In our attempts to understand how to reach the Jewish people with the gospel, we really need to focus on being sensitive and to understand what the name of Jesus and the image of the cross represents to a Jewish person. Many acts of hostility have been committed against the Chosen People in the name of Jesus and most worship at churches has very little Jewish expression. Therefore, in order to be effective with our message of hope, we need to overcome these significant barriers. That means bringing Christianity back to its Jewish roots and presenting it in its first-century context when almost all the believers were Jewish.
Probably the most significant change we have to make when witnessing to a Jewish person is our terminology. How we say things, as everyone has found out one time or another is equally as impacting as what we are saying. To a Jewish person, the name “Jesus” connotes the gentile God. He isn’t for us. That is why we use His Hebrew name “Yeshua.” The use of the word “Christ” has even stronger significance. Mistakenly used for the Lord’s last name instead of His title (the Messiah or “anointed one”), it represents the persecution we have faced at the hands of His real and supposed followers throughout the centuries. Whenever you hear an unbelieving Jewish person use the word Christ, you can be rest assured it’s not in reverence. Messiah or “Moshiach” mean the promised deliverer. New and Old testaments do not mean anything to Jews because since the New is rejected, there cannot be an old. Instead, we talk of the “Hebrew Scriptures” or the “Jewish Bible.” Instead of “the cross” we use the word “tree.”
The most damaging word a believer can use with someone Jewish is “convert.” To a Jew, converting means giving up your whole identity. Remember the common belief is that if a Jew believes in Jesus, he is no longer Jewish. The reality is that to believe in Israel’s Messiah is the most Jewish thing a Jew can do. I understand far more about my identity as one the children of Israel, my culture, traditions and especially the word of God then I did before I became a believer.
My identity as being Jewish now makes sense whereas before, although it was important to me, I was not able to define why.
Therefore, a Jew does not convert but rather is “completed” or “fulfilled” and yes, even though we may be Christians (i.e. follower of the Messiah), it is much more palatable to the Jewish ear to be called a “Messianic Jew.”
To those who haven’t had to deal with these issues, it may seem like a matter of semantics but for those of us who are struggling with the world to establish our identity and define what we are, it makes every bit of difference. May the Lord bless you with an increased understanding of the unique battle we have in presenting our Messiah to my people in a way they will accept Him.
Messianic Rabbi Darryl Weinberg