Question: "Are Jews saved because they are God's chosen people? Will Jews go to Heaven even if they do not trust in Jesus?"
Answer: The Jews are God’s chosen people, according to Deuteronomy 7:6, but that does not automatically make all Jews saved. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). That “no one” includes Jews and Gentiles. For a Jew to be saved, he or she must come to God the Father through faith in Jesus the Messiah.
John the Baptist warned his Jewish audience against trusting that their lineage made them right with God: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham” (Luke 3:8). No matter who we are, we must repent (see Luke 13:5). Physical ancestors do not guarantee a spiritual conversion. Even Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, had to be born again, or he would never see the kingdom of God (John 3:1–8).
The apostle Paul emphasized the need for faith in many of his epistles. Abraham is a prime example of a man who was justified by faith, apart from the Law (which, when Abraham lived, was not even given yet): “Abraham ‘believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham” (Galatians 3:6–7; cf. Genesis 15:6). This idea echoes Jesus’ proclamation over the believing Zacchaeus: “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9). Zacchaeus’s repentance and faith in Christ made him a true son of Abraham, who is the father of all who have faith (Romans 4:11).
Elsewhere, Paul contrasts those with a physical pedigree and outward observance of the Law with those who have true faith, regardless of their heritage: “A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code” (Romans 2:28–29). Salvation is a work of the Spirit in the heart. So, being of Jewish descent does not make heaven one’s home. Being physically circumcised does not guarantee a place in the kingdom. Only the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, can save (Ephesians 2:8–9).
The rich man in Jesus’ story was a Jew, but he ended up in torment in Hades after death (Luke 16:23). In the midst of his agony, the man calls out to “Father Abraham” (verse 24). But he was only a physical descendant of Abraham, not a spiritual one. He did not have the faith of Abraham, and being a Jew did not save him from hell.
The Christian concept of salvation from sin has no equivalent in modern Judaism. Judaism does not believe that man, by his nature, is evil or sinful and therefore does not teach that man has a need to be “saved” from an eternal damnation. In fact, most Jews today do not believe in a place of eternal punishment or a literal hell. When a Jew sins or fails to fulfill the laws of God, the belief is that he can obtain forgiveness through prayer, repentance, and doing good deeds.
This belief in obtaining forgiveness apart from a blood sacrifice counters the Torah, which clearly gives the prescription for forgiveness: “The life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11). The temple sacrifice was always the centerpiece for Jewish atonement. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the Levitical high priest would enter the Holy of Holies in the temple and sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice on the mercy seat. Through this yearly act, atonement was made for the sins of all Israel, but the temple was destroyed in AD 70, and, for almost 2,000 years, the Jews have been without a temple and without a sacrifice—without any means of atonement. Those who reject Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross will find that “no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (Hebrews 10:26–27).
The Brit Chadasha (the New Covenant or New Testament) teaches that the Jewish Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, came to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24) just before the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. “When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:11–14).
The New Testament teaches that everyone, Jew and Gentile alike, has sinned against God (Romans 3:23). All of us are under the consequences of sin, and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). We are all in need of salvation from our sin; we are all in need of a Savior. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). The New Testament teaches that “salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
In Christ, there is “no distinction” between Jew and Gentile (Romans 10:12). Yes, the Jews are God’s chosen people, and through them came the Jewish Messiah to bless all the nations of the earth. But it is only through Jesus that Jews—or anyone else—can find God’s forgiveness.