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Judaism – Tradition of the Jews
The Star of David – probably the best known of Jewish symbols
Israel Spawns Judaism
It is important to see Judaism in its correct context. It is a religious tradition rooted in the history of the nation of Israel and some claim it originated at Mount Sinai (c1400 BC) when God gave Moses the ten commandments, link. Unlike the term ‘Jew’, the term ‘Judaism’ is not in the standard Bible, although there are references to Judaism [Heb ‘Yahadut’] in the Second Book of Maccabees 2:21 and 8:1 and the term was used in the early 1st millennium BC, link, link.
So on the one hand we have the biblical nation of Israel and on the other we have Judaism; we have the God-ordained nation of Israel compared to the human tradition or religion of Judaism. Clearly, it is the nation of Israel that is of primary importance to God. And today a body of Israelite people (Messianic Jews, following Messianic Judaism) are preaching a return from traditional Judaism to the true faith of Israel, namely, a real relationship between God and man as realized through faith in one Mediator between God and man:
There is one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus
(1 Tim 2.5)
Bearing this in mind, Judaism is the world’s oldest monotheistic (only one God) religion and the term is used extensively in modern Jewish history in reference to the Jewish religion. The word literally means ‘Judah-ism’ or ‘the religion of the Yehudim’ – the religion of the Jews. That said, some identify themselves as ‘Jewish’ by race and culture rather than religion and so may not follow Judaism in one of its several forms (Orthodox, Reform, and Conservative Judaism).
The Jewish Talmud – Rabbinic Commentaries on Jewish Law
Judaism is rooted in the written Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) as received by Moses from God on Mount Sinai. But, according to Jewish tradition, Moses received not only the written Torah on Sinai, but also the Oral Torah or Talmud, link. It is claimed this is a collection of traditions Moses gave the Jews in oral form, and Rabbis committed it to writing in the third and fourth centuries after Christ. Today, traditional religious Jews see the Talmud as the record of centuries of discussion expounding the written Law. The Torah alone, even with its 613 commandments, is an insufficient guide to Jewish life. So Jews see the Talmud as a comprehensive Rabbinic interpretation of the Torah’s scriptural writings, thereby serving as a guide to Jewish life, link, link. On the other hand, some claim Christ condemned the traditions of the early Talmud and those who taught it (Scribes and Pharisees), because it nullified the teachings of the scriptures, link. Certainly, its teachings about Christ and Christians are not helpful, link.
Core Beliefs of Judaism
Judaism focuses on the relationships between the Creator God and mankind, between God and His people Israel, and between His people and the land of Israel. Core Jewish beliefs are defined in 13 Articles of Faith (the Jewish Creed) as found in Jewish prayer books and recited in synagogues, link, link. The first 5 beliefs articulate truth about God (principally, there is only one eternal Creator God, articles 1 and 2), articles 6 and 7 concern Hebrew prophets (Moses is the chief prophet), articles 8 and 9 refer to the sacred texts of Judaism (the inspired and complete Torah), articles 10 and 11 refer to God’s relationship to humanity (as in His omniscience and rewards for righteousness), article 12 refers to the coming of the Jewish Messiah (the Moshiach) and article 13 refers to end-time resurrection and judgement.
Since article 1 stresses creation, many Jews believe in creation alone and deny/ignore the theory of evolution, link, link. And articles 12 and 13 are not officially accepted by Conservative and Reform Jews. But all these beliefs are essentially the Jewish bedrock of fundamentalist Christianity, a principal exception being in the understanding of Jesus Christ. Jewish liturgy is filled with prayers for redemption and the coming of the Moshiach, but he is not Jesus Christ.
Importantly, it is argued that Judaism long since stopped teaching that sin separates people from God, link – a clear distinction from the teaching of Christianity.
Moshiach – the Jewish Messiah
Israel’s Jews are either ultra-Orthodox (8%), religious Zionists (17%), Traditional/Orthodox Jews (55%), or secular Jews (20%), link. So some 80% of today’s Jews follow Old Testament (OT) belief in some way, from fundamentalism to loose Jewish practice. The key questions is “Who do these Jews believe their Messiah, Moshiach, to be? And did Jesus fulfill that role?
