“So? What are you?”someone asks you with a bewildered look. “A Jew or a Christian?” This is a typical response after a Jewish person explains that he or she has accepted Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah. For many, the idea that a peron can believe in Jesus and still remain a Jew is a contradiction in terms. “Either you are Jewish of you are Christinan, but you can’t be both because Jewish people don’t believe in Jesus.”This is the mindset held by many Jews and Christians alike.
In contrast, a central tenet of Messianic Judaism asserts that when a Jew accepts Yeshua, (Jesus) he or sche has accepted the Jewish Messiah! Since Yeshua was born of a Jewish mother in the Jewish homeland ,as foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures, Jewish people who trust in Him don’t stop being Jewish! Rather, they become “Messianic Jews.” The fact is, that most people with nominal Jewish upbringing become more observant Jews after accepting Yeshua as Messiah.
Yeshua himself was an observant Jew. All of His teachings were based on the Torah and the Prophets (the Hebrew Bible.) Yeshua said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Torah and the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17) All of His initial followers were Jewish - - and they certainly never believed they had forsaken their Jewish identity. Even the apostle Paul, the man most responsible for taking the message of Yeshua tot he Gentiles, remained an observant Jew throughout His life, He is quoted in the New Covenant as declaring that he had never violated the customs or traditions of Judaism. (Acts 21:24-26; 24:14; 28:17)
The early followers of Yeshua lived as Jews and were recognized as Jews. Such varied Jewish writers as Abba Eban and Rabbi Joseph Telushkin agree that these men and women who first followed Yeshua remained part of the Jewish community. Their religion was understood to be one brach—among many branches - - Judaism.
It wasn’t until decades later (after 100 CE,) as more and more Gentiles came to believe in Yeshua, that a new, nor Jewish character of “Christianity” emerged deviating from its Jewish roots. In 325 CE at the Nicean Council,’‘Christianity” formally separated itself from all things Jewish.
Thus, today, almost twenty centuries from the time of Yeshua, most people see Judaism and Christianity as two distinct religions. The prevailing mindset remains: one may be either Jewish of a follower of Yeshua, but one cannot possibly be both.
But the scriptures reveal something profoundly different. The Messianic Jew considers both the Hebrew Scriptures and the writings of the apostles as the complete authoritative, inspired Word of G-d. In Messianic Judaism, the Bible is the foundation for both belief and practice. It is the Scriptures themselves, not current opinions, mindsets, commentaries or even traditions, which provide the basis for Messianic Judaism.
Yeshua’s entire earthly ministry was directed toward the Jewish people. After training His twelve disciples, He first sent them out with the clear instruction to “go only tot he lost sheep of the House of Israel.” Although commissioned as the apostle tot he Gentiles, Paul still spoke first in synagogues as he traveled, sharing the Good News. “I am not ashamed of the Good News of Messiah.”he wrote, ‘for it is the power of G-d for the salvation of everyone who believes, first the Jew,then fort the [Gentile].”(Romans 1:16)
While the origins of the Messianic Jewsh movement are almost 2,000 years old (from around 33 CE,) its visible resurgence as a congregational movement is quite new. In 1915, there were enough Jewish followers of Yeshua to form an Amarican organization: the Hebrew Christian Alliance. Within ten years, this organization, the first of its kind, expanded around the world, becoming the International Hebrew Christian Alliance in 1925.
Before the rise of the Natzis, there was a substantial Messianic Jewish population in Europe. The rabbis of several synagogues had come to believe that Yeshua was the promised Messiah, and had led their entire flocks to faith in Him. These Jews, like millions of other European Jews, were killed during Hitler’s genocidal ‘Final Solution” remembered as haShoah (the Holocaust.)
As a result of the 1967 Six Day War, Jerusalem was reunited under Jewish rule fort the first time in thousands fo years. Messianic Jews understand the reunification of the city to be a fulfillment of Yeshua’s prophecy that “the times of the Gentiles treading upon upon Jerusalem (Luke 21,) would come to a close. Interestingly, it was not until 1966 that the current restoration movement now widely known as Messianic Judaism, began to grow.
During the period, a broader spiritual revival, known as “the Jesus Movement.” spread like wildfire among thousands of young people searching for meaning and purpose of their lives, in a turbulent and uncertain world. Hundreds of Jewish youths came to faith in Yeshua during those years. These young Jewish believers spiritually awakened through a relationship with the Messiah, began to rediscover their Jewish identities! Out of this fervor, modern-day Messianic Judaism was born.
Messianic Judaism is a congregational movement made up of people from both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds who live out their relationship with G-d in the context of Jewish lifestyle and identity. It is a movement of people returning tot he faith and practice of the early followers of the Nazarene. And finally, it is a restoration movement, as G-ds fulfills His promise to restore His people Israel to Himself in these days.