What is Messianic Judaism? What it is not...
Updated: Dec 26, 2021
In the early 80s, when I came to Yeshua. I thought I was the only Jewish person in the world who believed in Yeshua. Then I met an Israeli woman who told me, not only was I not alone, there were whole communities of Jewish people who believed in Yeshua as Messiah. Honestly, I didn't believe her. It was too good to be true.
But then, I began to read the New Testament and saw very quickly that no one started a new religion. The disciples never, ever believed that they had left Judaism for a new religion. They had found the Jewish Messiah.
In fact, the biggest controversy in the years after this massive Yeshua movement took hold in Israel 2,000 years ago was about whether or not a Gentile could be a Yeshua follower without first converting to Judaism. That is right...the controversy was not, "Can a Jew believe in Jesus?" but "Can a Gentile believe in Jesus?"
Long story short: It took me a year, but I finally visited one of these Messianic Congregations. I was blown away. Jewish people, singing Jewish songs, dancing the Horah, worshipping Jesus. 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 the Christian world. 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 ceremonial Torah (except circumcision), and the latter claimed that the northern ten tribes of Israel were actually Christians who accepted the Gospel. Gentiles started telling their Christian friends and relatives that they were pagan for celebrating Christmas, Easter, and worshiping on Sunday. And we got blamed!
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 the threat of imprisonment, beatings, or even death, in order to follow the Jewish Messiah. No one wanted to be Jewish during the Inquisition or Crusades or and no one was doing DNA tests to prove their Jewishness in Nazi Germany!
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Myths about Messianic Judaism
1. Messianic Judaism is about getting people to stop celebrating Christmas and Easter.
No! While most Messianic Jews 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 Christmas or Easter. 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. In fact, many Jewish believers are married to non-Jewish believers and have fond family memories of holidays like Christmas. They should not be condemned for wanting to continue celebrating. 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")
2. 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 not only rule but bless the nations (plural). The rainbow, God's promise to the nations not to flood the world again, is made up of many colors, blending from one to another. Abraham had the dual promise of being the father of one nation and yet being a blessing (through his seed, Yeshua) to all nations (Gen. 12:3). 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). And John glories in seeing people from every nation in heaven (Rev. 7:9)!
3. Messianic Jews are better than other believers.
No! May it never be! God does not play favorites. He loves all of His creation, and no one gets closer to Him based on ethnicity or racial superiority. 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.
So, 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, for the most part, 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 Ephesians 2 one new man and household of God.
Somehow, over time, the idea of being Jewish and believing in Yeshua became contradictory—an oxymoron. 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-forwarded 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 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 Christians thought they were coming "under the law" and misunderstood them. Messianic Jews do not teach that living according to the ceremonial or ritual laws of the Torah (Sabbath, Kosher laws) is essential for salvation. But neither do we teach that there is no value in them. And neither did Paul.
What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God. What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God's faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every human being a liar. (Romans 3:1-4)
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 leave Judaism? If Paul was really teaching Jews to forsake Moses, how could they be 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 through 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). Their theology became the foundation for centuries of Jewish persecution. No, the Holocaust was not carried out by Christian theologians. But with Christian anti-Semitic theology, it would not have been possible.
How does Replacement Theology hold up in light of all the prophetic fulfillments? Israel became a nation again in 1948, just as the Bible predicted against all odds! While Israel is not a perfect nation, the fact is that "something" preserved Israel for 1,900 years and then brought the Jewish people back to her own land (Ezek. 36:24). This "something" could only be the hand of God.
According to Ezekiel 3625ff, Hosea 3:5, Zech 12:10, and Jeremiah 31:31ff, Jewish people will soon come en masse to Yeshua. And the beginning of this end-time Jewish awakening has begun all over the world. Replacement Theology crumbles in light of these prophetic realities.
To the Jewish people, Messianic Judaism 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.
To the Church, Messianic Judaism is a reminder to bless Israel, as Paul pleaded in Romans 11 when speaking of how the Gentile believers should act toward unbelieving Israel:
You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in." Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Consider, therefore, the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. (Romans 11:19-22)
Just as Israel has been blinded to the truth of Messiah Jesus for 2000 years, the Church has been blinded to God's eternal, irrevocable calling on Israel and their calling to bless the Jewish people. May all of our eyes be opened in these last days.
Originally published on March 28, 2019