As believers seeking to share the gospel, it is essential to be ready to provide a reason for the hope within us and to be able to do that in a way that is honouring to God and respectful to others. When sharing the gospel with Jewish people, one approach clearly doesn’t fit all the Jews, since there are differences within Judaism and, of course, with the individuals themselves. So the five points given can be tailored to the particular person with whom you are engaging and, in addition to prayer, can be used as tools with which to witness.
It is likely that in interacting with Reformed Jews who are generally much more liberal than Orthodox Jews, you may well need to question early on inconsistencies within an interfaith world-view of relativism, to develop meaningful conversation with regard to seeking truth. With Orthodox Jews who esteem the Old Testament with reverence, there is a certain amount of shared truth which serves as a point of common agreement and a useful springboard to consider the claims of the Lord Jesus and the New Testament.
The points listed below are neither exhaustive nor a formula. They do nevertheless ask pivotal questions and help explain the gospel in a meaningful way that would be helpful in engaging with individuals within the broad context of a Jewish mind set, perspective, and upbringing.
Practising Jews do not believe in the trinity and affirm the oneness of God. However Genesis 1:1 is a good place to start since the word for God used in this verse, ‘Elohim’, literally means ‘mighty ones’. Whilst this doesn’t define the Trinity as such, it does introduce an opening case for the plurality of God. Arnold Fructenbaum notes that, whilst Hebrew scholars most often affirm that Elohim is a plural noun, he cites a Rabbi who holds the position that in Genesis 1:1 the verb created ‘bara’ is singular, and therefore maintains that this speaks of a singular God. However Fructenbaum also evidences examples where Elohim is preceded by a plural verb in Genesis 20:13; 35:7; 2 Samuel 7:23; Psalm 58:12. http://www.jewsforjesus.org/publications/issues/v01-n08/jewishi
Note that in the very next verse, Genesis 1:2 refers to the Spirit of God. Since the Spirit of God has personal characteristics that cannot be attributed to a force (Neh. 9:20; Isa. 63:10) this points to the reality that the Holy Spirit is part of the Godhead.
There are also numerous scriptures relating to the Angel of the Lord as having characteristics or performing tasks that cannot be ascribed to that of a created angel (Judges 2:1-6; 6:11-24; 13:1-25; 1 Chron. 21:15-30). Another example is Psalm 34:7 which reads, “The Angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him and delivers them”. This again supports the view of plurality within the Godhead.
The use of ‘us’ with reference to God strengthens this view. Genesis 1:26 begins ‘Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.” Other references to God using the term ‘us’ can be found in Genesis 3:22; 11:7 and Isaiah 6:8 which develop and emphasize the plurality within the Godhead.
The Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4, is frequently used in an attempt to disprove the trinity, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one!” Nonetheless the Hebrew word for ‘one’ in that verse transliterates ‘echad’, which means united or as Fructenbaum would explain a ‘compound one’. To use one albeit extremely useful example, when a husband and wife become ‘one’ flesh in Genesis 2:24, it is the same word used as in Deuteronomy 6:4 which is clearly not singular.
Up to this point evidence has been presented to affirm the plurality of the Godhead, though not specifically three distinct Persons within the Godhead in a passage. Nonetheless, the passages Isaiah 48:12-16 and 63:7-14 demonstrate exactly that.
The book of Hebrews provides insight and clarity concerning the purposes of the sacrifices mentioned in Leviticus. This can help Jewish people make the connection between the Lord Jesus being crucified as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29) with the requirements of the blood sacrifices.
Hebrews 9:22 reads, ‘And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.’ Similarly, Leviticus 17 expounds the sanctity of blood especially in verse 17, ‘For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.’
Importantly, animal sacrifices were insufficient since they had to be repeated and they could never remove sins. The law was a shadow or template of things to come and only the blood that was shed by the Lord Jesus Christ could reconcile man to God.
‘For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect.
For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshippers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sin. But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of those sins every year.
For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.’ (Hebrews 10:1-4).
Also, Hebrews 10:11-14 emphasizes the finality of what Jesus work on the cross accomplished, why it was needed, and reiterates the inadequacy of animal sacrifices, hence the need for a better sacrifice.
‘And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices which can never take away sins.
But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies be made a footstool.
