Jews' Role in Christ's First and Second Coming

Roy Schoeman on Salvation History

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BOSTON, Massachusetts, NOV. 10, 2003 (Zenit.org).- A Catholic convert from Judaism believes that the Jews are not only our "elder brothers" in the faith, but that their prayers and actions prepared the way for Jesus Christ and the salvation of mankind.



Roy Schoeman, who grew up in a Conservative Jewish home and studied extensively with rabbis, realized the full significance of Judaism as revealed in Catholic doctrine after he converted. Since then, the former faculty member of Harvard Business School has studied at several seminaries and has recently written "Salvation is from the Jews" (Ignatius).

Schoeman shared with ZENIT why Judaism and Christianity can only be fully understood in relation to each other, and how the role of the Jews did not necessarily end with the first coming of Christ.

Q: What inspired you to write this book?

Schoeman: It seems obvious to me, as a Jew who has entered the Catholic Church, that the Church is nothing else but "post Messianic" Judaism -- that is, the continuation of Judaism after the coming of the Jewish Messiah, now opened up to all peoples.

Before my conversion I was proud of being a Jew, having a sense of the importance and privilege of being Jewish, of being one of the "chosen people" -- chosen to receive God's genuine revelation in the Old Testament and to prepare the world for the coming of the Messiah. But that very sense of privilege and pride in being Jewish exploded a hundredfold when, as a Catholic, I realized the full significance of Judaism as revealed in Catholic doctrine.

For instance, Catholic doctrine teaches that the Jews, in praying for and preparing the way for the Messiah, actually brought about the incarnation of God as man; that the ultimate creature whom God ever created or will create, the absolute perfection of human nature, was a Jew -- the Blessed Virgin Mary; and that even God himself, when he became man, became a Jew and a faithful follower of the Jewish religion.

We also know that the fullness of God's written revelation to the Jews in the Old Testament has been confirmed and adopted in its entirety by Christianity worldwide and the salvation of all of mankind came about through the Jews -- Jesus himself said in John 4:22 that "salvation is from the Jews," hence, the title of the book -- and the Jews in fact succeeded in their God-given task of bringing that salvation.

Also Christian Scripture also suggests, for instance in Romans 11, that the unique importance of the Jews in the economy of salvation will last through all of this world's existence, until the Second Coming.

Yet I did not find these topics being actively discussed and explored in the Church today, although there have been periods -- such as in the late 19th century -- when they were. I felt that Jews were being deprived of an opportunity to see the full glory and nobility and importance of their own identity and religion, and that Catholics were being given an extremely limited and watered-down view of what Judaism really means.

All of this is in the context that our Lord and our Blessed Mother are Jewish. Surely they deserve better than that.

Q: Is it intended mainly for Christians or Jews, or both?

Schoeman: My book was quite consciously written for a dual audience of both Catholics and Jews, although I realize that the majority of readers will probably be Catholic.

To Jews, it reveals the full majesty and importance of being Jewish, how sympathetic a view of Jews and Judaism is given in Catholic doctrine, and that being Catholic does not mean no longer being a Jew.

To Catholics, it teaches not only about Judaism, about the Jewish Scriptures and about the origins of the Catholic faith and Church, but also a great deal about the structure of salvation history itself and how God works through history and peoples to affect his plans.

Q: What is the role of Judaism in salvation history? In the destiny of the world?

Schoeman: Looking backward, the role of Judaism is pretty easy to discern. At the very least, the Jews were chosen to receive the revelation of God contained in the Old Testament; to expect, pray for and prepare the world for the coming of the Messiah; to receive him when he came; to be the first generation of disciples and apostles; and to spread his Gospel throughout the world.

Despite the popular misconception that the Jews failed in their mission, they in fact succeeded -- Christianity itself is proof of that success. It is true that only a minority of the Jews followed Jesus, but doesn't God generally work with humanity through just such "faithful remnants"? It seems that time and time again God relies on the fidelity of the few, not of the many.

Looking forward from the present in salvation history, one naturally enters into a more speculative area. At the time of the Church Fathers, many reasonably concluded that the role of the Jews was fulfilled and exhausted with the first coming of Christ, except perhaps for the minor role of being inadvertent witnesses to the truth of the Gospels.

But we have the past 2,000 years of history as additional evidence -- the survival of the Jews against all odds and almost constant persecution; their disproportionate prominence in world affairs; the mysterious character of anti-Semitism itself; the re-establishment of a Jewish national homeland against all odds; and the mysterious tragedy of the Holocaust.

Looking at all of these facts of history, and combining them with the admittedly cryptic and somewhat mysterious suggestions in sacred Scripture, one can paint a picture in which the Jews, as a people, have a major role in bringing about the Second Coming, as well. I've tried to flesh out this picture, always in a responsible way and always in full conformity to Church doctrine.

Q: How are Jews involved in the Second Coming?

Schoeman: I have been careful in my book to avoid speculating irresponsibly, but there is the danger, in trying to provide a very concise answer to your question here, of appearing to do so.

Let me just say that we know from St. Paul that there will be Jews until the time of the Second Coming and that the widespread conversion of the Jews at that time will somehow be related to the Second Coming. From the Gospels we know that the Jews had a considerable role in bringing about the First Coming, including a role involving suffering and sacrifice, as typified in the "slaughter of the innocents," as recounted in Matthew 2:16-18.

We know that the Holocaust happened and that it was unique in world history -- if not in the number of deaths or the extent of the suffering, then in the extent to which it was an expression of a pure racial and religious hatred against a single people and a people uniquely related to Christ, by blood, at that.

And we know that a number of Old Testament prophecies, which many understand to refer to the end times or the Second Coming, require the existence of a powerful Jewish nation-state with its capital in Jerusalem -- a nation-state which only recently came back into existence after a hiatus of almost 2,000 years.

Q: What are common misunderstandings Christians have about Jews, and vice versa?

Schoeman: Many such misunderstandings occur on the level of simple fallen human nature. The misunderstandings that particularly interest me, however, are the theological ones.

These include the mistaken beliefs, on the part of Christians, that the Jews failed in their task at the time of Christ and that the meaningfulness of Jewish identity ended with Christ.

Jews, on the other hand, often mistakenly believe that Christianity teaches contempt for Jews -- despite the fact that "their" God himself was one -- and that when a Jew recognizes Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, he or she ceases to be a Jew.

Q: What can be done to repair the relationship and clear up misunderstandings between Jews and Christians? How have the Second Vatican Council and the papacy of John Paul II aided in this process?

Schoeman: In the long run, any such repair must be based on mutual respect and truth, without a papering over of differences and without infidelity to one's own beliefs. I hope that my book, in presenting to both Jews and Christians an extremely positive view of Judaism, yet one set entirely within the context of Catholic doctrine, has the potential to help in some small way.

Our Holy Father, of course, has helped enormously, in the many gestures of love and respect that he has shown the Jewish community, and in his many statements expressing respect and reverence for the Jewish religion and people, even referring to them as "elder brothers" in the faith.

The beginning of the current epoch of extremely positive Church teaching with respect to Jews and Judaism began, of course, with the Second Vatican Council and its teachings in "Nostra Aetate" and "Lumen Gentium."