An Open Letter to the Issues Readership
This may be the first edition of Issues you’ve ever received, or you may be a long-time reader of this publication.
To date, Issues has printed a number of articles representing Jewish Christian viewpoints on topics relevant to Jewish people. Perhaps you share our beliefs, or perhaps you’ve been reading the magazine just out of curiosity and still have some unanswered questions: What do Jewish Christians really believe? How can they be Jewish and believe in Jesus? The editors of Issues would like to take this opportunity to give a clear answer to these questions. The following is a profile of the opinions of several authors who have contributed to Issues since its inception.
The Jewish Christian Dilemma
They are Jews, and they are Christians. To many, this sounds preposterous, but to Jewish believers in Jesus, it is the most natural thing in the world. It was not always this way, however. Many of these people went through great personal strife before publicly acknowledging their belief.
Amy Rabinovitz, in her article, “A Yom Kippur Prayer,” noted:
I couldn’t honestly say that I was willing to pay the price to achieve what God demanded, but I wanted to…even if it meant believing in Jesus.
Ellen Covett, another Jewish Christian, wrestled with similar feelings:
What would they say if they thought I was nibbling at the forbidden fruit? Would I be betraying my family and heritage if I believed in Jesus? Even so, part of me wanted to know the truth, even if it meant that the truth was Jesus.
There is a deep-rooted resentment and bitterness towards Christianity in the Jewish experience, and the Jewish Christians are not immune to it. They, too, are Jews.
As they struggled with the thought of believing in Jesus, the arguments of the ages continually surfaced. Much of the role of Christianity in Jewish history, needless to say, has been that of a tyrant. Christianity is viewed by Jews as a pagan religion—an idol-worshipping faith. Jewish martyrs marched to their deaths rather than accept the sign of the Cross. Is it any wonder that the deeds of the historical Church presented such an obstacle to many of those who would believe?
The rampant anti-Semitism displayed by the Church was one of the most crucial issues to be grappled with. How could Jewish Christians separate themselves from the Jewish people and be aligned with the opposition? Barry Leventhal, in his article entitled “Christian Anti-Semitism,” notes that the greatest impetus of anti-Semitism was the accusation that the Jews committed deicide—the killing of God by the crucifixion of Christ. But these proponents demonstrated inconsistency with what they professed. Jesus’ own attitude towards Jews was one of love, and those who claim a belief in Jesus ought to share this attitude. Christianity might have been a convenient vehicle for the venting of anti-Jewish feelings, but belief in Christ is not the cause of anti-Semitism. On the contrary, many true believers in Christ have loudly protested the atrocities committed by the so-called “Christian” Church. Those who truly practice Christ’s teaching are not the opposition, but rather are the true friends of the Jewish people.
Have those Jews who have turned to Christ, then, become traitors to their Jewish faith? Some would say yes—they have joined the ranks of the persecutors. But have they? According to Al Brickner in “The Jewishness of the New Testament,” the basic theme of Christianity is a Jewish one: the fulfillment of the Messianic Hope. Those Jews who have been prompted to investigate the New Testament carefully have come to recognize its basically Jewish character. Stuart Dauermann, in his article, “What Happened When I Read a Forbidden Book,” commented:
I saw in these “forbidden pages” how those who so loved Jesus found a new beauty and strength of life and an intimacy with God; an intimacy that reminded me of Abraham, Isaac and the Prophets. Soon I was no longer able to discount the New Testament as “someone else’s religion, ” for it spoke directly to the dry and barren areas of need in my life. Through a Jewish book, I had found Him of whom Moses and the Prophets wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews!
But don’t Jewish believers in Jesus eventually assimilate and become lost in the Christian church? Yes, perhaps this has been so in the past, when the Church required all ties with the Jewish faith to be broken. But today, when worldwide Jewish assimilation is such a threat, Jewish identity and its preservation are foremost on the Jewish believer’s mind. Not only individual Jews, but entire families are striving to maintain their Jewish heritage. In some cases, Jewish Christian families have retained this Jewish heritage over many years.
The Brickners are one such Jewish Christian family which now spans five generations. Lois Brickner, in her article, “My Jewish Family Album,” comments:
Some have said that believing in Jesus cuts one off from the Jewish people and erases identification with them. I have only to look at my own children to realize that this need not be true. They represent the fifth generation of our family who have believed in Messiah Jesus. Rather than showing any inclination to assimilate and lose their Jewish identity, they have shown a readiness to identify themselves as Jews.
Her daughter, Martha, was recently married to another Jewish Christian, in a traditional Jewish ceremony.
Ruth Rosen, daughter of Jewish Christian parents, had this interesting quip:
“People tell me that if I marry and have children, they won’t be Jewish,…from Jews you get Jews, even if they do believe in Jesus.”
The sense of Jewish identity is not lost in fact, it is at times affirmed by a personal faith in the Messiah of Israel. Tuvya Zaretsky expressed it well in his article, “First Impressions of Israel”:
It is now, through Jesus, that I can identify with our people, our land, and our God. I know in my heart and from God’s own word, the Bible, that I am part of a people, God’s chosen people, and a land, Israel, God’s promise to my ancestor Abraham…It is my hope that more of my people have an opportunity to know the One who provides identity and purpose.