For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified’. (Hebrews 10:11-14).
Prophecy and Prophetic Types
There are so many prophecies contained and spread throughout the Old Testament that Jesus fulfilled, that it can sometimes be helpful to focus on a few passages. Alternatively, one can also look at the lives of a couple of Bible characters and how the events in their lives typified that of Jesus. Therefore let’s take Psalm 22, Isaiah 53 and Micah 5:2 as passages and Joseph and Moses as types.
Psalm 22 provides a detailed account of the crucifixion of Jesus approximately one thousand years before the event and before crucifixion was even invented. In addition to the hands and feet being pierced, extreme thirst, and stress on the joints which relate to the act of crucifixion in general (v16, 14-15). There is also the mention of His actual words on the cross (v1) and the mocking of Him because others trusted in Him to deliver them (v8) as well as others casting lots for His clothing.
Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is a passage involving a great deal of controversy and is a chapter amongst some others ones, that isn’t read in synagogues. Some Jews are unaware of its exact content, whilst over the years, Jewish interpretations offered have varied. Some interpreters attribute these verses to the nation of Israel. However, this doesn’t account for the specifics of His appearance (52:14), the atonement (53:6) silence before accusers (53:7) death, grave with the wicked (53:9) and intercession for the transgressors (53:12).
Others say this passage concerns an individual, possibly even an unknown priest; although those answers are not satisfactory and most crucially do not explain how the sin of many was borne. Therefore it would be helpful to ask what this passage means and, within that discussion, link up with corresponding New Testament verses.
Micah 5:2 explains that the Ruler of Israel will come from Bethlehem Ephrathah and from the tribe of Judah. Bethlehem Ephrathah was a tiny, seemingly insignificant location, five miles south of Jerusalem. Some contend that Jesus could have read the Old Testament Scriptures and ‘fulfilled them purposefully,’ though in addition to the sheer number, timing and complexity of Messianic prophecies, a mortal human couldn’t determine their place of birth and tribe they were born into.
Another line of enquiry that could be pursued is how the lives of certain Old Testament characters were a picture of the Messiah. Ada Habershon shared fellowship with the likes of Moody, Sankey and Spurgeon amongst others and wrote an excellent study of the types. She included two appendixes of Moses and Joseph and detailed precisely how they were both a type of Jesus.
Deuteronomy 18:15-22 foretells a Prophet to come like Moses which the Jews clearly anticipate. In John 1:45, Philip explains to Nathanael that they had found Him. Habershon lists the references of how Moses and Jesus were both servants, chosen, prophets, priests, judges, shepherds, leaders, mediators, intercessors, deliverers, and rulers plus scores of other similarities.ii
Similarly she compares Joseph and Jesus who were again both involved in shepherding, loved by their fathers, stripped, betrayed, went into Egypt, their blood was required, and they were both unrecognised to mention just a small number of parallelsiii. The purpose for the suffering of both Joseph and Jesus was to save many. In Joseph’s case, individuals were spared through the famine as he had provisions of bread in the storehouses. Jesus is the Bread of Life and is the Saviour of the world.
Jewish Cultural Awareness
Whilst one may be doctrinally correct in demonstrating how Jesus fulfils the law and the prophets, we need to speak the truth in love and our speech needs to be seasoned with salt (Eph. 4:15; Col. 4:6). A basic awareness and due consideration of Jewish culture will speak volumes and will be a vital part of being an effective witness. An honest but respectful approach will help to build bridges, not walls.
Some Jews may be concerned that if they believe that Jesus is the Messiah they may have to abandon their Jewish culture. It would probably be both a great relief and encouragement to remind them of how much of Scripture was penned by Jewish characters and that the Lord Himself was a Jew. Jesus came not to destroy the law and the prophets but to fulfil (Matthew 5:17). The Gospel of Matthew would be a helpful starting point since it was written by a Jew, primarily to Jews about the King of the Jews. Attention could be drawn to how frequently Matthew uses the expression, ‘that it might be fulfilled’. The study of Jewish manners and customs and idioms doesn’t detract, but provides valuable insight with regard to the historical context of Scripture.
When meeting with a Jewish person, and depending on their particular convictions, avoiding pork and seafood and non-kosher food would be a great boon. If this is simply ignored, one could create an unnecessary rift and make it unnecessarily difficult to share your faith without apparent hypocrisy.
