Category Archives: Messianic Studies

Was Jesus and His Family “Tzaddik Nazarites”?

I am asking this question due to Eusebius’ description of James (actually “Jacob”) in his book on early church history.  Eusebius (260-340 C.E.), who was born in Palestine and was the bishop of Caesarea, is commonly known as “The Father of Church History,” since he was the first to trace the rise of the early Christian church in its first three centuries.

In his book, he quotes an earlier historian, Hegesippus, whose writings have been largely lost to history.  But in his history, Hegesippus, provides us with this description of “James the just.”

James, the brother of the Lord, who, as there were many of this name, was surnamed the Just by all, from the days of our Lord until now, received the government of the church with the apostles.  This apostle was concentrated from his mother’s womb.  He drank neither wine nor fermented liquors, and abstained from animal food.  A razor never came upon his head, he never anointed with oil, and never used a bath.  He alone was allowed to enter the sanctuary.  He never wore woolen, but linen garments.  He was in the habit of entering the temple alone and was often found upon his bended knees, and interceding for the forgiveness of the people, so that his knees became as hard as camel’s, in consequence of his habitual supplication and kneeling before God. And indeed, on account of his exceeding great piety, he was called the Just, and Oblias (or Zaddick and Ozleam) which signifies justice and protection of the people; as the prophets declare concerning him. (Book 2, chapter 23, lines 4-7)

Now according to this description, James was a Nazarite from birth, just like the Samson, Samuel the prophet, and John the Baptist.  In addition, he was a vegetarian, since he didn’t eat meat.  Now when he writes that he “never used a bath,” I’m wondering if he meant that he never used any of the “public baths,” which were associated with Greek and Roman idols?

Now if James was called “the Just” because of all this, could it be that Joseph was the same way?  In the Gospel of Matthew, Joseph is also called “Just” (Matthew 1:19).  And, of course, the ultimate in “Just” men is the Lord Jesus Himself.  So is it possible that all the men in Jesus’ family were not only “Nazarites,” but also “Tzaddiks” who were “just”?

A Tzaddik is a technical term that “carries the meaning of doing what is correct and just” (“What is a Tzaddik?” Chabad.org)  He goes to great pains to make sure that everything is done exactly the way that God commanded, even if it jeopardizes his own life.  For example, in the Scriptures, we learn that Jesus’ family went down from Nazareth to Jerusalem for Passover every single year.  Not only was this journey expensive, it was extremely dangerous since there were thieves waiting to rob unsuspecting travelers (remember, Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan?)  Most people made it down at least once in a lifetime, or perhaps, a few times more.  But for jesus’ family, it was an annual journey!

Another interesting thing about Jesus’ family was that Mary was the political activist in the family; whereas, Joseph was more religiously wired.  When the angel Gabriel came to Mary, he talked to her about political things: Her Son, Jesus, would be given “the throne of His father David,” and He would “reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His Kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:32-33), but when the same angel, Gabriel, goes to Joseph, he doesn’t say any of these things to him.  Instead, he gives him a spiritual reason why he is to name the baby “Jesus:” “and you shall call His name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

Can you imagine the scene?  The family gathering of an Orthodox Jewish family, and perhaps by the standards of the day, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family of Tzaddik, Nazarite men, the daughters we’re really aren’t told anything about them, but then there’s this political activist mother in the midst of them all.  For her, who probably expected so much from Jesus, “a liberated homeland for her people,” based on what the angel had told her, the crucifixion of Jesus would’ve indeed been “a sword piercing her heart” (Luke 2:35).

And if this was the character and nature of Joseph and his household, then I can’t think of a single Jesus film that’s been made that comes even close to representing this view of Jesus and His family.  what about you?  Can you think of a film that comes close?

Of course, all of this is speculation based on what information is provided in the Bible and in the writings of Eusebius.  But what are your thoughts on this?  Do you also see this as a possibility, or do you disagree?  I’m curious to hear your ideas on this.  Because the better we understand Jesus and His family, His home life, I think we have a deeper insight into the person of Jesus, and the character and nature of His original movement.

 

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“HAS PAUL REPLACED JESUS AS HEAD OF THE CHURCH?”

IS PAUL NOW THE HEAD OF THE CHURCH?  According to a growing number of Christians, pastors, ministers, and Bible teachers, this is the case. Not only do these “Christians” believe that they are to follow the leadership of Paul, instead of Jesus, but they also believe that Paul’s gospel is the one that saves, and not the gospel proclaimed and taught by Jesus Himself!  But how could people so distort and pervert the Bible that they’ve ended up excommunicated Jesus and His gospel from His own church?

This deception and error is predicated on three basic building blocks: (1) the cross is the dividing line between the Old and New Testament; (2) Christians are not under the Old Testament; and since (3) Jesus’ life and ministry is under the Old Testament, Christians are not under Jesus’ life and teachings.  As I am going to show, each of these three building blocks is a direct contradiction to the teachings of the Bible.

THE CROSS – THE GREAT DIVIDING LINE?

First of all, it is commonly being taught that the cross is the great dividing line between the Old and New Testament; however, this is NOT true.  Jesus clearly taught that the end of the Old Testament was JOHN THE BAPTIST, NOT THE CROSS:

And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.  For ALL THE PROPHETS AND THE LAW PROPHESIED UNTIL JOHN.  (Matthew 11:12-13; Emphasis Mine)

THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS WERE UNTIL JOHN: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presses into it.   (Luke 16:16; Emphasis Mine)

In both of these passages, Jesus makes it clear that the PROPHETIC ASPECT of the Old Testament ended with John the Baptist, he being THE LAST OLD TESTAMENT PROPHET, but the Old Testament itself has NOT ended!  It did NOT end with the cross! What many Christians don’t understand is that the word “New” in “New Testament” or “New Covenant” means “to renew” – NOT “to replace.”  And if you actually go back and read the prophecy of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34, what God changes is NOT the covenant, but the LOCATION of the covenant, and by doing so, He changes us!  Since the problem was not with the covenant – but with us!

The Old Testament could NOT have ended at the cross, because not everything in the Old Testament has been fulfilled.  There’s a great many prophecies that still await fulfillment, including the final restoration of Israel and the rule and reign of Messiah on the Davidic throne.  In fact, there are 800 Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament, and Jesus fulfilled 300 of those in His first coming; therefore, there are still 500 Messianic prophecies left to be fulfilled when He returns.  So if there are that many Messianic prophecies left to be fulfilled, how could the Old Testament have ended at the cross?

In fact, there are more prophecies and information given in the Old Testament regarding the last days, including those ahead for us than there are in the New Testament.  Also, there’s still yet to come another covenant, according to the prophets, called “the Covenant of Peace” (Ezekiel 34:23-31; Ezekiel 37:15-28), which does not deal with changing people’s hearts, moving the location of the covenant, or the forgiveness of sins as is in the New Covenant/Testament (Jeremiah 31:31-34); instead, it deals with the final restoration of Israel, physical peace, safety and security, and God’s blessings, not at all the same issues.  The “Covenant of Peace” is a perfect covenant for the 1,000 year Millennial reign of Messiah!  All of which is still future, so again, how could the Old Testament have ended at the cross?

Their assumption that it did is based on two erroneous interpretations:

  1.  JESUS SAID, “IT IS FINISHED!” Many Christians think that this statement and the one made in the Sermon on the Mount, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, TILL ALL BE FULFILLED” (Matthew 5:17; Emphasis Mine] are connected.  Many conclude that since Jesus said the Law and the Prophets would continue until “ALL BE FULFILLED,” and on the cross, He said, “IT IS FINISHED!” Then the Law and the Prophets are now over.  However, this is NOT the case.   These are two different statements made in two different contexts and are NOT interlinked.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that not one single jot or tittle will pass from the Law or the prophets UNTIL HEAVEN AND EARTH PASS AWAY.  Why?  Because the HEAVEN AND EARTH are the two witnesses that God called to witness the covenant that He made with Israel at Mt. Sinai (Deuteronomy 4:26-31; 30:19).  So as long as the two witnesses exist, God cannot delete anything from His Word, because the moment He does, then HEAVEN AND EARTH, the two witnesses will bear witness against God Himself!   Therefore, when HEAVEN AND EARTH pass away (Revelation 21), as Jesus says, THEN God will be able to delete material from His covenants, but NOT until then!

2.  THE TEARING OF THE TEMPLE VEIL.  Because the Temple veil is torn after Jesus cries out, “It is finished!” Christians have been taught to believe that His death brought an end to the Law and the Old Testament; however, this belief is based on a logical fallacy, called “Post Hoc Ergo Proctor Hoc” (Latin, “After this, therefore because of this”).   This fallacy happens when people believe that just because two events happen together in time that the one event caused the other.  This is, in fact, where many of our superstitions came from, e.g., a mirror breaks and then someone has a bad day; therefore, they conclude that breaking a mirror will bring bad luck.  It’s the same type of logical conclusion.  But as I have previously proven in another article that throughout the Scriptures, the tearing of cloth is an act of mourning.  God had just witnessed the torture and death of His own beloved Son, and in response, God did what any normal loving Jewish father would’ve done in that situation, He took the cloth over His heart – the Temple veil – and He tore it from top to bottom to mourn the death of His Son, and by doing so, He also identified Jesus as His Son (see article: “Why did God Tear the Temple Veil in Half?  Not for the Reason You Think“).

CHRISTIANS ARE NOT UNDER THE OLD TESTAMENT?

Christians are just a “New Testament” name for Gentile (or non-Jewish) believers in God and in His chosen Anointed One (or Messiah).  Because Christians don’t take the time to study the Old Testament, what they don’t realize is that everything in the New Testament ties in to God’s promise of Israel’s Restoration.  In fact, in the book of Isaiah, God gives Jesus, the Messiah, His “mission statement”:

It is a light thing that You should be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give you for a light to the Gentiles, that You may be My salvation unto the end of the earth.  (Isaiah 49:6)

Did you notice that there are three parts to this:

  • To raise up the tribes of Jacob;
  • To restore the preserved of Israel; and
  • To be a light to the Gentiles.

Why?  So that He, the Messiah, “may be My salvation unto the end of the earth.”  This would include finding and restoring the descendants of the Northern Kingdom of Israel; restoring those from the southern Kingdom of Judah (the “Jews”); and also being the light of salvation to us who are Gentiles (non-Jews).  We see this also in Isaiah 42:6-7,

I the LORD have called You in righteousness,  and will hold your hand, and will keep You, and give You for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.

This is what the new covenant is really all about.

ABOUT THE EKKLESIA – ISRAEL?

Did you know that throughout the Greek translation of the Old Testament that Israel is referred to as the Ekklesia, or what is translated in the New Testament as “church.”  That’s right, the Ekklesia did not begin in the upper room in Acts 2, but in Exodus 12, with the first Passover.  And where do we see Jesus first use the word Ekklesia or “church”?  Yes, in Philippi, Caesara, right before Jesus and His disciples were going to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.   In fact, in the King James Version, we read as part of Stephen’s defense the following:

This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the LORD God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me [Moses]: Him shall you hear. [Deuteronomy 18:3-4]  This is he, that was in THE CHURCH IN THE WILDERNESS with the angel which spoke to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us. (Acts 7:37-38)

If the Church was not born until Acts 2, then how was Moses in “the Church” in the wilderness?  The church, like grace, was not a New Testament revelation, but Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom, to bring Israel back to Kingdom and away from religion, to initiate the new covenant and the process of Israel’s restoration, to deal with the sin issue by His death and resurrection, and to keep His promise to Abraham by dying on Passover.  This is why Jesus came, not to begin a “new entity” called “the church.”

Consequently, what Christians have called “the church age” is really God reaching into the nations and working to restore back to Himself three groups of people: (1) those from the Northern Kingdom; (2) those from the Southern Kingdom (Jews); and those of us from the nations, or Gentiles (non-Jews).  The alleged “church age” is really been about Jesus fulfilling His mission statement given in Isaiah 49:6.