But how can the Jewish Christians claim to have discovered that which is still hidden from our sages? Can our rabbis be mistaken? As harsh as it may sound, the Jewish Christians say yes. In their desire to protect their people from the corruption of institutionalized Christianity, the rabbis avoided and forbade any mention of Jesus Christ. Throughout history, Jesus was represented as the head of a pagan religion; and of this, the rabbis wanted no part. Few rabbis ever entertained the thought of considering Jesus, the man, as the Messiah.
Yet Judaism has never held the words of the rabbis to be infallible. Is it possible, then, for even the rabbis to stray from the truth? Over and over in the Scriptures, we see the Jewish people turning their backs on God (not just Jewish people, but all people are guilty of this). After seeing the power of God revealed at Sinai, did our people not reject Him? The Golden Calf forever remains a symbol of our error. In the centuries to follow, the prophets of Israel ceaselessly admonished the Jewish teachers for leading the people astray. Yet the people ought not to have followed them blindly:
My people have been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away…
Are our people still being led astray? In those ancient times, there was always a small remnant who remained faithful to God. If Jesus was the Messiah, then could His Jewish followers be that remnant? Jewish Christians are indeed effervescent in their zeal for the God of Israel. Such zeal is difficult to find among our own Jewish people. It is a zeal based on a firm conviction that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob still lives and has fulfilled the Messianic promises He gave.
But how can they be sure that Jesus is indeed the Messiah? It is difficult to be sure of anything, but Jewish believers claim that the Messianic prophecies can be substantiated. If the evidence is strong, then the case bears considering.
The Case for Belief in Jesus
The nature of the Messiah has been variously interpreted by Jewish authorities. We find that Jewish views of the role of the Messiah evolved through the centuries. From a supernatural character who was to come down out of the heavens, the idea of the Messiah was progressively weakened, until to some contemporary rabbis, there remains no more than a vague Messianic era of peace and human equality to come. Yet the Scriptures tell us much about the nature of the Messiah. Isaiah applies to Him titles that can otherwise only be used of God Himself.
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
Messiah will have the nature and qualities of God. He is called the Eternal One, the Everlasting Father. Indeed, He will be God Himself. Is anything too difficult for a God who can part the Red Sea, and spare Elijah from the grave? Can we not believe it a possibility that a child would be born and carry His very Name?
Taken individually, the prophecies may be cast aside as “mere coincidences,” but as they are considered together, they begin to form the case for the Messiahship of Jesus. Biblical prophecies are given in great detail. The exact birthplace and time of Messiah’s coming can be found in the pages of the Bible. The prophet Micah speaks of One who would come, whose origins were from everlasting, and whose birthplace would be Bethlehem the city of David.
But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.
Daniel tells the time of Messiah’s coming, pinpointing it to a period of 490 years from a specific point in Jewish history.
Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah, the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times…
Barry Rubin comments on this passage in his article, “When the Messiah Comes”:
The only decree to go out was by Artaxerxes in 444 B.C.E. My computations were fairly simple, but the answer I got was difficult to accept. This anointed one was to die in 32 C.E., the year Christ was crucified. I could not call this a coincidence. It would be like saying two plus two equals five.
If we believe in the integrity of the Scriptures, this alone should be sufficient to raise the question: If Jesus was not the Messiah, who was?
But if Jesus was the Messiah, and possessed qualities ascribed to God, why didn’t He bring peace? Some believe that He did:
Peace, lasting peace, transcends the situations and flaws of our own personal lives because it doesn’t come from us. It comes from God. We are not in a position to attain peace ourselves. Yet, God promises all the qualities of shalom: wholeness, completeness, soundness, health, safety to those who will look to Him.
“The Shalom of God” by Susan Perlman
It would have been possible for Jesus to bring peace to the entire world, but this would have been in violation of man’s right to freedom of choice. God would no more impose a desire for peace in a man than He would impose a belief in Himself. Man is free to choose, and unfortunately, some men do not desire peace. Their own greed and selfish ambition cause them to be in constant strife and competition with others. No, the change could not be imposed upon man from without. Rather, it had to arise from within through a supernatural purification of the human heart.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way…
All of us have at one time or another turned away from God. There is no exception. Yet the Bible tells us:
…but the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all…He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of ow peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
Isaiah 53: 5,6
Rachmiel Frydland has commented on this passage in his article, “The Rabbi’s Dilemma: A Look at Isaiah 53“:
Our ancient commentators with one accord noted that the context clearly speaks of God’s Anointed One, the Messiah.
Because all men have turned from God, there is none righteous enough to fulfill His requirements. Only the Messiah could suffer thus—and in his pain, bear away our transgressions. Those who believe in Jesus claim that He has cleansed them and enabled them to have a personal relationship with a loving God. It is by this change wrought in men’s hearts that Messiah has brought peace in the world.
We see, then, that in order for Messiah’s life to accomplish its purpose it had to end in death:
…he was cut off out of the land of the living…for the transgression of my people was he stricken.
