“Why do you insist on calling yourselves Jews for Jesus? Why not just call yourselves Christians?” I can’t count how many times my kinsmen who don’t see Jesus as a Jewish possibility have asked this question. But I also hear the question from Christians. Perhaps you have even wondered about it yourself. After all, we’re all one in Christ. Doesn’t the Bible teach that there is “neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female?” Why all the fuss?
Some may see the importance we place on our Jewish identity as overweening pride in our ethnicity, an attitude of superiority that has no place in the body of Christ. I believe it is appropriate for various people groups to value their heritage and family background, and that such appreciation really does not amount to feelings of superiority. But I would add, this is not the basis for “the fuss.” I actually believe our insistence on our Jewish identity is rooted and grounded in the plan of God for all people. I really want you to think with me about the theological and missiological importance of this controversial issue.
God staked His very reputation on the continuation of the Jewish people.
When God called Abraham into a covenant relationship, He promised that His covenant would be eternal – and He clearly stated that Abraham and his descendants would be the means by which all the families of the earth would be blessed. God accomplished this by giving both the Scriptures, and the Word made flesh – our Messiah Jesus – through the Jewish people. But He gave something else through the Jewish people – hope. Our continued existence in the face of repeated attempts by those who would destroy us is incontrovertible evidence of God’s faithfulness. If God is faithful to preserve the Jewish people, then all people can trust His unbroken promise-keeping power. God staked His very reputation on the continuation of the Jewish people.
But though the Jewish people have brought blessing to the world, the majority of Abraham’s descendants have not yet received for themselves the fulfillment of God’s greatest blessing – Jesus. This was a vexing problem for the early church. The Apostle Paul took three whole chapters in his letter to the church in Rome to explain how this unbelief was part of God’s continuing plan and promise of blessing for all. Paul expressed love for his Jewish people, passion to see them saved, and spelled out the reasons for their specialness:
For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen” (Romans 9: 3-5)
Paul identified himself and all other Jews who believed in Jesus as “a remnant” (Romans 11:5). A remnant is a small, remaining amount. If you can’t see it, it isn’t a remnant. In Paul’s day, this visible, tangible body of Jews for Jesus was evidence of God’s faithfulness to bring Jewish people to salvation through Christ – as it still is today. This remnant of Jews who believe in Jesus continues to confirm God’s plan to bring salvation to the nation of Israel and the entire world. That is one good reason for “all the fuss.”
Just imagine if there were no Jews who believe in Jesus today? What would that say about whether God’s plans, purposes and promises are still good and true – not just for Jews, but also for the blessing of the entire world? But God has preserved the remnant of Jews who believe in Jesus to this day. God has not forgotten we are Jews, and neither should we. We are part of His worldwide missions strategy.
You see, if God intends to bless all people through the Jewish people, and if the ultimate state of blessedness for Jews and everyone else comes through faith in Jesus Christ, then it must be part of God’s plan to keep bringing the gospel to the Jewish people until the day of their salvation. That is why Paul persisted in his passion for their salvation, even though he was an apostle to the Gentiles. Paul was convinced that great blessing lay in seeing his own people come to Christ, and he argued intensely that this was also the mission of the entire church. No matter how many other interests and strategies Paul had, the salvation of the Jewish people remained a priority. And if the church believes what Paul penned back then, Jewish evangelism is still a very important part of the mission of the entire church now.
That is where Jews for Jesus comes in. Direct Jewish evangelism is our number one priority. We also do our best to keep this priority as a vital and vibrant part of the mission of the church. But we are all up against a big problem. The main argument against Jesus in the Jewish community today is that Jews who believe in Jesus can no longer be considered Jews. Therefore, if all Jews believed in Jesus there would no longer be any Jewish people – kind of like a spiritual holocaust. Of course this is false; in fact it is a lie from the pit of hell. And, as with many lies, those who believe it are caught up in circular reasoning: if a Jew believes in Jesus they are told they can’t be considered a Jew any longer; therefore, believing in Jesus threatens Jewish existence. This creates a false and self-perpetuating dichotomy that is still accepted and promulgated to this day.
Back in the early days of Jews for Jesus, that belief seemed to be universally held within the Jewish community: you can’t be Jewish and believe in Jesus. By the grace of God we have challenged and chipped away at this falsehood by being visible, vulnerable and available to demonstrate that Jews can be for Jesus. In a recent Pew survey of Jewish practice in America, 34% of those surveyed said a person can be Jewish even if he or she believes Jesus was the Messiah.[ 1 ] That is an encouraging change over these 40 years. Yet it indicates that 66% still believe the lie.
Why do we have to call ourselves Jews? Because it is literally part of our calling to demonstrate that one can be Jewish and believe in Jesus. If you have the occasion to share Jesus with a friend and they tell you, “That’s nice for you, but I’m Jewish and Jews don’t believe in Jesus,’ I hope you will feel comfortable pointing them to Jews for Jesus as evidence to the contrary. Why not let us help you present that evidence to them? Ask us to be in touch with your Jewish friends. After all, we exist to make the Messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people worldwide. We and other Jesus-believing Jews are proof positive that God’s plans are still in place for Jews and for the entire world. Now that is a fuss worth making, don’t you think?