NEW SERIES INTRODUCTION
In a cooperative venture with Adventist Mission, Elder’s Digest is delighted to bring you a special series of eight articles outlining how Seventh-day Adventists can share the Three Angels’ Messages with important specific people groups.
WHY AND HOW A JEWISH MINISTRY?
As Seventh-day Adventists, we are to herald the need to prepare for the second coming. It is important that Jewish people have a special place in our message. Our mission is described in Isaiah 40:3–5: “A voice cries out in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of ADONAI, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley will be lifted up, every mountain and hill made low, the rough ground will be a plain and the rugged terrain smooth. The glory of ADONAI will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together.’ For the mouth of ADONAI has spoken” (Isa 40:3–5, TLV).1 In Adventist circles this text describes the Adventist mission as a movement that should announce the second coming of Jesus. Indeed, even though the New Testament applies this text to John the Baptist, we must recognize that “the glory of ADONAI” in verse 5 will be fulfilled only at the second coming. Thus, this text has a double application: at the first coming and at the second coming. This is why we believe there should be a “forerunner”—a group who will proclaim the second coming in advance. Adventists have believed from the very early stages of the Adventist movement that we are the ones to proclaim this message—the “John the Baptist” of the time of the end.
However, if we look carefully, we find this section of Isaiah 40 does not begin with verse 3, but with verse 1: “‘Comfort, comfort My people,’ says your God. Speak kindly to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed. For she has received from ADONAI’s hand double for all her sins” (Isa 40:1–2). Thus, in preparing the second coming of Jesus we should seek to “comfort God’s people.” In Romans 11:1 Paul asks the question, “God has not rejected His people, has He?” It is clear that in Romans 9 to 11 Paul is speaking about Israel according to the flesh, and he still calls it “His people”—meaning “God’s people.” When reaching Jews, it is not the time to accuse them of killing or rejecting Jesus, but rather to comfort them, to “speak kindly to the heart of Jerusalem” to tell them that “her iniquity has been removed.” It is important to remind them of God’s love for them. In God’s plan, the church has not replaced Israel! That is why Paul continues to say “His people” when he speaks about Israel. We should therefore manifest the same love toward them that God has for Israel.
While the New Testament applies Isaiah 40 to John the Baptist, Jesus also applies the text of Malachi 4:5 to John the Baptist: “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and terrible day of ADONAI” (Mal 3:23, TLV). Jesus says, “I tell you that Elijah already came; and they didn’t recognize him. . . . Then the disciples understood that He was speaking to them about John the Immerser” (Matt 17:12– 13). If we are the John the Baptist of the end time, we should also be the “Elijah” of the end time. He also announces the coming of the Messiah, but in a special way: “He will turn the hearts of fathers to the children, and the hearts of children to their fathers” (Mal 3:24, TLV, cf. Mal 4:6). Let us remember that this text is a symbolic text, not a literal one: the Elijah in Malachi 4 is not the literal Elijah who went to heaven in a chariot of fire; this text represents John the Baptist and also the church at the second coming. Thus, the fathers and the children should also be understood as symbolic representations. Since another entity will not arise to replace the church, this means the “children” represent the church and the “fathers” represent their ancestors, which means Israel. In fact, the mission of the messenger in Malachi 4 is the same mission as the messenger in Isaiah 40. According to Isaiah 40 the messenger should comfort Israel, and according to Malachi 4 he should “turn the hearts of fathers to the children,” which means reconciling Israel with the church. It is obvious that since Israel has suffered so much from the hands of the church or Christians during the last nineteen centuries (anti-Semitism, crusades, inquisitions, pogroms, expulsions, Holocaust, etc.), if we do not work on this reconciliation—even asking for forgiveness—Jews will never agree to read the New Testament or consider that Jesus could be the Messiah of Israel. The actions of the church have been so awful that they prevent Jews from thinking that this “Jesus” of the church could be a good Messiah to Jews, one who loves and saves.
“METHOD” TO REACH JEWS
Witnessing to Jews is important in our mission. Ellen G. White affirms this: “God expects His messengers to take particular interest in the Jewish people whom they find in all parts of the earth.”2 We should recognize that we have a great debt of gratitude toward the Jews. Paul expresses this gratitude when he confesses, “For I would pray that I myself were cursed, banished from Messiah for the sake of my people—my own flesh and blood, who are Israelites” (Rom 9:3-4). This is the true spirit in which we should approach this ministry.
