This is the final installment of a three-part series based on challenges the book of Hebrews made to Jewish believers of the first century. Of all the challenges, I hope these last three will resonate with you the most, whatever your background. They are: Resist the Lure of Assimilation, Proclaim the Gospel, Proclaim the Return of Messiah.
Why don’t you just call yourself a Christian?” I can’t count the number of times I have been asked this “question,” which often sounds more like an accusation.
When it comes from unbelieving Jewish people, I take it to mean, “If you want to believe in Jesus that is your business. But calling yourself a Jew makes it my business. Just call yourself a Christian so I can go on believing that Jesus is not for Jews and therefore not for me.”
When Christians ask the question, it usually indicates a misunderstanding about our Jewish identity. Is it a matter of ethnic pride, and an effort to disassociate from the rest of the Body of Christ? Is it a desire to return to works salvation?
The easiest thing would be to “just call ourselves Christians” (identify only as Christians and forsake our Jewish identity). Many Jewish believers in Jesus have chosen to do just that. But the trend to assimilate, or to blend into the larger culture, is not unique to those Jewish believers. Many Jews who don’t believe in Jesus have chosen to walk away from their Jewish identity, making assimilation a top concern among Jewish leaders worldwide.
Nevertheless, the lure to assimilate can be even more powerful for Jewish believers in Jesus. The Jewish community insists that it is deceptive for us to call ourselves Jews, and many in the Christian community appear confused or even hurt when we maintain our identity. Caught between the two, many Jewish believers in Jesus feel uncertain about how Jewishness and Jesus go together. Assimilation beckons with the promise to end the uncertainty and the accompanying angst.
I want to challenge Jewish believers to resist that lure. We need to remember that God still has a plan for the Jewish people. “God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew” (Romans 11:2a). The first and most compelling evidence of that ongoing plan is the presence of Jewish believers in Jesus: “Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace” (Romans 11:5).
Identifying as a Jew is not a rejection of God’s grace. Rather, that remnant of Jewish believers stands as a story to God’s grace. Moreover, there is no such thing as an invisible remnant or an undetectable story. The Apostle Paul believed that his Jewish identity was evidence of God’s gracious choice. Ethnic pride or a “middle wall of partition” had nothing to do with it, nor should it for us. None of us can claim any credit for having been born Jewish—we had no choice in the matter. God made us that way and the Scriptures teach us: “Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called” (1 Corinthians 7:20).
Each individual must work out what that means and how they choose to remain a visible part of this remnant. For many, their Jewish identity will remain similar to what it was before they received Christ. That might mean a mostly cultural expression—with little felt need to express Jewishness through special observances. Other people prefer a more active approach to Jewish identity, such as Shabbat dinners, festival celebrations or participation in a Messianic fellowship or congregation. These choices are especially important when it comes to succeeding generations. However, by maintaining our Jewish identity in some form or other, we bear witness to the grace of God and His continuing purposes for the Jewish people.
Which brings me to the second point. Our calling as Jews is never more fulfilled than when we are proclaiming the good news of Messiah Jesus. My colleague Avi Snyder has pointed out that our people were created to proclaim. We were chosen to be a “light to the nations,” and that is not a passive role.
Ultimately, God fulfilled His far-reaching intention through Israel’s greater Son, the Messiah Jesus. Through His blood He purchased our salvation and the salvation of all who trust in Him. That is why Jewish believers in Jesus are never more fulfilled in our destiny than when we are fully engaged in proclaiming His Messiahship and His salvation. It is His light and His message that can give hope to a lost and dying world. Yet many Jewish believers when challenged to proclaim the gospel (especially to our fellow Jews), behave like Jonah when God called him to Nineveh—and there are many ships headed to Tarshish. What kind of giant fish will it take to turn us toward our true destiny?
It need not be a crisis—a renewed confidence in Messiah’s return can also help us on our way. And that is my final point. We need to believe and actively proclaim that the coming of the Lord draws near.
The belief that Yeshua (Jesus) could return at any moment is not wishful thinking. It is our “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13). God intends that hope to compel us to holy, unashamed and unreserved gospel proclamation. The risen Lord of glory might step through the portals of heaven at any moment! This should be at the forefront of our minds and hearts, motivating us to be a light to the nations, now and until He comes again.
James, the leader of the Messianic movement in Jerusalem, admonished the remnant of Jewish believers under his care: “You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:8). The author of Hebrews encouraged those early Jewish believers to continue in active fellowship, “…exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25). Along with this we must remember with confidence the promises of God concerning His future purpose for our “countrymen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:3).
I am persuaded that as Jewish believers bear witness to our faith among our own people, we are sowing seeds for a harvest that is yet to come. In the same way that those first century Messianic Jews set the pace for the rest of the Body of Christ, so we Jewish believers in Jesus today ought to be an example of faith and hope in the soon coming of our Lord.
We share a glorious destiny with our brothers and sisters in Christ from every tribe and tongue and nation. That destiny is most beautifully depicted in the architecture of the New Jerusalem, bearing the names of the 12 tribes of Israel on its gates and the 12 Apostles on its foundations (Revelation 21:12,14). God’s people will ultimately be joined together in Messiah for all time and eternity. What a glorious future we have. Let’s embrace that future here and now.