The vast majority of Jews do not believe that Jesus Christ is their promised Messiah. They do not believe Jesus to be the Moshiach (Hebrew for ‘Messiah’ or ‘Anointed’), the Redeemer of Israel. They believe their Messiah has not yet come. Jewish tradition teaches, link:
- The Messiah will not be the son of God
- The Messiah will be a mortal man, a descendant of King David
- The Messiah will be a prophet, like Moses
- The Messiah will be a human world leader who will reinstate the Davidic royal dynasty and redeem Israel
- The Messiah will not be crucified, and will not be raised from the dead
- The Messiah will not be a ‘Saviour’ giving redemption from sin
This view was evident in the Jews of the very early church. After the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus two disciples were walking on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24.13-35). Although they most likely had first-hand experience of Christ’s crucifixion, they seem to have missed the point. Talking about Jesus to someone they perceived to be a stranger, they said to him:
We were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel (Lk 24.21)
Since Jesus came as a Lamb and not as the expected King to redeem Israel, they (and countless Jews after them) did not recognize Jesus as their expected “Moshiach”. Since then, and up to the present-day, the majority of Jews believe the Moshiach (‘the anointed one’) will be a great human leader, like King David, link, link. He will be anointed with oil as an earthly king and he will deliver Israel. He is not a ‘Saviour’ (as in the Christian ‘Messiah’) but a human political leader who has achieved a level of nobility and greatness not yet seen by the world. All the nations of the world will recognize him to be a world leader and he will usher in world peace. There are many messianic prophecies in the OT that could be taken to pertain to the Moshiach. For example:
The scepter shall not depart from Judah … until Shiloh comes; and to Him shall be the obedience of the people (Gen 49.10)
I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgement and righteousness in the earth (Jer 23.5)
Here lies the fundamental difference between Judaism and Christianity; Jews do not recognize Jesus because He did not accomplish the tasks of the expected human leader; He did not come as King to deliver Israel, or usher in world peace. With the exception of a minority of Jews, Jewish beliefs do not acknowledge the empty cross of Christ – they do not accept that Christ is risen and lives.
Timeline Proof that Jesus is the Jewish Moshiach
It is generally accepted amongst Christian expositors that the term “Shiloh” in Genesis 49.10 (above) refers to a proper name, to Jesus, and that the King referred to in Jeremiah 23.5 is the returning Christ, the true Messiah, link, link.
There are many other Old Testament pointers to Christ. But there is a very interesting “proof” that Jesus really is the expected Moshiach – the expected Messiah. Jesus Himself pointed His Jewish followers to it in Mathew 24.15. Here, the word says we should understand the outworking of Daniel’s prophecy in chapter 9 verses 24-27. When the correct historical dates are applied to this text, then the true identity of Jesus is revealed. Here’s the full prophecy:
v24: Seventy (Heb: shivi’im) weeks (of years) have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin (Heb: chattat), to make atonement (Heb: kapporah) for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place.
v25: So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah (meaning ‘Anointed One’) the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress.
v26: Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined.
v27: And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.
The crucial concepts of sin and atonement are also found in the Orthodox Jewish Bible.
Verse 24 summarizes God’s key objectives: Over a period of 70 (not-contiguous) ‘weeks’ God was to achieve historic spiritual milestones. Here, each ‘week’ is interpreted as 7 biblical or ‘prophetic’ years each of 360 days, as consistent with, for example, Genesis 7 and Revelation 12, link. Whilst these historic events embrace all mankind, they apply specifically to Daniel’s people, the Jews. The text refers to ‘your people’ (the Jews), the ‘holy city’ (Jerusalem) and ‘the holy place’ (the Jewish Temple). Specifically, atonement for sin was to be achieved for Jews (and for all mankind) over a total of 490 ‘biblical’ years. The text implies that these are not contiguous years (there is a break) by referring to ‘your people and your holy city’. Historically, the ‘Jews’ (Jew in the broadest sense) were scattered throughout the nations and have been away from their ‘holy city’ Jerusalem until recently. The verse ends with a vision of peace (‘everlasting righteousness’) on earth and God’s anointing of the (new) Jewish temple. At this point in time there will be no need to foretell future events and prophecy will be ‘sealed’ or completed. The following verses explain how these milestones were to be achieved.
Verse 25: Here there is a timeline of, first ‘seven weeks’ (49 years), and then ‘sixty two weeks’ (434 years), totaling 483 years. According to Daniel, the city would be restored during the first 49 years and this is what happened (see Ezra 9 and 10; Neh 4, 6, 9, and 13). The Temple was established, the city walls were built, and the canon of the Old Testament was completed, all by around 396 BC, link. The decree to rebuild the city is described by the prophet Nehemiah and was issued in the twentieth year of the reign of King Artaxerxes (Neh 2.1). The career and dates of this king were recorded by ancient historians Herodotus and Thucydides (Herodotus was a contemporary of the King). These historians give the date of the decree as 445 BC. Secular historians agree this date and the exact day has been confirmed by astronomical calculations made by the British Royal Observatory, link, link. The day of Artaxerxes’ decree was the first day of the Hebrew month Nisan in 445 BC, or March 14th 445 BC.
