Being Jewish and Knowing Jesus

By Daniel Juster

As a young philosophy student, I wanted to believe the Bible, but my academic training left me very skeptical. “Supernatural revelation?” I wasn’t sure, but I found one evidence for the Bible’s veracity hard to ignore: God’s faithfulness to the people of Israel. Scriptures promised that the Jewish people would never cease to exist as a nation. Even as he promised their dispersion throughout the earth, a curse and a punishment, God promised Moses: “Yet for all that, I will not forget my covenant so as to destroy them utterly … that they will never cease to be a people before God” (Leviticus 26:44).

Still, this was not sufficient for faith. I continued to search in intense anxiety as I wrestled with the meaning of life.

Yet despite this, God’s hand was on my life. I entered seminary and there found that archaeological evidence of biblical events, the fulfillment of prophecy, and evidence for the resurrection of Jesus were excellent. My faith became solid and sure – both spiritually and intellectually.

I left seminary with a deep desire to build a community of faith to counter the modern meaninglessness and alienation I saw in so many of my generation. Still, an abiding sense of God’s faithfulness to the Jewish people stayed with me. I entered the Presbyterian ministry, and, to my surprise, received my first call to the pastorate from a Presbyterian congregation comprised primarily of Jewish people.

This amazing happenstance opened up a floodgate of questions: What is God’s purpose for the Jewish people? Do they have a distinct future? Should Jewish believers in Jesus continue to live a Jewish life? Did God spend 2,000 years developing a cultural background for understanding the gospel only to completely do away with it? What dimensions of that culture, if any, have continuing validity? After two years of intensive study, I came to some firm conclusions.

Eschatology (the doctrine of “last things”) has never been easy for the Church. Often it leads to division and bickering. Yet my studies of the Jewish role in the last days led me to conclusions which I believe are relevant to the whole Church and not divisive. I share them because they’re what led me to intensive involvement in the Messianic Jewish movement.

I find in Scripture a promise that the Jewish people at the end of this world’s present age will turn overwhelmingly to Yeshua (Jesus’ Hebrew name), accepting him as their Messiah, their Savior. This promise comes not because the Jewish people are in some way superior, but because of God’s love and the covenant that he made with their forefathers (Romans 11:29). God’s covenant with Abraham, and Abraham’s response, not only blessed the great patriarch – it is spilled over into his descendants as well. While God promises to punish the wickedness of men three and four generations down the line, he also promises to bless a righteous man to one thousand generations (Deuteronomy 7:9).

As miraculous as Israel’s continued existence is, her election does not imply automatic salvation. Jews, like everyone else, need to repent and believe in Yeshua. The gospel, said Paul, “is the power of God for everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Romans 1:16).

Yet still there’s something unique about the Jewish people. Later in Romans, Paul says that, “As far as the gospel is concerned they are enemies on your account, but as far as election is concerned, they (Israel) are loved on account of the patriarches, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable” (Romans 11:28,29). What is that gift and that call? It is a call to demonstrate God’s faithfulness to the world by keeping Israel as a people and a nation despite humiliation, persecution, faithlessness, and wanderings throughout the earth. Whether scattered in unbelief or regathered, Israel’s preservation demonstrates God’s existence and his covenant faithfulness.

Even more than a demonstration, Jewish acceptance of the gospel brings enrichment to the entire Church. As Paul shows in Romans 11: “Because of (Israel’s) transgression (i.e., rejection of the gospel), salvation has come to the gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fulness bring!” In a sense, the Jewish people are parents of the Church. Jewish Christians led by Jewish apostles brought the gospel to the world. Israel’s salvation as a people would be like a child’s joy as he sees his parents come to follow the Lord. Not only did Yeshua come into the world through Jewish parents, but the Jewish people also left a cultural heritage rich in symbolism that 4,000 years has prophetically prepared the world for God’s Messiah – something Greco-Roman culture hardly offers.

