New Survey Captures Israeli Beliefs
Allow me to present a few of the trends and insights the survey uncovered, and you will quickly see how this new information might help shape our future ministry.
Israelis Value Jewish Identity
One question we asked in our survey was, “What about your identity as a Jew is important to you?” We offered several choices. The most common responses were: leading a moral life; remembering the Holocaust; taking care of Jews in need; and serving in the Israeli military. Most notable was the mere 1 percent of respondents who said, “I don’t care about keeping my Jewish identity.” This response means, whatever their religious practices, Israelis, by and large, care about being Jewish. We have not taken this fact for granted. Seeing this growing trend encouraged our staff, as increased secularism could lead to abandoning what it means to be Jewish altogether. Thankfully, it has not.
Unfortunately, most Israelis in the more religious community still see Jews believing in Jesus as something negative—about 75 percent, according to the survey. On the other hand, almost 70 percent have heard of “Messianic Jews”—Jewish people like myself who believe Jesus is the promised Messiah. These figures help us understand why emphasizing the Jewishness of the gospel message is so essential when sharing it with Israelis. We hope to show how faith in Jesus is in sync with having deep Jewish loyalties and especially a commitment to the State of Israel.
Most Israelis Believe in God
Of the Israelis surveyed, 86 percent said they believe in some higher power. This figure challenges the typical portrayal of Israelis as predominantly secular. Not only does a significant majority believe in a higher power, but 64 percent also said they believe in God “as described in Jewish tradition.” This high number amazed and encouraged us, as it indicates an openness toward a belief in the God of Israel and refutes the theory that many younger Israelis are flocking to Eastern religions.
It was also quite astounding to discover 49 percent of Israelis believe there is life after death. More specifically, 54 percent of Israelis believe in heaven. These trends might partly explain why we are finding Israelis, especially those who are younger, are more open to the gospel message.
Israelis Believe in a Personal Messiah
Belief in the Messiah—and several facets of the Scripture’s portrayal of the Messiah—is one of the most remarkable insights from the entire survey. Among Israeli respondents:
- Fifty-five percent believe in the coming of the Messiah.
- Sixty-nine percent think the Messiah will perform miracles.
- Sixty-four percent believe there is a connection between the State of Israel and the coming of the Messiah.
- Forty-five percent believe the Messiah could come in their lifetime; thirty-eight percent said they did not know.
These results are significant and unexpected. Over the past several decades, the trend within the Jewish community has been to reject the concept of the Messiah as a person, at least for the Jews outside of Israel. Many instead looked to some messianic age of peace and justice, usually accomplished through human effort instead of divine deliverance. According to the survey, Israelis are expecting a personal Messiah. Even more impressive are their biblical expectations of the Messiah, including his conducting of miracles and his connection to the Land.
Israelis Think the Land Is Theologically Significant
Among respondents, 64 percent agreed “the Jews are the ‘chosen people’ as the Bible describes.” Moreover, 74 percent said they believe “the land of Israel is ‘the Promised Land’ as the Bible describes.” Most respondents also affirm the biblical boundaries of the land (Genesis 15:18–20), as 76 percent agreed it includes Judea and Samaria.
These questions suggest a certain acceptance of, or at least openness to, a biblical perspective. Some Israelis, especially those more secular, have rejected concepts like “chosen people” and “Promised Land” as outdated and even prejudicial. However, this view is less prominent among Israelis today than we thought, which is why we believe the survey indicates Israelis think more biblically, not less! Today’s Israelis are more likely than previous generations to believe God chose a particular people and land for His purposes.
Israelis Have a (Relatively) Positive View of Evangelicals
It was encouraging to discover 60 percent of Israelis surveyed believe relations between Jewish people and Christians are improving. On the other hand, only 4 percent of Israelis say they know evangelical Christians. In comparison, 3 percent say they know a Messianic Jewish person, 11 percent a Catholic (of which there are many among the Arab population), and 5 percent an Orthodox Christian, a prevalent stream of Christianity in Israel.
Only 21 percent believe Christians of all stripes support Israel, and 30 percent say Christians are “hostile” to Israel. Yet, 50 percent believe evangelicals, in particular, are sincere when they claim to support the State of Israel. This fact is positive. Although, remember, according to the survey, most Israelis do not know an evangelical Christian. May the Lord give us grace to change this trend, as the more Israelis who know a born-again Christian, the better for the gospel!
We were disappointed but not surprised to learn more than 50 percent of the Israelis surveyed have not read and do not want to read the New Testament. At the same time, 25 percent said they had not read the New Testament but would be willing to do so! This statistic is encouraging and means a million-and-a-half Israelis would be willing to read the New Testament!
It is crucial we help Israelis recognize the God of Israel from the Hebrew Scriptures as the same God in the New Testament—the God of Israel who sent and revealed Himself in Jesus. We must continue to emphasize Jesus is Himself the true Lord of Israel, not some foreign or pagan concept. We emphasize this magnificent consistency between the two testaments through our various outreach websites, social media, and printed literature.
What Do Israelis Think about Evangelical Christians? (NRB Survey)