The key point here is that the date of the coming of the Messiah is fixed at 69 weeks or 483 years from the issue of this decree. If we count 483 x 360 = 173,880 days from 14 March 445 BC we arrive at April 6th 32 AD, link. See detailed calculation. What is special about this date? According to the British Royal Observatory it was the Sunday before Jesus’ fourth and last Passover (which in 32 AD was on April 10th) and corresponds to the day Jesus entered Jerusalem as King of the Jews and the Jewish Messiah. In the Christian calendar it was ‘Palm Sunday’. Jesus fulfilled the prophet’s words to the day:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, humble, and mounted on a donkey (Zech 9.9)
For Christians, Palm Sunday marks the beginning of the week leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday. This particular day was indeed special but the Jewish leaders failed to recognize it in prophecy (and still do):
When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes … ” (Lk 19.41-42 emphasis added)
Verse 26: Daniel’s prophecy states that after the sixty-two weeks i.e. after the 69th week the Messiah will be ‘cut off’. This is invariably understood to refer to the crucifixion of Christ at the time of His last Passover. A fuller translation is, link:
After the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off, so that He does not have the Kingdom which belongs to Him
Following this, ‘the people of the prince who was to come would destroy the city and the sanctuary’. This happened in 70 AD under Titus, link. The Romans committed genocide against the Jews, sacked the Temple in Jerusalem, and declared the land of Israel would be no more. The Romans expelled the bulk of the Jewish survivors from the country, although some returned to live in line with Roman rule, link, link.
Clearly, any remnant Jewish ‘ownership’ of Jerusalem was lost as the tribes of Israel were subsequently scattered throughout the nations. This is an important point in relation to Daniel 9.24. After 70 AD, Daniel’s people and their holy city to all intents and purposes ceased to exist; the people were scattered and their city and Temple destroyed. But the timeline in Dan 9.24 appears to apply only when Daniel’s people are in Jerusalem with their Temple. So many argue that Daniel’s 70th week cannot carry on immediately after the 69th week. After all, if it did, then the 70th week will have ended sometime in Acts. But Dan 9.24 was certainly not fulfilled at that time e.g. the holy place (the Temple) certainly was not ‘anointed’.
Verse 27: We can amplify the text here. For ‘he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week’ we can write ‘he (the prince who is to come, v26) will make an agreement with the people of Israel for seven years’. A futuristic view of this prophecy sees a secular world dictator (the ‘little horn’ in Dan 7.8, the ‘man of sin’ in 2 Thes 2.3, the ‘beast’ in Rev 13.1) making perhaps some peace agreement with Israel. But in reality it will be ‘a covenant with hell’ (Isa 28.15). This is a stern warning to present-day Israel. Jesus warns about this despicable person in Mat 24.15. The intense international pressure for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement suggests this ‘false peace’ is just around the corner.
CONCLUSION: Daniel’s 70 week prophecy gives a precise timeline for the coming of the Messiah to the Jews in Jerusalem. Dates from reliable historians and from astronomical calculations show that Jesus fulfilled the Messianic prophecy to the day, and so He is the true Jewish Messiah – the real Moshiach. The accuracy of the prophecy was verified by historical events around 70 AD.
Judaism and the Plurality of God – A Problem
Jews seldom discuss this concept even though it is clearly there in Hebrew scripture. The Tanach (the Hebrew Bible) uses the plural masculine noun ‘Elohim’ for God 2602 times, link, which strongly suggests the plurality of the Godhead. This is supported by verses like Gen 1.26 and Isa 6.8 which use the personal pronoun ‘Us’. It is also interesting to note that the Tanach frequently uses plural nouns to describe objects that are by nature multi-dimensional or complex. For example, ‘water’ is described in dual form (mayim) because it is always changing form. On the other hand, acceptance of this theology could lead a person to consider Yeshua (Jesus) as God, and Rabbis denounce the idea that God would come to us in human flesh as utterly pagan. So various eloquent attempts are made to circumvent the clear implication of scripture, link.
Judaism and Atonement – A Problem
For Jews, God’s word is in the Torah (Heb: Tanakh) or first five books of the Bible, the prophets and the ‘writings’ e.g. Psalms. There is no New Testament. God’s Law is in the Torah, pointing out sin and the way of atonement for sin via blood sacrifice (Lev 17.11). But animal sacrifice for sin essentially stopped once the Romans destroyed the Temple in AD 70. After this, non-Messianic rabbis decided to radically restructure Judaism, substituting synagogues, rabbis, prayers, study and commandments for the Temple, priests and sacrifices. So what about atonement today? Some Jews maintain that according to the Tanakh a blood sacrifice is not the only way to atone for sin, link, whilst others believe that today God’s forgiveness for sins is obtained through repentance, prayer and good deeds (see also Hos 6.6), link.