Why would God be so cruel as to require death from His Anointed One? It was not God who was cruel. Man, because of his sin, required a punishment. A righteous judge cannot wink at blatant violations of the law. Neither can God allow His people to break His commandments and go unpunished. Although the punishment for sin is death, or separation from the Giver of Life, God has provided a substitute. In Old Testament times, the Lord required the blood of an animal to be shed in place of the blood of man. Yet the animal sacrifice did not really pay the price of the sin, it merely illustrated to man the graveness and seriousness of his acts. The prophet Isaiah spoke of a time when the ultimate sacrifice would be made: there would come a man, a righteous man, who would die for the sins of his people. The Messiah alone was righteous enough to accomplish this.
The manner of his death is graphically portrayed by the Psalmist:
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou has brought me into the dust of death. For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet…They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.
The passage resembles to the detail a Roman crucifixion, although it was written centuries before this torture was put into practice. The Psalmist may have seen prophetically the manner in which Messiah was to suffer: a cruel and painful death at the hands of his enemies.
Yet the Scripture has words of hope. They do not speak to us of Messiah’s death and leave us there, in mourning. Instead, they carry the work on to its conclusion. Yes, Messiah must die, but death will not rule over Him he will be resurrected. Resurrection has long been a tenet in the Jewish religion, and the Bible speaks specifically of the resurrection of the Messiah:
For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither will thou suffer shine Holy One to see corruption.
Bob Friedman, in his article, “Life after Life,” noted:
Jesus not only confirmed the resurrection of the dead in word, but also in deed …He did not merely claim to be a prophet of great insight and compassion; rather, He claimed to be the Messiah, the unique Son of God, and He proved it.
The belief in Jesus does not stand or fall on these prophecies alone. These are but a sampling—space does not allow for a complete account. Such an account may be found in books such as Yeshua: The Jewish Way to Say Jesus, What the Bible Teaches About the Promised Messiah, or What the Rabbis Know About the Messiah. There, the case for Jesus’ Messiahship is presented in a much fuller scope. (Some of these titles are available through our online Purple Pomegranate catalog.
What, then, do Jewish Christians stand for?
They themselves at one time asked the very same questions they are now accused with. They grappled with the same prejudices and struggled with similar problems. Yet because of Scriptural evidence for Jesus’ Messiahship, they have risked community and family ties and have declared their belief in Jesus.
Have they then ceased being Jewish? That may depend on one’s definition of the term. If Jewishness denotes a descent from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then yes, they are Jews. If it denotes observance of Jewish religious customs, the spectrum is varied. Being a cross-section of the general Jewish population, it is not surprising that they have such a diversity in religious expression. Some are very zealous in their keeping of Jewish traditions, while others are more casual. Each must make his own decision. Yet the majority of Jewish Christians affirm that their Jewish background has become all the more meaningful to them since they found the Messiah of Israel. Martha Brickner Jacobs, in her article, “What Happens to the Children of Jews for Jesus?” stated:
“My parents, like most Jewish Christians I know, took great pride in their heritage and wanted their children to know their Jewish roots as well as them…I was 15 years old when I accepted Jesus as the Messiah, and something happened to me! My Jewishness was no longer an accident of birth but rather a gift from God to embrace and in it, a purpose to be fulfilled. I wanted to identify with my people, the way my parents had really wanted me to.”
Many Jewish Christians seek to maintain close ties with the Jewish community and its traditions. In the past two centuries, several “Messianic Synagogues” have sprung up throughout the United States and Europe. In these congregations, a Messianic Jewish liturgy is developing for regular weekly services as well as for holy days, weddings, bar mitzvahs, and other special occasions.
Although observance of Jewish traditions varies among Jewish Christians, there is one denominator common to most: the desire to support the state of Israel. Jewish Christians stand firm in their belief that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob gave the land to their descendants. They actively stand by the nation in its struggle to retain its freedom.
For some, it was this bond to the land of Israel that began the process that led them to belief in Jesus:
“As I look back upon my life and how God has shaped it, I realize that my trip to Israel and my experience at the Western Wall played a part in my becoming a believer in Jesus. Seeing and experiencing something concrete that represented God’s promise reinforced my belief in a God who I wasn’t sure existed. After searching, I not only came to know the He was there, but that He cared. I have finally been able to put my religious and nationalistic feelings together. Israel is not only a place but a people that God has set apart for His own purposes.”
Jhan Moskowitz, “If I Forget You O Jerusalem”
Jewish Christians have been accused of being no longer Jewish. Yet they grapple with the same questions, observe the same traditions, and share the same hope as all Jews everywhere: the hope that Messiah will soon return and establish His kingdom on earth. Jewish Christians eagerly await the coming again of their Messiah. It is their hope that the people of Israel will look unto Him and find that Jesus, indeed, was He. For there still remains an unfulfilled prophecy:
And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me, whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.
“Jesus is not for us Jews.” That is what has been taught. And many accept this statement without ever investigating for themselves the claims of this One who changed the course of human history. Are you open-minded enough to consider His claims and make your own decisions?