"Jesus is not for Jews"

A few years ago a Jewish youth magazine conducted a poll on the most “significant and influential Jew of history”. Not surprisingly, Moses won convincingly and, among the characters of the Hebrew Scriptures, Abraham finished third and King David seventh.
The three great Jews who have formed modern life, Marx, Freud and Einstein came from fourth to sixth. Bob Dylan, Mel Brooks and Woody Allen completed the top ten – perhaps proving either that contemporary characters do better than they deserve or that there is a considerable American influence on Jewish youth culture! There was hardly a rabbi to be seen in the top ten, and Israeli generals and Zionist leaders like Sharon, Dayan, Hertzl and Ben Gurion outpolled religious leaders like Maimonides and the Baal Shem Tov!

But who else was in this Jewish top of the pops? If you have been reading carefully, you will have realised that I missed out who came second in the poll: “And the runner-up to Moses is ... Jesus of Nazareth!” Jesus of Nazareth … our Jesus, the Christian Christ, surely not! Well actually, surely so.

And some other Jewish people in the poll said good things about Jesus. For example, Einstein said, “I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene. Jesus is too colossal for the pen of phrasemongers, however artful”. He further added, “No man can read the gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life … Theseus and other heroes of his type lack the authentic vitality of Jesus”.

Martin Buber, the great 20th century Jewish philosopher stated, “I am more than ever certain that a great place belongs to him in Israel’s history of faith and that this place cannot be described by any usual categories”. Well, what category would you use? Israeli scholar Pinchas Lapide conceded, “This Jesus was as faithful to the law as I am and would hope to be. But I suspect that Jesus was more faithful to the law than I am – and I am an Orthodox Jew”. And David Flusser, professor of religious history at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem stated, “I do not think that many Jews would object if the Messiah – when he came – was the Jew Jesus”.

So, if Jesus is the second most influential and significant Jew in history and would thus make a good Messiah, why are Jewish believers such a minority in Jewish society? It is largely due to universal human sinfulness and specifically to spiritual blindness. To put it in context, the overwhelming majority of Jews don’t believe the gospel. Well, guess what, neither do the vast majority of Gentiles! Evangelism is always – barring revivals – reaching out to the many to win the few; most people are in rebellion against God most of the time.

We are hindered in Jewish evangelism by two further factors. Firstly, the disastrous and prevalent existence of Christian anti-Semitism has understandably made Jews despise and distrust the church, the fall-out of which has been the exclusion of Jesus from most of Jewish life. After all, it’s not normal to be attracted to those who hate you, and the historical church has moved the Jews to anger far more often than to jealousy! Secondly, even though Jewish people tend to be inquisitive and independent, and to think for themselves, even secular Jews have a tendency to let the rabbis do their religious thinking for them – and the rabbis have always stated that Jesus is simply not for Jews.

But if Jesus is the second most influential and significant Jew in history, surely he must be for Jews! If he is an historical Jewish figure, surely he is at least as relevant for Jews as he is for Gentiles. Otherwise it is like saying that Winston Churchill – who another poll stated was the second greatest Englishman ever – was for Italians but not for the English.

When witnessing to Jewish friends, I challenge them to read one of the Gospels in order to develop an informed opinion about Jesus – whom I believe was the most significant and influential Jew in history – and to ask the God of Israel to reveal to them what he thinks of “this great Jew”. Then we can share about Jesus together.

This article first appeared in the March 2006 edition of the Herald

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