The modern Messianic Jewish movement as we know it has existed for more than half a century. And in that time, while there has come to be a certain level of tolerance toward Messianic Jews within the larger Jewish community, most non-Messianic Jews are hardened in their hearts toward Yeshua. This is due in large part to the unfounded beliefs about the Messiah that have been perpetuated in Jewish circles, making it critically important that we know the source of this misinformation.
Much of mainstream Jewish teaching about the Messiah and the coming Messianic age is cobbled together from extra-biblical sources—such as the Talmud—and snippets of unrelated Scriptural texts, careful to avoid any passages that even remotely resemble the Yeshua that is represented in the New Covenant Scriptures. So, what we as Messiah-followers need to remember above all else is that Jewish people in general simply don’t know what the Bible says—and it is our honor and privilege to reintroduce them to the contents of their very own Book.
As a demonstration of this lack of understanding about Yeshua, let’s take a look at an article from judaism.about.com called, “Who Was Jesus? The Messiah or Just a Man?” by Ariela Pelaia. While there are far too many baseless claims and unsourced assertions in this one article to deal with here, let’s quickly look at just one set of the author’s factual errors, according to Scripture.
In an attempt to dismiss the significance and impact of Yeshua-followers during the first century, and to delegitimize them as a genuine Jewish sect, she writes:
“After the death of Jesus, his followers—at the time a small sect of former Jews known as the Nazarenes—claimed he was the messiah… prophesied in Jewish texts and that he would soon return to fulfill the acts required of the messiah. The majority of contemporary Jews rejected this belief and Judaism as a whole continues to do so today. Eventually, Jesus became the focal point of a small Jewish religious movement that would rapidly evolve into the Christian faith.”
So first, Pelaia immediately mischaracterizes Nazarenes (Messianic Jews) as “former Jews.” She is attempting to demonstrate that Jews who believe in Yeshua have left the Jewish faith, rejected the God of Israel, and joined a new religion known as Christianity. Second, she also calls the Nazarenes “a small sect” and “a small Jewish religious movement.” By calling the Nazarene sect “small,” she is trying to downplay the influence of Yeshua and His disciples—an influence that has powerfully reached down throughout the centuries!
Setting the Record Straight
The fact is that the Nazarenes co-existed alongside the Pharisees, Sadducees and other religious and political movements up until the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. Afterward, the Nazarenes were the only remaining Jewish sect that directly competed with the Pharisees, and it wasn’t until the flight of the believers in the second century (see Yeshua’s prophecy in Matthew 24:15ff) that Pharisaism became the dominant sect, eventually evolving into the Rabbinic Judaism we know today.
But more important than Pelaia’s misleading characterizations is the fact that her assertions are in direct contradiction to the testimony of Scripture. The historical fact according to the Word of God is that not only were the Nazarenes quite large in number, but they continued to be faithful, dedicated Jews. This is attested to explicitly in Acts 21:20, when James and the elders in Jerusalem declared to Paul,
“You see, brother, how many tens of thousands of Y’hudiym [Jews] there are who have believed, and all are zealous for the Torah…” (MJLT)
This is one of the most critical points to remember when sharing the Messiah with the Jewish people: regardless of what has transpired over the last two millennia, in first century Israel, the Jewish believers numbered in the tens of thousands, and they continued to keep the Torah! Following Yeshua does not mean that a Jew foregoes his Jewishness, rather, his zeal for the Torah and for being Jewish is increased! Believing in Yeshua was—and is—a very Jewish thing to do!