He visited Jerusalem for the High Holidays and had long been a supporter of the Jacob Sheep, a project I was once involved in. From time to time he would advance discussions on scripture. He would bring up Proverbs 30. “Who is the lord and his son’s name as is mentioned here?” Then there is Psalm 22, “They divided his clothes and cast lots over them. This is obviously a reference to Yeshua”. He continues, “What about Daniel 9, the anointed one who was suddenly cut off?” The Rabbis have several explanations and commentaries going back thousands of years but he was certain it was Yeshua or Jesus. Some of these sessions would take ten minutes, others hours. Nevertheless, he was extremely proud to take part in any Jewish festivities. Him dancing at a Carlbach style synagogue for the Shabbat was a major highlight. He simply loved everything Jewish.
Despite his interest and often times obsession in Yeshua, he is G-d fearing. He had a calling long ago to stray from the path of Christianity, the religion he was raised in and search for the one true G-d. “I realized that the religion I grew up in is pagan, it was fake”, he would say. The Romans created this religion and installed Christmas and Easter, changed the dates and times. Referring to Jerobaum, the first king of ancient Israel, the original shepherds of Christianity took the religion astray, burning their own incense, injecting their own customs and doing away with the Levites. “The Old Testament makes it clear that we should not change G-ds commandments” he would say. This is where Christianity went off.
The man, who shall remain anonymous, is a Messianic. They are a group of people that are springing up worldwide in the hundreds of thousands. A movement that largely did not exist two generations ago, they dwell in the combustible core middle ground between Judaism and Christianity. There is a full spectrum of them: from the evangelical that wants to read more Old Testament, to the ones that have renounced Christian holidays and the trinity, to the ones calling themselves “Ephraimites”‘ our lost tribe brethren from the north, to ones who have largely let go of Yeshua and are actively seeking conversion to Judaism.
Many Jews recognize them as “Jews for Jesus”, a ragtag vilified rogue group of Jews who have adopted Jesus as the Messiah. However, most Messianics are not Jewish. In fact, what makes them unique is that they are truly a global spontaneous movement without a unifying leader or collective. There are Messianics in North America, which is a sort of hub but there are also Messianics in South America, in Africa, in Europe, in India, in China. Most are disconnected. They are neither Christian nor Jewish.
Two thousand years ago the Jewish people were almost annihilated by a vastly physically superior enemy: The Roman Empire. Over the course of three wars starting from the Great Revolt that ended with the Second Temple’s destruction, to a diaspora war that some historians credit with stopping the Roman advance into Mesopotamia, to a devastating third revolt led by the false messiah Shimon Bar Kochba, the Jews fought for freedom under impossible odds. The Romans responded by nearly annihilating the Jewish people. The deaths of several million ancestors through a holocaust equally as vicious as the Nazi one, scattered us across the world. The Romans attempted to supplant Judaism with their own pantheon of Gods, putting statues of Jupiter and others where the Temple once stood in Jerusalem. However, what the Jews could not do physically, Jesus or Yeshua was able to do spiritually. The Romans were conquered spiritually by the Jewish essence and began to worship one of them: Jesus. Despite two thousand years of Christian anti-Semitism, it was the light of Judaism that vanquished the Roman Empire.
Fast forward to the modern age. For the first time since the Roman Wars described above, there is a global interest to follow and learn about Jewish customs. Many watch from afar and see how Israel arose from the ashes and seems to have the hand of G-d protecting her. Many Messianics are pulled away from traditional Christianity by the question of replacement theology: If the Jews were replaced why are they blessed in Israel today? Many go even further: If the Jews are not replaced, perhaps their law: the one of Moses is still valid. Paul from the New Testament and his insistence that one must not follow the law may have been misinterpreted. If the law is still valid, it means that Christians have been following it wrong for 2000 years. If they are following it wrong they are in major trouble with G-d while the Jews, following the mitzvot are actually the blessed ones.
Despite dreams of making a new life in Israel, it is the Rabbinate that decides who is actually Jewish. While some Messianics have Jewish ancestry, the majority do not. If any wish to immigrate to Israel, they must either renounce Yeshua and convert to Judaism properly or marry an Israeli. While some take these paths, they are a minority.
So why is this important? Many Messianics are strong supporters of Israel even if they do so in honor of Yeshua. As the Jewish communities around the world are dwindling and Jewish life is increasingly focused on Israel, the Messianics are quickly taking over key Israel advocacy positions in the gentile world. Groups such as ICEJ (International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem), while a Christian umbrella group, are dominated by people who would view themselves as Messianic. In fact, if one were to make a search of Israel supporters, an ever increasing percentage would likely describe themselves as such.
Do Messianics want to convert Jews? The pull goes both ways. While they would truly love and aspire for Jews to recognize “the one they pierced” as their interpretation of a verse in Zechariah goes, Judaism also has a strong influence on them. Judaism has a strict definition of the messiah which Yeshua never fulfilled. Could he have been some sort of Tzaddik rather? His ultimate message of repent and turn to G-d is one that our own prophets and Tzaddiks teach. When the labels are removed the same message reaches out from both Messianic and Jewish circles: repent and turn to G-d.
Instead, for the first time in 2000 years we see gentiles embracing elements of Judaism. Some follow Rosh Hashana, which they call Yom Haturah; others follow Sukkot which they call the Feast of Tabernacles; others still attempt to follow a form of Shabbat and a form of kosher with varying degrees. This is a side that the world does not see of Messianics. Vilified as turncoat Jews, the movement is closer to an iceberg, with the multitudes of gentiles embracing the one G-d ignored.
A new dialogue should emerge between elements within Judaism and Messianic followers. While some are missionaries, most are truly undergoing a new awakening that is moving them closer to the one true G-d. While the Jewish community globally is centering itself around Israel, Messianics are springing out from the world the Jews have left behind and are some of its strongest advocates. Likely in our lifetime they will only rise as a force and us Jews should know how to work and network with them.