If Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, why don’t more Jews believe in him?
Actually, there are tens of thousands of Jews who have believed and do believe in him. The problem is that most Jews have not bothered to check into the facts about Jesus, and the only Jesus most of them know is either the baby Jesus of Christmas, an emaciated figure hanging on a cross in churches, or the Jesus of the Crusades and Inquisitions. The question is, Why don’t you believe Jesus is the Messiah? Do you really know who he is?
I encourage you to consider the following points.
- Most Jews have never seriously studied the issue. Many of those who have decided to find out who Jesus is have been quite surprised by what they have learned. The greatest scholars and scientists in the world once believed the earth was flat—until firsthand investigation and discovery altered their outlook. It’s the exact same thing with Jews who honestly investigate the Messianic claims of Jesus. Everything changes—to put it mildly.
- If most religious Jews learn anything about Jesus in their traditional studies, it is quite biased and negative. 22 Thus, they do not entertain even the possibility of the messiahship of Jesus.
- Many so-called Christians have committed atrocities against Jews in the name of Jesus, helping to drive Jews away from their true Messiah. (See below, 2.7, for more on this, along with my book Our Hands Are Stained with Blood.)
- These same Christians have often put forth a distorted picture of Jesus that bears little resemblance to the real Messiah who walked the earth two thousand years ago. Can Jews be blamed for thinking that Christians worshiped idols when the churches were filled with worshipers bowing before large, beautiful statues depicting Jesus as a babe in his mother’s lap?
- There is often great pressure on those Jews—especially religious Jews—who put their faith in Jesus the Messiah. Some succumb to the fear, the pressure, the intimidation, the separation, and the loneliness, and they deny with their lips what they know to be true in their hearts.
- Traditional Jewish teaching gives a slanted portrayal of who the Messiah is and what he will do. Since the description is faulty, people are looking in the wrong direction for the wrong person. No wonder relatively few have found him.
- Once a learned Jew does believe in Yeshua, he is discredited, and so his name is virtually removed from the rolls of history. It’s almost as if such people ceased to exist. (Do you remember reading the novel Animal Farm in school? Revisionist history goes on to this day—even in traditional Jewish circles.) The story of Max Wertheimer provides one case in point. In the last century, Wertheimer came to the States as an Orthodox Jew, but over the course of time, he became a Reform Jew and was ordained a rabbi upon graduating from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati in 1889. (He also received a Ph.D. from the University of Cincinnati the same year.) He then served as the greatly loved rabbi of B’Nai Yeshurun synagogue in Dayton, Ohio, for the next ten years. When he became a fervent believer in Jesus, however, pastoring a church as well, his name was literally removed from the rolls of the school—a school of alleged tolerance at that. Why was his name dropped? According to Alfred A. Isaacs, cited in the November 25, 1955, edition of the National Jewish Post, Wertheimer was disowned by Hebrew Union College solely because of his Christian faith. 23 And to think, this happened in a “liberal” Reform Jewish institution!
- Although this may be hard for you to accept, because our leadership rejected Jesus the Messiah when he came, God judged us as a people (just as he judged us as a people for rejecting his law and his prophets in previous generations), and as a result, our hearts have become especially hardened toward the concept of Jesus as Messiah. 24 Paul explained this in his important letter to the believers in Rome: “What Israel sought so earnestly it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened, as it is written: ‘God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day’ ” (Rom. 11:7–8; the quote here is taken from Deut. 29:4 in our Torah and Isa. 29:10 in our Prophets).
If you stop to think about it, isn’t it strange that as a people we have almost totally lost sight of the fact that Jesus-Yeshua is one of us, actually, the most influential Jew ever to walk the earth? 25 Yet most of us think of him as if he were some fair-skinned, blue-eyed European. The good news is that Israel’s hardening was only partial: There have always been Jews who followed Jesus the Messiah, and in the end, our people will turn back to him on a national scale. Paul explains this a few verses later:
I do not want you [Gentiles] to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”
Romans 11:25–27; the quote is taken from Isaiah 59:20–21; 27:9; and Jeremiah 31:33–34, all in our Prophets
Hopefully, you will be one of those Jews who is determined to find out the truth about the Messiah right now, determining to follow him at any cost. In the end, you must decide for yourself, and the bottom line question is one that only you can answer: Why don’t you believe Jesus is our promised Messiah?
