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#129 A Jewish Man Considers Jesus

October 05, 2009
Q

Dear Dr. Craig:

I am considering becoming a Christian.

I was raised in a Jewish family. In fact, both of my parents were survivors of the Holocaust and they both died when I was quite young.

My father was very religious, and I remember him and his wisdom with great affection. He truly loved G-d.

I have three questions:

(1) According to Christianity, do Jewish people have access to the Lord's grace after death? My father was a good man, but, being Jewish, did not accept Christ. So what, according to Christian teaching (and perhaps there is not one doctrine on this), happens to people like him in the next life?
(2) If I become a Christian, will members of my Church fully accept me as such, or will they still regard me as a Jew?
(3) There are many Christian denominations. How does one go about deciding which one is right?

Thank you, Dr. Craig. I have watched your courageous debates (on Youtube) against Rabbi Singer and Christopher Hitchins. I appreciate your grounding in philosophy and logic (those were the subjects I majored in while in college).

Incidentally, one of the best explanations of the trinity that I have read is the one put forward by C. S. Lewis. I am sure you are familiar with it.

With best regards,

Robert

    Dr. craig’s response


    A [

    I’m so glad to hear that you’re considering placing your faith in Christ, Robert! I’ll do my best to answer your questions straightforwardly.

    Your first question needs to be re-phrased, it seems to me, lest misunderstanding result. Taken at face value, the answer to (1) is “Yes, of course!” Jesus was a Jew, and almost all the early Christians prior to Paul’s Gentile mission were Jews. My wife Jan and I just returned from Israel this summer where we met many Jewish followers of Jesus. These folks are Jewish through and through and prefer to be called “Messianics” rather than Christians because of their identification with their Jewish heritage. It goes without saying that all these folks have access to God’s grace after death, along with all who have trusted Jesus Christ for salvation.

    But that would be to miss the point of your question. What you’re really asking is whether a faithful Jew who has not placed his faith in Jesus Christ can still be a recipient of God’s salvation after death. To which I reply: that depends!

    As a historical religion Christianity advanced progressively throughout the world from its first century beginnings in Israel. There were doubtless many Jews alive at the time of Christ who because of geographical distance never heard the good news of Messiah Jesus before they died. Therefore, though living after the advent of Christ, such persons were effectively still living under the old covenant and so will be judged as such. In their case, as in the case of faithful Jews in the Old Testament, they can be beneficiaries of Christ’s atoning death without a conscious knowledge of Christ.

    On the other hand, the writers of the New Testament could not be clearer that someone who hears the Gospel of Jesus Christ and rejects it in so doing rejects God. John is emphatic: “No one who denies the Son has the Father. He who confesses the Son has the Father also (I Jn 2.23). You might want to read Paul’s letter to the Romans in this connection. Paul explains at great length that whether one is Jewish or Gentile is of no consequence when it comes to salvation. We are all on an equal footing before God, that is, all guilty and deserving of death, and so are all justified by His grace alone. No one, Jew or Gentile, has lived a good enough life to deserve to go to heaven.

    The knotty question then becomes: what does it mean to hear the Gospel of Christ? Some presentations of the Gospel may be so twisted and distorted--for example, the sort of syncretistic Christo-paganism that passes for Christianity in many Latin American contexts--that they are not truly presentations of the Gospel at all. In such a case a person who rejects this caricature of Christ is not truly rejecting Christ at all and so will not be held accountable for whether he placed his faith in Christ.

    So when it comes to your father, the question will be whether he had an accurate understanding of the Gospel or not. If so, and if he did not come to faith in his dying moments (which no one can exclude), then in choosing to reject Christ he has pushed God away. There is no basis for thinking that people will be given another chance after death (Heb. 9.27). On the other hand, if he had a distorted image of Christ perpetrated by Nazi anti-semites who castigated Jews as sub-human “Christ-killers,” so that he was not really rejecting Christ, then perhaps he found salvation under the old covenant. Only God knows his heart for sure.

    Your second question is surprising! Why wouldn’t you want the members of your church to regard you as Jewish? Many of them will no doubt be envious of your Jewish heritage and wish they, too, were Jewish. You can be a Jew who believes in Jesus. Now if you’re worried about being bound by Old Testament ceremonial laws, don’t worry! People won’t expect you, as a follower of Jesus, to obey all the Old Testament food laws and observe distinctions between clean and unclean. They’ll see you as someone like the apostle Paul, who regarded those laws as a temporary custodian until Christ came. I have every confidence that you will find fellow believers rejoicing in your faith in Christ.

    As for your third question, find a church where the Bible is faithfully expounded every Sunday and where people know the Lord. Secondary denominational doctrines are just not all that important. Of course, you should not become a member of any church whose doctrinal requirements you cannot in good conscience adhere to. But mainly look for solid biblical exposition from the pulpit in looking for a place to worship. A good book to read in this connection is Bruce Milne’s Know the Truth, which lays out the teachings of various Christian denominations.

    May God continue to draw you to Himself and to His Son, Messiah Jesus!

    - William Lane Craig