the Law of God

Is Messianic Judaism Biblical?

My first encounter with Messianic Judaism (MJ) was in 1992 soon after I became a believer. A man was a special speaker at our church and he was introducing MJ to us. Whether or not he was Jewish, I do not know. He was a nice man and I enjoyed some moments of interaction with him. He wore a shawl when he prayed and sang in Hebrew. It was moving and had a touch of historicity which lent itself to its attraction. I was a brand new believer and had no idea that there was any such thing as a distinctly Jewish “Christianity.” I felt that what he was doing was odd, but interesting. Either way, I really did not think much of it. However, I bought one of his music CD’s and still have the songs in my head.

But, 20 years removed from that time, I can now safely ask, “Was this man participating in a more authentic Christianity than us Gentiles?” Is the MJ movement truly closer to the mark than what a predominantly Gentile church experiences each Sunday? This bears the need for examination especially as this movement appears to be taking hold on many.

One website for Messianic Judaism is MJAROI (“Messianic Jewish Alliance for the Restoration of Israel). Their website indicates that there may be as many as 1.2 million Messianic Jews and “Messianic synagogues are springing up in almost every major city across the U.S., and Messianic Judaism is quickly growing in other nations throughout North and South America, Europe, Oceania, and the former Soviet republics” (http://www.mjaa.org/site/PageServer?pagename=n_messianic_movement_messianic_judaism, site accessed 1/29/2013). With a growing trend toward this ideology, I think that it is fair to take a moment and examine, in sum, its tenants and compare them against Scripture.

According to the directory of the International Alliance of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues (http://www.iamcs.org/), there are no Messianic Synagogues in Montana, where I live. Other directories from another MJ service indicate there are three (http://www.man-na.com/Messianic_Congregations_in_Montana.htm). The narrative I began this post with occurred in Bozeman, Montana. I live in Northwest Montana. I am aware of some in this area who believe MJ to be a viable, biblical, even right, expression of true biblical worship and practice over and against a more Gentile expression of worship and practice. Their reasoning goes like this.

Since Jesus was Jewish, followed Hebrew Scriptures, studied and spoke in the Synagogues, and taught his followers to do the same, so must we. The need, therefore, is to return to this expression, as defined by the evidence compiled by MJ, in our modern expression of following “Yeshua.” What does that look like? It looks like a return to the feasts, or biblical holidays. It is a call to worship in Hebrew. It is a call to dance during the services, much like David did (2 Samuel 6:12-23). It would include a return to dietary restrictions and keeping of the Sabbath. These expressions of authentic discipleship find their establishment in the MJ movement. The movement is a call for Jews who believe in Jesus Christ to gather into their Jewish Congregations, Messianic Synagogues, for worship replete with the above-mentioned items. Although they would demand that these things are simply because they, as Jews, do not want to lost their distinctiveness as Jews, I would think that more than that is going on (particularly since many in the MJ movement are Gentiles!).

Is this really what defines a biblical perspective? Does the Bible teach these doctrines of a return to the “Jewishness” of following Jesus? No. The Bible does not teach these things. The Scriptures do not call Jews and Gentiles to redefine worship in these terms. The distinction between Jews and Gentiles, in fact, have been removed in Christ (Galatians 3:28; cf. Rom 3:22; 1 Cor 12:13; Col 3:11). To attempt a distinction, at the very least, is an assault upon the church Jesus is actually building, culture notwithstanding. If those who follow Jesus Christ must embrace the “right” style of worship, i.e. Messianic Judaism, then we have, in effect,

1.Denied the establishment of the church.

2.Denied the eschatological truth of the restoration of Israel.

3.Elevated Jewishness above Christ.

Denied the establishment of the church:

Israel refused to repent. God had called over and over again for their repentance (2 Chronicles 36:15-16; Matthew 21:22-41; 23:34-35). The result was

Matthew 21:42–46

42 Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures,

‘The stone which the builders rejected,

This became the chief corner stone;

This came about from the Lord,

And it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it.

44 “And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.”

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them.

