A note from David Brickner: What do Israelis think about Jesus?
2008 Opinion Poll on What Israelis Think About Jesus
This month marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the modern state of Israel. It’s no coincidence that we’ve chosen this time for our first Behold Your God Israel Campaign. In preparation for the campaign, we polled people as to their current opinions concerning Jesus. This first-of-its kind survey was conducted by a well known Israeli polling firm, 21st Century Marketing. The 981 completed surveys provided a good sampling of modern Israeli attitudes and revealed startling information that we want you to see.
Do Israelis know the Hebrew name of Jesus?
The twenty questions asked included: “What is the name of the Christian Messiah?” Only 8% of the respondents knew that Yeshua is the Hebrew name of Jesus. The survey showed that most believe that the Hebrew pronunciation of Jesus is Yeshu. The two may sound alike, however Yeshu is not a real name; in fact, it is a corruption of the name Yeshua. Certain medieval rabbis who saw Jesus as a deceiver, even a sorcerer, refused to use His real name. They knocked off a letter and formed a Hebrew acronym for the remaining letters: Yimmach Shemo Ve-zikro, which means, “May his name and memory be blotted out.” This “curse” was partially realized, as “Yeshu” became the name by which Jesus is known in Israel, even to this day.
The public opinion poll also showed that only 2% of Israelis realize that “Yeshu” is actually a curse, a nickname of shame and disgrace for Jesus. The truth is, most don’t care about the meaning of the name Yeshu, or the person Yeshua. But that is because they know so little about him. 35% knew Jesus only as “a Jew who started a new religion.” When asked what his central message was, 42% either said they didn’t know or didn’t want to answer; only 1% said “salvation.” 62% knew that he is reputed to have performed miracles, but only 5% of the Israelis polled had ever heard that Jesus rose from the dead. 54% had never heard of Jews for Jesus. (For the rest of the questions and complete survey results click here)
The answers to these and other questions show just how little Israelis know about Jesus—but there’s more. The marketing company hired to conduct the poll told us that they are normally able to complete six surveys per hour, but the response rate for this survey was only two completed surveys per hour! When the subject matter of this poll became clear to people, two thirds of those approached refused to participate. The president of the company acknowledged that this fact skews the results. Because it was so difficult to find people who were willing to engage in a poll on the subject of Jesus, those who did answer were much more likely to have a more tolerant or positive attitude than the average Israeli.
The prophet Hosea said,
“Hear the word of the Lord, you children of Israel, for the Lord brings a charge against the inhabitants of the land: ‘There is no truth or mercy or knowledge of God in the land … My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. . .’ (Hosea 4:1, 6).
What does the lack of knowledge mean?
That lack of knowledge about Jesus in modern Israeli society has staggering implications for anyone who might think that Israelis are familiar with the message of Jesus. The lack of knowledge demonstrates the tremendous need for gospel proclamation in the land today, a task that is admittedly difficult to do. Anti-missionaries and others, especially from the Orthodox community oppose such efforts fiercely.
Nevertheless, right now we are in the midst of our first full-fledged evangelism campaign in Israel. With the launch of Behold Your God Israel, Jews for Jesus staff and volunteers are out on the streets of Tel Aviv and surrounding suburbs, handing out gospel tracts and talking with interested Israelis about Jesus.
So far we have handed out more than 65,000 gospel tracts and completed more than 5,000 phone calls. More than 800 Israelis have agreed to give us their contact information to hear more about Jesus. So far seven Israelis have prayed with us to receive Yeshua as their Messiah. Hallelujah!
We are also utilizing the secular media to get out the gospel. With help from a Finnish ministry known as IRR-TV (International Russian Radio-TV), we have placed banner headlines on electronic billboards and transit buses that read, “Yeshu=Yeshua=Yeshuah.” That last word is the Hebrew term for salvation. The bus ads and billboards provide a website and phone number for people to contact. Israelis are definitely calling that phone number! So far we have received hundreds of phone calls each day, both from hostile folks, as well as from interested inquirers.
We are also placing full-page gospel ads in four different Israeli newspapers. This might well be the first time full-page gospel statements have been seen in Israeli newspapers. (Click here for an English translation.) Back in the 1980s, Jews for Jesus began placing gospel ads in U.S. papers. Those ads declared, “The Messiah Has Come and His Name is Yeshua!” and offered seekers a book by Moishe Rosen entitled, “Yeshua, the Jewish Way to Say Jesus.”
The book, published by Moody Publishing, focused on the Messianic prophecies from the Hebrew Scriptures and their fulfillment in the New Testament. We are offering a Hebrew translation of that same book to those who respond to our secular media campaign in Israel.
The number of contacts campaigners receive daily from Israelis willing to hear more about Yeshua is phenomenal. These are very exciting days but we so desperately need your prayers right now for the many challenges our campaigners face.
Please also remember that this current campaign is the first in a series of campaigns we have scheduled over the next six years. Along with your prayers I also want to encourage your support and even your participation in future campaigns. To donate for future campaigns click here, and if you are interested in volunteering click here.
Next month, we will be printing up a final report on this first campaign in for those who wish to receive it. If you would like a copy of that report in the mail, click here.
Editor’s note: If you’ve not yet signed up to receive regular BYG prayer updates you can do so here.
You can also click here for stories and photos from the campaign thus far.
This content was adapted from an earlier Jews for Jesus article.
Executive Director, Missionary
David Brickner is executive director of Jews for Jesus. David oversees the world-wide ministry from its headquarters in San Francisco. David received his Master’s degree in Missiology with a concentration in Jewish Evangelism and Judaic Studies from the Fuller School of World Mission. He has authored several books, and has been interviewed on national television shows such as Larry King Live. David’s daughter, Ilana is a recent graduate of Biola. His son, Isaac is on the missionary staff of Jews for Jesus. Isaac and his wife, Shaina, have one daughter, Nora, which makes David part of the grandparent club, a membership he is very proud of. See more here.