Can I Be Jewish and Believe in Jesus?
Why is it difficult and, at times, even volatile to invite a Jewish person to consider whether Jesus is the promised Messiah of Israel? After all, those extending the invitation usually mean well! But oftentimes, our kindest and best efforts to share the good news with a Jewish friend or loved one seems to upset the person we love and care about. I know this from personal experience as I am a Jewish believer in Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew) and love my family and friends. Yet, many of my family members are unwilling to hear about the one who dramatically changed my life, and a few have even become antagonistic. Again, the question is why.
Maybe you are Jewish and do not believe that Yeshua is the promised Messiah of Israel. I hope you will continue reading and maybe have the opportunity to explain to your Christian friends why the Jewish people they speak with might not respond well to conversations about Jesus.
A Quick Personal Answer
Many Jewish people, including members of my own family, think that if they acknowledge the possibility that Jesus is the Messiah, they will no longer be Jewish. I fully understand this objection as it is exactly the way I felt years ago before I came to believe the Jewish Messiah had already come. I grew up in a traditional Jewish home in New York City and was taught—more by osmosis than in a classroom—that Jewish people simply are not supposed to believe in Jesus and that being Jewish and belief in Jesus are two irreconcilable truths.
Indeed, I remember the day I accepted that Yeshua was the Messiah. I went to bed that night thinking I may wake up the next morning as a non-Jew! I realize this does not seem rational, but this is how I and many Jewish people are raised. We are taught that there is a massive, invisible chasm separating Jesus and his fellow Jews today, especially after two thousand years of negative history between Jews and Christians. That was why, in my mind, accepting Jesus as my Messiah was tantamount to identity suicide. Yet, I was willing to sacrifice my community, heritage, and all to follow him because I was so convinced he was our promised Messiah!
Now, for any Jewish readers, before your blood pressure rises to new levels, please do not think that being Jewish was meaningless to me. My Jewish identity has always been precious to me. Most of my relatives from Europe died in the Shoah! Yet, I was ready to be viewed as a non-Jew for the sake of following Jesus whom I believed was the Messiah. I believed it would be a sacrifice well worth the price! I was willing to accept the Jewish community’s rejection for his sake.
To my relief, I woke up the next morning after making the decision that Jesus was the Messiah and felt as Jewish as ever! The good news is that I came to realize that I not only did not have to cease being Jewish but, in many ways, I felt more Jewish than ever before. I know a host of other Messianic Jews who feel the same way. When we first came to believe, many of us thought we were the only Jewish people in the world who believed in Jesus, and then we discovered one another. Believe me, there is a growing community of Jews who think Yeshua is the Messiah—in the United States, in Israel, and around the globe. The apostle Paul (also known as Saul) even wrote about this in his letter to the Roman believers in the New Testament (Romans 11:5).
Not that truth is measured by a majority vote, but it does not hurt to recognize that you are not alone as a believer in Yeshua and that you are loyal to the Jewish people. There are tens of thousands of Jewish people, like me, who believe Jesus is the Messiah and strongly identify as Jewish.
Jewish Identity Strengthened
The Hebrew Scriptures began to mean more to me after I became a follower of Jesus. I also recognized that the New Testament is a Jewish book as almost all of the authors are Jewish. The idea of a personal Messiah is very Jewish and an ideal I was raised with but never took seriously until the day I met Yeshua! I felt very much at home believing that the Messiah had come. I was raised to expect he would! Most of all, I renewed my faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I believed in the God of Israel through the Messiah of Israel because I knew, in the depths of my heart, it was true.
My newfound relationship with God through the Messiah gave me a new sense of spiritual, emotional, and internal intimacy with God. If you follow him, then you know what I mean. If you do not and are seeking a closer relationship with God, then I hope you will take the chance to explore the Messiah and discover what I and so many others are saying is true. Allow me to quote a famous verse from the New Testament penned by John (Yochanan in Hebrew) the apostle: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Yeshua was speaking with one of Israel’s first-century spiritual leaders when he said this. I finally understood that being Jewish was not an accident of birth and that God’s goal in creating and calling the Jewish people into miraculous existence was to be known by His chosen people in the deepest way possible. I recognized that my being Jewish is important to God and therefore should be important to me. God made me Jewish, and He miraculously created the Jewish people from two elderly Semites (Abraham and Sarah) who could no longer bear children. And God gave the Jewish people—the chosen people—a divine purpose: to be a light to the nations and the vehicle of His eternal truth, both through the Scriptures and ultimately through the Jewish Messiah, whom to know is life everlasting.
I do not feel less Jewish; in fact, I feel more Jewish than ever before. It makes the suffering and the difficulties that Jewish people have faced through the centuries worthwhile. We belong to God, and we have been created for a holy purpose. I am a part of His grand design for all humanity as He created and chose the Jewish people to bless the nations of the world. As God said to our father Abram, “And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). I share in that Jewish calling now more than ever through Jesus the Messiah and will continue to live my life for a greater purpose: to share His love and light through the Messiah with a dark and broken world.
As Jews, we have a concept called Tikkun Olam, literally “the repairing of the world.” The Jewish people are called to be His servants and a bridge of messianic redemption to the world. But this is only possible through the Messiah. We cannot bring true shalom to the world without the Messiah, as he is called “the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6–7).
Believing in and proclaiming the good news that the Messiah has come is everything God created us to do. I can barely articulate the joy I have in knowing the Messiah and in fulfilling his purposes for my life. I do hope and pray this will be true for you as well!
Now, let me give you a few other reasons why you should believe this too! So, please keep reading, and may God bless you on your journey.
A Jewish Thing to Do
“Here is what you need to do: You must first shave your head. You dress all in black. You need to wear a white robe. Eat only kosher foods. You have to become a vegetarian. You face Jerusalem. You must face India when you pray. You pray only in Hebrew, and you grow a nice big beard. If you do all those outward cultural things, you will discover the God of the universe.” I thought, This is crazy that someone thinks that they can force their culture on God and that God is going to be impressed by what you wear, what direction you face when you pray, what you eat, and all these sorts of things. If there was a God out there who could be known, He should be able to be recognized no matter where I faced, no matter how I dressed, because He is God.