For many, Messianic Jews are as big a surprise as a potato crisp found in a packet of cornflakes: unexpected, surprising, and a little confusing at first! But our belief that Yeshua (Jesus) is the Messiah of the Jewish people has changed our lives and has a solid historical foundation. And while this is not the “norm” in the Jewish community, our unwavering faith multiplies our mission as a representative of the Jewish nation – to be a separate nation to bring hope to all of humanity.
By typing “Who are the Messianic Jews?” In a Google search in response, you will find misconceptions that can become meaningful questions that will help you understand the Jewish history of the Messianic Jews and their role in the Jewish community. What do they believe in and how do they make that belief a reality?
The Messianic religion has a centuries-old and completely Judastic history
Evidence that the Jews followed Yeshua and recognized Him as their Messiah dates back to about 30 AD. All of Yeshua’s first followers, as well as the authors of the New Testament, were Jews.
The first Jewish messianic community was led by four Jews: Yeshua’s brother Yakov (1), Shimon of Capernaum (2), Sha’ul, a former student of Gamaliel (Acts 22: 3) (3), and Yochanan of Bethsaida (4). These people were zealous followers of the Jewish faith. Together with other followers of Yeshua, the Jewish people prayed three times a day and offered at the temple (5), shared common ritual meals (6), gathered during the Sabbath in synagogues (7), held Jewish traditions and holidays (8), met in the temple and on Sabbath evenings to listen to each other’s guidance and encouragement (9). In addition to the original followers of Yeshua, who came to Him during His earthly ministry, He was eventually recognized as the Messiah by a large number of kohanim (“priests”) and Pharisees (10).
We have documentary evidence of the existence of a stable religious community for these Jewish followers of Yeshua, known as the Nozrim (“Nazarenes”). Ancient church historian Eusebius of Caesarea writes that the Roman emperor Domitian once interrogated the grandchildren of Judah (the grandchildren of Yeshua’s brother), Yakov, and Zoker to determine if they were David’s heirs. In the second century, the Talmud mentions Yakov Kefari of Sakhnin (12) as a min (“heretic”). When the rabbi was later arrested on charges of heresy, he thought this was due to his conversation with Yakov, whom he calls the “Talmidei Yeshu ha-Nozri” (“Disciple of Jesus of Nazareth”) (13). Epiphanius, an early Christian historian, mentions encounters with Nazarene communities throughout the fourth century (14). Jerome, a Christian priest from the Dalmatian province of Rome, mentions the literature of Nazareth in the library of Caesarea (15) and writes about it to Aurelius Augustinus in 404 AD. The content of this letter suggests that the Nazarenes were present “everywhere, in all the synagogues of the East,” but though they adhered to the correct doctrine, Hieronymus speaks quite repulsively about them: “They want to be both Jews and Christians, but they are neither. “(16).
What happened to the ancient Messianic Jews?
In 325 AD, the Council of Nicaea was held, where an attempt was made to unite the “church”. Unfortunately, Christian anti-Semitism, among other things, was legalized in Nicaea, and its dispersed manifestations still exist today. The Jews were not invited to the council of bishops. It was decided not to celebrate Easter on the same day as the Jews and to replace the Sabbath holiday with Sunday. According to historical annals, Emperor Constantine said, “Let us have nothing in common with a hostile Jewish crowd, for we have received another path from our Savior” (17).
After this fateful council, Messianic Jews were forced to choose one of three options: to assimilate with the church and abandon Judaism, to return to the synagogue, and to renounce faith in Yeshua, or to gather as a separate community from both. Judging by the continuing anti-Semitic attacks of many Church Fathers, all three options seem real. There is virtually no historical evidence of Messianic Jews who continued to profess the Jewish faith, except for some implicit references.
Revival of the Messianic Jewish faith
In the middle of the 19th century, a whole movement emerged in Eastern Europe, which led many Jews to believe in Yeshua as their Messiah. These included Joseph Rabinovich, who later opened the first modern Jewish messianic synagogue, (18) and Karl Schwartz, who founded the Jewish Christian Alliance, a network of messianic Jewish congregations in Britain. Perhaps one of the most influential innovators of the time was Isaac Lichtenstein, a theologian who wrote a commentary on the New Testament from a purely Jewish perspective (19). These pioneers paved the way for the mass revival of Yeshua’s Jewish practice in the 20th century.
