Nicodemus had a difficult time grasping Christ's call to be "born again." This Jewish leader, along with virtually every fallen human being, still has difficulty with it. But Jesus' amazing new birth teaching is, in fact, a Jewish concept.
The Hebrew word teshuvah conveys a "Jewish" new-birth experience. Teshuvah means "return" or "a returning": a return to the right way, and ultimately a return to God. One translation represents teshuvah as "the master of return."
When we come to Christ, we're returning to God. Jew or Gentile, it doesn't matter: All have been separated from God, and all have to return to Him. The new birth as an experience begins when we turn to Jesus and accept Him as our Savior, but it keeps growing. Like the newborn babe, at the time of new birth our eyes just begin to open. We see that something drastic has happened to us. We begin to breathe the fresh air of a new life. We sense our increasing need of something better. "Through transgression the sons of man become subjects of Satan. Through faith in the atoning sacrifice of Christ, the sons of Adam may become the sons of God. By assuming human nature, Christ elevates humanity. Fallen men are placed where, through connection with Christ, they may indeed become worthy of the name 'sons of God.'"1
To the unconverted mind, this idea makes no sense. Though the concept exists in the Hebrew sanctuary service, it is far re moved from contemporary Judaism. Most Christians, including Adventists, assume that Jews have sanctuary savvy. This is not necessarily so. In fact, except for Messianic Jews, justification by faith is not a part of Jewish thinking. Their question would be, "Justified for what reason?" Jews, as everyone else, especially those in our modern, secular society, have difficulty understanding their true relationship with God when they aren't covered by the Messiah's righteousness.
Growing up Jewish, I heard a lot from Christians about the idea that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. But it was only when I became a Seventh-day Adventist that I understood why a Messiah was even needed. The Seventh-day Adventist mes sage will eventually click with a Jewish person, because Adventism completes biblical Judaism.
Jews and Adventists have much in common. A Jew believes in one God. Adventists also believe in one God, but the difference is we believe that the one God expresses Himself in three persons. We believe in the seventh-day Sabbath, as Jews do. As a Jew, I was always taught to believe that when you died, you stayed in the grave, awaiting resurrection. Many Jews today, however, no longer believe in the resurrection. A religious Jew believes in Bible prophecy as most Adventists do. With some variables (the biggest, of course, being Jesus Christ and the writings of the New Testament), Adventists are closer to Jews in belief than any other Christian church.
If Adventists have so much in common with Jews, then why are other evangelical denominations more successful in winning them to Christ? Though the answer is complicated, one thing is clear: Others are more organized, more concentrated in their efforts. Do they care more than we do? I don't think so. In the Adventist Church, we have one program after another that vies for our attention, and we tend not to concentrate sufficiently on Jewish evangelism.
Nevertheless, I believe it is time to make Jewish evangelism a priority. Not all Jews will listen, but many will. When a Jewish person sees the beauty of the Messiah as presented in the context of present truth, he or she is often attracted.
There is no reason why, as Adventists, we can't lead Jews to their Messiah. Not only do we have the example of the early Christian church, we also have Paul's counsel in Romans 10 and 11 and additional words of encouragement from Ellen White regarding the work for the Jews.2
When Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be born again, this faithful son of Abraham finally accepted what Christ had to say. So it is today. It might take some time and special understanding to reach our Jewish friends, but when we reach out in the true spirit of Jesus, many will experience the true teshuvah. It's time that we intention ally become involved in our mission for Jewish people.3
1. Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press® Pub. Assn., 1956), 15.
2. ———, Early Writings (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1945), 231.
3. For a more comprehensive understanding of Ellen White's counsels on the work for the Jewish people, read Ellen White Speaks Out Regarding the Work for the Jewish People. This pamphlet is available from the Ellen G. White Estate at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 12501 Old Columbia Pike, Silver Spring, MD 20904.