I wasn’t sure what to expect from the reporter of an alternative Jewish magazine called Heeb. (sic) The magazine claims to be offbeat, irreverent and untraditional, yet the interview turned out to be as traditional as they come. For example, the reporter asked, How can you actually believe that someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus is going to burn in Hell?” and, “Isn’t that a terribly exclusive view?”
These are common questions pointing to a common theme. One of the producers of the Larry King Live show was eager to pin me down on this issue. “Do you believe Jews need Jesus in order to be saved?” he asked.
“Yes, I do,” I replied.
“And if Larry asks you point blank if Jews don’t believe in Jesus, are they going to go to Hell, will you equivocate or back down at all?”
“No, I won’t,” I answered, “but why are you asking?”
“Larry has interviewed several well-known Christian leaders on his show and when asked that question they all went soft and backed down. We don’t want you on the show if you are going to do that,” replied the producer.
That was several years ago, but the producer’s concern still rings true. Recently, the President of Canada Christian College signed a joint editorial in the Toronto Star, accusing Jews for Jesus of trying to “lure Jews away from the faith of their ancestors.” Around the same time, a U.S. leader in the messianic congregational movement was quoted in the Jerusalem Post as saying that he does “not believe that Jews who have not accepted Jesus are doomed to Hell.” During a visit to the United States, former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey (considered an evangelical by many) was asked, “Do you feel that unless Jews convert to Christianity they cannot be saved?” “No. I would not want to say that,” Carey answered.
It seems the exclusive claims of Christ have become increasingly embarrassing if not irrelevant to some of His “spokespersons,” especially when applied to my Jewish people. Claims like, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me”(John 14:6) are ignored or explained away.
It’s ironic that many Christians seek to avoid charges of intolerance and exclusivity often made by Jewish people, because exclusive claims to truth are actually very Jewish. In fact, Jesus came to fulfill the exclusive demands and resultant worship forms found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. This is especially evident in the observance of the most exclusive day on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Beginning at sundown October 5, Jewish people around the world will fast and pray for forgiveness of sins. Synagogues will swell with beautiful prayers and liturgy. Yet these services pale in comparison to the elaborate rituals God commanded in Leviticus 16.
The focal point of this most solemn holy day was the blood shed for the atonement of sin. The entire nation of Israel gathered to watch as the High Priest sacrificed a bull and a goat. He carried the blood of these animals into the Holy of Holies, sprinkling it seven times upon the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant. The ark of the covenant was within the veil in the most holy place, a place that only the High Priest could enter, and that only on this one day of the year. The blood of the bull atoned for the sins of the priest while the blood of the goat atoned for the sins of all Israel.
Upon exiting the Holy of Holies, the priest sprinkled the blood of the bull and goat seven times on the altar. Then he laid his hands on the head of a live goat, the “scapegoat,” and confessed all the sins of the children of Israel. The scapegoat was then led away into the wilderness, presumably to die. “The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities.” (Leviticus 16:22)
This powerful imagery compels us to see the seriousness with which God treats sin—and the grace that He extends to those who repent and confess their sin faithfully and in accordance with His ordinances. But what if people didn’t like the idea of sacrificing animals, or were offended that only the High Priest was allowed in the Holy of Holies? Maybe they preferred to approach God on their own terms. Well, God did not accept people on their own terms. He pronounced that anyone who refused to observe the Day of Atonement in the exact manner prescribed, “shall be cut off from his people,” and, “that person I will destroy from among his people.” (Leviticus 23:29, 30)
Strong words and exclusive claims characterized God’s relationship with the people of Israel. After all, God the Creator and Sustainer has a right to tell people the manner in which they may approach Him. He does not negotiate the terms of forgiveness and reconciliation. Yet that is precisely how some people want to approach God today—on their terms, not His. Are we free to improvise and develop approaches to suit our preferences or sensitivities? No more so than the children of Israel could do in the past.
Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah came and stood before the great second Temple. He turned to His followers and declared, “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19) Jesus was announcing His death and resurrection, which would pay, once and for all, the penalty for the sins of the whole world.
When Jesus died on the cross, the veil that separated us from that holy place in the Temple was rent from top to bottom. Jesus became our High Priest, our sacrifice and the scapegoat, all rolled into one. His perfect life, death and resurrection established forgiveness and fellowship between God and all those who, by faith, place their hands upon Yeshua’s head and confess their sins. “Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” (Hebrews 9:12)
Jesus is God’s one and only sacrifice for forgiveness of sin. No matter how uncomfortable this truth may be, we have no right to downplay it or to minimize its impact on the minds of unbelievers.
Why do so many unbelievers ask if we think they are going to Hell? They may see it as opportunity to “expose” us as narrow-minded and intolerant. Nevertheless, it is a cutting edge question that exposes the nature of God’s provision. Our gospel is effective and meaningful because God—not we—set it forth as His exclusive plan. He—not we—determines how sinners may approach Him for forgiveness, just as He—not we—pronounces judgment or pardon.
We dare not minimize God’s exclusive means of atonement, which is by grace, through faith in the shed blood of Jesus. Jews for Jesus will continue to stand for this truth. Our branches around the world will conduct High Holy Day services pointing to the atonement found only in Christ. Please join us in praying that many will take this day to consider the exclusive claims of Jesus and receive Him as their one and only Savior and Lord.