May Israel Ask: “What Child Is This?”

Posted on December 26, 2019


By David Ettinger

It’s a worthwhile question:

What Child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?

baby manger

The answer is filled with eternal significance: This, this is Christ the King!

These, of course, are the first five lines of What Child is This? the beloved Christmas hymn penned by William Chatteron Dix in 1865 to the music of the sixteenth century English melody Greensleeves.

In the century and a half since the writing of this hymn, millions of people yearly during the Christmas season have asked this same question: “What Child is this?” They ask this question because it is at this time of the year that millions make their token visit to church. If the church is a good one, the Gospel will be presented. If presented, millions will be confronted with the momentous question: “What Child is this?”

The answer has always been evident: The Child in question is “Christ the King.” Many have heard the answer and responded favorably. Many more have heard the answer and denied its sacred truth. But even these who have refused to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior have at least asked the question.

israel map

Question Not Asked
Sadly, as another Christmas has come and gone, there is one spot on the globe where – with few exceptions – this question is not being asked. This is a place where the question should arise daily, but has barely penetrated the public’s consciousness. Ironically, this place is the where Jesus was born, lived, and died: Israel.

Of course, a significant number of Jewish people have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior (I among them). Some estimates place this number at about 150,000 worldwide. However, as a whole, the Jewish people – and the nation where Jesus lived – have not acknowledged Jesus as their Messiah and still wait in vain for their Messiah’s first coming.

How tragic.

How can a nation which bears the evidence of Christ’s existence be so unaware of His Messiahship? How can a country whose economic well-being revolves around the tourism currency of Christian pilgrims be so desensitized to the truth that Jesus is exactly who these pilgrims claim Him to be?

It is certainly not through a lack of effort on the Lord’s part. During His 3-year ministry in Israel, Jesus was constantly calling His Jewish brothers and sisters to embrace Him for who He truly is. Note the tenderness and longing of Jesus’ impassioned plea: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem … how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Luke 13:34).

We can almost see the tears streaming down our Lord’s face as He pours out His heart to His people. But alas, it was not to be. At least not then. And not yet, either.

eyes closed

The Explanation
There’s a reason for this. The apostle Paul sheds light on Israel’s apathy regarding Jesus when the penman writes: “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25). In other words, as difficult as it is to fathom, Israel’s indifference to Jesus Christ is part of God’s plan. And if it seems as if God has discarded His people, think again. Paul obliterates such a notion: “I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means!” (Romans 11:1). This phrase, “By no means,” is the strongest denunciation of the “reject his people” question given. The English translation cannot do full justice to the original Greek. In essence, when Paul asks, “Did God reject His people?” his own answer is, in today’s vernacular, “Don’t even think such a thought! Don’t even ask such a question!”

The point, of course, is that, yes, there is a “blindness” over the eyes of the Jewish people concerning Jesus and, yes, this blindness is part of God’s plan. At the same time, however, God has definitely NOT rejected His chosen people. Yet, the reality remains: The Jewish people as an entity have not accepted Jesus Christ as their Messiah.

Light in the Distance
But here’s the good news: This national rejection of the Messiah will not be permanent.

The prophet Zechariah tells us that Israel’s spiritual slumber will be shattered in the last days when Israel “will look on me [Jesus], the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son” (Zechariah 12:10).


With this in mind, what do Christians who love Israel and the Jewish people make of all this? And, how, exactly, should we pray during this Christmas season?

For one thing, pray for the quickening of the day when Israel’s blindness will be lifted. The fact that approximately 150,000 Jewish people have already embraced Jesus gives hope that many more will eventually do the same. Therefore, Christians ought to pray that God will awaken the Jewish people – one individual at a time – to the saving truth of Jesus’ lordship.

Another thing Christians should do is pray that God will open the minds of the Jewish people to the point where they will at least begin asking the question that serves as the title of this piece.

Lastly, when you are in church and that glorious hymn is being sung, think of Israel ­and pray that somewhere in the world a Jewish person is also asking the crucial question: “What Child is this?”

May the day be hastened when all of Israel will proclaim, “This, this is Christ the King!”