Not Messiah to the Jews, Not Messiah at All: On Jewish Evangelism

At the Lausanne 2004 Forum for World Evangelization in Pattaya, Thailand, the issue group on “Reaching the Jews with the Gospel” formulated the following:

If Jesus is not the Messiah for the Jewish people, then neither is He Christ for the nations. Either Jesus is the Messiah for all, or He is not the Messiah at all.1

At the 2009 Lausanne International Leadership Meeting in Seoul, I had the opportunity, through personal conversations, to unfold what we who are involved in Jewish evangelism mean by this.

We, in the Lausanne “family” need to remind each other of the fatal consequences of a theological rejection of Jewish evangelism, because it implies a rejection of faith in Jesus as the only way to salvation and fellowship with Israel’s God for all people—Jews as well as non-Jews.

The Implication of a “No” to Jewish Evangelism
In many quarters, Jewish as well as non-Jewish, there are people who question the validity of Jewish evangelism. In fact, it is not just questioned; some people see Jewish evangelism as downright wrong, a leftover from the Middle Ages, an attempt at spiritual genocide of the Jewish people. Because of the Christian Church’s crimes against the Jewish people, not least the Holocaust, some believe the Church should leave Jewish people alone and concentrate on the proclamation of the gospel for non-Jews and make Christians better Christians.

I do not mind admitting that when I consider the church’s infamous attitude to the Jewish people through the ages, I (a Gentile) am tempted to keep quiet about Jesus toward Jews. I seek, however, to withstand this temptation, for it would be treason against the gospel. Indeed, much is at stake…for a theological “no” to Jewish evangelism would mean that Jewish people are deprived of the possibility of salvation through faith in Jesus, which is a serious enough matter. But it also means that Jesus has been reduced to an insignificant person for Jews. And why should this “insignificant” Jewish person have a momentous importance for me, a non-Jew?

I can understand that Jewish people think the so-called “two-covenant theology” is a good solution to the relationship between Judaism and Christianity. Jews have fellowship with Israel’s God through the Sinai covenant, non-Jews through the Calvary covenant. But it is difficult for me to understand that Christian theologians can advocate it. And it is particularly puzzling that there are Bible-believing evangelical Christians who are eager to proclaim the gospel to all other peoples, but who would exclude the people of Israel from evangelistic mission, replacing gospel proclamation with acts of charity.

In other words, this “insignificant” person Jesus, who has no relevance for Jews, seems to be extremely relevant for us non-Jews! There is no biblical logic in this. How can one claim that the Jesus who met his own people (the Jewish people) with a demand to be heard and obeyed as God is obeyed, and who staked his own life on this, is no longer relevant for Jewish people—while also claiming that Jesus’ radical message is of utmost importance for all other people? As a non-Jew I cannot stake my life on a Jewish irrelevance!

Jesus can only have critical importance for me as a non-Jew if he is of critical importance for Jewish people. If he is not Messiah to the Jews, then he is not Christ to the nations. It is a biblical absurdity to claim that Jesus is not Messiah to Jews yet is Christ to non-Jews when practically all his deeds were done for Jews and practically all his teaching was addressed to Jews.

Some years ago, a Jewish writer who was also anti-missionary published a pamphlet with the title, “You take Jesus, I’ll take God.” As a Gentile, I decline the offer. I will not be content with Jesus if he is a “nobody” for Jews. It is because he is Israel’s Messiah that he can be my Christ.

Jewish Evangelism and World Evangelization
Jewish evangelism is not a higher calling or more important in God’s sight than evangelization of other peoples. However, missiologically Jewish evangelism has a unique role to play. Can we who are involved in Jewish evangelism maintain that the people who have been historically closest to God need the gospel for salvation just as much as all the other peoples of the world?

When the legitimacy and the necessity of Jewish evangelism are questioned, then the door is wide open to religious pluralism. The uniqueness of Jesus is denied. But if we insist that Jews need the gospel, then Jewish evangelism has rendered world mission a great favour.

We in the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism (LCJE) are grateful for all the support we can get from Christians whose primary calling is not to share the gospel with Jews. Thus, the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) inserted a full-page ad in March 2008 in the New York Times expressing full support for Jewish evangelism. The ad’s wording is as follows:

The Gospel and the Jewish People—An Evangelical Statement

As evangelical Christians, we want to express our genuine friendship and love for the Jewish people. We sadly acknowledge that church history has been marred with anti-Semitic words and deeds, and that at times when the Jewish people were in great peril, the Church did far less than it should have.

  • We pledge our commitment to be loving friends and to stand against such injustice in our generation. At the same time, we want to be transparent in affirming that we believe the most loving and scriptural expression of our friendship toward Jewish people, and to anyone we call friend, is to forthrightly share the love of God in the person of Jesus Christ.

  • We believe that it is only through Jesus that all people can receive eternal life. If Jesus is not the Messiah of the Jewish people, he cannot be the Savior of the world (Acts 4:12).
  • We recognize that it is good and right for those with specialized knowledge, history, and skills to use these gifts to introduce individuals to the Messiah, and that includes those ministries specifically directed to the Jewish people (1 Corinthians 9:20-22).
  • We deplore the use of deception or coercion in evangelism; however, we reject the notion that it is deceptive for followers of Jesus Christ who were born Jewish to continue to identify as Jews (Romans 11:1).

We want to make it clear that, as evangelical Christians, we do not wish to offend our Jewish friends by the above statements, but we are compelled by our faith and commitment to the scriptures to stand by these principles. It is out of our profound respect for Jewish people that we seek to share the good news of Jesus Christ with them, and encourage others to do the same, for we believe that salvation is only found in Jesus, the Messiah of Israel and Savior of the world.  

The Charge of Supersessionism
Like similar statements, this has also been met with sharp criticism from Jewish quarters. For if you argue that with Jesus came “something more,” something “which was not there before” but has now been fulfilled in Jesus, something which has existential and decisive importance for Jews today in relation to Israel’s God, then you will be stamped as a supersessionist, which is little better than being an anti-Semite. But it is better to live with this charge than to keep the best that we have got from the Jewish people to ourselves. The best—he is called Jesus.

If we keep the gospel to ourselves, not only will Jews suffer, but also our own understanding of what Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection mean. Either Jesus is the Messiah for all, or he is not the Messiah at all.

Endnote

1. Lausanne Occasional Paper No. 60.


Dr. Kai Kjær-Hansen is international coordinator of the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism and chair of the Danish Israel Mission. He is also the general editor of Mishkan, a theological journal on the gospel and the Jewish people. Kjær-Hansen is the author of numerous articles on mission as well as the author of several books.