46 When they sought to seize Him, they feared the people, because they considered Him to be a prophet. (underline mine)

The Jews, as representative of the entire nation, refused to repent. Moses had written that unless and until Israel repents, confessing their sins and the sins of their fathers, the promise of Abraham cannot come (Leviticus 26:40-42). Since, Israel refused to repent, Jesus then turns to the Gentiles and gives to them the kingdom rightly belonging to Israel (Romans 11:11-24; cf. Matthew 21:43). This does not mean that Israel will never inherit the kingdom promised them through David. It means that they have judged themselves unworthy of such a high honor when Messiah arrived; they have been neglected by God for a time, as God calls Gentiles to Himself. The restoration of Israel is to come, all twelve tribes, in Jerusalem, as promised, with David’s Son reigning over them and the world. However, alongside the Messiah will be the twelve apostles, and the church, ruling over Israel (Matthew 19:27-30; cf. Revelation 20:4). By the way, this is not a cause for arrogance, but deep humiliation for God to extend this grace to us without any covenant or promise to Gentiles (except the reference to some kind of Gentile blessing through the descendants of Abraham [Genesis 12:3]) is unfathomable! We were without God in the world, and apart from the commonwealth of Israel [Ephesians 2:11-12; cf. Romans 11:17-21]. Now, during our current time, it is the age of the Gentiles (Luke 21:12-24; Romans 11:25). Thus, the church, the assembly of regenerated, Spirit-filled, and baptized (by the same Spirit into Christ-Romans 6:3-7) people, whether Jews or Gentiles, are distinct from Israel and we are those who will reign with Christ over the world during the Millennial reign of Christ. If a person says that we must regain the former Jewish distinctions of Judaism and amalgamate them into Christ and His body, the church, we have then confessed a desire to return to the “generation” who refused to repent. It would be like Israel wanting to return to Egypt. You can’t go back. In Christ, the distinctions are done away with. In Christ, not even our gender aids in our merit with Christ (Galatians 3:28). We are clothed with Christ, not Abraham (Galatians 3:27). And if Abraham were here, he would expect the same (John 8:39, 56-59).

Denied Of The Eschatological Truth Concerning The Restoration of Israel

One tenant of MJ is the desire to restore Jerusalem.

We believe in God’s end-time plan for the nation of Israel and for the world. A central part of Messianic Judaism is the belief in the physical and spiritual restoration of Israel, as taught in the Scriptures. The greatest miracle of our day has been the re-establishment or rebirth of the State of Israel according to prophecy (Ezekiel 34:11-31; 36-39; Hosea 3; Amos 9:11-15; Zechariah 12-14; Isaiah 11; 43; 54; 60-62; 66; Romans 11:1-34). (http://www.mjaa.org/site/PageServer?pagename=n_about_us_statement_of_faith).

Unfortunately, the above-mentioned statement of MJ indicates an ignorance of God’s program for Israel. The establishment of Israel as a state in 1948 does not fulfill the return of Israel to the land. The passages used to support that it does are misapplied and misinterpreted.

Ezekiel 34:11ff. refers to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ as to when Israel will be restored to the land. We know this because the sheep and goat judgment referred to in the rest of the chapter is taught by our Lord in Matthew 25:32ff. The context of which being His return to the earth for judgment and Millennial rulership.

Hosea 4 is a little chapter of wonderful promise for Israel’s return to the God with Whom they played the harlot. They will personally return to David their King (the Son of David, Jesus) with fear and trembling in the last days. Until Jesus is personally resident in Jerusalem, Israel will not return.

Amos 9:11-15 refer to the blessed time when Israel is restored to their land and the land will be characterized by peace and productivity. There will be a stop placed upon the curse of the ground (Genesis 3:17-18) and the ground will, once again, produce bountifully.

Zechariah 12-14 will only occur when Israel “looks upon Him whom they have pierced” (12:10). Their repentance will be known and evident. Jesus will reign from Jerusalem, there will be geographical changes to benefit Jerusalem, and Christ will rule over the nations. None of which have occurred to date.

Isaiah 11, 43, 54, 60-62 all indicate events that have not occurred. Israel is not safe. The nations surrounding Israel have not been judged. The new heavens and earth have not been created. Although these passages teach the restoration of Israel, it has not occurred yet.

Romans 11:1-34 is Paul’s teaching, from the teaching of our Lord, that Israel will be returned God and to the land in fulfillment of His promise. That has not occurred. As stated above, Israel has been hardened partially until the times of the Gentiles has been accomplished (Romans 11:25-26). Then, after the times of the Gentiles (which ends at the Rapture of the church before the Tribulation), at the end of the prophesied Seventieth-Week of Daniel, Israel will be rescued and will have their veil lifted to see Christ.