What if more Jews—including your rabbi—did believe in him? Would you? Of course, that wouldn’t change the facts. Either Jesus is or is not the Messiah of Israel. Public opinion can’t affect the truth. But many times, when people find out that it’s okay to hold to a certain opinion, they come out of the closet.
Maybe it would help you to know that many of us in Jewish work have spoken with Orthodox and even ultra-Orthodox Jews who have told us in private that they believe Jesus is the Messiah, but they are afraid to go public for fear of what could happen to them. Maybe if a number of these religious Jews—some of whom are rabbis—showed up one day on your doorstep and told you their views, it would get you to think seriously about the matter.
As we grow and mature—from infants to children to teens to adults—we find out that not everything we have been told is true. Sometimes we just have to learn for ourselves. And even as adults, we often have skewed perspectives on many things. Just look at what Democrats believe about Republicans (and vice versa) or what Palestinians believe about Israelis (and vice versa) or what Black Muslims believe about Jews (and vice versa). Our perspectives, opinions, and convictions are not always right—no matter how strenuously we argue for our position. Common sense tells us that all of us can’t be right about everything all the time.
Even on an interpersonal level, how often have you met someone only to find out that all the bad things you heard about that person were greatly exaggerated or false? It happens all the time. As for the matter at hand, I assure you in the strongest possible terms: As a Jew, most everything you have heard about Jesus has been untrue. You owe it to yourself to find out just who this Jesus really is—and I say this to you whether you are an ultra-Orthodox rabbi reading this book in secret or you are a thoroughly secular, wealthy Jewish businessman who was given this book by a friend.
This much is certain: We have carefully investigated the claims of Jesus and can testify firsthand that Yeshua is who he said he was. What do you say?
22 The infamous Rabbinic collection of anti-Jesus fables, called Toledot Yeshu, is still studied in some ultra-Orthodox circles, although virtually all other Jewish scholars have long since repudiated the Toledot. These scurrilous writings, based in part on some Talmudic references, accusing Mary of fathering Jesus through a Roman soldier (or by rape), and portraying Jesus as an idolater, magician, and Israel’s arch-deceiver, were the primary source of information about Jesus for many traditional Jews, especially in the Middle Ages.
Of course, as noted by the Oxford Dictionary of Jewish Religion, ed. Geoffrey Wigoder (New York: Oxford, 1997), 695, “the work is an expression of vulgar polemics written in reaction to the no less vulgar attacks on Judaism in popular Christian teaching and writing.” But as I have stated before, just as many Gentiles around the world have had a biased and inaccurate view of the Jewish people, so also have many Jews had a biased and inaccurate view of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. For a representative sampling from the Toledot, see the excellent study of Walter Riggans, Yeshua ben David: Why Do the Jewish People Reject Jesus as Their Messiah? (Crowborough, England: Marc, 1995), 127–32. Interested readers of this present volume would do well to read Riggans as well.
23 For more on this, see Nahum Brodt, “The Truth about the Rabbi,” in Would I? Would You?, ed. Henry and Marie Einspruch (Baltimore: Lederer, 1970), 8–10. For a fuller account of Wertheimer’s faith, see Jacob Gartenhaus, Famous Hebrew Christians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 191–97.
24 This is not the first time in our history that God has hardened our hearts because we sinned against him. This is what God said to the prophet Isaiah more than twenty-five hundred years ago: “Go and tell this people: ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed” (Isa. 6:9–10). The prophet was actually called to a ministry of hardening his people’s hearts! It was as if God were saying, “Fine. If you want to be hard-hearted, refusing to believe me or obey me, I will give you over to your hardness and make you even harder.” This is exactly what has happened to us regarding the Messiah: When so many of our people refused to follow him, God gave us over to our unbelief and obduracy to the point that through the centuries, we have become especially resistant to Jesus.
25 This well-known, anonymous tribute to Jesus, known as “One Solitary Life,” puts things in perspective: “He was born in an obscure village. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. He then became an itinerant preacher. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a house. He didn’t go to college. He had no credentials but himself. He was only thirty-three when the public turned against him. His friends ran away. He was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trail. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While he was dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing, the only property he had on earth. He was laid in a borrowed grave. Nineteen centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure of the human race. All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that one solitary life.”