Armed with a clipboard, a few Bibles and a handful of gospel tracts, I headed for a busy street in a Tel Aviv shopping district, ready to stop people with a simple question: Are you waiting for the Messiah? I conducted this unofficial survey” on a Friday afternoon. That’s when streets are bustling with people scurrying to do their last minute shopping before the shops close and public transportation ceases for the approaching Sabbath.
I chose Shenkin Street, an especially liberal and trendy area because I wanted to interact with young secular Israelis—people who might have untraditional views concerning the Messiah. I’d been looking for a creative way to engage such people in an evangelistic dialogue. Regardless of what the individual’s response would be, I was prepared to interact with them concerning the Messiah Yeshua.
My technique was not particularly scientific; I simply approached people whom I sensed might stop and answer my questions. Within two hours I had met 42 such people. All but five were secular.
Religious Jews in Israel are firmly rooted in Jewish traditions and teachings of the rabbis. Opinions vary on particular points of Jewish law and tradition, but there is a consensus on basic issues. Secular Israelis have a humanistic outlook. Their main concerns are self-preservation and freedom of expression. Few seriously consider personal faith in the God of the Bible. As you can imagine, there are sharp dividing lines between secular and religious Jews.
Of the thirty-seven non-religious people who stopped to answer me, not one was waiting for the Messiah. One after another, each denied any such hope. My follow-up question to these people was: What are you waiting for? What is the hope for Israel’s future?
Many said that the hope for the future was a matter of trusting in yourself to make things better. They were not exactly cynical, but they had difficulty giving a serious answer.
A young woman named Ophrah said that her hope for the future was getting a good job as an actress. Her response, while “tongue in cheek,” reflected her opinion that hope for the future was purely individual and would be determined by her achievements.
A man named Shlomo kept joking about the question and finally concluded that his hope was in winning the lottery.
A teenager named Tal was more idealistic. He felt that Israel’s hope was in the peace process. Yet when I questioned him further, he had no real basis to believe that a peace process would succeed. A few others expressed hope for peace in the Land but not one person expressed hope in the current political process.
Yoav was confident that the only hope for people is whatever lives they can make for themselves. Unlike many others, he did not even want to receive any literature—for him there was nothing to learn or consider.
The overwhelming sentiment expressed by the ultra-hip Shenkin street crowd that particular day was that hope for the future somehow “lies within.” Most talked about beng the best person you can be, or being “true to yourself.”
The few religious people I stopped answered quite differently. They said that they were definitely waiting for the Messiah and they said it without doubt or hesitation. Yet it was difficult to discern if these people really believed what they professed. The hope of a coming Messiah remains a basic tenet of the Jewish religion, and for a truly Orthodox Jew to deny that hope would be somewhat heretical.
My follow-up question to the religious people was, “How will you know the Messiah when he comes?” Most quoted rabbinic passages (commentary) or cited a Bible verse. Their expectations of the Messiah were carefully constructed to exclude one person. All agreed that it could not be that teacher from Nazareth who lived two thousands years ago. Yet they were the only ones who answered yes, they were waiting for the Messiah.
Whether people cling to the concept of the traditional Messiah or lose themselves in a morass of modernism, a day is coming when the question of the Messiah will be answered. The words of the prophet Zechariah point to a dark day in Jewish history, a time when it appears all hope has fled the embattled, besieged nation and at the last moment the nation turns to the Hope of Israel.
I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they have pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and they shall grieve for Him as one grieves for a first-born.
Jesus is coming again, whether or not the people of Israel expect or look for Him to come. Pray with me that many will turn to look for Him now, to repent now, and to know now the hope that only Yeshua brings.
A postscript: We did not have a witnessing campaign in Israel this summer, but Efraim has been following up many Israeli contacts met through our New York, Paris and Moscow Campaigns.