In recent years, many Christians have developed a deep concern for the Jewish people. I believe this is because God is turning his attention to the Jews in a new way.
My wife developed such a concern in 1982 and describes it in my first book: ‘As I was busy in the kitchen, a sense of grief overwhelmed me. There was an experience of weeping deep within my spirit. No tears, no words, but a heart cry to God for his estranged people, the Jews. I continued my tasks with difficulty – the burden was so great.’ (See That the World May Believe, p 34)
This profound experience influenced the whole church, as the book explains. And many other churches and prayer groups have been affected similarly. There is a new appreciation of the Jewish roots of Christianity; a new awareness that God has a great purpose for the Jewish people in the future, as Romans 11 makes clear.
A renewed consciousness of the dreadful history of anti-semitism – much of it perpetrated by the church – has led many Christians to long to fulfil God’s command: ‘Comfort my people.’
But through lack of understanding and knowledge, many Christians think Judaism simply holds to the teaching of the Old Testament. They therefore reason that since the Jews worship the same God -the God of the OT – and since their religion is the teaching of the OT, they are in a unique relationship with Christianity.
Now there is truth in that, but also danger. Christians who take this line fail to appreciate that Judaism has moved on from the OT. The very extensive oral tradition (traditional teaching passed down by word of mouth) has added much to the biblical teaching. And this tradition (now written down as the Talmud) has very great influence on the Jewish people. Judaism is, in many ways, far from the simple teaching of the OT.
So it is vital that we understand where the Jews stand before God and their need of Christ. Judaism has officially replaced the need of animal, blood sacrifices with prayer. This leads then to a total rejection of the need for a mediator – Jesus the Lamb of God.
One Jewish authority puts it like this: ‘If by straying from the right path man lapses into sin, regret and penitence will repair the ravages of his transgression and will restore the harmony between him and his Creator.’
‘But for the restoration of harmony, in Jewish teaching, man does not stand in need of a mediator .. . Man can therefore achieve his own redemption by penitence, being assured that God himself is ever-ready in his abundance of loving kindness to receive the penitent sinner and purge him of all iniquity.’
This is a total denial of the Gospel and shows the difficulty and yet the deep need of sharing the Gospel of Christ crucified and risen with our Jewish friends.
Sadly, through a combination of ignorance and sentiment, some Christians who have a great concern for the Jewish people think Jews do not need to be born again because they are already the people of God.
Some theologians (including the occasional bishop) believe the same thing. Hence the ‘Two Covenant Theory’, which states that Christians come to God through the New Covenant in Christ, but Jews come via the Old Covenant (made with Moses at Sinai).
It is also sad that Christians concerned for the Jewish people seem less ready to support sensitive, loving evangelism amongst Jews than they are to support ministries ‘comforting’ the Jews.
Reasons why we must sensitively share the Gospel with Jewish people
Here are a few reasons why we should evangelise Jewish people (although very sensitively because of the hurts caused by the church to the Jews in the past).
1. It is true that God has not finished with the Jewish people and that there clearly will be in the future a massive turning to Christ on their part and “all Israel will be saved” (Rom 11:26). But this applies to that future generation. It does not bring salvation to the present generation of Jewish people.
2. Some Christians believe that when Paul said he was turning to the Gentiles this inaugurated a new era in which Jewish evangelism was inappropriate because it was the time of the Gentiles. He said “Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: ‘We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46). But a few verses later (Acts 14:1) Paul and Barnabas “went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed.” Paul did the same in Acts 17:1-4, 10-12, 17; 18:4-5. When the Jews in Corinth rejected the gospel Paul again said “From now on I will go to the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6) but a few verses later in Ephesus he was preaching to the Jews (Acts 18:19) as did Apollos vv. 24-28. Paul also preached to the Jews in Acts 19:8 cf 21:20. Again he preached to the Jews in Acts 22 and in Acts 28:17-24. Whereas Paul did not waste his time on groups of Jews who rejected the gospel, at no time did he turn away from taking every opportunity to evangelise Jewish people. There is no support whatsoever in the New Testament for failing to evangelise Jewish people.
3. Jesus said to Nicodemus (who was, of course, Jewish): “You must be born again” (John 3:7) and we must follow Jesus’ example by conveying this message to Jewish people.
4. Jesus said to a Jewish audience: “‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Jewish people, like Gentiles, will only come to God through faith in Christ. So we should preach this gospel to them.
5. Paul writes in Rom 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.”
6. Paul is quite clear that Jewish people need to come to faith in Christ: “A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code” (Rom 2:28-29). He emphasises that “no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law” (Rom 3:20) but they need to come to faith in Christ “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Rom 3:22-24) “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” (Rom 10:12-13). In fact “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). “There is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Col 3:11). The New Testament is quite clear there is one gospel and both Jews and Gentiles need to embrace it and come to faith in Christ.
7. John is quite clear “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:11-12). So, as with Gentiles, Jewish people who do not have Jesus do not have eternal life. We therefore need to share the gospel with them in sensitive ways.
The special need of sensitivity
In view of the anti-semitism of which so-called Christian nations have been guilty through the centuries, evangelism among Jews must be done with the utmost sensitivity. But if we only ‘comfort’ the Jewish people and don’t encourage them to come to Christ, we are showing carelessness over their eternal destiny. And nothing could be more unloving than that.
© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction