I consider myself a Christian in the sense that I am a disciple of Jesus Christ but more specifically, I am a student of Messianic Judaism because I believe that discipline represents a perspective on the Bible, the Good News of Messiah, the New Covenant, and Israel that is scripturally sound and that describes the Bible as the single, unified expression of God’s desires, intent, and plan, first for Israel, and then, by Israel’s light, for the rest of the world.
And yet, to do that, I have learned to accept a few things that other people, that is, Christians, don’t like. I accept that the New Covenant was made exclusively with the House of Israel and the House of Judah (Jeremiah 31:31) and not with humanity in general. Further, I accept that when God, through the prophet, says “the House of Israel and the House of Judah,” He is referring specifically to the physical descendents of the Israelites who stood before God at Mt Sinai and accepted the covenant relationship between God and Israel (Exodus 20) in perpetuity (Jeremiah 31:35-36), who are today the Jewish people, and that the eternal inheritance of the Jews is the nation of Israel, which we have with us now.
I accept that the Gentiles are to be attracted to Israel as a light (Deuteronomy 4:5-8, Isaiah 49:6) with the strongest light being King Messiah, Son of David (John 8:12) as God’s emissary, agent, and deliverer of the promises God has made, causing the New Covenant age to be inaugurated with his death and resurrection, that the Jews might believe God will deliver on His promises to them, and that the Gentiles might be grafted into the blessings of those promises, taking the fringes of a Jewish man and going with him, for God is with him (Zechariah 8:23).
I’ve heard it said that the Jewish man in question is not just any Jewish person, but specifically is Messiah. That we from the nations approach God and His holiness by attaching ourselves to Israel through Messiah and going up with him to Jerusalem, to the House of Prayer for all the peoples (Isaiah 56:7).
So what’s wrong with all of that? Apparently, plenty.
From a Christian’s point of view, which includes some in the Hebrew Roots movement who say they disdain the Church, God made a covenant with Israel at Sinai that had effect and potency until the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Then everything changed. The Jewish people no longer were automatically included in the Sinai covenant (although the Abrahamic covenant remained in force) and in order to re-enter a covenant relationship with God, they had to enter into the New Covenant, represented by a brand new entity wholly divorced from Judaism called “the Church”.
From Christianity’s point of view, this means Jewish people remain Jewish but must surrender Judaism and convert to Christianity, along with the Gentiles, and live, for all intents and purposes, a Gentile Christian lifestyle free of “the Law” and solely under grace (as if the two are mutually exclusive). There must be absolutely no distinction between Jew and Gentile in the Church.
From a Hebrew Roots perspective, this means Jewish people remain Jewish and continue practicing Judaism, but the “one new man” entity they must join requires that all Gentile disciples are totally and completely the same as their Jewish counterparts, and must observe the identical set of Torah commandments as the Jew. There must be absolutely no distinction between Jew and Gentile in Hebrew Roots congregations, many of which inaccurately call themselves “Messianic Judaism.”
But the Messianic Judaism I study and adhere to has a different perspective, one that recognizes a specific distinctiveness between Jews and Gentiles within the ekklesia of Messiah, such that each group in the body serves different, although sometimes overlapping functions.
I accept, for instance, that it would be inappropriate for me to claim an obligation to don tzitzit and lay tefillin when praying, to keep kosher in the manner of the Jews, to observe, in the present age, a Shabbat, and to say that it would be a sin if I did not perform any of those mitzvot.
That isn’t to say, especially being married to a Jewish wife, that I’m forbidden to keep kosher or observe the Shabbat (though at present, I only keep “kosher-style” and both my wife and I have elected to work on the Shabbat — may the day come when our observance is more faithful). I even know Gentile Messianics who choose to don tzitzit and lay tefillin privately in prayer, but who do not declare that they are obligated to do so.
I also accept that the New Covenant was made only with the Jewish people and that my only access is through faith in Messiah, not because of any inherit worth I have ethnically or nationally as a non-Jew.
My understanding of the Jewish covenant relationship with God is that it extends continually from Exodus 20 forward in time and into the modern age. While Jesus inaugurated the New Covenant with his death and resurrection, getting the ball rolling, so to speak, it won’t reach any sort of fruition until his second coming, when he destroys all of Israel’s enemies, making the Gentile survivors vassal nations under Israel’s sovereignty, and establishing a unprecedented world-wide reign of peace. Then the Jewish people will be restored to their Land, to Israel, and the Gentiles who are called by His Name will come alongside Israel and serve her King, for he is our King, and worship God on the Temple Mount.
No new body is created in Acts 2, it’s an extension of the all of the previous covenants God made with Israel including the New Covenant, and the precursor to the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel and to the nations. A subset of all the Jewish people in existing in the first century accepted the Good News of Messiah, and they represent an unbroken stream that goes all the way back to the Exodus and even to Abraham. And the Jewish people who did not accept the Good News remain under the Sinai covenant and in God’s love and compassion, and as God declares in the New Covenant:
“I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
One day, God will forgive Israel’s sins, and the Jewish people will make teshuvah and return.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’”
Israel will one day say “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” and on that day, the Gentiles will join with Israel at feast of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Matthew 8:11).
Does that make me and all the non-Jewish disciples of Messiah who study Messianic Judaism into second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God? To be honest, there are days when I think so. I suppose it’s my innate attraction to Jewish worship and scholarship that periodically has me longing to be able to join a minyan or to be called to the bema for an aliyah (not that I speak or read Hebrew). I sometimes see Jews in Messianic synagogues worshiping and praying the prayers and wish I could be a part of them. Sometimes I feel I should leave any sort of affiliation to Messianic Judaism behind and just keep my peace silently, communing only with God, because I feel I can never truly be part of Jewish people in Jewish community.
But I don’t fit in at church either, so that cannot be my sole connection to fellowship. Also, I must admit that any issues I may have feeling any disconnection with Messianic Judaism are my personal issues and hardly the fault of Jewish needs or requirements in community, since after all, the “chosenness” of Israel is a decision of God, not of man, and I must obey God before the will of any human being, even (especially) my own will (Acts 5:29).
That is why I call myself a “Messianic Gentile” and choose to study within a Messianic Jewish framework. That is why it is OK, even if I am a “second-class citizen” (which I’m actually not), because my citizenship is in the Kingdom of God, among the ekklesia, both ancient and modern, in the tradition of every Gentile who has ever come alongside Israel because we have heard God is with them, from the days of Moses to the days of the apostle Paul.
And Korach, the son of Yitzhor, the son of K’hos, the son of Levi, took …
Rashi explains that the key reason for Korach’s rebellion against Moshe was that he was envious of another relative who received honor while he didn’t.
If I were to allow envy of the obligations and privileges of the Jewish people in the Messianic community to affect me, I would be as Rashi characterized Korach and his band: rebellious. May it never be.
Rabbi Pliskin’s Torah commentaries speak more to me about my own state as a Gentile studying and learning within a Jewish context, being attached to but not the same as the Jewish co-participants in the body of Messiah. In Part Two of this series, I’ll discuss more of my perspective using R. Pliskin’s missives as a foundation.
For more on the Korach rebellion, which was last week’s Torah portion, read “The Importance of Unity” at ProjectGenesis.org.