianity; but his admission of this inability was determined by a still more profound experience: ‘We know more deeply, more truly, that world history has not been turned upside down to its very foundations – that the world is not yet redeemed. We sense its unredeemedness. The church can, or indeed must, understand this sense of ours as the awareness that we are not redeemed. But we know that that is not it. The redemption of the world is for us indivisibly one with the perfecting of creation, with the establishment of the unity which nothing more prevents, the unity which is no longer controverted, and which is realized in all the protean variety of the world. Redemption is one with the kingdom of God in its fulfillment. An anticipation of any single part of the completed redemption of the world – for example the redemption beforehand of the soul – is something we cannot grasp, although even for us in our mortal hours redeeming and redemption are heralded. But we can perceive no caesura in history. We are aware of no centre in history – only its goal, the goal of the way taken by the God who does not linger on his way.’ (Kindle Loc. 555)

The coming One is in the process of his coming and can be grasped only in that light: as on the road, and walking with us. But for that very reason every confession of Christ in the history of this unredeemed world has to be understood as a reaching out, an anticipation of the new creation in which every tongue will confess him in the glory of the Father (Phil. 2.11). Every confession of Christ leads to the way, and along the way, and is not yet in itself the goal. (Kindle Loc. 627)

The only justifiable Gentile Christian ‘mission to the Jews’ is the reminder to the Jews of their own gracious election, and its promise for humanity. This is surely what Paul means by ‘making Israel jealous’ for the faith that saves (Rom. 11.14). The faith that is meant is the faith whose ‘father’ is Abraham (Rom. 4.16), and which Paul proclaims as the justifying, saving faith in Christ. In the name of Abraham’s faith, Christians and Jews can already become one here and now; for, just like Jewish faith, Christian faith desires to be nothing other than the faith of Abraham. (Kindle Loc. 676)

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