It is important to understand that these passages do not teach that these things happen progressively. The restoration of Israel will only happen when they see Christ, the One Whom they have pierced; when they repent, which will happen when the Spirit is poured out upon the house of David, and will result in a submission to the Son of David as King and they will enjoy fellowship in the land. None of this started in 1948. Therefore, we cannot see 1948 as any kind of fulfillment of a Scripture passage related to the restoration of Israel. Is 1948 significant? Yes. Is 1948 prophetic? No. Eschatologically, Israel will repent through the provision of the New Covenant inaugurated by Christ. God will give to them that covenant which will regenerate the entire nation at that time (just like He did with Nineveh through Jonah), and they will mourn for Christ and for their sins and they will, at that time, return to the land having been called out from the other nations around the world. The Bible teaches that that will occur only at the end of the Tribulation, at the beginning of the Millennial reign of Jesus Christ. Until then, Israel is hardened.

Elevated Jewishness Above Christ

If we believe that Jesus Christ came to restore “Jewishness” to worship, we have failed to understand Christ. He is the Last Adam, not the last Abraham. He did not come because God inaugurated Jewish worship in the garden and He planned to restore it. He came to fulfill His promise to His people Israel, which, in turn, would bring Edenic-like blessing to the world (Genesis 12:3), and reconcile the world to Himself so as to make us all (those who believe) sons of God, with Christ as our eldest brother (Romans 8:28ff.). Although these things were divulged to Israel (except for the mystery of the church), that does not make these things submissive to Israel or Jewishness. Paul wrote

Colossians 2:16–17

16 Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—

17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.

The fact is, food, drink, festival, new moon (observance), and Sabbath-day keeping are shadows. The substance that casts the shadow is Christ. I would much rather have what bears the shadow than the shadow. These functions were never meant to be observed eternally. We know this because the heart of all of this was the sacrificial system demanding the temple in which animals were slain. We have no temple now in which to offer sacrifice. Those who espouse MJ have contracted a twisted understanding of Moses’ Law concerning the festivals and Sabbaths. These things cannot commend you to God any more than the blood of bulls and goats could actually atone for sins (Hebrews 10:4). To dance like David simply feeds an already established sense of self-righteousness, but is not the indication of true righteousness. David danced, embarrassingly to some degree, because of the re-entry of the ark to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6). We do not have such a condition. The church continued in the apostle’s doctrine, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayers (Acts 2:42). The antics of MJ are conspicuously absent in the NT. Not to say that being absent makes them impossible. It simply means that being absent is consistent with the teaching of Christ and the apostles that a greater than the Temple is here (Matthew 12:6, 41, 42).

I am afraid that the establishment of MJ into the church will accomplish what Paul warned long ago:

Colossians 2:18–19

18 Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind,

19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.

Further,

Colossians 2:20–23

20 If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as,

21 “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!”

22 (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men?

23 These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.

The self-abasement and appearance of wisdom in self-made religion cannot help you overcome the flesh. You might believe in these things and promote these things. But that is not the issue. We cannot share the glory of Christ with anyone or anything. He is Lord. In fact, He is Lord of the Sabbath (Luke 6:1-11). Follow Christ! Reject man-made commandments and teachings. Learn of Him. Follow Him. Serve Him. Love Him, with your whole heart, and in this way you will fulfill the whole Law of Moses and the Prophets (i.e. Tanakh):

Matthew 22:34–40

34 But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together.

35 One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him,

36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”

37 And He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’

38 “This is the great and foremost commandment.

39 “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

40 “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

The Initial Components of the Father’s Plan are Inaugurated.

The gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is that sinners are made into sons. That may sound simple enough, however it most certainly is not a simple matter. This is not because God somehow has to work extra hard to do this. It is not because Satan is such an enemy that God is being outwitted by him. It is not because we are already so acceptable to God that He has a hard time choosing whom to redeem. To make sinners into sons demands the satisfaction of a reality that is insurmountable…at least by mankind.

