What is Messianic Judaism and who are Messianic Jews?
What is Messianic Judaism:
Messianic Judaism is a biblically based movement of Jews and non-Jews who, after studying the Jewish Scriptures, have come to believe that Yeshua is the promised Messiah of Israel. “Yeshua” is the Hebrew name for Jesus and it actually means “salvation”. While celebrating their faith in Messiah, it is important for Messianic believers to retain a Biblically Jewish identity.
Today, there are hundreds of thousands of Messianic Jews and hundreds of Messianic Synagogues right here in the United States of America.
Nations such as Israel, Canada, Russia, England, France, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, and others are experiencing similar prophetic growth in the number of Messianic Jews and synagogues.
Is it Jewish to believe in Yeshua (Jesus)?
To some, the concept of a Jew believing in Yeshua seems to be a contradiction. The reason is many people have a dichotomy set up in their minds. On the one hand you have “Jews” and “Judaism”, while on the other hand “Christians” and “Christianity”.
You are either one or the other (so the thinking goes). But this simple dichotomy is in reality not so simple. If we go back 2000 years we find that Yeshua was a Jew living in a Jewish land among Jewish people. All the apostles were Jewish as well as the writers of the New Covenant (New Testament) and for many years this faith in Yeshua was strictly a Jewish one.
From the Book of Acts and other historical evidence, many believe that in the first century there were literally hundreds of thousands of Messianic Jews.* In addition, there were Messianic Synagogues scattered throughout the Roman Empire and beyond.**
These first century Messianic Jews remained highly loyal to their land and their people. Whether it was Jewish to believe in Yeshua was never an issue. Of course it was Jewish! What else could it be?
The big question back then was whether Yeshua had been sent for the Gentiles also. God miraculously showed the Messianic Jews that Yeshua was the Messiah for both Jew and Gentile alike. Then Gentiles from every nation began to pour into this Jewish faith.
Through the years, as the number of Gentile followers of Messiah increased, they began to predominate in this Messianic faith. With the passing on of the Jewish apostles and the early Messianic Jews, the Jewish roots of the faith were eventually lost.
This “De-Judaizing” process continued becoming one of the greatest paradoxes in history. It became alien for a Jewish person to believe in Yeshua as his Messiah!
*Acts 2:41, 2:47, 4:4, 6:7, 9:31, 21:20
**James 1:1, 2:2
The REAL Issue
Today we are seeking to put the Messiah back within His Biblically-Jewish context.
Messianic Judaism is a spiritual renaissance, a revival, and a return to the same faith the Messianic Jews had in the 1st century unencumbered by the traditions of men. It is a return to the pure and simple faith based upon having a living, vibrant and personal relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob through the Messiah, Yeshua.
The real issue we must recognize is not whether it is Jewish to believe in Yeshua, because the Jewishness of Yeshua is historically unquestionable. The real issue at stake here is whether Yeshua is truly the Messiah or not. If He is, then it is the most Jewish thing in the world to believe in Him. If He is not the Messiah, then we should not follow Him.
There is only one way to find out and that is to go back to the Jewish Scriptures ourselves and study the Messianic prophecies.
According to the Jewish Scriptures, the Messiah was to come twice: the first time to suffer and die and the second time to usher in the Messianic era of peace upon the earth.
Why did the Messiah have to die?
The Jewish prophet Isaiah answered this question when he said, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all… for He was cut off [killed] from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people He was stricken” [Isaiah 53:6,8].
Without God there is no hope for mankind. It is obvious that man is separated from God when we view the ever-worsening situation in the world today. That is why He sent Yeshua, the Messiah, who came to deliver us from our sins and to bring us into a new life in Him.
For tens of thousands of us today, we know that we have found the Messiah who said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the law or the prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill” [Matthew 5:17].
We would like to encourage you to read and study the Jewish Scriptures for yourself and find out if Yeshua is truly the One of who the prophets spoke. Before you research the Scriptures, pray and ask the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to guide you and show you His truth.
What do our Scriptures say about our Messiah?
In our Scriptures – Zechariah 12:10 - “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit and supplication. They will look on Me, 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.”
In our Scriptures – Isaiah 53 – “Surly our sickness He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.”
What does the Talmud say about these verses?
That the ancient rabbis not only knew the Messiah would be pierced, but they also knew He would die! In fact, in a discussion in the Talmud Sukkah 52A, they cited Zechariah 12:10 (quoted above) to show they understood the Scriptures said that Messiah would have to die.
In Isaiah 53, also partially quoted above, it must have been clear to our rabbis that this passage was talking about Messiah. Referencing this chapter in an ancient rabbinical Targum they said: “…my servant, the Messiah, in whom I am well pleased.” When you put these scriptures in Isaiah and Zechariah together with these two commentaries, it is easy to see that our ancient rabbis believed Messiah was to come and die for our sins.
