I have been asked about the Ephraimite movement: Are they Messianic Jews? Is it true that we all have Jewish roots? Is it possible that I (as a Gentile) share in the promises given to Israel?”
The Ephraimite movement is similar to a group that was formerly called The Worldwide Church of God, founded and led by Herbert W. Armstrong. They taught that America and Northern European people were the ten lost tribes of Israel (even though Scripture seems to indicate the tribes were never lost).
The Worldwide Church of God failed to affirm the deity of Jesus. They taught their followers to observe the Sabbath, the Jewish holidays and the dietary laws. They viewed all other churches as apostate.
Unlike replacement theology, which postulates that the Church is the successor to Israel, the Ephraimite people say that they are Israel. They make a false distinction between Israelites and Jews. They claim to be true descendants from the ten tribes. They twist their genealogies hoping to wring out an Israelite ancestor, as though that might make them closer to the greatest Jew that ever lived, Jesus Christ.
What can you say when people maintain they are Israelites even though they have grown up with no Jewish relatives or Jewish identity? Such a doctrine is nothing more than identification theft. These people are stealing a background, a heritage, that is not theirs. But why do they do it? They seem to feel that “non-Israelites” have a lesser relationship with God. And that is a subtle form of racism. They overlook the fact that Calvary is a new start for everyone, Jew or Gentile.
Paul, in writing to the Romans, tells them that there are advantages to being Israelites, and that there is something that Jewish ancestry can provide: “…who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.” (Romans 9:4-5)
Nevertheless, Paul also emphasizes that not all who are descendants from Israel are Israel: “But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called.’ That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.” (Romans 9:6)
In other words, God made a promise to Abraham, but then He narrowed down the channel of that promise to Isaac, not Ishmael. Similarly, the promise continued through Jacob (or Israel), not Esau. But the ultimate goal of that promise through the physical line is a promise that is met only in Yeshua.
Those of us who have that ancestry can only gain the full advantage by becoming spiritually rooted in Christ, as well as physically rooted in Jewish ancestry. Those who are not Jewish but have their spiritual roots in Christ have all they need. It is like Jesus’ parable of the workers who came at different times during the day, yet the master graciously gave them all the same wage (Matthew 20:1-16). Whether one comes to Christ as a Jew, having a covenant relationship that goes back thousands of years, or whether one comes to Christ as a Gentile, the gift of salvation is the same.
I think it is terrific when Christians want to know more about the Jewishness of Jesus, the Jewish background of the faith. Yet, in a sense, when we talk about the Jewish roots of our faith, we are talking historically, not theologically. If we try to apply “Jewish roots” as a theological concept, it becomes a mangled metaphor. Romans 11:18 says, “…do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you” [emphasis supplied].
Theologically speaking, the root is Christ, not Israel or the Jewish people. Our salvation and righteousness are rooted in Him alone.
Christ alone is sufficient for any Jew or Gentile. But that does not mean those of us who are Jewish don’t care about our heritage. We do not take being Jewish lightly and we do not think that being an “Israelite” is simply a matter of making a claim. When Ephraimites claim to share my heritage, I wonder if they have endured the insults and epithets that I grew up with as a Jew. I can’t help wonder where they were when Hitler was rounding up all of the children of Abraham for extermination. Being Jewish does not mean being superior, but being Jewish does mean something—and I do not want to see that meaning diminished.