Paul also expresses why we must go to them and why we should have a feeling of gratitude toward Jews: “To them belong the adoption and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Torah and the Temple service and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs—and from them, according to the flesh, the Messiah, who is over all, God, blessed forever. Amen” (Rom 9:4–5). Paul is speaking in the present tense, which means that even after the death of Jesus and His rejection by the leaders of the Jewish nation, there are still those to whom belong all the spiritual gifts God gave to Israel for all of humanity: to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the Torah, the temple service, the promises, the patriarchs—and from them, the Messiah. Every spiritual blessing belongs to the Jewish people, and if we can claim these things as Adventists, it is because we received everything from them.
We must first build a friendship that is so strong that they trust us, and when they go to consult their rabbis they will prefer our interpretation, just because they have learned to trust us, and because of our prayers.
Friendship is crucial in Jewish evangelism, but it must be respectful friendship, knowing that our Jewish friends can teach us many things about the Bible, its transmission, and its original meaning. In this context, we should be careful not to go too fast. While we have legitimate reasons to say to them that Jesus is the Messiah they are waiting for, we must also remember that for each text we claim is a messianic text, their rabbi will likely have an alternate explanation. For example: some suggest that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is not a personal Messiah (the word “Messiah” is not in the text) but is about Israel who has been called in the previous chapters the “servant of God”; Daniel 9 is not about the Messiah, but an anointed one who has been killed centuries before. At the beginning of our relationship with our Jewish friends, they will prefer the rabbis’ interpretation over our interpretation. That is why we should not go too fast in doctrinal presentations. We must first build a friendship that is so strong that they trust us, and when they go to consult their rabbis they will prefer our interpretation, just because they have learned to trust us, and because of our prayers. The Lord can then work in their heart to show them what is truth.
We should also have gratitude toward the Jews because they were the first to spread the biblical messages of monotheism and even the gospel. Let us not forget that the apostles, the first gospel messengers, and almost all the writers of the New Testament were Jews. Jesus was born as a Jew and died as a Jew. He was a faithful Jew, exactly as Jews try to be faithful to God in our days.
When I was a pastor in France, a local church was running a radio program. Since I was already motivated to witness to Jews, I went to the local synagogue and introduced myself to the rabbi as a pastor of the local Seventh-day Adventist Church. I explained that I wanted to develop a radio program discussing the Bible with him. He was not enthusiastic, as he had never spoken on the radio before. I encouraged him, saying that our program would be simple—just a talk show between him and me on the Torah text that was being read that Shabbat. He agreed, and we ran this program together for many years. I did not try to influence him in any obvious way to accept Jesus, but in all our conversations on the program I included comments demonstrating that we can discover the Messiah even through the texts of Moses. Of course, he knew that I was born a Jew, and the fact that I was a pastor intrigued him. One day he asked me, “Richard, I know most of the things Christians say about Jesus, but I want to hear from you, as a Jew, who is Jesus for you? How can you believe in Him?” By this time, I felt that we were friends and, while being respectful of his function as a rabbi, I felt that he was ready to hear the truth about Jesus. We had many meetings together, and in everything I said I carefully showed how all of this was consistent with his Jewish knowledge. Progressively, his understanding became clearer, and the light came to his mind. After four years of friendship, he was ready for retirement and organized a party in his synagogue to say goodbye to his congregation. There in the courtyard of the synagogue, he confessed to me that he had accepted Jesus.
The relationship and friendship we might have with a Jew is not the same as we might have with anybody else. It is not a matter of giving a Jew twenty or thirty Bible studies and then baptizing him because he intellectually understands the material. To be engaged in Jewish ministry is a lifetime ministry. It is to build such a strong relationship and friendship that your Jewish friend would invite you to eat with him and his family and would come to eat in your home in spite of all the kosher specifications he has. It is so strong a friendship that your Jewish friend would believe you more than his rabbi. It is so strong a friendship that all the biblical truth you share with him would not only be intellectual truth, but truth that transforms his life and guides him to the One who says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life! No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).
1 All biblical quotations are from the Jewishfriendly Bible translation, Tree of Life Version, unless otherwise noted.
2 Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1911), 381.
Richard Elofer, DIS, recently retired as director of the World Jewish-Adventist Friendship Center.