In the early eighties, when I came to faith in Yeshua, I was quickly told I was not alone. There were other Jewish people who worshiped Yeshua, while still maintaining their Jewish Identity. I thought this was crazy. I was now a “Christian”—a non-Jew, in my mind. But, then, I began to read the New Testament and saw very quickly that no one started a new religion. The disciples never, ever considered the idea that they had left Judaism. In fact, the biggest controversy in the years after this massive Yeshua movement took hold in Israel was about whether or not a Gentile could be a Yeshua-follower without first converting to Judaism.
Long story short: I joined Beth Messiah, one of the flagship Messianic congregations (at the time) in Rockville, Maryland. Soon, I was the youth leader and, then, associate rabbi.
Honored as Jews…until
Up until then, there was very little criticism of our movement. In fact, whenever I traveled to minister, I was treated with honor, like an answer to prophecy—the Jewish wing of the body of Messiah coming back to life!
But, then, the Hebrew Roots Movement and the Two House Movement came along. The first one taught, contrary to Acts 15, that all believers should keep liturgical Torah (except circumcision); and the latter claimed that the northern ten tribes of Israel were actually Christians who accepted the gospel. Suddenly, leaders who once respected me were asking me if I was one of them. Confusion arose over what Messianic Judaism was and wasn’t. Some non-Jewish believers felt excluded. We were accused (sometimes rightly) of being elitist.
Oh, how things have changed from the time when the Church forced Jews to forsake all Jewish identity, often by threat of imprisonment, beatings or even death, in order to follow the Jewish Messiah. No one wanted to be Jewish during the Inquisition, Crusades or Holocaust! Now people are paying for DNA tests in hopes of being Jewish. Yes, things have changed. But Yeshua is the Savior of all nations.
Myths about Messianic Judaism
Messianic Judaism is about getting people to stop celebrating Christmas and Easter. No! While most of us don’t celebrate these holidays (just the truth they represent), many believers have encountered those who are on a crusade to condemn anyone who celebrates them. I have seen some even suggest that people are not saved if they engage in Christmas celebrations. This is ridiculous and is something most Messianic Jews reject. Yes, we should know the history behind the holidays, but I am not on a crusade to abolish them. (see my blog series “Seven Thoughts about Christmas from a Messianic Jew”)
Messianic Judaism is about getting Christians to become Jews. No! The beauty of the Body of Messiah is that it is made up “from every nation, tribe, people and language.” (Rev. 7:9) While we do seek to live as Jews, as the “irrevocable call” of Romans 11:29 is unique to natural Israel, we believe there is tremendous value in every nation under God. Joseph’s coat of many colors symbolized that Yeshua would rule the nations (plural). If every believer identified as a Jew, there would be no value in Jewish calling. And, yet, Paul says, “there is much in every way.” (Romans 3:4)
Messianic Jews are better than other believers. No! God does not play favorites. He loves all of His creation and no one gets closer to Him based on ethnicity or racial specificity. Yes, we all have unique callings, but intimacy with Yeshua can be enjoyed by all, without restriction. I have heard stories from some believers who were treated poorly by Messianic believers—like second class citizens.
You have to understand that we are a relatively new movement (or newly resurrected movement!) and, particularly in the early years, there was a lot to figure out. Indeed, many of us suffered anti-Semitism from so-called Christians before we came to faith. So, yes, there was some distrust of the “Church.” However, the overwhelming majority of Messianic Jews today do not hold such attitudes.
What is Messianic Judaism?
When the Gospel first went forth, it went forth in Israel. Those who received the Gospel were exclusively Jews. Indeed, Yeshua told His apostles that they were to take the Good News to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). But they stayed within the confines of Israel. However, Acts 10 clearly opened the door for the Gentiles to become part of the olive tree of Romans 11 and the one new man and household of God that we see in Ephesians 2.
Somehow over time, the idea of being Jewish and believing in Yeshua became contradictory. This goes against everything we see in the book of Acts. In fact, when Paul was accused of teaching “all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs,” the apostles took action, so that “everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the Torah.” (Acts 21:21, 24)
Jewish believers in the New Testament continued to live as Jews. However, if you fast forward to 1983 when I came to Yeshua, somehow, I falsely believed that I was no longer a Jew. This is how many Jewish believers felt until they read the New Testament or met other Messianic Jews.
Over the past 200 years, more and more Jewish believers continued to live as Jews. However, the big breakthrough came in 1967. Providentially, the same year that Jerusalem was restored to the Israel, the Jesus Movement took place. A massive revival began amongst the hippies of North America. It spread to Europe and South America. These ex-hippies called themselves Jesus people and an extraordinarily high number of them were Jewish!
These Jewish believers loved Yeshua but were not comfortable in a traditional church experience. God was calling them to retain their Jewishness. God was restoring what Dr. Daniel C. Juster calls the “saved remnant of Israel.” Many Chirstians thought they were coming “under” the law and misunderstood them.
Think about it…how can “all Israel be saved” (Rom. 11:26) if every Jew left his Jewish identity when he embraced the Gospel? How can the Jewish calling of Romans 11:29 be on the Jewish believers if they left Judaism? God was emphasizing the importance of Jewish believers continuing to live as Jews and being a witness to the larger Jewish world.
Messianic Jews, when asking, “How shall we live in light of Yeshua being the Messiah,” sought to answer this, not in traditional church movements, but the book of Acts, where we find a completely Jewish expression of Yeshua-loving Jews.
The Messianic Jewish movement is a prophetic sign to both the global Church and the Jewish people. Much of the Church had embraced replacement theology, believing that God was finished with Israel forever. They ignored scores of promises that God would not reject Israel (Jer. 31:35-37, Hos. 3:4-5). How does this theology hold up in light of the prophetic fulfillments? Israel became a nation again in 1948, just as the Bible predicted! According to Ezekiel 36 and Jeremiah 31, Jewish people would come en masse to Yeshua. And the beginning of this end-time Jewish awakening has begun all over the world.
To the Jewish people, it is a sign that Yeshua is indeed the Jewish Messiah. We remind our brethren of the dozens of prophecies in the Hebrew scriptures that speak of a Messiah, who would be born in Bethlehem, live a pure life, die as a sacrifice for sin and rise from the dead.
Revival is Needed
However, Messianic Judaism worldwide needs a touch from heaven. Many congregations look more like an Orthodox synagogue than a vibrant New Covenant expression of authority. Many are so focused on Jewish identity or teaching Jewish Roots, that they have forgotten that the first Messianic congregation was birthed in supernatural power. In Acts 2, we see the presence of God falling on Jerusalem and thousands of Jews coming to Yeshua. Sadly, many Messianic rabbis resemble the Pharisees more than the apostles.
I am not saying this to be offensive or judgmental. It is just a fact. We need a new visitation and we need the body of Messiah worldwide to stand with us in prayer. May God breathe afresh on us.
This article originally appeared on Tikkun International, March 31, 2019, and reposted with permission.