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What must a Jewish person "believe" or "do" to go to Heaven?

By Jon Lieberman, Carmel, IN

What do you mean believe something? I thought a Jewish person must do something, perform mitzvot (keep the commandments of Torah), in order to have a place in heaven in the world to come? Isnít that what Yom Kippur is all about ó praying, repenting, fasting, and giving zedakah (charity) so that oneís name can be inscribed in the Book of Life?

Also, donít all Jewish people automatically go to heaven? Does the Jewish Bible (called The Tanakh) teach that some Jewish people, whose names are not inscribed in the book of life, will face a future judgment and be separated from God forever?

You might be saying to yourself, "I donít believe in life after death so this message is totally irrelevant to me." Before you tune me out, are you 100% sure you are right? If you could be assured of the truth of immortality, wouldnít you like to know that you personally are headed in the right direction?

Listen to this text from the Tanakh written by the prophet Daniel. The context is the end of the age when the final judgment comes and the dead are resurrected:

"Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt." (Dan. 12: 1-2)

Everlasting Life? OK ó You might respond by saying that you have been a good Jewish person (just in case there is an accountability before a Holy God and you are conscious after death). You say ó "Iím a member of a Temple, am active in my community, contribute to many charities, and basically am a real mensh (a decent human being). Surely on Yom Kippur, God will place my name in the book of Life."

The issue is not how good you think you are (compared to another person). The issue is how does any Jewish person receive forgiveness for their sins from a holy God. Does it just happen once a year on the Day of Atonement?

SINS? What sins are you talking about? How about pride,arrogance, jealousy, anger, uncontrollable habits, indifference to God, and your rejection of the authority of the Jewish Bible (Godís Word) over your life?

ATONEMENT? If that is what a Jewish person needs to go to heaven, what then is it and how do you get it? The probing question is this ó "What does GOD require (not what your Rabbi or tradition says) of the Jewish person before He will pardon and inscribe his or her name in the Book of Life?"

According to Jewish tradition, once a year on Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement, (which this year begins at sundown, Wednesday, September 26) it is said that God seals the name of every repentant Jew in this legendary divine record book.

Does the Tanakh confirm such a practice? To answer that question we must turn to these ancient Jewish Scriptures themselves.

The Torah records that Aaron, Israelís Kohen Ha-Gadol, (the Great High Priest) was commanded once each year to kill a goat and then sprinkle its blood upon an altar in a sacred area of the Temple called The Holy of Holies. The Torah emphatically states, "It is the blood that makes atonement for the soul." (Lev. 17:11)

The Torah also instructed Aaron to lay hands upon a live scapegoat, confess Israelís sins over that goat, and then send it off into the wilderness.

We learn 4 things from this practice: (1) Aaron made atonement for the people, indicating that the people needed a mediator to represent them before God, (2) An innocent victim, in this case a goat, had to be killed for them. The goatís blood represented the substitutionary aspect of atonement, (3) A scapegoat was designated to take away their sins and, (4) Each Jewish man and woman had to put their faith in this procedure in order to receive atonement. (Read Leviticus, Chapters 16 & 17).

I pose two simple questions ó "Where is the blood today?" and "Who functions as a mediator between our Jewish people and God?" The usual answer is that in 70 C.E. the Romans destroyed the 2nd Temple and the Rabbis decided to restructure Judaism without a sacrificial system and thus arbitrarily substituted fasting, prayer, charity, and repentance to take the place of the blood sacrifice.

But has God abandoned substitutionary sacrificial atonement as the basis by which a Jewish person receives forgiveness of sins? Would a loving God, who keeps His Word, suddenly take away the only means of atonement without providing another way to be reconciled with Him?

Isaiah, a Jewish prophet, writing around 720 B.C.E., predicted that a suffering servant would one day die for IsraelĎs sins! Isaiah wrote: "...he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquitiesÖwe all, like sheep, have gone astray and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all...he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors" (Isaiah, Chapter 53)

Who in all of Jewish history could have fulfilled that description of the suffering servant? A humble Jewish rabbi 2000 years ago came to Israel. He performed miracles and healed the sick. He actually fulfilled all the details of that amazing prophecy! He, according to Godís will, became the innocent victim who died for the sins of his people. He was the Kohen Ha-Gadol who mediates redemption to the Jewish soul. He claimed and was one with God and that he was the Messiah of Israel. His claims were proven when He was raised from the dead and physically appeared to hundreds of Jewish men and women! He promised to return a second time to this world! His name is Yeshua HaMashiach ó (Jesus the Messiah). Yeshua, Jesusí name in Hebrew, literally means "God is salvation or brings salvation."

Why speculate any more about whether your name has been inscribed in the Book of Life? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob really loves you and offers eternal life and the forgiveness of sins only to those who trust that Yeshuaís death was the final Yom Kippur, the last Day of Atonement.

In 1971, as a young Jewish "seeker" I discovered for myself this truth. A ZBT fraternity brother at Indiana University two years earlier had asked me one night, "Jon if you died tonight, where would you go?" Up to that point I had never even thought about God or eternity. That questioned led into a two year search for the true meaning of life.

Yeshua said, "I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me." Wonít you come to Him today and receive ETERNAL LIFE and know for sure that when you die you will go to heaven?

You can say this prayer of divine forgiveness:

"Dear God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob, I know that I have sinned and need Your forgiveness. I believe that I canít find acceptance before YOU based on my good works. I canít earn my way to heaven. I did not realize until now that Yeshua is my Jewish Messiah and suffered and made atonement for me 2000 years ago. I believe that Yeshua died for my sins, in my place, on that tree. I believe that he physically rose from the dead. The Tanakh says that If I call upon the name of the Lord, I will be saved and delivered from Godís judgment. I want to experience today this transforming new life in the Messiah. With a sincere heart I do call out to You now to forgive me, to welcome me into your kingdom. I receive by faith the gift of eternal life now, and I surrender the control of my life over to You from this moment on. Thank you God. Amen."

If you have some questions about how to have a relationship with God and want to discuss the biblical teaching of atonement and the Messiah, please contact me:

Updated:  01/03/03