THE NEW COVENANT – ISRAEL’S RESTORATION

Throughout the Old Testament, we find almost as many Gentile (or non-Jewish) believers in it as we do in the New Testament.  In fact, all of God’s covenants were open to Jew and non-Jew, but all of them were specifically given to Israel, including the New Testament:

Behold, the days come, says the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL and THE HOUSE OF JUDAH.  (Jeremiah 31:31; Emphasis Mine)

Where in those words do you see that the LORD would “make a new covenant with the world”?  I don’t see those words anywhere here at all.  And who are “THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL” and “THE HOUSE OF JUDAH“?  The “House of Israel” is the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the “House of Judah” is the southern Kingdom of Judah.  After Solomon died, during his son’s Rehoboam’s reign, the Kingdom of Israel split into two kingdoms: the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah.

But in the writings of the prophets, God promised one day that He would restore these two kingdoms together again into one Kingdom under one King, Messiah.  For example:

Thus says the LORD God; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, wherever they’ve gone, and I will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land:  And I will make them ONE NATION in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and ONE KING shall be king to them all; and they shall be NO MORE TWO NATIONS, neither shall they be divided into TWO KINGDOMS any more at all:…but I will save them out of all their dwelling places, wherein they have sinned, and will cleanse them: so shall they be My people, and I will be their God.  And David my servant [an image of Messiah] shall be king over them; and they all shall have ONE SHEPHERD; and they shall also walk in My judgments, and observe My statutes, and do them.  (Ezekiel 37:21-22, 23b, 24; Emphasis Mine)

I believe that this lies at the heart of the “gospel of the Kingdom” preached by John the Baptist, Jesus and His 82 disciples (the 12 plus the 70, see Luke 10:1, 17) preached in Israel for 3 1/2 years.  The new covenant was what God said He would use to bring His people back to Him and to bring about this re-unification of the two kingdoms.  This re-unification would not happen all at once, but over a long period of time.  Also notice, God says that when the two kingdoms are brought back under ONE KING, ONE SHEPHERD, that they would “walk in My judgments, and observe My statutes, and do them.”  Therefore, how does the new covenant replace God’s law, when it’s supposed to change our hearts so that we will keep God’s laws?

Jesus died to deal with our sin issue, to pay the penalty for our sins, to free us from the law of sin and death, but also, His death would provide the means for this re-unification of these two kingdoms to happen.  His death is, indeed, part of enacting the new covenant; and thereby, begin the process of Israel’s restoration.  This whole division between the Old and the New, and seeing it as a whole new and different program from the Old Testament, are all man-made creations.  They are not based on a whole Bible approach, but in separating the New Testament away from the rest of the Bible.

ALL COVENANTS ARE GIVEN TO ISRAEL

Paul writes in his letter to the church at Rome:

For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: who are Israelites; to whom pertains the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 9:3-5)

Paul clearly says here, “the covenants” were given to the Israelites; this includes “the law,” “the service of God,” “the promises,” and ultimately “Christ” as well.  So where do we get the unbiblical idea that “the Old Testament was for the Jews, but the New Testament is for everyone”?  It’s just another man-made myth.

From Adam and Eve, up through to Abram and Sarah, there were no other people but Gentiles [non-Jews], but it is in the life of Abram, where we begin to see this change.  And it is not until God renames and re-creates Jacob into Israel, that Israel comes into existence, and from that moment, Jacob’s descendants became known as “Israelites,” or “the children of Israel.”  And it’s not until the Babylonian Exile, that those taken captive from the Southern Kingdom of Judah are first called “Jews.”

But throughout this history, Gentiles (or non-Jews) were able to also participate in the covenants with Abraham, with Moses and the children of Israel.  In fact, we find Gentiles (non-Jews) in and through the Old Testament, like Rahab, Ruth, Doeg, and many others, and just like the Old Testament, Gentiles (non-Jews) are allowed to participate with Israel in the new covenant as well.  Therefore, this is why I hold to the firm belief that the whole Bible, Old Testament and New Testament, is for all people for all time.

