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See also Judaism and Jewish Belief
Judaism is the world’s oldest monotheistic (only one God) religion. It is a human tradition rooted in the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) and so it must be distinguished from the God-ordained nation of Israel.
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 beliefs are defined in 13 Articles of Faith (the Jewish Creed) as found in Jewish prayer books and recited in synagogues. Judaism has a few fundamental theological problems, as in the question of the plurality of God, and the question of Atonement.
Jews at the Western Wall, Pixabay
The Key Question: How does traditional Judaism see Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew)? The vast majority of religious Jews do not believe Yeshua to be their Moshiach (Hebrew for ‘Messiah’ or ‘Anointed One’), the Redeemer of Israel. Traditional Judaism believes the Messiah has not yet come, and when he does he will be a mortal man, not divine. Crucially, the majority of religious Jews believe their Messiah will not be a ‘Saviour’ giving redemption from sin.
Messianic Judaism – Messianic Jews: In contrast, a minority of Jews worldwide (about 2.5%) follow Messianic Judaism, link. This is a religious movement that attempts to combine Christianity — most importantly, the belief that Jesus is the true Messiah — with elements of Judaism and Jewish tradition, link. Such belief can be justified from the Old Testament promise to Israel of a ‘new covenant’ (Jeremiah 31.31-34). This future covenant with Israel was to provide the forgiveness of sins and was fulfilled by Yeshua in the New Covenant (Hebrews 8.8-12).
So whilst remaining strongly Jewish in identity and lifestyle, these Messianic Jews preach a return from traditional Judaism to the true faith of Israel. That is, they seek a real relationship between God and man as realized through faith in one Mediator between God and man, Yeshua. All of the major denominations of Judaism reject Messianic Judaism as a form of Judaism due to this fundamental belief in Yeshua. Despite this rejection, some claim that “Messianic Judaism is the fastest growing stream of religious Jewish life since 1967”.
Comparing Messianic Judaism and Christianity
Similarities: Both faiths draw their beliefs from the same ‘olive tree’ – the Jew, Yeshua. And they will be joined together as natural and wild branches of this tree at the end of the age (Romans 11). So Messianic Jews and Christians have the same fundamental beliefs about Jesus. Specifically, both faiths believe that Yeshua (Jesus) is the Son of God (and God the Son), the promised Messiah (Heb: Moshiach – Anointed One) and Saviour of the world. And both faiths believe Yeshua rose from the dead. Finally, both faiths believe the entire Hebrew Bible and the New Testament scriptures are inspired by the Holy Spirit, link.
Differences: There are fundamental differences in lifestyle. Most Christians are non-Jewish and follow Christian tradition e.g. non-biblical holidays like Christmas and Easter, link. And most Christians lay emphasis upon the New Covenant of the New Testament, rather than the Law of the Old Testament. In contrast, Messianic Jews retain their Jewish identity e.g. they keep the annual Feasts of the LORD, follow the dietary laws, and adhere strictly to the biblical Sabbaths. Also, Messianic Jews believe native Israel is still God’s chosen nation. In stark contrast, the majority of Christians in the institutionalized churches follow Replacement Theology i.e. the Church has replaced national Israel as God’s witness and servant.
At the beginning of 2017, the world’s Jewish population was estimated at around 14.5 million. Of these, some 45% (6.5 million) resided in Israel, link. The relatively small overall Jewish population may seem surprising. But it is even more surprising that the nation Israel has survived for over 3,000 years given persistent persecution. Why? Because the God of Israel has vowed to always preserve a remnant, despite persecution:
Thus says the Lord, Who gives the sun for a light by day, the ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night … “If those ordinances depart from before Me, says the Lord, then the seed of Israel shall also cease from being a nation before Me forever.” (Jer 31 verses 35-36, see also Rom 11 verse 5)
Back to the statistics:
Jews outside Israel: there are an estimated 175,000 to 250,000 Messianic Jews in the US and 350,000 worldwide, link. So Messianic Jews comprise just 2.5% of Jews worldwide.
Jews inside Israel: As of September 2018, Israel’s Jewish population was around 6.6 million, compared to a total population of around 8.9 million, link. Of these Jews, they are either ultra-Orthodox (8%), religious Zionists (17%), Traditional/Orthodox Jews (55%), or secular Jews (20%), link, link. So some 80% of today’s Jews follow Old Testament (OT) belief in some way, from fundamentalism to loose Jewish practice. Of these, it is estimated there are only some 20,000 Messianic Jews in Israel (0.3% of Israel’s Jews), link. Others claim this number is closer to 30,000 and rapidly rising [Prayer for Israel, 2018].
Jewish and Political Opposition
Messianic Jews are not welcome in Israel. In fact, mainstream Jewish communities throughout the world tend to shun Messianic Jews since they are seen as proselytizers, link, link. Put another way, to the Jewish community the word ‘missionary’ is a negatively-charged word. So mainstream Jews hold that if a Jew accepts Christian core doctrines, they should leave Judaism and become a Christian. 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. Such vehement opposition partly explains the relatively low number of Messianic Jews in Israel (just 0.3% of all Israeli Jews).
