How Can We Fix People’s View of Messianic Judaism?
The Messianic Community and its Many Manifestations
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The world’s primary religions fall into two categories: Abrahamic religions, such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; and Indian religions, which include Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and others. Of the world’s major religions, Christianity is the largest, with more than two billion followers. Now each of these religions each in turn have their varied sects, sub-sects and off-shoots. Some are considered, as being orthodox, while others are considered as heterodox and at time heretical and are rejected from the main religious group. For the purpose of this talk, Judaism and Christianity are the primary focus of this consideration.
Judaism is the oldest monotheistic faith––the belief in one God only in contrast to the polytheistic belief in many gods.
Christianity traces its early origins as one of the manifestations within Judaism and did not, nor could it stand alone as a separate faith. It was wholly dependent upon Second and Post Second Temple Judaism for its beliefs. It was in relationship to this early Judaism that the Messianic/ Christian faith developed. Two faith emerged from the one belief in Judaisms God––But why? Was this separation inevitable, part of the divine plan and unavoidable? Following the destruction of the Second Temple of the Jewish people by the Romans under Titus, Judaism and its many expressions faced an existential crisis that threatened its very future. What happened following this catastrophe is a fact of history and its outcome has fundamentally shaped the destiny of humanity. Judaism, A Short Introduction, by Norman Solomon, explains that as he puts it Christianity (the Older Sister), and Rabbinic Judaism (the younger sister), were both derived from Post Second Temple Judaism. Prior to the destruction of the Temple by the Romans under Titus (70 CE), Second Temple had many different sects and this included Jewish Christianity, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, Zealots, and the Essenes. The Pharisees emerged as the custodians of Judaism and at the Council of Javna, in 125 CE, Rabbinic Judaism was firmly established. If we follow Solomon’s chronology, then he is correct that Jewish Christianity is older.
Why the Split? There are numerous contributing factors that led to the split––firstly, Yeshua’s claims to be the Messiah, i.e. the Anointed One (Mashiach) and also the divine Son of God, was bound to cause a division among his contemporary Jews.
The Trilema––Lunatic,Liar or Lord: So which is it to be? Lunatic is a non––pc way of describing someone who is mentally ill or delusional. As C S Lewis puts it as on the level with someone who thinks that he is a poached egg. Liar, he knew that he was not the Messiah, but nonetheless, he still claimed to be one and was in fact demonically inspired. Lord, he is the Messiah as he claimed. There are equally three responses to be made to the Trilema––dismiss him as being a harmless fool, lock him up because he is dangerous due to his false claims, or fall at his feet as Lord and Messiah.
The Third Option––this third option needs further exploration: If he is Lord and Messiah then the Evidence Demands a Verdict (Josh McDowell). It is up to each individual. Now those first century Jews who embraced him became known as Jewish Christians. Initially they were tolerated as one of the various Jewish sects of late Second Temple Judaism. We are aware from Yeshua’s /Jesus contemporaries during his life time he received varied reactions––Pharisee, Sadducees, Zealots, Essenes and Gentile God-fearers each had different responses to his life and ministry.
The two strongest groups that opposed Jesus were the Sadducees that were made up of the High Priestly clan together with a number of Pharisees. Some of these people constituted the Sanhedrin or the Jewish Ruling Council and they were the official custodians of first century Jewry and are severely referred to as the Jerusalem Temple Leadership, and also the Judaean Leaders. The second and most powerful group of leaders were the Romans, and their puppet leaders––Pontus Pilat and the various Herods. They were subservient to Roman and were particularly responsible for law and order in the Galilee. The Romans focused their main attention on Judaean province because that included Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple. The High Priestly leadership were directly responsible to the Roman overall and they had to ensure that peace and stability was maintained among the various and at times very fractious Jewish sects. The followers of the Nazarene Jesus were a growing cause of concern and their presence was threatening the status quo. Things were rapidly escalating with Jesus and his followers making claims that he is Messiah, King of Israel and that the Kingdom of Heaven/God was at hand!
The Death of Yeshua: Following his crucifixion and burial surely that was the end of all those false claims? But, not so––Now his followers were claiming that he had risen and was alive! The Resurrection of Yeshua/Jesus became the cornerstone of the New Faith. Into this turbulent mix the numerous Jewish sects were getting more and more fractious and things were increasingly challenging Roman rule over this fractious Judaean province. Titus the Roman General was appointed by Rome to put things in order, and in the process the Jewish uprising resulted in the Romans destroying the Jewish Temple and ultimately any Jewish sovereignty over the Holy Land was ended. Jews were scattered far and wide and without the Jewish Temple the Rabbinic Council was convened at Javna in 125 CE under the leadership of Rabbi Johanan Ben Zakki.
Jewish Christians were rejected as Jews. This was due to the fact that they persisted in their claims that Jesus is the Messiah who they claimed is alive. Additionally, the Gentile mission began to flourish, particularly under the Apostle Paul’s ministry. Paul insisted, that while Jews who followed Yeshua should remain Jewish, Gentiles no longer were required to observe aspects of the Torah/Law. This made the separation between the two faith final.
Is there any Good News? It would appear that the last remnants of Jewish Christianity survived up until the tenth century and evidence of this was traced to modern day Iraq in Mosul. So how can Jewish people claim to be Messianic Jews if in fact the sect disappeared in the tenth century?
What’s in a Name? Christian Jews, Jewish Christians, Hebrew Christians and Hebrew Catholics are some of the names that Jewish followers of Yeshua call themselves, and latterly, the term Messianic Jews has become popular.
Some explain the fundamental differences between being called a Hebrew Christian and Messianic Jews is more than simple semantics. In English usage and grammar we have the adjective and the noun. With Hebrew Christian––”Hebrew” is the adjective and “Christian” is the noun. By referring to oneself as a Messianic Jew––”Messianic” is the adjective and “Jew” is the noun. This change in usage is much more important than an issue of a grammatical construction, it is a different way of looking the world and also forces people to sit up and take note when a Jesus believing Jew calls him or her self a Messianic Jew. It can be referred to as cognitive dissonance.
Uncomfortable, conflicting beliefs and certainly mental discomfort are not wholly undesirable–the term Messianic Jew certainly makes people sit up and take note.
What are Messianic Jews saying?
We are here and as much as many would want us to disappear as the tenth century Jewish Christians of Mosul, Iraq did––its is not going to happen.
By God’s grace we are growing as a movement with more and more Jewish people making the discovery that Yeshua is their Messiah and Lord.
This increase is due to numerous mitigating factors –– There is greater Jewish pluralism with Jewish people no longer feeling bound to remain loyal to former religious classifications, and also the willingness to move beyond the narrow confines of the so–called tribal boundaries. Many Jews have ‘married out,’ which does not automatically mean that their Jewish heritage is no longer important to them. This particular group of people are often more open to exploring alternatives to faith––this makes the Messianic Jewish expression of the faith particularly attractive. This is particularly the case if it is an inter-faith marriage of a Jew and Catholic or Protestant. Increasingly there are Jewish families who know of one or more relative who is a Jesus-believing-Jew. Personally, I have had family members who have wanted to know about my faith in Yeshua. The questions have come from them, rather than I attempting to share my faith with them, that all too often can lead to accusations of one trying to proselytise. It is quite different if the questions come from them.
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