We need to be careful of our vocabulary. For obvious reasons, avoid talking about ‘Crusader Classes’ but if it does come up, explain the name and separate it from the context of the historical Crusades from the Middle Ages.
Many Jews are highly conscious of observing the fourth commandment and in an attempt to not bring dishonour to God’s name ‘Yahweh’, they carefully use either ‘Adonai’ ‘Lord’ or ‘HaShem’ meaning ‘The Name’ so it would definitely be worth trying to avoid offence through apparent irreverence.
Practising Jews observe and enjoy many feasts throughout the year. These do not need to be jettisoned when one becomes a Christian. On the contrary, they are helpful for teaching purposes and are a visible reminder that can be useful. When a Jewish believer observes the feasts after believing that Jesus is the Messiah, the feasts will have even greater significance.
The Jews never anticipated nor expected two visitations of the Messiah. Hence many find it difficult to understand the concept of the glorious King who is also the suffering servant, who had to suffer. They wanted the Messiah to overthrow the Romans and alter their political structure and rule. This also helps us to understand prophecy. The Lord came to save on His arrival and will come to judge the world in righteousness when He returns. He entered Jerusalem on a colt, the foal of a donkey, but the depiction of His return, is of a Warrior King on a white horse. Similarly with the feasts, some relate more so to His first coming whilst others to His return.
Concerning the Passover, the blood of the lamb was placed on the door posts whilst the Angel of Death passed over. Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples on the night that He was betrayed. His blood so to speak is applied to the door posts of our hearts through His sacrifice on the cross.
Paul wrote to correct the Corinthians whilst exhorting them to be righteous before God. ‘Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (1 Cor. 5:7-8).
On the 17th of Nissan/Aviv, at the time of the Feast of First-fruits, Israel crossed the Red Sea (Exod. 14:13-14) and ate of the first-fruits from the Promised Land (Josh. 5:10-12). On the same date, Jesus Christ rose from the dead. A male lamb without blemish would be offered (Lev. 23:12). Jesus was offered as a sin offering on our behalf, though He committed no sin and He is also the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (2 Cor. 5:21; John 1:29).
At the Feast of Weeks, 50 days after the Feast of First-fruits the church was born and the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost.
On Rosh HaShana/Trumpets the trumpets were blown. Shofars are usually blown on New Year’s Day in synagogues and the Lord Jesus return will be announced by the blowing of the trumpet (Matt. 24:29-31; 1 Cor. 15:52; 1 Thess. 4:16).
The Day of Atonement occurred once a year when the High Priest would enter the holy of holies with cord tied round the ankle lest he died and had to be dragged out by others. When the Lord was crucified, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. Christ is the atoning sacrifice for sins, (1 John 2:2) and our great High Priest, meaning that we can now boldly approach the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16).
At the Feast of Tabernacles, the Israelites dwelt in booths in the wilderness. The Lord Jesus dwelt (meaning tabernacled) among us (John 1:14). Isaiah prophesied of Immanuel, (God with us) who would be conceived of a virgin. Jesus fulfilled that emphatically (Matt. 1:23). Following His return God will again dwell or tabernacle with man as all nations go up to Jerusalem (Zech. 14:16-19; Rev. 21:3).
i Arnold G. Fructenbaum Jewishness and the Trinity http://www.jewsforjesus.org/publications/issues/v01-n08/jewish
ii Ada Habershon The Study of the Types (Kregel, Grand Rapids; 1985)p165 (Psa. 105:26-Matt. 12:18/Psa. 106.23-Isi.42:1/Deut. 18:15-19-John 6:14/Psa. 99:6-Heb. 7:24/Exod. 18:13-John 5:27/Exod. 3:1-John 10:11, 14/Isa. 63:12-13-Isa.55:4/Exod. 33:8-9-1 Tim. 2:5/Num. 21:7-Rom. 8:34/Acts 7:35-Micah 5:2)
iii Ibid, (Gen. 37:2-John 10:11, 14/Gen. 37:3-Matt 3:17/Gen. 37:23-Matt 27:28/Gen. 37:28-Matt 26:15/Gen. 37:36-Matt 2:14-15/Gen. 42:22-Matt 27:25/Gen. 45:1-Luke 24:31)