"Jewish People"Probably more Jews believe in Jesus today than at any time since the days of the apostles and most of them gained their first interest in Jesus through the witness of ordinary Christians. You do not have to be an "expert" to tell a Jew, or anyone else, about Jesus. A consistent Christian life is in itself a powerful testimony, but it helps to know something about the people to whom you are witnessing.
Jewish people are the same as everyone else
Jewish people experience the common hopes and fears, joys and sorrows, aspirations and failures of all people, sometimes with greater intensity. One Jewish humorist has observed, "Jews are the same as everybody else – only more so!" Most important of all, they are the same spiritually – sinners in need of a Saviour.
Jewish people are different from everyone else
Many Jewish people retain a distinctive cultural tradition. Certain beliefs, practices, opinions, attitudes and figures of speech have often become second nature to them – most notably that Jews do not believe in Jesus – even though most Jewish people, like Tevye, do not know why. Three major influences have contributed to this.
The influence of God
The Jews were called by God to be a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:6), his witnesses to the nations (Isaiah 43:10), a light to the Gentiles (Isaiah 49:6) and a blessing to the whole world (Genesis 12:3; 22:18). God is so involved with the history of Israel that the idea of deity is hard to erase from their consciousness, even though many Jews are avowedly agnostic or atheistic.
The influence of Judaism
For most of the period since the destruction of the temple and the dispersion of the Jews in AD 70, rabbinic tradition has been the means of keeping them distinct from the nations among whom they have lived. This sense of being the possessors of the Torah of God has often generated a moral sensitivity and a concern for the needs of others.
The influence of Persecution
Since the time of Pharaoh, persecution has been an appalling feature of Jewish history. This has strengthened their sense of solidarity as well as making Jewish people acutely sensitive to criticism from outside the community. The fact that professing Christians have at times inspired and co-operated in the persecution of Jews through the Crusades, the Inquisition, expulsions and pogroms, has reinforced the conviction that Jesus is not for the Jews.
Some differences between Judaism and Christianity
Not all Jewish people are religious, nor do all religious Jews believe exactly the same things but there are certain assumptions that prevail in the Jewish community. Before witnessing to Jewish people it is helpful to know a little about the differences between Judaism and Christianity.
Judaism is often referred to as "the religion of the Book" but, as Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner points out in Jews and Christians: the Myth of a Common Tradition, "Christianity is the religion of the Bible ... Judaism is the religion of ... the Talmud". Judaism has added to the Scripture a body of tradition which is accorded equal authority with the Word of God. Christianity alone accepts the Bible as the final authority in matters of faith and practice.
In common with every man-made religion, Judaism relies on self-effort. According to the rabbis, if one's good deeds outnumber one's evil deeds, one is inscribed in the Book of Life. Some orthodox Jews, however, teach that every Jew has "a place in the world to come."
If Jewish people know anything about the Messiah it is that he will bring about a reign of universal peace when nations will beat their weapons of war into agricultural implements (Isaiah 2:4) and wolves will lie down with lambs (Isaiah 11:6-9). But, like the Jews of the first century, they know nothing of a Messiah who must suffer and rise from the dead (Acts 17:1-3; Luke 24:25-27, 44-47; Matthew 16:21-23; Mark 8:31-33; Luke 18:31-34).
Our ApproachWitnessing to Jewish people is a great privilege but we have to approach the task sensitively.
Our God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, our Scriptures (both Testaments) are the Jewish Scriptures, our Messiah is the Jewish Messiah and the spiritual blessings we enjoy were promised to them (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27 cf. Ephesians 2:11-22).
We must point out that Jesus is the fulfilment of all that their prophets foretold: Christianity is Jewish.
The Main Point
It is not enough to persuade a Jewish person to assent to the truth that Jesus is the Messiah. Jewish people need to see first of all that they fail to keep God's Law. It is not sufficient for them to do their best; God requires absolute and unswerving obedience to his law (Deuteronomy 27:26 28:1,58,59). Jewish people tend to think that God will overlook their failures or forgive them on the basis of their mitzvot (good deeds) and that so long as they sincerely repent of sin they have forgiveness. We must show that God requires the shedding of blood for the forgiveness of sin (Leviticus 17:11; cf. 16:15-17,27,30).
Never fall into the trap of stereotyping Jewish thinking or beliefs. A good way of starting any discussion is to ask leading questions about what your Jewish friends or acquaintances believe: Do they attend synagogue? What happens at Passover? Why don't they eat lamb at Passover? Why don't they offer sacrifices today? How do they find forgiveness since the destruction of the temple? Do they believe in the coming of Messiah? How will they recognise him when he comes?
An abundance of literature is available for helping Christians to witness to members of cults and other religions but for many years little has been produced to help Christians witness to Jews. Paul Morris, a missionary with Christian Witness to Israel, has written Telling Jews About Jesus in which he shares the lessons he has learned over many years. To order copy visit our online shop.
The Resources section of the website will give you more information, including several articles on Jewish Perspectives.
The Jewish people are those of whom God says: "You only have I known of all the families of the earth" (Amos 3:2). To them belong the Scriptures, the divine covenants and the Messiah (Romans 9:3-5; 3:1-2; cf. Ephesians 2:11-12).