Ever stayed up all night long studying the Bible? Many religious Jews will be doing just that later this month as they observe Shavuot (also known as the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost). According to Jewish tradition, Moses received the Law at Mount Sinai 50 days after Passover—hence, the custom of all night Bible study at Pentecost developed.
Many Christians have asked, With so much Bible knowledge, why don’t most Jewish people recognize the Messiah Jesus?” It’s a good question and part of the answer may surprise you.
First, only approximately 10% of world Jewry is Orthodox, with the majority being secular. Most secular Jews have little more than a child’s Sunday school knowledge of the Old Testament, if that. And even the religious, who have a more thorough knowledge of the five books of Moses, have little understanding of the rest of the Old Testament. Of course, there are exceptions. But most religious Jewish people spend much more time studying rabbinic commentaries than they spend studying the Bible itself.
The people of the Book have become the people of many books, or no book as the case may be. The ancient rabbis had many interpretations and differed among themselves as to what various passages meant. The study of the Bible became a finely honed science of arguing. The desire to see every angle and argue every nook and cranny eventually overshadowed the need to accept the plain meaning of God’s Word as written.
The rabbi from Tarsus, the Apostle Paul, commented on that in Romans 10:2: “For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.” Now Paul knew firsthand how well-educated these Jewish people were— but the knowledge he was speaking of is not acquired through mere education. It comes through experiencing a relationship with God.
But I think there is something else that buttresses the lack of belief among my people. I believe that spiritual forces are at work to keep my people distracted from the truth.
Remember, God’s purpose in redeeming Israel from slavery in Egypt was that we might serve Him and be a light to the nations. God gave us the Law as confirmation that Israel was His people; He gave us the Law to make us a holy community, set apart from the nations, to be a light to them.
God has an adversary who tries to thwart anything having to do with redemption. He hates God’s love of the human race and has contempt for God’s mercy and grace, not to mention His choice of the small and weak to accomplish His plans. The devil is always ready to encourage the worst aspects of human nature, tempting us to mistrust God and choose a path that leads to destruction.
So, succumbing to our own sin, and perhaps also being misled by the evil one, my people took what was intended to help us love and serve God, and made it to be a bewildering maze of regulations that led us away from the true knowledge of Him. And the history of my people has been one long object lesson in what results from that missing relationship.
Imagine how Satan has reveled in Israel’s failures. How God’s adversary must have loved it when we broke the Law—and he was probably even more delighted when we elevated the letter of the Law above the spirit.
But God had a plan in place all along, knowing that Israel would break His covenant. He promised a better covenant. Jesus announced at a Passover celebration that He was ushering in that new covenant— with His own blood. And when He had risen from the grave to prove the effectiveness of that new covenant, He instructed His disciples to wait in Jerusalem. There they would receive the “promise of the Father,” which was the Holy Spirit that would enable them to be witnesses “in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:4-8).
Pentecost was God’s confirmation that He had redeemed a people for Himself. His Holy Spirit filled those first-century Jewish believers, propelled them out into the world and empowered them to do what God intended for Jews to do— bring people into God’s kingdom.
Perhaps God did indeed give the Law at the first Pentecost as Jewish tradition claims, yet it is only through the second Pentecost and the power of God’s Holy Spirit, that my Jewish people can match zeal with knowledge and finally come to the truth about Jesus. And today we must still rely on God’s Spirit, not clever arguments or strategies, to effectively win people for Jesus.
Now the devil does not want anyone to be for Jesus, but he especially does not want Jews to be for Jesus. How he hates it when we rediscover the purpose of our Jewishness in Jesus. Because the devil knows God’s plans, he knows that sooner or later, the Jews are going to wake up and realize that together we have a mission. Ultimately, God will have His way and the Jewish people will fulfill God’s original plan for them to shine His light, His Messiah, throughout the world.
Until then, God’s adversary will fight us in any arena possible. In the arena of public opinion, he helps foster the “politically correct” notion that it is offensive to witness to Jews.
In the church, he promotes the argument that you can get more for your missions dollars by witnessing to people who are more open to the gospel.
And in the community of Jewish believers, he uses our pride and argumentative natures to foster distrust, disdain, discouragement and above all, disunity. The devil desperately needs our disunity because when we finally get together—as those Jewish believers got together at Pentecost—there will be a real evangelism explosion.
Satan hates Jews for Jesus, not because we are so big or so powerful or so effective…but because our very name is a reminder of his two worst enemies: Jesus, the Son of God who broke the power of sin…and the Jewish people, small, weak, not deserving of any special favor, yet used by Go°d in amazing ways. God has decided, for whatever reasons, to use Jewish people to win the world in this cosmic battle. We are a constant reminder of God’s mercy and grace, not to mention His power and ability to carry out His plans—despite Satan’s best attempts to destroy those plans by destroying the Jewish people.
Pentecost was not a fluke. It’s the seal of God’s own Spirit. It’s the new covenant whereby Jews and Gentiles can worship God together. It rocked the world then, and the power of Pentecost can still rock the world today. You can’t argue with that kind of power.
Pray for us as we continue laboring to win Jewish people, one by one. Pray that by God’s mercy and grace we walk worthy of our name. Pray that all of us will be ready vessels for God’s Holy Spirit. Pray for unity among Jewish believers in Jesus and for an end to bitterness and strife between various groups. Pray for the power of the gospel to be unleashed, not through one organization or a particular ministry, but through God’s indefatigable plan, in which the Jewish people still have a part to play.