What are Messianic Jews?
Messianic Jews?… It’s a term that is being heard more and more these days. Succinctly defined, we are Jews who believe that Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth is the promised Messiah of the Jewish Scriptures. Because we believe Yeshua is the Jewish Messiah, we also believe in maintaining a Jewish expression of our faith. Hence, we celebrate all the Biblical holidays (i.e. Passover, Sukkot, etc.) as well as many of the customs which are consistent with the Scriptures.
“You Can’t Be Jewish And Believe In Yeshua!” …Or Can You?
For much of history it has been assumed that Jewishness and Yeshua are mutually exclusive. Of course, it’s fine for any non-Jew to believe in Him…but a Jew? However, when one stops to study the actual history of this movement, it becomes clear that this assumption was not always the case.
After all, this Messianic Movement did not originate in Rome or Athens, but started in the land of Israel in the midst of the Jewish people. Most scholars agree that its leader lived a lifestyle consistent with much of first century Judaism. He worshiped on the Sabbath (Luke 4:16 ff.), celebrated all the Jewish Holidays such as Passover and Hanukkah (Matthew 26:17 ff.; John 10:22 ff.) and even wore the traditional “tzitzit” (Matthew 9:20). Likewise, His Name “Yeshua” testifies to His Jewish identity, since it is Hebrew for “Salvation.”
Some people today can only accept the total Jewishness of Yeshua but they feel that His early followers somehow changed this into a non-Jewish religion. However, the “Brit Chadashah” (New Covenant) itself paints a different picture. It describes this movement as containing tens of thousands of Jews who believed and yet remained “zealous for the Torah,” that is, not converts to a Gentile religion but Jews who believed in Yeshua the Messiah (Acts 21:20). For them the times of the Messianic age had started, as it is written:
“See a time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land Egypt, a covenant which they broke so that I rejected them, declares the Lord. But such is the covenant I will make with the House of Israel after these days, declares the Lord: I will put My Teaching into their inmost being and inscribe it upon their hearts. Then I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No longer will they need to teach one another and say to one another, “Heed the Lord;” for all of them, from the least of them to the greatest, shall heed Me, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquities, and remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
The early Jewish followers of Yeshua saw the perfect fulfillment of what Jeremiah and the Prophets had foretold. The New Covenant had been promised, the Messiah would be the mediator of this Covenant…and Yeshua of Nazareth fit the description. It never occurred to them that they were not Jews anymore; indeed, they had come into the fullness of the Promised Covenant. They were “Messianic Jews” in the true sense of the Word!
A rather strange thing happened in the proceeding centuries however. The Scriptures speak of this Messianic faith being taken to the non-Jewish nations as well. It was wonderful that all peoples were invited by G-d to follow this Messiah. And many responded. Unfortunately, many either forgot the Jewishness of the faith or consciously turned from it and removed any remembrance of it. Hence, today it sounds so shocking to many people that Jews can believe in Yeshua. But many of these misunderstandings have been changing in recent years.
A Return To Our Roots
Starting in the late 1960’s and continuing until today, there has been a dramatic move of G-d’s Spirit. As G-d was moving to restore His people physically back to the Land of Israel, so too was He moving spiritually in the hearts of many Jewish people. Thousands have been coming to believe in Yeshua and forming their own Synagogues where they can worship the Messiah in the fulfillment of their Jewish identity. These “Messianic Synagogues” are characterized by a number of distinctive elements: worship on the Sabbath and other Jewish Biblical holidays, joyful Davidic worship with dance and many other customs that are consistent with the Scriptures. What a wonderful way this has been for Jewish believers in Yeshua to express their faith and heritage! We should also note that many non-Jews have found a special fulfillment in the Messianic Synagogue as well since they too are grafted into “the rich root of the olive tree” of this Jewish Biblical heritage (Romans 11:17 ff.). Together we are returning to our roots through Yeshua the Messiah.
The Fundamental Question?
Many people today continue to ask the question, “Can you still be Jewish and believe in Yeshua?” but based upon a better understanding of the Scriptures, there should be little debate whether Jews can believe in Yeshua. Many tens of thousands believed in First Century Israel, and there are some 200,000 more who believe today. There’s actually a more fundamental question that many people need to ask themselves: “Is there a Messiah promised to Israel and how will we recognize Him?”
Many of our people have simply given up belief in a Messiah. Some have accepted man-made tradition as a modern substitute. But Messianic Jews say that there is indeed a Messiah promised to Israel and that we can recognize Him!
It is through the Tenach (Hebrew Scriptures) that we have read the description of Messiah. It’s simply a matter of studying the Scriptures to see what they actually say. If Yeshua of Nazareth does not fit the description, then we should not follow Him. But if He does? Read for yourself and decide!