Israel’s hardening is only in part and only for a time – “until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved” Romans 11:25,26).

What then is the future of the Jewish people? Despite many unscriptural views of a continued separation of the Church and Israel, Paul’s view of the future includes the ingrafting “into their own olive tree” (Romans 11:24). Though most Jews are enemies of the gospel today, they are elect and destined to believe for the sake of their forefathers. Hence, all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:28).

Paul looks forward to a day in which Israel will corporately accept Jesus as the Messiah and reverse the decision of the first century Jewish leadership (the Sanhedrin). This will end the terrible judgment of seven woes that Yeshua pronounced on Israel’s corporate leadership (Matthew 23). Yeshua ended this pronouncement of woeful judgments by expressing deep longing and hope for his people:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Matthew 23:37-39).

So Zechariah predicts that the Jews would look upon him whom they pierced and mourn for Him (Zechariah 12:10). Peter connects this repentance to the restoration of all things (Acts 3:21). The salvation of the Jewish people is a key part of the restoration of the Church. The restoration of Israel does not destroy Jewish identity, but it does reincorporate Israel into the one people of God.

Consequently, Paul enjoins Gentile believers to live so as to make Israel envious and to show mercy to Jewish people that they might receive the mercy of God – a far cry from the history of institutional Christianity!

In light of this, I believe that Messianic Jewish congregations are part of God’s restoration in the Church. They provide an expression of faith in which the gospel can be understood in a Jewish context whereby Jewish people can embrace faith in Jesus as Messiah and Savior. We have not left the rest of the body. Rather, the history of the institutional Christianity shows that the body left its Jewish roots and often substituted Greco-Roman paganism and compromise.

Our congregations invite both Jew and Gentile to participate equally. All who appreciate Jewish roots and have a call to encourage an ongoing people are welcome in our membership. We seek out and maintain solid relationships with the rest of the body of believers. However, our chief aim is to be a movement preparing the way for the revival of Israel. We are concerned that our children are raised in their Jewish biblical heritage so that every generation will see a larger and larger percentage of the Jewish community saved. We do not wish to be simply a halfway house of assimilation into the Gentile world. This would not enrich the Church nor would it lead to a growing people movement for Jesus in the midst of the Jewish community.

Practically, this causes Jewish believers to express their New Covenant faith in Jewish ways. Fulfillment of the law did not do away with God’s moral standards. Nor did it do away with the Jewish people and their unique national existence. Instead of dismissing them, Jewish celebrations can now be celebrated in the context of their New Covenant fulfillment.

  • Passover is not only Israel’s national birthday; it’s also the renewal of life in the Passover lamb in the partaking of the broken bread and the cup symbolizing his body and his blood.
  • Shavuot (Pentecost) is not merely the early Israeli harvest or the anniversary of the giving of the Law on Sinai; it’s also the celebration of the Spirit being poured out (Acts 2).
  • Sukkot (Tabernacles) not only recalls God’s provisions when his people dwelt in the desert; it looks forward to the restoration of all things in the Messianic Kingdom (Zechariah 14).
  • The Sabbath is the renewal of our sabbath rest in the Messiah Jesus.

Hence, the feasts still function by pointing to the meaning of Yeshua for the Jewish people.

The last days revival of the Jewish people, and God’s supernatural work in Israel to bring Israel to himself, will be one aspect of God’s demonstrating himself to the nations. It will be an aid to the Church in her witness. We are a restoration movement. And so, we seek the support of all believers that through their mercy, Israel might receive God’s mercy.

Daniel Juster is a graduate of Wheaton College and McCormick Theological Seminary and serves as spiritual leader of Beth Messiah Congregation in Rockville, Maryland. Since 1973, he has pastored messianic congregations and currently labors as an apostle to Jewish congregations who seek to live out their new life in Jesus in a uniquely Jewish way.

Reprinted from People of Destiny magazine.

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