Moonlight shone through the tall trees in California’s Redwood Forest, falling onto the book sitting on a shelf in a telephone booth. It was the natural place for a phone book, but that wasn’t what 19-year-old Mitch Glaser found so brightly illuminated that night in November 1970.
The title of the book was Good News For Modern Man, and whether it was left there intentionally or by mistake, Glaser, raised in an Orthodox Jewish family that was not extremely religious, was intrigued. He had no idea at first that it was a copy of the New Testament—something he hadn’t read and, in fact, had grown up being taught to never read or believe. This was a modern translation with a creative paperback cover.
Only hours earlier, a searching Glaser had prayed in a manner uncommon to his Jewish upbringing: God, if You’re real, show me, and show me how to get to You.
“That’s a very important prayer for a non-believer who’s Jewish, because we would never think to get to God a different way than just being Jewish,” Glaser, now 66, told Decision. “So that was a real crack in the door, so to speak, from my own soul.”
For the past 21 years, Glaser has served as president of Chosen People Ministries, an international Messianic Christian outreach to Jews. Thanks to his own life journey, he knows how difficult it can be for a Jew to be open to the Gospel.
“We’re a resistant people,” he said. “I compare Jewish evangelism to trying to evangelize Muslims in Saudi Arabia.”
Back when he was 19, Glaser says he, like many of his friends, was a “drugged-out Jewish hippie.” He had quit college and moved from New York to San Francisco.
But then two of his Jewish friends did something radical: They accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Though Glaser didn’t understand or agree with their decisions, he noticed positive changes in their lives and was touched by the kindness of their Gentile Christian friends.
With an appetite for truth, meaning and fulfilment, he took their advice and began reading through the only part of the Bible he was familiar with—the Old Testament. He found it riveting and more personal than he’d ever noticed before. He was drawn to the relationships Abraham, David and Isaiah had with God. He wanted that, too, so he asked God to reveal Himself to him.
When he found the book in the phone booth only a few hours later, he couldn’t deny the possibility that God was pointing him to the New Testament.
“I was actually hoping to avoid Jesus because, being from a Jewish home, I knew my parents would be very upset,” Glaser says now. “But there it was—and, I mean, it was shining in the moonlight. I couldn’t believe it.”
Glaser was working as a youth camp counselor at the time and brought the book back with him to his cabin. He read it during daytime breaks and for hours late at night—and he couldn’t seem to stop. Within three days, he had finished the entire New Testament.
He was surprised to learn that Jesus was Jewish, which removed the first of many spiritual barriers he faced that were rooted in traditions he grew up believing.
“The playing field changed when I discovered that Jesus was Jewish,” he said. “Now my debate [about the validity of Christianity] was not with the Gentiles who had persecuted Jews in Eastern Europe and the Crusades. Now my issue was with a Jew, not an anti-Semite.”
And despite all the religious obstacles that he still needed to clear, Glaser was drawn to Jesus on a personal level as he read the Scriptures.
“It probably only took about one chapter, and I was fixated on Jesus,” he said. “I remember thinking to myself, If anybody is like God, He is. That was the ‘aha moment’ for me. That’s what grabbed my heart. He challenged me from the inside out.”
Still, Glaser resisted fully surrendering to Jesus.
There were so many deeply-rooted objections from his Jewish background that he had to overcome.
Perhaps the biggest obstacles were the Christian teachings that Jesus not only was the promised Messiah, but also was indeed God in human flesh.
“There is no concept of a divine Messiah in Jewish tradition—nothing of the sort,” Glaser said. “And the belief that God could become a man is considered idolatry, which is the only way Jews believe they can be cut off from God Himself.”
Glaser was unrelenting in his pursuit of truth, however, and found it particularly revealing to begin discovering Jesus in Old Testament Messianic prophecies after reading the New Testament. Matthew 2:6, for example, quotes Micah 5:2, which foretold more than 700 years before Christ that from Bethlehem—Jesus’ birthplace—would come a ruler over Israel who was from ancient days.
That was mind-blowing to me, absolutely mind-blowing,” Glaser said.
Glaser was amazed to learn that two Hebrew words translated in that verse as “from ancient days”—qedem and owlam—usually refer to God in Scripture when used together as they are there.
He also found it very significant that the Hebrew word for Bethlehem means “house of bread” and that Jesus is “the bread of life” (John 6:35).
Glaser realized Isaiah 53 was a powerful prophetic picture of Jesus as a suffering Savior—something Judaism sternly rejects. Glaser met with Jewish rabbis to discuss that chapter of Scripture and, despite their objections, emerged more convinced than ever that it described Jesus.
“I finally said to myself, If I don’t believe this, I’ll never be able to believe anything in my entire life because it makes so much sense intellectually, emotionally and in every which way.”
After contemplating the magnitude of the decision, he gave his heart to the Lord.
Today, he and Chosen People Ministries are bold on the evangelism front. His book, Isaiah 53 Explained, has been distributed to more than 150,000 people and has been published in 12 languages. The ministry has centers in the U.S., Canada and around the world, including Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv in Israel; Berlin; Buenos Aires, Argentina and Paris. They’re in contact with thousands, including through internet evangelism, with 200-300 Jews receiving salvation each year through Christ.
Glaser longs to see that number grow and says his zeal is easily explained.
“When a Jewish person comes to faith in Jesus, it’s so costly in terms of our relationships with family and friends,” he said. “There’s a lot of rejection. My grandparents never talked to me again. That was not easy. Most Jewish believers are very passionate for the Lord. You don’t make that decision lightly.”