God’s justice, motivated by His holy nature, is no small thing. God must punish sins and those who perpetrate them. He must destroy all that offends Him, not because He is Himself sinfully proud for then He would have to punish Himself. He has to destroy all that offends Him because of His purity, righteousness, and holiness. These things coupled with His sovereignty require the vanquishing of all that does not respond to Him in like manner. In fact, to do this is right for God alone.

Therefore, in order for God’s plan to make sinners into sons to take place, God has to do something with the sins of the eventual sons. He cannot overlook them, pardon them, nor can He punish the sinners He has elected because once a sinner dies, there awaits judgment (Hebrews 9:27). Therefore, the elect cannot die in their sins, yet they cannot atone for their own sins either. God must remedy the problem, and He most certainly did.

In order to initiate the remedy, the sinner needs to comprehend his illness. It does no good to present the remedy to someone who cannot accept that he is ill. That is more than an illustration, it is true. Jesus said, “

         29      And Levi gave a big reception for Him in his house; and there was a great crowd of tax collectors and other people who were reclining at the table with them.
         30      The Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?”
         31      And Jesus answered and said to them, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick.
         32      “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:29–32).

People who are sick know their need. They need to be made well, so they trek to the local doctor and submit to his suggestions. The main point is that the healthy usually do not endure the examinations and suggestions of the physician. In the same way, unless a person sees the illness of his offense toward holy God, he will not seek a cure. He must know he is ill. He must understand that he is in a very precarious condition and is at death’s door. Therefore, God will, without exception, demonstrate to the sinner his illness. How does He do that? He shows mankind the picture of the perfect man. He demonstrates to the sinner, via the Law, his illness as compared to the holy, righteous, and good nature of the Law of God (Romans 7:12). Unless a sinner agrees that he has broken God’s holy Law, he will not be convinced that he is ill.

Romans is a profound book in so many respects. But, one way in which its profundity is demonstrated is Paul’s comments in chapter 7 concerning the Law and its role in his life. Whether this chapter is dealing with Paul and his pre-conversion days, or Paul and his immediately post-conversion days, the truth is the same, Paul would not have seen his sin if it were not for the external Law of God, the Ten Commandments, and their objective standards, which contradicted his nature. In short, Paul states that he would not have seen the impulse to covet as wrong and offensive to God had he not read in the Law the holy prohibition of God to not covet. In verses 7-13 Paul relates this action of the Law in him in a very candid way. He says that he would not have come to know sin except through the Law (v.7). Why not? Because, unless there is a standard, a law from God, we will compare ourselves to ourselves and think that we are not sick. If we are all sneezing and coughing, then my sneezing and coughing won’t seem so bad. However, when someone comes along and tells you, “Sneezing and coughing is abnormal,” I will see the truth of my condition. Paul read in the Law that coveting is sin against the God of Israel (Exodus 20:17). However, his condition is so severe (and so is yours), that his covetousness did not die down simply because it was revealed. It increased. Sin, being the condition that it is, was exacerbated by the commandment of God. It is so contrary to God’s nature that to tell it what God loves is to cause it to rail against that very thing. This is why Paul says that “through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful” (v.13). In a condition like that, you can see that we are worse off than we imagined. It is like being allergic to antivenom.

But, this is the plan of God. Our utterly sinful condition, for which there is no human cure, is profound and desperate. We could not, nor do we want to, cure ourselves. We love our illness. It is sweet to our palate. We love its impulses and what it provides. We love its allurements. And when we are punished for it, we complain against a God who is ruining our fun. Again, our illness is worse than we imagined. God must demonstrate all this to us, and He does so in the Law.

Many years after Romans, Paul wrote to Timothy, “

    8       But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully,

1 Timothy 1:8

The use of the Law is like a sword, you must use it the way it is meant to be used. What is the use of the Law? It is to reveal sin. It is made for

   9     …those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers 
   10      and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching,

1 Timothy 1:9–10.

 

The Law is the sounding board against which every person is measured. It is holy, righteous, and good, not simply to reveal sins, but their root cause-our own hearts.

Thus, God has to show us our condition. After all, when Christ said that He did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance, He was most certainly speaking about the entire world. Once the condition is believed, by God’s grace, the remedy may be taken and applied. That remedy being Jesus Christ, who never sinned, never wavered in His love for the Father, and maintained perfect obedience to the Law of God. What is more, He died so that He might satisfy that insurmountable reality-God’s justice.

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