During World War II and the Holocaust, two generations of Jewish followers of Yeshua grew up. In the 1960s, a deep spiritual awakening was already in full swing. Many young Jews began to believe that Yeshua was their promised Messiah. They saw no reason why their faith in Yeshua should fail to preserve their Jewish identity and culture. 1972 at a conference of the Jewish Christian Union in 2006, a group of young Jewish believers voted to change the name of the organization to the American Jewish Union (MJAA). They decided that the term “Messianic Jews” was more appropriate for them than “Jewish Christians” and that their religious practice was better described by the term “Messianic Judaism” than by “Jewish Christianity” (20).
This important distinction has inspired the new generation to feel free and to proudly call themselves Jews and to follow the Jewish lifestyle, combining it with faith in Yeshua.
Modern Messianic Jews
Believers in Jesus among the Jews today call themselves by different names. Some still prefer the term “messianic Jews,” while others define themselves as “followers of messianic Judaism,” and others prefer the term “Christian Jews.”
But despite calling themselves differently and exercising their faith in different ways, they are all Jewish followers of Yeshua, like those who lived in the first century AD. Some of them serve in missions such as Jews for Jesus, a non-profit organization dedicated to opening the eyes of the Jewish community to the fact that Yeshua is their Messiah. Others attend Messianic churches or Christian churches (sometimes both). Some Messianic congregations are part of larger associations, such as the Union of Messianic Jewish Communities (UMJC) or the Alliance of Messianic Jews (MJAA).
There are now more than 350,000 Messianic Jews in the world who “worship God in their communities around the world, about 20,000 of whom live in Israel” (21). Most Messianic Jewish synagogues and congregations hold worship services each week during the Sabbath, celebrate Jewish holidays, and read the Torah. In addition to Tanakh, they accept the New Testament Scriptures as an equally authoritative part. In some communities, the traditional liturgy is combined with modern worship. Others prefer to stick to one thing. As in the Jewish community as a whole, the degree of obedience to the Torah varies in Messianic communities, but it is safe to say that each community professes faith in Yeshua as the Messiah and Son of God, emphasizing that this faith fits perfectly with the Jewish way of life.
The life of Messianic Jews today
So who are the Messianic Jews? We are people who preserve their Jewish history and uniquely identify themselves as an integral part of the Jewish people. It is a great honor for us, and we are not ashamed to live in harmony with this legacy, incorporating into it organically our conviction that Yeshua is the Messiah of the Jews, that He lived a perfect life, reconciled humanity to God through His teaching, death, and resurrection. We believe that He will return as the Royal Messiah and restore order in the world. We are committed to the growing and spreading of faith in Yeshua in the future. According to Abram Poljak, the famous “pioneer” of the Messianic Jew, “While Yeshua is the Messiah and King of the Jews, the Messianic Jewish movement is the most important event of our time, a symbol of a changing age” (22).
- Jacob is the son of Joseph, the brother of Jesus.
- The Apostle Peter (Simon Peter, in the Jewish sources Shimon Kefa, son of Yona), a disciple of Jesus.
- Paul of Tarsus, the original Hebrew name ⎼ Shaul.
- Yochanan (John), son of Zebedee
- Acts 3: 1; 10: 9; 16:13, 16; 24:11, 17-18.
- Acts 2:42, 46.
- Luke 4:16 Acts 13:14 17: 1, 10.
- Acts 2: 1, 46 16: 1-3; 18:18; 20: 6, 15-16; 21: 17-26; 26: 5; 27: 9; 1 Corinthians 5: 8; 6: 8.
- Acts 5:12 Acts 20: 7.
- Acts 6: 7; Acts 15: 5.
- Kushman McGiffert Arthur. Church History – Book III: The Church History of Eusebius. Classic of Pantianos, 2018, p. 53-54.
- Avoda Zara. Talmud, 16b – 17a.
- Rudolph David J., Willitts Joel, ed., Ch. 1, note 1 in the Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Church Context and Biblical Foundations. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013, Kindle loc. 708.
- Goldberg Louis. God, the Torah, the Messiah: Messianic Jewish Theology, Dr. Louis Goldberg, ed. Richard A. Robinson. San Francisco: Purple Pomegranate, 2009.S. 128.