Why Do You Say Yeshua?
by leader in the Messianic Jewish movement
Several years ago, a meeting took place between Jewish and Evangelical theologians to address common concerns and discuss similarities and differences. At one point in the meetings, in the midst of all the dialogue, one Evangelical posed this question point blank: "Why don't you Jews just accept Jesus as your savior." At this question, the Jewish leaders picked up and left without further discussion.
This is a question that Messianic Jewish people know as our everyday reality. "Why don't the Jewish People accept Yeshua?" Before I attempt to answer this question, it is important to make two observations: First, that all Jewish people have not rejected the Gospel. In the early church, there were many Jewish believers. Acts records that thousands came to the Lord at Shavout (Pentecost). The mother church in Jerusalem was made up of Jewish people. The book of Hebrews was addressed to Jewish believers.
Throughout the post New Testament era, there has been a small but steady stream of Jewish people who have come to the Lord. Neander, the father of church history was a Jewish believer.
A second observation, is that not all gentiles have accepted Jesus. True believers are indeed a minority in the world, even in our own cities. The best we can say, is that some Jews, and some Gentiles have accepted Yeshua, but most people, both Jews and Gentiles have not accepted him.
There are two categories of reasons why Jewish people reject the Gospel. The first are theological reasons. Jewish people have a hard time accepting the idea of God existing in human form. This objection is based on the notion that we believe that Yeshua was a man who became God. There are cults today that believe that, but it is not what the Bible teaches. The task of the believer who shares with his Jewish friend, is to explain that we do not believe that any man can become a god. We do believe that God, who is all powerful, can do whatever He chooses, including taking on the form of a man. We do not believe that Yeshua was a man who became God, but God eternally existing, became man, that He might redeem us.
A second theological objection Jewish people hold to the gospel, is the concept of the Trinity. The Jewish definition of monotheism seeks to leave no room for a plurality in the Godhead. Many Jewish people mistakenly believe the Christians worship three Gods. It is important for a believer to point out to his Jewish friend that the Jewish Bible uses a word for ONE to describe God that allows for a plurality. The great confession, "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One," uses the word ECHAD to describe the oneness of God. Had a different word been used, they could claim the oneness of God was absolute, but the word ECHAD allows for a composite unity. It is the word used in Genesis 2:24 when the man and woman marry, "...and the two become one flesh." The scripture speaks of a oneness of plurality. Like one wall made up of many bricks. The Trinity does not mean three gods, but rather ONE God in three persons; a Tri-unity, a oneness of three. As New Covenant believers we affirm the monotheism of scripture.
A third theological objection, is that we need a mediator to go to God, while they feel they need no mediator. I would point out that yes, we go through Yeshua as our mediator, but because He is God, we are going directly to God. Secondly, I would point out that in Biblical times, Jewish people did not go directly to God. They had to go through a Cohain, a priest, who would bring their offerings before the Lord. It was the high priest, who could enter the Most Holy Place only once a year, and even then, only with the blood of atonement.
These are major theological objections Jewish people have to the Gospel. But they are secondary. The most common reasons Jewish people reject the Gospel are historical. I am referring to persecution in the name of Jesus. In the fourth century, the emperor Constantine supposedly converted to Christianity, and he forcibly converted his empire, demanding baptism or death. Some Jewish people were baptized and later recanted, others chose death. All in the name of Jesus.
In the ninth through the thirteenth centuries, the crusaders marched against the Moslem infidels to recapture the holy land. On the way, they slaughtered Jewish people by the thousands, in some cases herding them into the synagogues and burning them to the ground while singing hymns of praise to Jesus. In the middle ages, Jews were herded into 'ghettos' to separate them from the 'good Christians.' They had curfews and chained them into the ghettos at night. When waves of persecution or anti-Semitism reached their peaks, they had the Jews chained in, and killed and maimed their Jewish victims. All in the name of Jesus.
During the Spanish inquisition, many Jews were deported, many others were tortured and killed. Lands and property were confiscated, and may have been used to finance Columbus' voyage. All in the name of Jesus. In Russia, thousands of Jewish people were massacred in pogroms by so called Christians. The Russian peasants would put crosses on their doors so the murderers would know to leave them alone. All in the name of Jesus. Jewish people have a very long history of persecution in the name of Jesus. Most of the people who did these things were probably not true believers in Jesus, but some were. As a result, Jewish people have a view of Christians as being anti- Semitic. They say, "How can I accept a religion which has shed so much Jewish blood? I would be a traitor to my fathers who died not to submit to the coercion to accept Jesus."
But Jewish people need the Gospel ... just like everyone else. Yeshua said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father, except by me." It is important that we help our Jewish friends and neighbors see that the people who did these atrocities were not following Yeshua. They went against every teaching and denied Him when they lifted their hands against the Jews. Because of this profanation of the Lord's Name by the anti-Semitic, Jewish people need to be told that a person should believe in Yeshua is because He is the Messiah, not because Christians are such nice people. They need to see that Yeshua is not just a god for the Gentiles, and the Jews have their own, but that because God is One, He is the God of the whole earth, of both Jews and Gentiles. They need to be shown Messianic prophecy (i.e., Isaiah 53; Psalm 22; Zechariah 12:10; Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 9:11; Daniel 9:26.) They need to see the Jewishness of The Messiah, and of the apostles, of the early church, and of the New Testament. They need to realized that when a Jewish person accepts the Messiah He is still a Jew.
This is where terminology comes in. Messianic Believers use a different terminology than most other believers to express our faith. For example, We say YESHUA instead of JESUS. We call ourselves BELIEVERS instead of CHRISTIANS. We refer to our places of worship as CONGREGATIONS instead of CHURCHES. The reason for this is the anti-Semitic history of the Church. We say MESSIAH instead of CHRIST. We use YESHUA, the Hebrew name of Jesus, to express ourselves as Jewish believers, and to help our Jewish brethren to see that not only is the Messiah Jewish, but believing in Him does not make us non-Jewish, and is a fulfillment of God's promises to our People. The Jewish people feel Yeshua is not applicable to them, so they never really have considered His claims. This contextualization of the Gospel, a becoming all things to all men, as Paul taught, and endorsed my most Evangelical seminary Mission departments), is a means to help Jewish people see that Yeshua is really applicable for them, as well as being the original culture in which the New Covenant faith was founded. It is my hope that more and more Jewish people will come to faith in Yeshua the Messiah. This is why I express myself in these terms. I don't ask you to the reader to do so, but I hope you will understand where I am coming from. SHALOM.
More information on Yeshua from the Messianic Bureau International.