This opposition is reflected in Israeli law. As far is Israel is concerned, Messianic Jews are excluded from the 1950 Law of Return. In 1970, Amendment 4A(a) to the Law of Return welcomed those who could prove their Jewish descent “except for a person who has been a Jew and has voluntarily changed his/her religion”. In 1989, the Supreme Court ruled that Messianic Jews’ belief in Jesus makes them Christians, thus ineligible for automatic Israeli citizenship. On the other hand, subsequent legal cases showed that the Supreme Court ruling was less simplistic than first appears, link.
Spiritual Blindness Removed
In contrast to most Jews, a minority of Jews (some 20,000 in Israel and 350,000 worldwide) have found spiritual freedom through belief in Yeshua as their Messiah. Messianic Jews believe that Yeshua (Who is also a Jew) is indeed the longed-for Messiah of Israel and the Saviour of the world. Despite Jewish and political opposition these Jews remain Jewish. 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’ has been removed (Romans 11.25). For the first time they experience the meaning of the cross, the love and presence of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit. Non-Jews who join Messianic congregations are sometimes called spiritual Jews, completed Jews, or Messianic gentiles. More at Messianic Judaism.
Today’s Messianic Jews are the forerunners of a larger turning to Yeshua at the end of the age. Israel’s blindness will be removed as Jews under great stress (war) finally acknowledge Yeshua as their true Messiah:
And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn (Zechariah 12.10)
Key Beliefs and Practices of Messianic Jews
- God is Spirit, is personal, is Creator, and exists in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is eternally existent in plural oneness
- Yeshua is the true Jewish Messiah
- Yeshua is divine i.e. “God the Son”. He is one person of the Trinity
- Yeshua died on behalf of the world’s sins
- Salvation is achieved only through acceptance of Yeshua as one’s Savior
- Jews are the ‘chosen people’
- the Hebrew Tanakh (the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings), together with the New Testament are the authoritative scriptures. The Tanakh provides the foundation of their Jewish faith, and the New Covenant scriptures complete their Jewish faith
- the explicit laws of the Torah, e.g. observing Shabbat, Jewish holidays, rituals and circumcision must be obeyed today
- Baptism: by full immersion, as in normal Christian baptism, link. The meaning of baptism in Messianic Judaism is that of cleansing and a new beginning
- The LORD’s Supper (Holy Communion): Whilst the church celebrates this frequently, Messianic Jews tend to celebrate this just once a year, at Pesach (Passover) during the seder meal, link. This is because Jesus introduced this Supper during the annual Passover meal (1 Cor 11.23-26).
Summary: Messianic Jews acknowledge Yeshua as their Messiah whilst retaining their Jewish identity. They are Jewish by heritage, but see themselves as ‘completed Jews’ since they have found their Messiah. Despite Israeli law, they consider themselves a ‘stream of Judaism’, remaining strongly Jewish in identity and lifestyle. They follow Old Testament feasts rather than Christian festivals.
Messianic Jews in Action
Beit HaYeshua: Jerusalem Rehab Center
This video illustrates Christ’s love for Israel’s lost Jews, as shown through a non-profit Messianic drug/alcohol rehabilitation center in Jerusalem. Most of Beit HaYeshua’s members have received Yeshua as LORD and Savior. The vision is to bring the Gospel to those suffering from addiction and spiritual oppression and to help them obtain freedom through the power of God.
According to Israel’s Anti-Drug Authority, addiction to narcotics in Israel transformed from a “marginal concern” in the 1980s, to ensnaring some 25,000 full-blown addicts, largely due to Western influences and greater access, link.
Yad Hashmona: a Messianic Jewish Kibbutz
The Revive Israel ministry center is located on the property of Yad Hashmona, a village in the Judean Hills just outside Jerusalem. The village is well known throughout Israel and includes a country hotel, restaurant and biblical garden, coupled with the potential for development of an industrial park and agriculture-based projects. It is the only Messianic Jewish moshav (kibbutz) in the world, and as such it is a powerful testimony to the surrounding areas. Today, Yad Hashmona is fully Messianic and follows Yeshua’s’ command: “you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1.8). They take this passage quite literally and believe the time has come to restore and complete this original apostolic commission, including the power of the Holy Spirit, world evangelism and “restoring the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6).
Adat Yeshua Messianic Synagogues
Adat Yeshua (UK) (meaning ‘congregation of Jesus’) serves as a living and united testimony of the Messiah within the Jewish community in the UK. They are affiliated with the Union of British Messianic Synagogues (UBMS). Adat Yeshua synagogues are also found in the USA, link, link. These congregations consist of both Jewish and Gentile believers who recognize Yeshua (Jesus) as the promised Jewish Messiah. Principal beliefs are:
- The Holy Scriptures as given in the original languages are divinely inspired and without error
- Scriptures reveal God as Father, Son and Spirit (Ruach), and yet is One (echad)
- The Father sent His Son, Yeshua to die sacrificially for the eternal atonement of all mankind
- Yeshua, the Divine Messiah, is sinless, fully God and fully man
- Yeshua fulfilled in his virgin birth, teaching, miracles, death, and bodily resurrection, the plan of G-d to bring atonement for sin through his shed blood
- The Messiah’s visible return in power and glory, when all will be resurrected to eternal life or eternal damnation
- God has an eternal plan for the physical and spiritual restoration of Israel
Moshiach – the Jewish Messiah
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)
Summary: 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.