It is perhaps because of their narrow OT worldview and their neglect of the full biblical teaching of forgiveness through Christ that the majority of today’s Jews are hurting inside. Whilst they celebrate Jewish festivals and feel that special OT relationship to God, they still hurt, not just because of the holocaust, but because Judaism offers no hope after death! Religious and secular Jew alike have no hope of the resurrection offered through Christ.
Religion and Spiritual Blindness
Since Jews do not see Jesus as their Messiah, the uncertainty of atonement today ultimately leads to a fear of God. Guilt and lack of hope remain, despite all the Jewish festivals. This is the path of religion and not freedom, a path unlit by the Holy Spirit of God. Reading God’s word is an intellectual exercise rather than a meeting of the heart with God. The New Testament says that these Jews are suffering a temporary spiritual blindness and a temporary hardening of the heart towards God and especially towards Yeshua, Jesus (Rom 11.25):
God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so they could not see (Rom 11.8)
More at Israel’s Spiritual Blindness
In contrast to most Jews, a minority of Jews (some 20,000 in Israel and 300,000 worldwide, link) have found freedom through belief in Yeshua as their Messiah. Messianic Jews are people who believe that Yeshua (also a Jew) is indeed the longed-for Messiah of Israel and the Saviour of the world. These Jews remain Jewish, but the truth about Jesus has been revealed to them by the Holy Spirit and their blindness has been removed. For the first time they experience the meaning of the cross, the love and presence of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit. Sadly, a similar blindness to the truth about Israel is seen in today’s Christian church.
This video illustrates Christ’s love for Israel’s lost Jews, as shown through the Messianic drug/alcohol rehabilitation center in Jerusalem. Government statistics estimate that Israel has over 20,000 hard-core drug addicts, and Beit Hayeshua (House of Salvation) was established as a non-profit organization to help such people. Today it reaches out to Israel’s lost, telling them the good news of Yeshua and helping them to obtain freedom through the power of God.
These Jews have found freedom through belief in Yeshua as their Messiah. They consider themselves a ‘stream of Judaism’ (remaining strongly Jewish in identity and lifestyle, observing Jewish holidays, rituals and customs) but the truth about Jesus has been revealed to them by the Holy Spirit and their spiritual blindness (Rom 11.25) has been removed. For the first time they experience the meaning of the cross and the love and presence of God. Non-Jews who join Messianic congregations are sometimes called spiritual Jews, completed Jews, or Messianic gentiles. More at Messianic Judaism.
The Growth of Messianic Judaism
Messianic Judaism is a religious movement that arose in the 1960s and 70s. It generally holds that Jesus (Yeshua) is the Jewish Messiah, the Saviour of the world, and God (a person of the Trinity). So Messianic Jews and Christians share the same core beliefs. With few exceptions, most Messianic Jews hold both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament to be divinely inspired scripture. They believe the Tenach (the Old Testament scriptures) provides the foundation of their Jewish faith, and the New Covenant scriptures complete their Jewish faith.
From 2003 to 2007, Messianic Judaism grew from 150 Messianic congregations in the United States to as many as 438, with over 100 in Israel. By 2008, the movement was reported to have between 6,000 and 15,000 members in Israel and 250,000 in the United States, link. As of 2013 there were an estimated 20,000 members and 150 congregations in Israel, and up to 300,000 Messianic believers worldwide, link. Some claim that “Messianic Judaism is the fastest growing stream of religious Jewish life since 1967”, link. See the testimonies of Jewish doctors after they discovered their real Moshiach – Jesus.
The growth of Messianic Judaism in Israel has been significant: 1949 – 29, 1967 – 200, 1980 – 3,000, 2014 – 20,000 [Tony Sperandeo]. On the other hand, Messianic Jews in Israel are still very much a minority and of some 6.2 million Jews in Israel (2015) only some 20,000 are Messianic i.e. only 0.3%. This partly reflects the strong opposition within the Jewish community to the evangelization of Jews, link, link. To the Jewish community, the word missionary is a negatively-charged word. Even the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus “refuses alliances with any group that actively pursues the conversion of Jews to Christianity”, link. And some Rabbis even suggest that Messianic Jews who share the Gospel deserve the death penalty, link.