The Christmas holiday season, when we celebrate the coming of our Messiah, is an annual reminder of the nearness of God. He is a God who knows our innermost thoughts and whose presence is never far away (Psalm 139). God was physically near His people throughout the Old Testament, but it is ultimately through Messiah that the nearness of God has found its fulfillment; He is Immanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).
The Apostle John continued the theme of “God with us” when he wrote, “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). This taking on of flesh is referred to as the Incarnation. The significance that the Son of God “took on flesh” is that He entered a fully human experience during His life on earth. The author of Hebrews wrote, “He had to be made like His brethren in all things,” except without sin (Heb 2:17; 4:15). At the same time, we rejoice that “it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him” (Col 1:19). In a mysterious and awe-inspiring way, He remained the sovereign and all-powerful King of the universe while also living as a human with a human mind, body, and emotions. The Incarnation is truly the miracle of miracles!
The Incarnation: A Roadblock in Jewish Evangelism
Unfortunately, the Incarnation is a significant obstacle to faith in Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew) for many of the Jewish people to whom we minister. Before ever considering the New Testament or even the prophecies about Yeshua in the Hebrew Scriptures, many Jewish people choose to look the other way because they believe that God cannot become a man. This is partly due to the teachings of the widely respected twelfth-century rabbi, Moses Maimonides, who asserted in his principles of Jewish faith that God has no physical form whatsoever. Followers of Jesus can agree that “God is spirit” (John 4:24), but that fact does not limit God from taking on human form. Thus, the divinity of Jesus is a pressing concern in Jewish evangelism, as many Jewish people resist the gospel due to their disbelief in the possibility of the Incarnation.
The Word made flesh, however, is not something we can stay silent about. The entire gospel message depends on Messiah’s divine nature. Here are just a few examples.
To begin with, if Jesus is not God in the flesh, then we are still in our sins. The Pharisees knew that only God had the authority to forgive sin. They asked an insightful question of Jesus: “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7). Indeed, the Hebrew Scriptures assign the power of forgiveness to God alone (Exodus 34:7; Daniel 9:9). Thus, when Jesus told people that He had forgiven their sins (Mark 2:5; Luke 7:48), He was either truly God in the flesh, or the forgiveness of which He spoke was a lie.
Yeshua also made claims of divinity that were unmistakable to His Jewish audience. We see this most often when He was accused of blasphemy by His opponents in the crowd. He was almost stoned to death for proclaiming, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). The high priest also condemned Yeshua to death when He claimed to be the divine Son of Man spoken of in Daniel 7 (Mark 14:61–63).
If these claims were fraudulent and Jesus were just a mere man, then He was a liar who should not be trusted for anything about God. Even His miracles should be distrusted, as Moses warned Israel in Deuteronomy 13. If Jesus were a liar who blasphemed God by falsely claiming He was divine, then His miracles should be viewed as mere magic, as in the case of the wicked magicians of Pharaoh’s court (Exodus 7:11–12).
The stakes are high. Everything hangs on whether Jesus is the incarnate Son of God, especially in Jewish evangelism. If He is our incarnate Lord and King—as we believe—then His miracles are confirmations of His identity, His words are the words of God, and His forgiveness is the most precious thing we can obtain. How can we convey the truth of these things to our Jewish friends and family members? Here are a few suggestions.
God Can Perform Miracles beyond Our Comprehension
Maimonides was a great twelfth-century Spanish rabbi who helped shape the Jewish religion—even until today. He and his contemporary Jewish followers said that God cannot become a man, they were effectively “putting God in a box.” Nowhere in Scripture do we read that God cannot appear in physical form. Instead, we are told to be more humble and open-ended concerning God’s abilities and His very existence. The Lord said, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). Based on this and other verses like it, we should expect that some things about the infinite God will be beyond our grasp.
For example, in the Scriptures, we learn that God is present everywhere (Jeremiah 23:24; Psalm 139). We also read that God dwells far beyond the universe (1 Kings 8:27; Isaiah 66:1). God is described as being near and far away at the same time. How are these two concepts to be rationally understood together? The only answer is that God’s ability to exist in both ways simultaneously goes beyond the ability of human minds to comprehend. Nevertheless, we believe the mystery because the words of Scripture are true.
One of the ways we can dialogue with Jewish people on this issue is to consider that, perhaps, the teachings they have heard about the Incarnation put limitations on an infinite God. Jesus is not just God (alone) and not just a man (alone); rather, in the same way that God is both near and far at the same time, which Jewish people almost universally accept, Jesus is both fully God and fully man at the same time. Therefore, the confusing mystery of the Incarnation in itself ought not be an automatic disqualifier. There may be a mysterious truth in the person of Jesus.
God Has Shown Israel His Ability to Be in a Place and in a Physical Body
In the Exodus account, God shows up in physical locations and through physical forms. He shows up “in” a bush (Exod 3:2), “up” on Mount Sinai (Exod 19:3, 20), “in” a pillar of fire (Exod 14:24), and He is beheld by Moses as having a “form” (Numbers 12:8) and a “back” (Exod 33:23). These are astonishing accounts about God appearing in physical form, which Bible scholars call theophanies. Theophany is a Greek word roughly meaning an appearance of God.
How is this language possible if God is spirit? Maimonides and his followers have responded by interpreting every single one of those examples as allegorical and mystical language that should not be read literally. However, nowhere does the text of Scripture instruct readers to interpret these passages as anything but literal.
Instead, we should be open to reading these passages as positive evidence that God, even though He is spirit, has the mysterious ability to appear in physical form while yet remaining spirit. Each of these instances foreshadowed the miraculous moment when God would not just appear in physical form and then disappear—as in the Hebrew Scriptures—but rather would take on a whole human nature for our salvation. Our incarnate Messiah is the apex and fulfillment of these theophanies.
Jesus’ Divinity Does Not Require That God Ceases to Be Fully Divine
Some Jewish people think that worshiping Jesus is idolatry because no one can be both God and man. We have illustrated that this is not the case. God did not cease to be God when He sent His Son to live among us. The Son of God remained omnipresent, omnipotent, and spiritual while also living as a finite and frail human being.
In telling Jewish friends about Jesus, we should always try and clarify that Jesus is not some mixture—half man, half God—nor did his Incarnation change the attributes of the infinite God. He is fully God, and fully man, living in a mysterious union. Once these things are correctly understood, our worship of Jesus can no longer be understood as idolatry.
O Come Let Us Adore Him!
Volumes have been written on the Jewish objections to Jesus being the Messiah. Our approach to sharing the gospel with the Jewish people must address each person’s concerns. It is not practical to prove that Jesus is the Son of God if it is an impossibility in the mind of the Jewish person. However, if one can first be convinced that it is possible to be both God and man, both near and far, then the evidence becomes overwhelming that the person who took on those qualities is none other than Jesus, the promised Messiah of Israel. This simple fact makes addressing the Incarnation foundational in proclaiming the good news of Messiah to God’s chosen people.
Pray for Your Mission to the Jewish People as we share this life-changing message of God’s nearness in our Messiah Yeshua. His Incarnation is Israel’s hope and consolation—and yours and mine as well!