Our Scriptures tell us when the Messiah will come:
Our prophet Daniel prophesied that Messiah would be cut off from His people (or die) before the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem which happened in 70 A.D.
Daniel 9:25-26 25 “Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ’sevens,’ and sixty-two ’sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. 26 After the sixty-two ’sevens,’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed.
Yeshua (the Messiah) walked the earth at the perfect time, gave His life as an atonement, and was then resurrected. Then, just as Daniel prophesied, Jerusalem and our Temple were destroyed in 70 C.E.
What does the Talmud say about Daniel 9?
In the Talmud, in Megillah fol. 3a it says, “…at Bath Kol [voice from heaven] came forth and exclaimed, “…Enough! What was the reason? Because the date of the Messiah is foretold in it.” It’s amazing what our ancient rabbis have said, isn’t it? Now, since the temple was destroyed we could no longer offer sacrifices, so He told us through His prophets in our Scriptures of the substitutionary system of atonement that He Himself would provide. God provided His own lamb, Yeshua, to be His perfect final blood sacrifice!
What does the Talmud record about sacrifices made after Yeshua’s atonement?
The Talmud (Tractate Yoma 39:b) records in essence that on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) it was customary to tie some red wool to the temple gate. Miraculously, after the lamb died to take away or atone for our sin, the red wool always turned white as a sign to the people that they have been forgiven. But during the 40 years before the destruction of both the temple and the altar in 70 A.D., the red wool tied to the temple gate remained red. The rabbis concluded God was saying, “I will not forgive, I will not forgive.” Did you know that the beginning of this 40-year period coincides with God providing His own lamb (Yeshua) to make one final atonement for all of our sins? In other words, God provided His own perfect and spotless lamb to be the sacrifice that would forever atone for all of our sins, if and only if we accepted His ultimate plan of atonement.
God foretold this new covenant (or promise) in Jeremiah 31:31,32 when He said, “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; it will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke My covenant”.
The ancient rabbis commenting on Jeremiah 31:31,32 known as the Midrash Tehelim, fol.3, col.4 said, “When the time of the advent of the Messiah will be near, then the blessed God will say to him: “With him I will make a new covenant. And this is the time I will acknowledge Him as my son, saying ‘This day have I begotten thee.’” So our ancient rabbis saw in this scripture that the Messiah, who would be God’s own son, would usher the new covenant in.
Another ancient rabbinical commentary on Jeremiah 31:31,32 known as the Midrash Talpiyot, 58a says, “He will sit and expound the new Torah which He will give through the Messiah.”
Who Are Messianic Jews?
Messianic Jews are Jews who believe that Yeshua is the Promised Messiah foretold in the Torah and through the Prophets. Currently, there are hundreds of thousands of Messianic Jews throughout the world, including Israel and Jerusalem. Messianic Jews are of Jewish heritage and come from all different backgrounds, including Ashkenazi and Sephardic. The majority of Messianic Jews do not consider themselves "Christians," nor, do they identify as Christians. This is because "Jews do not convert." Messianic Jews consider Messianic Judaism to be another branch of Judaism, along with Orthodox Judaism, Conservative Judaism and Reformed Judaism. The only difference is that Messianic Jews have identified Yeshua as their Messiah. Culturally speaking, Messianic Jews keep Shabbat (the Sabbath), the Feasts, the dietary laws, circumcise their sons and bar/bat mitzvah their children. While there may some differences (just like among the Jewish branches), the majority of Messianic Jews live completely Jewish lifestyles.
In regards to faith in Messiah Yeshua, some Messianic Jews come from both religious and non-religious backgrounds. Some even come from Christian backgrounds, but have come to embrace their Jewish heritage and faith in Messiah Yeshua. In so doing, they have given up Christian practices for Biblical ones, which point to the Jewish Messiah of Israel, who is Yeshua. Although, the majority of Judaism doesn't recognize Messianic Jews as Jews, the majority aren't concerned with this because their beliefs are a matter of faith rather than religious affiliation. However, Messianic Jews do observe many of the same traditions that the other branches of Judaism do, like the wearing of the Tallit and Kippah (Yarmulke) as an expression of faith. This includes the lighting of the Shabbat candles on Shabbat. Yet, the difference is that for Messianic Jews, these traditions point to Messiah Yeshua, the Holy One of Israel.
In addition to observing Shabbat and the Feasts, Messianic Jews are great supporters of Israel and their fellow Jews. Many Messianic congregations and fellowships give to organizations that support Israel, the IDF and the welfare of Israeli citizens. Such organizations include, the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America (MJAA) and the National Jewish Fellowship (NJF). Messianic Jews feel an attachment to Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), because this is where many of our families and ancestors were born and come from. There are also many Messianic Jews who either survived the Holocaust or have family members who survived or died in the Holocaust. One such Messianic Jew was Rose Price. You can see her testimony here: Rose Price Survivor Story.
