"So then, every Torah teacher who has been made into a talmid for the Kingdom of Heaven is like the owner of a home who brings out of his storage room both new things and old." Matthew 13 v52 CJB
Remember the first church was entirely Jewish and did not have a special label. They were just Jews who believed Yeshua from Nazareth was the Messiah and updated their Jewish worship in the light of Messiah having come.
As the church became more gentile, there were difficulties which turned away more Jews ( see The Wild Olive ) The destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion led to the development of rabbinic Judaism, which moved away from scriptural faith based around Temple worship and atonement, and opened up the division between the believers in Yeshua and non believers. Rabbinic Judaism was developed by the Pharisees, those with whom Yeshua had his strongest confrontations. (see Church History)
Through church history there have been a small number of Jews who have believed in Yeshua, but regrettably, it appears they mostly had to become gentile Christians and sever their connections with their Jewish heritage.
In the mid nineteenth century in Kishineff the capital of Bessarabia, during a time of intense persecution by Russia, Joseph Rabbinovitch, a Jewish lawyer and teacher discovered Yeshua as Messiah. He went to the Holy Land, convinced that salvation for the Jews would only come through a return. On his arrival he began reading a New Testament, which he had been assured would give a reliable description of historic locations. As he read, he became convince that Jesus was/is the Messiah. He went home convinced of the need to share his newly fulfilled faith in its thoroughly Jewish context. All of this was accomplished between Rabinovitch and the Holy Spirit, and not by preaching from a Christian. The truth was available to a man who was open to receive it. This movement was the first to use the term "Messianic Jew"
The Church's Mission to Jews was founded in Britain in 1809, the Hebrew Christian Alliance was formed in 1866 and the International Hebrew Christian Alliance was formed in 1925, but believers still joined Christian churches. In the nineteen sixties the flower-power dropouts in the USA included many Jews and in a move of the Holy Spirit, many found Jesus as Messiah. They were initially nurtured in Christian churches, but within this group Jews for Jesus was formed. ( see Internet for Jews for Jesus and other messianic groups)
This history was obtained from "Messianic Jews" John Fieldsend, in which he explains the scriptural issues concerning Messianic Judaism interspersed with testimonies from various messianic Jews. It is interesting to note some common thread which run through some of these stories. These people came from orthodox, reformed, secular and even assimilated (baptized into the church) backgrounds.
- dissatisfaction with a nominal Jewish background
– a seeking which included eastern religions (and in some cases drugs)
– reading the Christian scriptures about their "Jesus" and realizing that He is the Jewish Messiah.
It is interesting to note that the "Jews for Jesus" group appear in some of these stories. The name suggests a heavy handed attempt by Christians to convert Jews, but it turns out that Jews for Jesus is actually Messianic Jewish. The opposition from orthodox Judaism is on account of their desire to share their discovery with their bretheren – the same reason that believers have always been opposed in any society.
Issues examined in John Fieldsend's book include New Testament "problems" for Jews, the significance of a "remnant", what is Judaism, the rabinnic system, oral tradition and the Talmud and the place of atonement in Judaism. The "remnant" means more than just the few left over after the destruction. A look through the references suggests that the remnant left to the Jews is their connection to God and their reason for hope. He argues that the few believing Jews through history – up to today’s Messianic Jews are God's remnant; God's link for blessing Israel.
The lesson which seems to come out for the Christian is, that we should not ignorantly seek to convert Jews to our faith but that we should show a Christ like love for them and, when the opportunity arises, be ready to share our testimony with them. We are finding Jewish people are much more open now they are experiencing our love and support and they are separating us from the horrors of history. Jewish people love discussing faith, and the experience can be one of mutual blessing.
It certainly appears that the Messianic Jews in Eretz Israel are seriously discouraged by the government (secular – but under pressure from religious parties holding the balance of power) All Jews have the right of return (to Eretz Israel) under the constitution, but openly messianic Jews find it very difficult, if not impossible. The "ISupportIsrael" website will accept contributions for welfare work in Israel, but does not acknowledge support which comes from Christians or Messianic Jews, and it will not help messianic Jews who are in need – indeed some of their funding goes into their opposition of Messianic Jews. In fact it is the Messianic Jews in Israel that are really standing in the gap, pleading God’s protection on the land – along with praying Christians (many of whom get their prayer information from the Messianic believers in Israel). It is also notable that there are Messianic fellowships where it is possible to preview, on earth, the messianic age of reconciliation between Jew and Arab.
Messianic Jews in Israel today
In addition to the rapidly growing Messianic Jewish "church" there are many more Jews who believe in Yeshua. According to various sources there are between 3000 and 5000 Messianic Jews in 85 congregations in Israel alone, but there are many more believers who do not belong to these fellowships, which some see as Hebrew speaking churches. Many of these believers are working out their messianic faith in small housegroups, feeling that the ideal would be synagogues where Yeshua was recognized without sacrificing any Jewishness. Still more orthodox Jews find they are able to remain in their synagogues, whilst secretly believing in Yeshua. Some believe there are as many secret believers as there are open believers in Messianic fellowships. Clearly the Ruach ha Kodesh is doing amazing things and man is having to run to keep up. (See "israel today" magazine December 2003)
If you would like to get a taste of Messianic Jewish worship music, visit www.galileeexperience.com where they sell CDs. Their website has MP3 clips for you to click on.
All of this still leaves interesting questions about the future of Christians and Messianic Jews.
In heaven, these divisions will not exist, but is it right that they do now?
If we tried to merge, would one side have to accommodate to the other and lose its character and vibrancy?
Is it best to run in parallel and make exchange visits to each other?
Surely, our lord has the matter in hand – we should follow his leading.
John Fieldsend pointed out that Messianic Judaism has flourished in different times and different places, but the work of Satan has snuffed it out by means of wars, including the Crimean war and World Wars I and II. The current movements must be the last End Times movement and must prevail over everything Satan throws at it. Our prayer support is an essential part of this battle!
See also Messianic Debate
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