As I continue a study of the question of anti-Semitism and preterism, I come now to another biblical reply to this scurrilous charge. I will consider some direct quotes from the OT and Revelation themselves.
Revelation has John speaking strong words against apostate Judaism. He clearly writes of synagogues as a “synagogue of Satan” (Rev 2:9; 3:9; cp. Jn 8:44) and Jerusalem is called “Sodom and Egypt” (Rev 11:8), and more. The preterist approach to the book finds even more evidence of strong language against Israel. In Bratcher and Hatton’s Handbook on the Revelation to John, which “concentrates on exegetical information impor-tant for translator, and . . . attempts to indicate possible solutions for translational problems related to language or culture.”1 When they get to Rev 2:9 they well note that “it is probable that these are Jews” to whom John is negatively referring. But then they write: “If translators feel that translating Jews literally will give the wrong impression to readers, it will be helpful to say ‘those who say (claim) to be God’s people, but are not.’”2 This avoids language many deem anti-Semitic.
But such strong language against Jews is no different from the way the classical prophets of the OT spoke against Israel. In the OT the prophets denounced Israel, as we see in for example in: Jeremiah 23:1ff; Ezekiel 34:10; Isaiah 56:8–11.
Isaiah denounces Israel: “Alas, sinful nation, / People weighed down with iniquity, / Offspring of evildoers, / Sons who act corruptly! / They have abandoned the Lord, / They have despised the Holy One of Israel, / They have turned away from Him” (Isa 1:4). He calls her leaders “rulers of Sodom” and her people “people of Gomorrah” (Isa 1:10). Was Isaiah anti-Semitic?
In Isaiah 10:5–6 Assyria is sent by God against a “godless nation” (Israel). In fact, he scathingly derides the temple in his day: “he who kills an ox is like one who slays a man; / He who sacrifices a lamb is like the one who breaks a dog’s neck; / He who offers a grain offering is like one who offers swine’s blood; / He who burns incense is like the one who blesses an idol. / As they have chosen their own ways, / And their soul delights in their abominations” (Isa 66:3).
Jeremiah calls Jerusalem a harlot (like John does in Revelation!): “You are a harlot with many lovers…. You have a polluted land” (Jer 3:1, 2). “I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also” (Jer 3:8).
Does not Israel’s own Scripture, the Tanak3 (our OT), warn them of God’s wrath if they turn against him (as evangelicals believe they did in rejecting Jesus and demanding his crucifixion)? Deuteronomy 28:15ff and Leviticus 26 are just two Mosaic warnings to this effect. Thus, Walker well notes that “this threat-tradition cannot be dismissed as inherently anti-Semitic. Once again Jesus was standing four-square within an accepted tradition seen throughout the canonical prophets, whereby God’s people and their institutions could be denounced in the name of Israel’s God. Indeed within the Jewish sectarianism of Jesus’ day the pronouncing of judgement upon the present regime in Jerusalem was not unusual.”4
1. Bratcher and Hatton, A Handbook on the Revelation to John, vii.
2. Bratcher and Hatton, A Handbook on the Revelation to John, 47.
3. Tanakh is an acronym based on the initial letters of the three main divisions of the OT: T (Torah, the Mosaic law), N (Neviim, the Prophets), Ketuvim (the Writings).
4. Peter W. L. Walker, Jesus and the Holy City, 274; see also 224.