FIRST CENTURY BELIEVERS IN YESHUA
Two thousand years ago Yeshua was a Jew living among Jewish people. “Yeshua,” by which Jesus was called during his time on earth, is itself a Hebrew word for “Salvation.” Yeshua kept Torah, or the Law of Moses. He studied the Jewish Scriptures that many now know as the “Old Testament,” and read them aloud at the local synagogue on Shabbat (Luke 4:16). He was called rabbi (Teacher/Master) by his followers.
“Think not that I came to abolish the law and the prophets: I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them" - Matthew 5:17
After His death and resurrection, His following increased. From the book of Acts and other historical evidence, many believe that in the first century A.D. hundreds of thousands of Jews followed His teachings (Acts 2:41, 2:47, 4:4, 6:7, 9:31, 21:20), and established Messianic Synagogues throughout the Roman Empire and beyond (James 1:1, 2:2).
One of the first debates these early disciples faced seems ironic to us now: Could non-Jews participate in the community of Yeshua’s followers without becoming Jews? At the very birth of Judaism, God had told Abraham that He would bless all nations of the earth through Abraham’s offspring (Genesis 12.3). Accordingly, the apostolic council in Acts 15 decided that non-Jews could follow Yeshua without converting to Judaism.
Many factors intervened in the following years. Believers in Yeshua suffered increased opposition from both Roman authorities and Jewish synagogue leaders. As more and more Gentiles came to accept this faith and as the original Jewish apostles passed away, the Jewishness of that first-century faith was gradually lost.
MODERN MESSIANIC JUDAISM
Though Messianic Judaism itself dates back to Yeshua’s twelve apostles, its “resurrection” is a relatively new phenomenon. In the late 1800s, after several large-scale “revivals” among protestant believers in the United States and Europe, many Christians sought to tell Jewish people about Yeshua, or Jesus. Even as some Jewish people in Europe began to desire to return to the land of Israel and establish a permanent Jewish homeland there, the Lord stirred many Jews to look at the so-called “Christian Bible,” or New Testament Scriptures, for themselves.
Centuries of continuing anti-Semitism in the name of Jesus had left the Jewish community skeptical. But some Jewish men and women did become followers of Yeshua during this time. In the following decades whole congregations of Jewish believers in Jesus were born. This movement was dubbed “Hebrew Christianity.”
“They are the Israelites, and to them belong the Son-ship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Messiah!" - Romans 9:4-5
“Hebrew Christianity” has since become known as “Messianic Judaism.” There are now tens of thousands of Messianic Jews in the United States alone; some estimate as many as 1.2 million. Messianic synagogues are springing up in almost every major city across the U.S., and Messianic Judaism is quickly growing in other nations throughout North and South America, Europe, Oceania, and the former Soviet republics.
Christianity later became the state religion of the Roman Empire. Eventually an anti-Semitic view of the Messiah’s life and death became accepted theology in Christian Europe for hundreds of years. Messianic Jews recognize that their existence is entirely due to God’s intervention on behalf of His Jewish people. Messianic Judaism is part of the fulfillment of God’s many Scriptural promises of eternal love and faithfulness to Israel.
THE MESSIANIC JEWISH IDENTITY
The “Messianic Jewish identity” is wholly dependent on the person of Yeshua: God Himself comes to earth to reconcile the Jewish people and all nations to Himself.
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all" - Isaiah 53:6
The foundation of Messianic Judaism, therefore, is each individual’s personal relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob through Messiah Yeshua. In the Hebrew Law God clearly demands a blood sacrifice for the remittance of sins. Each Messianic Jew recognizes his or her own sinfulness and has accepted that Yeshua Himself provided this sacrifice.
Another important aspect of the Messianic Jewish movement is Jewish congregational worship. If Yeshua really is the Jewish Messiah of whom all the Jewish Law and Prophets spoke, then it is the most Jewish thing in the world to follow Him!
Should Jews really attempt to assimilate into churches and forego their Jewish identity when they choose to put their faith in the Jewish Messiah? Messianic Judaism answers, “No!” As Yeshua Himself embraced His Jewishness, Messianic Jews seek to embrace theirs, by meeting in congregational communities with other Jewish believers and by maintaining a Biblically Jewish expression of their faith. Every congregation is different, but this expression often means worshiping in Hebrew, following Mosaic Law, dancing as King David did before the Lord, and keeping Biblical holidays such as Pesach, Sukkot, or Shavuot.
Also important is Messianic Judaism’s ministry to both the Jewish community and the Christian body of believers. Messianic Jews are part of the larger Body of Messiah throughout the world, and Messianic Jews hope to help all believers in Yeshua to better understand the Jewish roots of their faith. Finally, Yeshua declared that no-one can comes to the Father – the God of Israel – except through Him (John 14:6). Messianic Jews seek to share this way, this truth, and this life with their Jewish brothers and sisters.