WE ARE ALL STILL PART OF THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENT

Since the Old Testament did not end at the cross and is still continuing until the time period of the New Heavens and the New Earth, then obviously, we are still in the time frame of the Old Testament.  Part of our problem is that instead of seeing the Bible as one continuous revelation, we’ve been taught to split it into two parts, which we have entitled “Old Testament” and “New Testament.”  But in truth, if we study the Scriptures, the point of the new covenant is to change the heart of people so that they will walk in obedience to the commandments God gave to Moses.  For example,

And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart, and the heart of your seed, to love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, that you may live…And you shall return and obey the voice of the LORD, and do all His commandments which I command you this day.  (Deuteronomy 30:6, 8)

After those days, says the LORD, I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be My people. (Jeremiah 31:33)

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you shall keep My judgments, and do them.  (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

The point of the new covenant was NEVER to do away with God’s law or the Old Testament as a whole.  Instead, God is saying with the new covenant that He was going to do something to “renew” and/or “refresh” our experience with it.  This would be accomplished by God giving us “a new heart,” “a new spirit,” and Him putting His own Spirit in us,” transforming our lives, and empowering us “to walk in My statutes, and you shall keep My judgments, and do them.”

In fact, we could compare the Old Testament to an original computer program, and the New Testament to its most recent update.  If you operate without the update, you miss out on the new features for the program, but if you try to operate only the update, the program will either not run or not run properly.  To have the program run the way the manufacturer desires, you need to run both the original program and the update together: the Old and New Testament as ONE REVELATION, not two.

Obviously, then, as I’ve shown, all three of the building blocks that have led people to believe that the Old Testament has ended, that Christians are not under the Old Testament, and that Jesus’s life and ministry is under the Old Testament, so therefore, Christians are not under the life and teachings of Jesus are all man-made myths based on misinterpretations and misunderstandings, due to people basing things on only what they see in the New Testament, instead of the whole Bible.

THE PROMISE OF A NEW DAY

What we need to look forward to is the return of Jesus and the establishment of His Kingdom here on earth.  There is, indeed, a new Kingdom and a new day coming!  In Isaiah 60, God gives the city of Jerusalem, Israel, this promise about its coming glory:

Arise, shine, for your light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen on you.  For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon you, and His glory shall be seen on you.  And the Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising….

And the sons of strangers [non-Jews] shall build up your walls, and their kings shall minister unto you: for in My wrath I smote you, but in My favor have I had mercy on you.  Therefore your gates shall be open continually: they shall not be shut day nor night; that men may bring unto you the forces of the Gentiles, and that their kings may be brought.  For the nation and kingdom that will not serve you shall perish; yes, those nations shall be utterly wasted.

Violence shall no more be heard in your land, wasting nor destruction within your borders; but you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise.  The sun shall be no more your light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light to you: but the LORD shall be to you an everlasting light, and your God your glory.  The sun shall no more go down; neither shall the moon withdraw itself: for the LORD shall be your everlasting light, and the days of your mourning shall be ended.  (Isaiah 60:1-3, 10-12, 18-20)

What a wondrous day that will be!  Amen.

 

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What is the “Messianic Movement”? A General Overview

“MESSIANIC” – What?

Have you ever heard someone refer to themselves as being “Messianic” and wondered, “What does that mean?”  It’s a question that many are asking today, both inside of the movement and outside of the movement, and although there are those who are trying to hold on to a simple answer to this question, their response does not adequately describe the reality of the movement today.

As a non-Jew who has been a part of this movement for many years (on and off since 1982), I would like to share some of my own views and insights about this movement in hopes of clarifying up some of the confusion. To do this, though, I have broken this study down into a seven-part series, in which I would like to present my research and response to the following questions:

  1. What is the “Messianic Movement”?
  2. What is “Messianic Judaism”?
  3. Why are we finding more Scriptural depth here?
  4. What about all the Gentiles within the Movement?
  5. Why is the Movement currently struggling with its own self-definition?
  6. What is the Messianic Kingdom Movement?
  7. Why focusing on the Messianic Kingdom as a political & religious reality would provide a much-needed direction for the Movement?

It is my hope that by the end of the study that you will have a much clearer understanding of the Movement, its present struggles and complexities, but also how a new focus, which I am entitling – “The Messianic Kingdom Movement” – could help to eliminate many of the problems that the general Movement is currently facing.

