Jewish Christian – a contradiction in terms?

Can a person be a Jewish Christian or are the Rabbis right in maintaining that this is an absolute contradiction in terms? Rabbinical Judaism is predicated upon the rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. The Rabbis therefore insist that one cannot believe in Jesus and remain Jewish. Christianity is founded upon the belief that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of David from the tribe of Judah prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures, the promised “seed of Abraham” through whom all nations are blessed.

The question of whether a person can be a Jewish Christian hinges on the veracity of these competing claims. If Jesus is the Jewish Messiah what is the consequence of rejecting him? Can one afford to simply ignore the issue and plead ignorance. The Lord said to Moses that he would raise up a prophet like him from among his brothers (speaking of the Messiah) and that all Israel must obey him. Anyone who fails to listen to him will be considered cut off from the people of Israel (Deut. 18:19). This Messiah would not only be the saviour of Israel, but would be a light to the Gentiles, bringing the salvation of God to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 49:6).

When the Sanhedrin convened to consider what to do about the followers of Jesus who were proclaiming that he had been raised from the dead and that salvation could be found in no-one else the president of the council, Gamaliel, advised them not to act hastily, but to allow time to determine whether the movement was from God or a mere human invention. He cautioned them that if it was of God they would not be able to stop it from spreading and would find themselves fighting against God!

In the succeeding centuries Jesus has indeed become the light to the nations, fulfilling the word of the Hebrew prophets, and through Him the knowledge of the God of Israel has reached the ends of the earth and the Hebrew Scriptures have been translated into virtually every known language.

Many terms that are used to define religion, race, nationality or culture have a different meaning today than in their original context. When addressing biblical issues it is important to understand the meaning of terms such as Israel, Jew, Christian, messianic, Gentiles in their original biblical context as opposed to their modern connotation.

The Midrash Tanhuma, (Bereshit vayehi, 64), comments as follows on Judah’s portion of Jacob’s blessing (Genesis 49:8-12): “Why did your brothers praise you, Judah? Because all Israel would be called ‘Jews’ after you; and not only for that reason, but also because the Messiah will be your descendant, he who will save Israel; as it is written, ‘A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse’ (Isaiah 11:1).

Being Jewish, according to biblical definition, is to be associated generally with the tribe of Judah and more specifically with the Messiah who was destined to come from that tribe and whose kingdom and reign would be forever (Genesis 49:10 & Daniel 7:27).

In a book entitled, The Unknown Sanctuary, the author, Rabbi R. Brasch says (p.6): “The name of the Jew’s faith is no accident but a fundamental characteristic. Buddhism and Christianity centre on the figures after whom they were called: Buddha and Christ. Judaism never singles out an individual, asserting itself to be Abrahamism or Mosesism.. It grew out of the soul of a people to whom God revealed Himself in numerous ways and through many inspired personalities, priestly, prophetic and rabbinical.”

This is why it is important to understand terms because R. Brasch’s assertion is incorrect. The descendants of Jacob/Israel were indeed named after him and were later called Jews by association with the tribe of Judah from whence the term Judaism is derived. Israel was the new name which the Lord gave to Jacob (Genesis 32:28). Jacob’s twelve sons became the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel. After the reign of King David and King Solomon, Israel became divided between the Northern and Southern kingdoms. The northern kingdom was referred to as “Israel” and the southern kingdom was referred to as “Judah.” The ten northern tribes were exiled first and later Judah was also exiled. After their return from the Babylonian exile, all the tribes associated themselves with the tribe of Judah, and the people became collectively known as Jews.

Under the reign of the Messiah, tribes associated with Judah and the other scattered tribes of Israel were destined to again be united as one people (Ezekiel 37:19). The kingdom of the Messiah (the Anointed One), would incorporate the gathering of the people of Israel, as well as the Gentiles, into the Kingdom of God. In other words, to be subjects of God’s kingdom, is associated with the Anointed King who was to arise from Judah. Thus, biblically, being Jewish is associated with the Anointed King (Messiah) of Judah. The rebellious and unfaithful were destined to be cut off.

All Israel did in fact fall into disobedience and apostasy which is why Isaiah prophesied that He (the Messiah) would gather and restore both the people of Israel and the Gentiles who had all gone their own way. It was also prophesied by Jeremiah that the Lord would make a New Covenant with the people of Israel to bring them back to faithfulness (Jeremiah 31:31–34).

God’s purpose was to bring all nations to obedience through the Messiah: “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples” (Genesis 49:10).

God is gathering all people into his Kingdom, not according to race, but by allegiance and submission to the eternal King. It is not enough to be a Jew merely by external factors – what really matters is true faithfulness to the God of Israel which is revealed through the Messiah:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will punish all those who are circumcised merely in the flesh — Egypt, Judah, Edom, the sons of Ammon, Moab, and all who dwell in the desert who cut the corners of their hair, for all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart.” Jeremiah 9:25 26

For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. Romans 2:28 29

The term “Gentiles” simply means “nations” in contrast to the nation of Israel (A singular nation in Hebrew is “goy” and nations in the plural are “goyim”). God always intended to gather both Jews and Gentiles together into one body to declare His praises: Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from his people; … And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant – these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.” Isaiah 56:3;6-8 (cf. Psalm 87).

The Messiah, from the tribe of Judah, was to be Anointed with the power of God, so that he would reign with all wisdom and power (see Isaiah 11:2). He alone could boldly say, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn …” Isaiah 61:1 cf. Luke 4:14-20.

Before the coming of the Messiah only the kings, prophets and priests of Israel were called God’s “anointed ones” for they served under the anointing of the Holy Spirit. But the Lord spoke through the prophet Joel of a time when he would pour out his Spirit on all flesh (Joel 2:28). The Hebrew word for anointed one is mashiach from which is derived the word “Messiah.” The Greek equivalent of Messiah is Christos from which is derived Christ. The Messiah is the Anointed One and those who submit to him also receive the anointing of the Holy Spirit promised through the Hebrew prophets. Thus they are called “Christians” or “Messianics”.

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Saul (cf. 1 Samuel 10:10), David, Solomon, and the other kings, prophets and priests of Israel were all God’s anointed ones – in other words they were messiahs. The faithful assembly of the people of Israel who submitted to God’s anointed leaders looked forward to the revelation of the Messiah in whom the functions of Prophet, Priest and King would all be fulfilled. Accordingly, by a precise definition of the term they could be called “Christians.” They were the synagogue of the Messiah, “synagogue” being a Greek term to describe both the congregation and meeting place of the called out assembly. This is the equivalent of “church of Christ.” The Christian faith is the legitimate offspring and heir of Biblical Judaism and it is quite natural for Jews to embrace that faith.

The true definition of Jewishness comes from the name given to Judah by his mother, meaning praise. This is the calling of all who associate themselves with the King of the Jews, Jesus the Messiah: You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Messiah does not belong to him. Romans 8:9

The question, “Can a person be Jewish and Christian?” becomes superfluous when all the above is considered. Perhaps the question should be, “Can a person be truly Jewish and reject the Jewish Messiah?” What is the true expression of Jewishness? According to the Scriptures a Jew is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly. He is a true Jew if he has the Spirit of God which is the Spirit of the Messiah living within him. Being Jewish and Christian is not a contradiction in terms – they are inseparable terms to the glory and praise of the only true God, the God of Israel.

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