I have a question. I have a Jewish person asking me “What about the guy who lives in a far off place and has never heard the name of Jesus proclaimed—is he going to hell?” My immediate answer is that God finds a way to speak to your heart. Now, the Jews of the times of Abraham and Moses who believed in one God—after the cross I would say that John 3:16 holds true—but to a Jewish person who never looked at The New Testament—is there a sensitive yet clear and concise way to answer this?
I agree with you about God finding a way to speak to your heart.
We are now hearing many stories of people coming to faith in Christ as the result of a dream or vision where He appears to them, inviting them to trust in Him. This is particularly happening in the Muslim world. Many people instantly know it’s the Lord Jesus when He appears to them, but some do not. In some dreams and visions, He tells them who He is, and in others He does not—He just loves them and calls them to come to Him. After the dream/vision, the Lord provides someone to identify Him as they continue to seek Him. (We see something similar in the story of Cornelius in Acts 10.)
So, from what I understand, people are putting their trust in Christ, but some don’t know anything more about Him than that He is God, He loves them and He invites them to trust in Him. Two recurrent invitations continue to appear in the dreams and visions we are hearing about: 1) “I am the way, the truth and the life,” and 2) “You belong to Me.” As people are then able to get a copy of the Bible or talk to a Christian, their knowledge of Christ, the Cross, and the Christian life grows, as well as their faith and their understanding of who Jesus is and what He did.
For years, I have heard that God’s only plan for evangelism is for us to share the gospel. But these stories show that sometimes, Jesus goes directly to a person. And, in Revelation 14:6, there is an angel who takes the gospel to men.
So what that means is that if a person has never heard of Jesus through the preaching of the gospel, that is no obstacle for God. He can, and testimony shows that He does, appear directly to—and call a person to—have faith in Him. We still need to diligently pursue the Great Commission and take the gospel to all nations, since evangelism through the changed lives of Christ-followers is still God’s main plan. But God’s hands are not tied by our inability (or laziness, or selfishness, or disobedience) to get the gospel to everyone He has chosen for eternal life.
Concerning your specific question about a Jewish person who never looked at the New Testament, it’s possible he might be in the same category as people who never heard of Jesus. . . however, in today’s Jewish culture, part of what defines a Jew is “not believing in Jesus.” It’s not a valid definition, and it’s not true, but it’s hard to imagine anyone growing up in a Jewish culture—particularly in North or South America—who wasn’t aware of the Jesus of Christianity in the surrounding culture.
So, I think the bottom line is that God would judge a Jewish person by the same standard as anyone else: “What did you do with the light you received?”
Your Jewish friend asks an important question, and it gives you the opportunity to talk about the character of God. I am grateful that our God is not only just, but loving, and I believe that He will allow the blood of Jesus to cover those who had no chance to reject Him, such as babies who die before or after birth, or the mentally impaired.
God promises that if we seek Him, we will find Him (Deut. 4:29). And since dead people cannot seek God and cannot choose life, that means that it’s all God’s grace allowing us to recognize our need for Him and seek Him in the first place! I would think that this same heart that longs for us to turn to Him, and gives us grace to turn to Him and seek Him, would also respond in love to the cry of a heart that says, “God, if you are there, here I am! I don’t know you, but I want to! Reveal Yourself to me!”
I hope this makes sense.