ITS BASIC MEANING

To begin, let’s start with the word’s most basic meaning.   The term “Messianic” simply means “that which is characteristic of, or pertains to, the Messiah.” Of course, this raises another question, “What is a ‘Messiah’?”  This is a study in itself, but the basic meaning pf the word “Messiah” is “Anointed One.”  It was a term used in the Tanakh (Old Testament) to refer to one of the three national leaders of Israel: the king, the priest, or the prophet. It also came to be specifically used for a special son (or descendant) of David who would be anointed and rule and reign with all three anointings, as king, priest, and prophet, over the nation of Israel and the nations of the world from the city of Jerusalem in the last days.  The Greek equivalent of this term “Messiah” is Christos, which comes into English as “Christ.”  “Messiah” then is the Hebrew way to say it, and “Christ” is the Greek-English way to say it.

The implication of using the term “Messianic” is that we are placing the Scriptures back into its original historical-cultural context, i.e., “a Hebrew point of view,”rather than looking at it outside of its context, i.e., “a Greco-Roman point of view,” which is the perspective that the traditional church has historically taken.  This is why many people in the movement refer to themselves as “Messianic believers” (a term derived from the Hebrew), as opposed to “Christians” (a term derived from the Greek).

A HISTORICAL OVERVIEW

The early Yeshua/Jesus Movement was comprised of two groups of people: the Nazarenes (the Jewish branch) and the Christians (the non-Jewish branch).  And although the term “Christian” had been around for about 20 years when Paul (Heb. Rav Sha’ul Paulus) was arrested and brought before Felix the governor, he was not identified as “a leader of the Christians,” but as “a leader of the Nazarenes”:

For we have found this man a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. (Acts 24:5)

The Nazarenes was the name given to the Jewish sect, or part of the Movement, began by Yeshua/Jesus within Israel during the Second Temple period of the 1st century, C.E.; whereas, the term “Christian” was first used in Antioch, Syria, for the disciples there (Acts 11: 26), a dominantly non-Jewish region outside the land of Israel, and the name came to identify the non-Jewish believers within the movement.

According to the New Testament (Heb. B’rit Chadasha), the Nazarenes were extremely zealous in their observance of the Torah given by God to Moses:

And after he [Paul] had greeted them [James and the Jewish Messianic leaders in Jerusalem], he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles [non-Jews] among his ministry,  And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law [Heb. Torah].” (Acts 21:19-20; emphasis mine)

And although the Nazarenes (the Jewish branch) were all excited about how many “tens of thousands” of Jews who had not only accepted Yeshua/Jesus as the Promised Messiah but were also zealous in their observance of the Torah.  However, what would result in a large division within the early church is that the Christians (the non-Jewish branch) were not at all excited or zealous regarding the Torah.  Instead, many of the non-Jewish believers came to view the Torah as a “Jewish superstition” and “bondage.”

In fact, according to many reliable historical sources, there was a split between the Nazarenes and the Christians after the death of James, the brother of Jesus, in 62 A.D.  This split widened even more after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD.  However, even after Christianity began to move into and dominate Western Europe, the Nazarenes in the Middle East remained faithful to the teachings and the beliefs of mainstream Judaism.  This insistence, though, was not looked upon favorably by many of the Church Fathers or Christians throughout history.

And even when Christianity was tolerated in 313 C.E., and the Church leaders got together to discuss what should constitute “proper Christian beliefs,” practices, etc., the Jewish leadership was never invited to any of these Church councils. Eventually, in the 4th century, Christianity officially rejected the Nazarenes, labeling them as “heretics,” and the following decree was sent by the Church of Constantinople to the Jewish believers that they had to affirm to remain with the Christian Community:

