Anti-Semitism—it’s hostility, prejudice, or discrimination against Jews. Ilhan Omar, from Minnesota, tweeted on against America’s support of Israel indicating that it’s all about the money, using the trigger stereotype “It’s all about Benjamins baby,” a reference to hundred-dollar bills.
The insinuations of Jewish money fueling secret conspiracies is an old and powerful prejudicial claim, but not nearly as deadly as the phrase “those Jesus killers.” And if we take the Apostle Paul’s words out of context, failing to understand his statements in the flow of the letter he was writing to the Thessalonians in AD 51, we can turn his words into some of the most virulent anti-Semitic statements ever written.
“… the ones who also killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and who persecuted us. These opponents are not pleasing to God. In fact, they are opposing all people. They are hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles, and this means they are seeking to prevent us from giving to the Gentiles the very truth that will save them. Divine justice is filled to the brim. God’s righteous anger has overtaken them in the End.” 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16
The man writing these words is a blueblood Jew. Silas, his companion is Jewish, and in the previous passage Paul had just spoken about how fellow Jews in Judea who accepted Jesus as their Messiah and Savior were being persecuted by their own people. This is AD 51, long before Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire and Christian political power and culture began to persecute the Jews as a race. This is long before angry mobs of Gentiles used the chant “Jesus killers” to stir up anger that led to the murder of thousands of Jews during the Crusades.
Paul is not racially slurring his own people or attacking them. Instead, he’s comforting the new followers of Jesus, both ethnic Jews and Gentiles. He’s telling them that the kind of jealousy Paul faced in Thessalonica that exploded into mob violence (Acts 17:5), the intense opposition he faced all over the Roman Empire seeking to keep him from sharing God’s Good News, especially with Gentiles, and the persecution that the Thessalonians themselves were facing would not be ignored by God’s justice forever. The cup of God’s righteous judgment would get filled up. Jealousy that stirs up mob violence against those who believe in His Son, the blocking of free dialogue about the Scriptures and whether or not they pointed to Jesus, the slander against those seeking to spread the Gospel, and their imprisonment would not be ignored by God. Followers of Jesus should never take up the sword against their enemies, because God promised to do the fighting for his children. He will execute a just punishment against those who harden themselves against Jesus.
LORD, thanks that Ilhan Omar did retract her statement and apologize for her anti-Semitic words. Far more than this confession, I pray that she, the Palestinian people she seeks to defend, Israelis, and individuals everywhere will understand the message Paul shared with the Thessalonians so that Jesus’ gift of grace can pour new life into their hearts.
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