The question has challenged both the Jewish and the Christian communities since the first century. Our answer determines much in the way we approach relationships and priorities. The fact that we ask this question, means that there are some who may answer this question with a ‘no’, or at least a partial ‘no’. Since our lives are passionately invested in the primary question of the Jewish need for Yeshua, it is important to answer it clearly and biblically.
The view that Jews do not need Yeshua, or at least not so much, can be described in three categories:
The Idea that Jesus is not for Jewish People
Some teaching says that the covenant made by Yeshua is for the Gentiles and not intended for the Jewish people. This view holds that God has two covenants – one for Jews through Abraham and Moses and one for Gentiles though Jesus – and that it is not God’s intention for Jews to believe in Yeshua. This view was put forth by the Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenweig in The Star of Redemption. It is today held by some denominational liberal Christians. Jewish people are to find their salvation though Judaism, not Jesus. Very few Christian Zionists and no Messianic Jews to my knowledge hold to this position because they value the authority of Scripture. The witness of the New Testament is overwhelmingly against this view. Paul writes that the Gospel is “To the Jew first.” The original disciples were Jewish. All sought to convince as many Jews as possible to believe in Yeshua. So there must by this evidence be at least some need for Jews to believe in Yeshua.
The Idea that Jews Need to Eventually Believe in Jesus but Not Now
Secondly are those who believe that Jews need to eventually believe in Jesus, but this eventuality is after his return. Until then, the one New Covenant that all will embrace, is primarily being offered to Gentiles. In this Age, Judaism is an adequate religion and way of salvation for the Jewish people. When Romans says, “God has blinded their minds,” it means that it is not their fault that they do not yet believe in Yeshua, but is rather the will of God. Ultimately all the saved will acknowledge that the atonement of Yeshua was the means of their salvation. Again, this position is belied by the example of Paul and the other apostles who were zealous to bring Jewish people to the knowledge of God. While a significant number of Christian Zionists have adopted this position, I know of no Messianic Jews who believe this, for it would contradict their own identity.
The Idea that Believing in Jesus is not Needed Now for Personal Salvation, but is Important for a Minority of Jews for God’s Last Days Purposes.
Thirdly are those who believe that it is important for a minority of Jews to believe in Yeshua as part of God’s end time plan, but not for personal salvation. While Jews may find an adequate means of salvation through Judaism, it is nevertheless true that Yeshua is the Jewish Messiah and the Savior for all. To believe in Yeshua offers a fuller and richer faith. Beyond this, the Bible predicts that a large remnant will believe before Yeshua comes and will play a great role in the ultimate conversion of the nation to faith in Yeshua. However, Judaism without Yeshua is a very good faith and Jewish people may find personal salvation through it. This view is held by a significant minority of Christian Zionists and a small but significant minority of Messianic Jews. This is a far better view than the first two. It recognizes that the New Covenant in Yeshua is made with the house of Israel and Judah and is indeed offered for both Jew and Gentile. It is also true that the end time remnant of Jewish believers has a crucial role before the return of Yeshua in witness to Israel and to the nations of the world. Revelation chapter 7 makes this very clear, for we read of the 144,000 sealed from all the tribes of Israel who play a great world role. They are distinguished from the rest of the Church because the latter are described as those from all nations, peoples and tongues. In the ultimate fulfillment of His return, all will understand that His blood purchased our redemption.
The Conviction that Jewish People Desperately Need Yeshua
This is the position of the vast majority of Messianic Jews, and many Christian Zionists. They believe that Jews need Yeshua desperately, and for several reasons. I count myself in this number. We agree with the third view that our destiny is tied to a large minority of Jews believing before the return of Yeshua. A significant minority of Jews need to believe in Yeshua for Israel to fulfill its last days’ destiny. This is a strong motivation. Yet there is more. How do most Messianic Jews deal with the assumption that normative Judaism is the sole faith of the Jewish people? To Judaism we say both yes and no.
Rabbinic Judaism is a faith with roots in the Bible and a heritage that preserves much which is good and beautiful. However, there are some aspects of Rabbinic Judaism which appeal to intellectual pride and can elevate religious culture above the need for God-initiated salvation. These pitfalls exist in any religion. Yet we can become enamoured of a Yeshua-less Judaism in a way that weakens the conviction that Jewish people need the Messiah. The conclusion of the great apostle Paul with regard to first century Judaism and the condition of the Jewish people fits orthodox Jews today. It is that most have not come to understand the way of salvation by grace. While we must not presume to judge the destiny of any individual, the general conclusion of Romans is clear. Many practicing Jews have sought to establish their own self-righteousness and have not submitted to the righteousness of God. (Romans 10:1 ff.) Romans 3 includes Jewish people within the category of people who are in need of faith in Yeshua for personal salvation. Peter’s preaching in Acts, where thousands embraced Yeshua, shows the same urgency. While there is an element of grace to be found in Judaism, without a blood sacrifice for his sins, the Orthodox Jew becomes focused on his own actions instead of the divinely – granted atonement first presented in Torah. This “way back to God” was never cancelled or superceded and was ultimately fulfilled by Yeshua’s sacrifice on a Roman cross (Hebrews 9:11-15).
Furthermore, the condition of the Jewish people today is much worse than in the first century. This includes both those in Israel and the Diaspora. Most Jewish people do not believe in the divine authority of the Hebrew Scriptures. Many question whether or not God exists. A majority of the nation which gave the world the Torah, do not really believe in the Torah. Many Jewish people have associated Judaism with liberalism. Therefore many support socialism, homosexual rights, sexual license (rampant in Israel), New Age Religion and much more. Indeed, Jewish morality among the majority today is not very different than liberal secular morality. Sin is not recognized as a significant problem.
In this vacuum of unbelief, the Messianic Jew and his Christian friend have a great opportunity. The Gospel itself is God’s clear and powerful instrument in offering the grace of God for salvation. It dispels the fog and presents our people with a resurrected Messiah and Savior. It breaks the bondage of secular liberalism and orthodox legalism. Indeed, without the Gospel, the general conclusion, rightly drawn, is that the Jewish people are lost. Yes, we are preserved as a chosen nation for God’s purposes, but individually and communally we need Yeshua. Most Jewish people have no sense of real fellowship with their Creator, the One who called them His inheritance. So the eternal destiny of the nation and the Jewish individual makes it a necessity for us to proclaim the Good News. Indeed, it is “the power of God unto salvation to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). Of course salvation is much more than personal eternal life. It is the wholeness of our lives now, including joyful and redemptive participation in community. This is why the first priority of Tikkun is seeing Jewish people come to faith in Yeshua, and as part of this to be discipled to walk in His ways. To be involved in this historic awakening is the privilege of a lifetime.
This article originally appeared on Tikkun International, January 27, 2019, and reposted with permission.