There are 60,000 Jews in the St. Louis area. Some are deeply religious—especially followers of Orthodox Judaism. Others are very secular, viewing their Judaism more as a cultural identity than a religious perspective. This is often the case within Reformed Judaism, which allows its members to be atheists or agnostics if the choose. Conservative Jews are somewhere in between. Messianic Jews—or “completed” Jews, as they sometimes wish to be called—are Jewish followers of Jesus, or Jewish Christians.
1. Who says which is the “true” Judaism? Which is oldest?
The most common Jewish objection to Jesus goes like this, “I’m Jewish. Jews don’t believe in Jesus.” Who says so? The rabbis? They have a vested interest in this issue—they want Jews to follow them. Historically, the dominant strand of Judaism is Christianity! Messianic Judaism—or Jewish Christianity—is a lot older than modern rabbinic Judaism! There were three branches of Judaism in the first century: Messianic Judaism, Priestly Judaism, and Pharisaical Judaism. Rabbinic Judaism didn’t exist; it came only after the destruction of the Temple in the year 70. Of these three ancient branches of Judaism, only Messianic Judaism remains today. The other two ceased with the destruction of the Temple.
Judaism as a theological system cannot exist without either (1) a temple with guilt offerings, or (2) a priestly Messiah who lays down his life for the transgression of the Jews. The Scripture says that there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood. Every sin must be punished—either directly in the age to come, or vicariously through a scapegoat—a temple offering, or some other acceptable substitute. With the destruction of the Temple, only a Judaism with a Messianic sacrifice—Yeshua—can work within the covenantal Hebrew religious system.
Most Jews don’t realize how Jewish Christianity is. “Christ” is just a Greek translation of Messiah, the one promised in the Hebrew Scriptures. Christ was not Jesus’ last name. Also Jesus is just a Greek translation of Yeshua, a common Hebrew name, and the name of the Jewish carpenter-turned-prophet who claimed to be the Jewish Messiah in the first century. All of Jesus’ first followers were Jews—and observant, faithful, religious Jews at that.
And to follow Yeshua does not mean abandoning one’s Jewish heritage, but fulfilling it. There is nothing in the Christian Scripture that forbids the observance of the Passover or Hanukkah or Rosh Hashanah. Indeed, Christian worship services have traditionally been patterned after ancient synagogue worship. And today, hundreds of thousands of Jewish people are following Yeshua as Messiah. They see themselves as completing their Jewish identity and finding their God-given calling in the world. Try reading Matthew’s gospel, and ask yourself whether Yeshua is the Jewish Messiah. He upholds the Torah, observes the Law, and gives his life for the Jews.
2. Which branch of Judaism has fulfilled the TANAK?
The TANAK—what Christians call the Old Testament—promised that all the nations would come to Yahweh during the Messianic era. Billions have done so through the teachings of Yeshua, almost none through rabbinical Judaism. The Prophet Isaiah said that, during the Messianic era, all the nations would stream forward to worship Yahweh. God’s Law would go out from Zion to bring all nations to repentance (Isaiah 2:1-5). Habakkuk foresaw a day in which “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14). Rabbinic Judaism has not done this. Yeshua has, and his influence on earth grows every year. What one figure has convinced a quarter of the earth’s population to read the Jewish Scriptures as the Word of God? Yeshua. What one figure has single-handedly convinced billions of Gentiles—goyim—to worship Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Yeshua.
The greatest glory of Messianic Judaism is not that it’s the oldest strain of Judaism, but that it’s persuaded billions of Gentiles to worship the God of the Jews. At times in history Christians have sinned against Jews—sometimes violently. This is tragic, and true followers of Yeshua are deeply repentant over it. But the failings of Christianity are only noticed because they’re so out of character. Just look at the impact Yeshua has had upon the world [See lesson 8]!
3. Centuries before Yeshua, Isaiah told what Messiah would be.
The Prophet Isaiah has spoken of the Messiah, the Suffering Servant. In chapter 53 of his book, Isaiah said that, rather than ushering in a victorious rule through military conquest...
The Messiah would suffer (v. 3)
The Messiah would suffer willingly (v. 7)
The Messiah would die an innocent man (v. 9)
The Messiah would die for the sins of Israel (v. 8)
The Messiah would die as a sin-bearer and bring atonement (v. 5-6, 12)
The Messiah would be resurrected (v. 10-11)
Between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place in the ancient Temple—between the room where priests ministered and the room housing the very presence of God—there was a veil. This veil ceremonially separated God from his people. God was holy, righteous, and unwilling to accept sin. Yahweh had told us long ago that he would only accept perfection (Leviticus 17). God’s people were always defiled, imperfect, and in bondage to sin. At the very moment Yeshua was crucified as a sacrifice for sin, this curtain in the Temple was torn in two, opening the way for all people—and especially the Jews—to be reconciled to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Through the Messiah’s offering of himself upon the alter of the cross, God was now willing to live with humans, with no more sacrifices needed—their guilt having been atoned in full, once for all. When the Temple was destroyed by Roman armies a few years later, the solution was not to re-invent a rabbinic Judaism without a Temple. Rather, God was ratifying the fact that the Jews no longer needed a Temple—they had Yeshua, whose perfect sacrifice made all others obsolete. Through union with Yeshua, we have new hearts and a new covenant with God, just as it was promised by the Prophets Jeremiah (31:31-34) and Ezekiel (36:25-27).