What is Messianic Judaism?
Messianic Judaism is a modern designation of an ancient faith movement comprising of all aspects of beliefs and worship practices based on the concept of a Jewish person coming to the belief that Yeshua of Nazareth is the Biblically promised Messiah of Israel. Yeshua is the Hebrew name for the person known in the English language as Jesus, and means “Salvation.” Today, there are thousands of Messianic believers in North America alone - some have estimated the number to be over half a million. Messianic synagogues are opening up in almost every major city across the country, and other nations are also enjoying a growing number of Messianic believers.
The questions that many raise today among the Jewish people and among the Gentiles as well, are, is it Jewish to believe in Jesus and, does one remain Jewish as a believer in Jesus? The concept of a Jew believing in Jesus seems to be a contradiction based on the contemporary understanding and practices of these two religions, Rabbinical Judaism and Christianity. The reason is that many people have a pre-conceived dichotomy. On the one hand, we have Jews and Judaism and on the other hand, Gentiles and Christianity; you are either one or the other.
But if we go back to the beginning of the Common Era, we find that Jesus was actually called Yeshua, a Jew living in a Jewish land among Jewish people. All the apostles were Jewish, all Hebrew Scripture writers were Jewish as well as the authors* of the Brit Chadashah, and for many years this faith in Yeshua was strictly a Jewish one. From the book of Acts (21:20) and other historical evidence, many believe that in the first century there were literally tens of thousands of Messianic Jews, even though they were not called as such. In addition, there were Messianic synagogues scattered throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. Whether it was Jewish to believe in Yeshua was never an issue. Of course it was Jewish! What else could it have been having a Jewish Rabbi, teaching from Jewish writings in a Jewish land? Yeshua's teachings were about correctly interpreting the Torah, the Hebrew Scriptures, and the rabbinical traditions, not about starting a new religion, and the Jews were not asked to convert to another religion but to believe in their own, to believe in a Messiah corrected Torah-true Judaism, as Yeshua states in the book of Matthew 5:17: "Do not think that I came to misinterpret the Torah or the Prophets; I did not come to misinterpret but to interpret it correctly."**
* There can be made a good argument from reading the Book of Acts that even Luke was Jewish or a Proselyte, not only based on his knowledge of the Jewish customs, but also based on him being present and accepted in various Jewish circles. Tradition at that time did not allow for Jews and Gentiles to share a meal, to pray or to enter the Temple together.
** "The common translation of this text is, "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law of the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill." However, the rabbis used the expression "abolish" and "fulfill" to mean "taught the Scripture incorrectly" and "taught the Scripture correctly," hence the "translation" herein correctly conveys their Hebrew idiom. [Ref: Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus, by David Bivin and Roy Blizzard, Destiny Image Publishers, Revised Edition, 2001, pp. 111-115]."
The question back then was whether Yeshua had been sent for the Gentiles also. When God miraculously showed (please read Acts 10) to the Messianic Jews that He was the Messiah for both Jew and Gentile, then Gentiles from every nation began to convert from their pagan ways to this Jewish faith. Throughout the years, as the numbers of Gentile believers increased, they began to be predominant in the Messianic faith and brought in practices that were foreign to the Jews. With the passing on of the Jewish apostles and the early Messianic Jews, and with the ever increasing persecution by the pagan world at that time, the Jewish roots of the faith were eventually lost. This “de-Judaizing” process continued until, in one of the greatest paradoxes in history, it became alien for a Jewish person to believe in Yeshua as his Messiah! Today the Messianic believers are seeking to put the belief in Messiah Yeshua back within its Biblical and Jewish context.
Messianic Judaism is a spiritual revival, a return to the faith as the Messianic Jews had in the first century of the Common Era, unbound by the traditions of men. We try to weed out from our vocabulary and our Western conscience the growth planted in our collective sub-consciousness by wrongly interpreting the Torah throughout the course of Western civilization. With our practices, as Messianic believers, we attest that Messianic Judaism is a return to a pure faith based upon a living, vibrant and personal relationship with the God of creation, with the God of which the memorial name is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Exodus 3:15) through the belief in a personal savior promised throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, the Messiah Yeshua of Nazareth, God's beloved Son (Proverbs 30:1-4).