I renounce all customs, rites, legalisms, unleavened breads and sacrifices of lambs of the Hebrews, and all the other feasts of the Hebrews, sacrifices, prayers, aspersions, purifications, sanctifications and propitiations, and fasts, and new moons, and Sabbaths, and superstitions, and hymns and chants and observances and synagogues, and the food and drink of the Hebrews; in one word, I renounce absolutely everything Jewish, every law, rite and custom. … and if afterwards I shall wish to deny and return to Jewish superstition, or shall be found eating with Jews, or feasting with them, or secretly conversing and condemning the Christian religion instead of openly confuting them and condemning their vain faith, then let the trembling of Cain and the leprosy of Gehazi cleave to me, as well as the legal punishments to which I acknowledge myself liable.  And may I be anathema in the world to come, and may my soul be set down ith Satan and the devils. (qtd. in David H. Stern, Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel: A Message for Christians, p. 8)

In essence, the Jewish believer had to leave behind everything that God commanded them to uphold and become “a Christian.”  Of course, none of the Jewish believers could do this in good conscience, so the Nazarenes – the original Jewish branch – who took the gospel to the non-Jewish world was now being excommunicated by the descendants of those believers.  Various Christians, though, maintained a watchful eye on this “heretical sect” from a distance by continuing to document their beliefs and existence in many of their writings up through 6th century, C.E., and some say to about 1300 AD:  However, after 1300, there’s no further mention of the Nazarenes in the historical records.

A RESTORATION

Consequently, the Messianic Movement should also be seen as a “restoration” movement, for it seeks to restore to the body of Messiah the original beliefs and practices of the Nazarenes, the early Jewish branch.   Also, it seeks to restore to the body of Messiah the various teachings and practices given in the Torah given to Moshe (Moses) by God that was removed by the Early Church Fathers and the Catholic Church, such as Sabbath observance, the biblical feasts, the dietary laws, etc.

I remember the first Passover seder I participated in, and how afterward, as a result of that experience, how many passages within the Scriptures just came alive for me.  It gave those passages a new depth of meaning that I had never known before, and it set my heart on fire for God and gave me a ravenous hunger for more of Him and His Word.  And like me, there are many others in the movement who have had their own experiences and insights that have moved them to become a part of this growing movement as well.

A RETURN

Also, the Messianic Movement is “a return.”  It is the desire of those in the movement to return back to the original beliefs, model and practices of Yeshua/Jesus and His early disciples during Israel’s Second Temple era.  Yeshua (Jesus) is an Israeli Jew who lived and taught as a Jewish rabbi of the 1st century, C.E., within the land of Israel, proclaiming and teaching the Torah (God’s Law) and about the Basar Malkhut Hashamayim (“the good news of the kingdom of heaven”).

So contrary to the accusation by many Christians who see this movement as trying to rebuild the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile (non-Jew) or the accusation by mainstream Judaism that this is just a trick to con Jews into Christianity, it is neither. It is the sincere desire of those within the movement to return to what is taught and seen in the pages of the B’rit Chadasha (New Testament), which is a Jewish movement consisting of Torah-believing Jewish people within mainstream Judaism who believed and taught that Yeshua (Jesus) is the promised Messiah of Israel.

Growing up in the church, I remember many sermons by pastors who preached that we needed to return to a New Testament model.  It was said again and again. However, as I grew older, I realized by “New Testament model” they meant only one aspect of the New Testament that they felt was missing in the church.  But I took the message to heart, and I began to search the Scriptures to see what was truly presented within the pages of the New Testament, and after many years of research and study, it was this same heartfelt desire that led me to become a part of this movement.  And like me, it is this same heartfelt desire for a return that is motivating many – Jew and non-Jew alike – to also join and become a part of this growing movement.

A REFORMATION

In addition, the Messianic Movement is a “reformation.”  The term “reformation” refers to “the act or process of improving something or someone by removing or correcting faults, problems, etc.”  Therefore, the Messianic Movement is seeking to improve the faith by returning to the original model, adding those elements that were there but were removed, and then also removing those non-biblical elements that were added through the centuries by the Roman Catholic Church.  It should be remembered that from the foundation of the Roman Catholic Church in the 4th century, C.E., until the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, C.E., a time period of 12 centuries, there was no other church in the Western world but the Roman Catholic Church.

A BRIDGE

Finally, the Messianic Movement is a bridge that intersects and connects the two biblically-based world’s religions: Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity.  The point of intersection between these two religions is their belief in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the writings of the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures), or what Christians call the “Old Testament.”

