I was born a Jew and I will die a Jew!
You’re absolutely right! You were born a Jew, and whether you believe in Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Sigmund Freud, or Rev. Moon, you’ll always be a Jew. The question is, Will you be a faithful Jew in God’s sight? That’s what really matters. You must never forget that as a Jew you have a special calling and responsibility. Will you fulfill the purpose for which God made you? Being a Jew is no small thing. Will you live and die in right relationship with God? Will you love him with all your heart and soul and strength? And if what we’re telling you about Jesus being the Jewish Messiah is really true (and we’re quite sure it is), will you be a faithful Jew who follows your Messiah or an unfaithful Jew who rejects him?
Can I ask you a simple question? Who is a Jew? If you give the traditional answer, namely, you are Jewish if your mother is Jewish, you really haven’t answered anything. What makes your mother Jewish?
Is being a Jew simply a religious matter? If so, are atheistic Jews still Jews? Are humanistic Jews still Jews? And what of Reform Jews who deny that the Torah is literally the Word of God and who don’t believe in a physical resurrection or a literal Messiah? Are they still Jews? Is being a Jew simply a matter of ethics? If so, is an unethical, corrupt Orthodox rabbi still a Jew? Is being a Jew a matter of solidarity with the people of Israel? Then what of antinationalist Israelis? Are they still Jews? Is being a Jew simply a matter of ethnicity? If so, then one’s religious beliefs can’t change one’s Jewishness.
Again, the question must be asked, Who is a Jew? It’s important not to use a double standard here. For example, if you’re a secular Jew and you do not live by the Torah or the Rabbinic traditions, how can you tell me that I’m not Jewish because I believe in Jesus? You might say, “But you have joined another religion!” I answer: No, I’m following the religion of the Scriptures. And according to the Torah, the issue is not one of “different religion” but of lifestyle and faith. God is not so much concerned with what “religion” we identify ourselves with—the word religion doesn’t even occur once in the entire Hebrew Scriptures—as much as with what we believe and how we live. In fact, from a biblical viewpoint, being an atheist or a materialist or a sensualist constitutes infinitely more of a departure from the faith than entering into disputes about who the Messiah is.
I follow the Word of God and love the Lord with all my heart and soul. Do you? If not, how can you tell me I’m not a Jew? (By the way: Both my mother and father are Jewish.) I have given my life to make the God of Israel known to the nations. Have you? If not, how can you tell me I’m not a Jew? I worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob every day, praying to him and studying his Scriptures constantly. Is that your lifestyle too? If not, how can you tell me I’m not a Jew? I have turned away from living for self-gratification and sinful pleasure, seeking to be holy because the Lord is holy. What about you? You must ask yourself whether you are really living as a faithful Jew in God’s sight.
If you are Orthodox, you probably have no problem recognizing me as a Jew. In fact, you might even identify me with the special—but hardly flattering—label “apostate Jew.” 1 Even anti-missionaries recognize that Jewish followers of Jesus are still Jews, targeting us in particular with their outreach efforts. They certainly aren’t investing this kind of time and effort in reaching Gentile Christians!
In the end, the real question is not whether Jews who follow Jesus are still Jewish. Rather, the crucial question is whether Jesus is the Messiah predicted by Moses and the prophets. If he is, then you, as a Jew, must do some real soul-searching and answer a difficult, challenging question: How can you call yourself a Jew and yet reject or ignore our God-sent Jewish Messiah? Following the Messiah is part of the fabric of our soul, touching on the very reason for our existence as a people. 2
You see, one of the key reasons the Lord put the Jewish people on this earth was so that we could be a nation of priests (kohanim), spreading the light of the knowledge of God to the rest of the world. In other words, instead of keeping the truth to ourselves, we were called to declare the glory of the Lord to the Gentiles and educate them in his truth. 3 The Scriptures speak of this clearly:
You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples.
For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
he is to be feared above all gods.
Yes, the people of Israel were to be a light to the world. This is part of our destiny and calling as Jews, and it is only through the Jewish Messiah that we can fulfill this God-ordained task. 4 This is something you need to consider. In fact, it may help you to understand why you sometimes have wondered about your very identity and purpose in life. What does it mean to be born a Jew? Why are we here? Why have we experienced so much trouble with so little positive fruit? What is our mission after all? Is there something we have been missing—or someone we have been missing?
I know this may be a hard pill to swallow, but it’s really important that you give this some careful thought. Is it possible that this Jesus-Yeshua whom you so strongly reject is the key to bringing the knowledge of the only true God to the inhabitants of this planet? Is it possible that true Jewishness is directly tied in with following him?
Think about it. It will do you—along with many others too—a world of good.
1 An important text in this regard for traditional Jewish thought is b. Sanhedrin 44a: “Even if [Israel] sins, he is still Israel,” as explained by R. Abba with reference to a proverb, “A willow standing among willows is still named a willow, and people call it a willow.” The Talmudic commentator Marharsha (an acronym for Rabbi Shmuel Edels) states that this applies even when one sins and transgresses against the entire Torah! Obviously, if you are a typical Orthodox Jew, you think I’m sinning by following Jesus, and you may even think I’m an idolater. Yet your tradition says that I’m still a part of Israel.
2 According to Moses Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Melakhim 11:1), ‘Whoever does not believe in him [the Messiah], or does not look forward to his coming, denies not only the other prophets but the Torah and Moses, our Teacher.” According to Rabbi Yehudah Chayoun, When Moshiach Comes: Halachic and Aggadic Perspectives (Southfield, Mich.: Targum; Springdale, N.Y.: Feldheim, 1994), 21, “Anyone who denies or doubts the coming of the Moshiach—whether he does so willingly, unwillingly, intentionally, or unintentionally—has distanced himself from the Jewish people and is a heretic and an apikores [godless man].” See also ibid., 25–26, n. 5.
3 In the nation of Israel, the priests were called to teach and instruct the people concerning the things of God (Lev. 10:10–11). Among the nations of the world, we Jews are called to teach and instruct all peoples about the things of God. As to whether or not Jews actively engaged in “missionary” activity in the ancient world, see Scot McKnight, A Light among the Gentiles: Jewish Missionary Activity in the Second Temple Period (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991); Robert Goldenberg, The Nations That Know Thee Not: Ancient Jewish Attitudes towards Other Religions, The Biblical Seminar 52 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997). For recent discussion about Jewish outreach to other Jews, cf. Aryeh Kaplan, Reaching Out, 3d ed. (New York: Orthodox Union/NCSY, 1991); Moshe Weinberger, Jewish Outreach: Halakhic Perspectives (New York: Ktav, 1990).
4 Isaiah 42:1–7; 49:1–7 are key texts indicating that the Servant of the Lord (meaning Israel, fulfilling its destiny through the Messiah; see vol. 3, 4.10–4.12) will be a light to the nations. See also Isaiah 55:1–5. For a powerful argument that Jews (especially Messianic Jews) have been called by God to be a light to the nations, cf. Stuart Dauermann, “Motivating and Mobilizing for Messianic Jewish Outreach,” Kesher 2 (winter 1995): 33–71.