1. When did Messianic Judaism begin?
Messianic Judaism is actually 2,000 years old, dating back to the time of the Messiah Yeshua. Historically, Yeshua was Jewish. He was raised in a Jewish home and ministered to Jewish people in a Jewish land (Eretz Yisrael). His disciples were Jewish. The apostles were Jewish. The writers of the Brit Hadashah (New Covenant or New Testament) were Jewish, and for a time, the faith was strictly Jewish. Some historians believe that more than one million Jewish people in the first century A.D. believed that Yeshua was the Messiah, both in Israel and outside of Israel (Acts 2:37-42, 4:4, 21:20).
2. If Messianic Judaism was strictly Jewish at first, how did Gentiles come into the faith?
It was always God's will for the Gentile nations to also receive His Salvation (Is. 49:6, 42:6). God told Abraham, that through him all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:1-3). At first, the early Messianic Jews did not understand that this was God's will and proclaimed the Good News of the Messiah only to Jewish people. Ironically, the big controversy in the first century was not if it was Jewish to believe in Yeshua (naturally it was) but whether Gentiles could come in without having to “become Jewish!” When Messianic Jews finally recognized that God's Salvation was also for the Gentiles, they began to share the Messiah with non-Jews as well as with Jews. As a result, many Gentiles throughout the Roman Empire began to come into this Messianic faith (Acts 15:1-31).
3. How was first century Messianic Judaism “transformed” into Gentile Christianity?
When the early Messianic Jews took the Good News of the Messiah to the Gentiles, a great number were brought into this Messianic faith. By the end of the first century A.D., the number of Gentile believers outnumbered the Jewish believers by a ratio of two to one! This occurred primarily because there were (and still are) more Gentiles in the world than Jewish people. Through the years, as the number of Gentile believers increased, they began to dominate this Messianic faith. Some Gentile believers, not understanding the Jewish roots of their faith and God's eternal covenant with Israel, wanted to split off and form a separate religion divorced from their Jewish roots (Rom. 11:1-2). This “de-Judaizing process” continued until Gentile Christianity emerged as the dominant representative faith in the Messiah. In one of the greatest paradoxes in history, it became alien for a Jew to believe in Yeshua as his Messiah!
4. When did the early Messianic Jews disappear and why?
Surprisingly, Messianic Judaism continued to flourish well into the seventh century A.D., in spite of the many pressures on the Jews to give up their Messianic faith. First of all, the Rabbis pressured Messianic Jews to relinquish their faith in Yeshua as the Messiah. In addition, Gentile Christianity wanted Messianic Jews to abandon their Jewishness. Finally, in the seventh century A.D. the rise of Islam caused great pressures for Messianic Jews as well. Despite all this, the real reason for the disappearance of early Messianic Judaism was simply that Messianic Jews lost their “vision”. They no longer saw that it was important to remain Jewish after accepting Yeshua. This was because the majority of believers in Yeshua were now members of Gentile Christianity. Consequently, Messianic Jews assimilated completely into the Gentile Christian Church.
5. When did the modern movement of Messianic Judaism begin?
Even though Messianic Judaism, as a distinct movement, faded from the ancient scene in the seventh century A.D., there have always been Jewish believers in the Messiah Yeshua. However, beginning in the early 1800's, ever increasing numbers of Jewish people began to believe in Yeshua as the Messiah. The modern movement came to fruition after 1967 when tens of thousands of Jewish people suddenly accepted Yeshua. Why 1967? Because that is when Jerusalem came back into Jewish hands in fulfillment of a prophecy given by Yeshua in the Brit Hadashah (Luke 21:24 ). This prophecy indicated that when Jerusalem was restored to the Jewish people God would turn once again to His Jewish people in national salvation. Messianic Judaism is a prophetic movement and a direct result of the outpouring of God's Holy Spirit upon His Chosen People (Hos. 3:4-5; Joel 2:28 -29, Deut. 30:1-3).
The Origins of Messianic Judaism
This booklet seeks to answer many of the most often asked questions about Messianic Judaims. The most important fact to comprehend about Messianic Judaism is that it is centered around the belief that Yeshua (Jesus in Hebrew) is the long promised Messiah of Israel.
Written by Rabbi David Chernoff, MMI Publishing Co., Havertown, PA.