Note: There is some overlap with this post and our other post called A Very Challenging Task: Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus.
Should Christians try to share the message of the Jesus the Messiah with their Jewish neighbors? This has always been a thorny topic. Anyone who has studied Church history knows that our relationship with the Jewish people hasn’t always worked out for the best. One comment is helpful here: As Philip Yancey says,
“Is it possible to read the Gospels without blinders on? Jews read with suspicion, preparing to be scandalized. Christians read through the refracted lenses of church history. Both groups, I believe would do well to pause and reflect on Matthew’s first words, “a record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham.” The son of David speaks of Jesus’ messianic line, which Jews should not ignore; a title without significance for him.” Notes C.H. Dodd,”The son of Abraham speaks of Jesus’ Jewish line, which Christians dare not ignore either.” (1)
But despite the past and present issues of anti-Semitism and bad theology, I am saddened to see many Christians being duped into what is called Dual Covenant Theology. I do think it is abundantly clear that if Christians decided that Jewish people don’t need Jesus, they would have to ignore many passages in the Bible itself.
Christians need to remember that the purpose of Israel was not to be a blessing to herself. Therefore, through her witness, the world will either be attracted or repelled towards the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The entire promise to Abraham in Gen 12:3 exhibit’s God’s plan to bless the nations. It should be no surprise that in Matthew’s opening chapter, he says, “The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham “(Matt. 1:1). The Messiah is not only of Davidic descent, but will bring fulfillment to the Abrahamic Covenant. Also, Matthew emphasizes Jesus’ mission to help Israel fulfill it’s calling (Matt. 10:5-6;15:24), as well as Jesus’ command to bring the nations into God’s redemptive plan (Matt 28:19).
In relation to Jesus’ messiahship, while a remnant believed in Him, what is more significant is that Christianity is now the home of 1.4 billion adherents. Sure, large numbers don’t make a faith true. But another traditional view is that the Messiah will spread the knowledge of the God of Israel to the surrounding nations (Isa.11:9;40:5;52:8). Are there any other messianic candidates that have enabled the world to come to the knowledge of the one true God other than Jesus? As a Gentile Christian, I and others have benefited from the Abrahamic Covenant.
We see in the Book of Acts that the apostles preached that everyone needs to believe explicitly in Jesus, both Jews and Gentiles. Even Peter said to God-fearing Cornelius, that it is “through His name every one who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins” (10:43). Paul also made an appeal to the Jewish audience at Pisidian Antioch to believe in Jesus because it is “through Jesus [that] the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified” (13:38–39, NIV).
Also, Christians need to follow Paul’s example in that he showed he had a tremendous burden for the Jewish people (Rom. 9:1-5;10:1), and calls upon the Church to provoke Israel to jealousy (Rom. 11:11). For Paul, the resurrection was God’s stamp of approval on Jesus as the promised Messiah of Israel (Rom. 1:3-4). Paul also understood that since the Gentiles have received the blessing of knowing the Messiah, they now have the responsibility to take the message of salvation back to Israel. Therefore, Christians of all denominational backgrounds should show interest in sharing the Good News of the Messiah with the Jewish people.
Speaking from experience, allow me to offer a few suggestions in speaking with Jewish people:
1. The Messiah issue
Don’t assume Jewish people believe in a personal Messiah. Many of them have never thought about it. Furthermore, if there is a Messiah, he is not divine. For the most part all Jewish people know that Jesus is not for them. Also, never assume that Jewish people have studied all the so- called “prophecies” in the Hebrew Bible. One of the traditional objections is that Jesus is not the Messiah since he did not fulfill the job description. One of the Jewish expectations is that the Messiah will enable the Jewish people to dwell securely in the land of Israel (Is.11:11-12; 43:5-6; Jer.23: 5-8; Mic.5:4-6), and usher in a period of worldwide peace.
The Messiah is supposed to put an end to all oppression, suffering and disease (Is.2:1-22; 25:8; 65:25; Mic.4:1-4) and create a pathway for universal worship to the God of Israel (Zeph.3:9; Zech.9:16 ;14:9). Hence, since these messianic qualifications have not come to pass, the Jewish community objects to the claim that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. Even though there are answers to these objections, and here, the best thing to do is to ask any Jewish person what they think about these issues. Do they believe in a personal Messiah? Is he supposed to be divine? So questioning evangelism is the best route to take.
It would also be silly to assume all Jewish people believe in God. Even if they do believe in God, don’t assume they believe in the God of Israel. Many Jewish people that I encounter are agnostic or even atheistic. While there certainly are some religious Jewish people (Orthodox), there are a fair amount of Jewish people who are Pantheists, etc. So the best thing to do is ask them if they personally believe in God. And if they do, what God is it?
3. The Afterlife
It is also important to remember that many Jewish people don’t believe in the afterlife. Most of the Jewish people I grew up with find it to be irrelevant. It is true that there are still Orthodox Jewish people who hold to a resurrection of the dead. But overall, many Jewish people don’t think in terms of “getting saved.” There are even some who hold to reincarnation. Heaven and hell are not big ticket items to them. Also, many Jewish people believe in what is called Tikkun olam which means “repairing the world.” This is why they are very engaged in issues that involve social justice, etc.
What is the lesson here? Know your audience! The best thing to do with any Jewish person is to build relationships of trust. Never assume anything. Always follow the example of our Lord by asking questions. And always remember that all Jewish people come to faith just like anyone else. They must be open to the truth and God’s Spirit must open their eyes (2 Cor.4:4-6).
1 Yancey, P. The Jesus I Never Knew. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1995, 55).