This “bridge” includes a huge and diverse grouping of people from one side of the bridge to the other side of the bridge.  On the one side of the bridge, you will find Christians of all denominations who may have an interest in a particular feast, such as Passover, or want to learn about the Jewish roots of their faith, to the other side of the bridge, where you will find Orthodox and Hasidic Jews who believe that Yeshua (Jesus) is the Promised Messiah, as well as everyone in-between these two spectrums.  So to say that one is “Messianic” only really denotes that one is somewhere on this bridge; it does not identify one’s religious affiliation, whether one sees oneself as belonging to Judaism or to Christianity.

FOUR CORE BELIEFS

I have researched and/or been involved in the Messianic movement since 1982, and over the years, I’ve noted that those who claim to be “Messianic,” including myself, share four common core beliefs:

  1. That Yeshua/Jesus of Nazareth is the Promised Messiah of Israel and the Nations as foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures (Tanakh/Old Testament);
  2. That all of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is for believers in Yeshua/Jesus today (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
  3. That Christianity as a religion was a break off from 2nd Temple Judaism, and that there’s at least an interest in putting Christianity back into its original context and finding out more its original Jewish roots; and
  4. That it was God who established Israel as a nation and as an eternal homeland for the Jewish people (i.e., “Zionism”).

So if someone says that “I am Messianic,” it only denotes that they are “on the bridge” and share these four common core beliefs; it does not indicate, however, what religion or theological perspective and world view that they affiliate themselves with, whether Christianity or Judaism.

Not only are there two religions represented on this “bridge,” but to add to the diversity, there are actually four main positions (3 are religious in their orientation and the last one involves a much broader perspective) that one can take on that bridge, which I am calling –

  • Messianic Christianity. These are people (Jew and non-Jew) who share the four common core beliefs of the Messianic movement, but beyond that, they follow and adhere to mainstream Christian thought and practice.
  • Messianic Judaism. These are people (Jew and non-Jew) who likewise share the four common core beliefs of the Messianic movement, but beyond that, they follow and adhere to mainstream Jewish thought and practice.
  • Messianic Syncretism. This is a much smaller group in comparison to the other two, but they are there in the movement.  These are people (Jew and non-Jew) who see themselves as standing in the middle of the Messianic bridge, and so they draw from and mix in their own unique way, the beliefs, teachings and practices from both Christianity and Judaism. And even within this group, there’s an even smaller group who will, depending on their background and interests, add, or draw from, one or more non-biblical religion(s), such as Native American Religions, Buddhism, Daoism, etc., in regard to some belief, teaching, or practice they want to incorporate and add to their life.
  • Messianic Kingdom.  Although these previous positions view the movement as a religious movement, I would like to propose a much broader scope and perspective of the movement.  I do not believe that Yeshua/Jesus had any intention of establishing another religious movement, but a Kingdom movement.  A kingdom, by definition, is a governmental body or entity that is political, social-cultural, historical and, in this case, religious in nature; therefore, to define it strictly as “a religious movement” or in terms of a religion is extremely narrow in its scope at best and misrepresentative or deceptive at its worst.  Consequently, I believe that both Rabbinical Judaism and Christianity have erred by restricting and transforming God’s Kingdom movement into a religion.  As a result, it is my (and hopefully others) desire to return to what God and Yeshua/Jesus had originally intended and taught. (I will discuss this further later in the study)

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, then, at its most simplistic level, the Messianic Movement deals with those beliefs, practices, and lifestyle lived and taught by the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus); it’s a movement that views itself as being involved in a return to its original model, beliefs and practices, and thereby involving a restoration and reformation to the faith, and at the same time, this movement is also a bridge that intersects and connects two world religions, Judaism and Christianity.

As a result, this movement is so diverse in its beliefs and practices that to try and give a concise and streamline definition is really an impossibility.  In the next article, I want to examine how “Messianic Judaism” – the Judaism side of the bridge – has defined itself as a movement before getting into the third article, which will examine the struggles it is facing with those definitions.

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