Ten men from all the nations will grasp the garment of a Jew saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’ (Zechariah 8:23b)
This is a passage often quoted by Christians who seek to love the Jewish people and join them in their celebrations and commitment to Israel. Some as well quote this passage in their connection to Messianic Jewish congregations. One of the features of Messianic Jewish congregations is the number who have joined who are not of Jewish descent. Yet others find this quote and its use particularly offensive. Are they as followers of Yeshua to join themselves to the followers of Yeshua, especially when the referent is to Jewish people who have not embraced Yeshua the Messiah? In addition, there is now a worldwide Jewish roots movement which means different things to different people. Some teach that all Christians are to live a Jewish life or at least a Jewish Biblical life. They thereby reject the traditions that have become part of the Christian community and seek to make the whole Church Jewish. Others are concerned more with supporting Israel and see their faith from a more Hebraic perspective.
I believe that God is in the phenomena of Christians joining Messianic Jewish congregations, supporting Israel and seeking the Jewish roots of their faith. However, there can be imbalanced. We need to address this.
The prophecy of Zechariah 8 is ultimately a millennial promise. In the Age to Come, Israel and the nations will be one under the rule of the Messiah and ruled by His Bride Queen, the Body of Messiah, which is made up of Jew and Gentile. Yet there are foreshadowings of the Age to Come in this Age, for the Kingdom of God has broken into this Age, and indeed, Jews and Gentiles being one in the Messiah is already a manifestation of the Age to Come. Yet, the New Covenant Scriptures do not lead us to believe that the expressions of New Covenant faith are to be uniform. Let us look more closely at the issues.
- Those who have become true Christians already fulfill part of the prophecy of Zechariah 8 because they have joined themselves with Israel through embracing the Messiah and the doctrine of the Apostles. They have already chosen to go with the first century Messianic Jews and have embraced Yeshua who is Jewish, the Bible which was written by Jewish people, and faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The existence of the Christian Church is a partial and prophetic fulfillment of this verse.
- Christians have a calling to identify with the Jewish people and seek their salvation. Paul notes his life as an example for them to follow in seeking to make the Jewish people jealous (desirous) of their Messiah and the power of the Spirit (Romans 11:15). Paul teaches that this is to be done by showing mercy to the Jewish people (Romans 11:31).
- Some Christians experience a special calling to give themselves to a primary identification with the Jewish people for their salvation. This is parallel to those who have a call to a special mission field such as China, Nigeria, or France. Those who have this calling live out their faith in the midst of a Jewish community and join Messianic congregations. They participate in the whole of the life of the community. Some have become leaders of congregations. Without them, the Messianic Jewish movement would be a shadow of its self. This is of God and should be embraced. Such folks need to learn how to live according to Jewish life just like the other members of the congregation. They are a special sign of the Age to Come and the joining of peoples with Israel.
However, I want to address especially the issue of Jewish roots. Yes, God is calling all to understand the Word in its original Hebraic context. This is taking place in many seminaries, Bible schools, Church educational programs and more. It is a key to attaining greater unity in the Body. But some are teaching a new view of Galatians 3:28 where it is said that there is neither Jew nor Gentile or Male or Female in Yeshua. This is then interpreted to mean that all are called to keep the same Law or Torah and at least keep all the commandments that constituted Jewish Biblical life in the Hebrew Bible. Some add much in the way of Jewish tradition to this orientation. While it is true that those who are in Messiah are in Abraham and form one Body of Messiah, and are indeed of equal status and worth, this does not mean that there are no distinctions of covenant responsibility.
We started this article by noting with gratitude that there is a foreshadowing of the Age to Come in the growing identification of the Church with the Jewish people. This has taken three legitimate forms and fulfills the commandment of Paul that the Gentiles are to show mercy to the Jewish people. The first is that many in the Church seek to understand their faith from a more Hebraic mindset according to the context of the New Testament writings. Secondly, many are showing mercy by supporting Israel and Jewish ministries. Lastly, some have been called to actually live their lives with and before the Jewish people. These join Messianic Jewish congregations. Not all are called to this last way of identification. This is a special calling.
However, we also noted that some have been teaching that there should be no distinction not only with regard to salvation but in any significant regard. It is said that Jew and Gentile together now constitute Israel. This is understood in such a way that it is taught that all have the same covenant responsibilities in the Body of the Messiah and are to keep the same Law. I believe this teaching is contrary to the Word of God and violates the Scriptural teaching that those from the nations are not responsible to live by the whole Law in the same way as the Jewish people. So in this article, we want to point out the distinctions which release most Gentiles, who are not called to Messianic Jewish congregations, from Jewish covenant responsibilities.
Gentile Believers and Acts 15
We immediately find ourselves noting that the Book of Acts records the decision of what was known as the Jerusalem Council. The issue was whether or not Gentiles had to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses to be saved. (Acts 15:1) A great decision was reached by the Apostles and Elders and was voiced by James. Without going into detail, we simply note that they affirmed that Gentiles are not responsible to be circumcised or to keep the whole Law of Moses. My view is that Gentiles were, of course, taught to keep the basics of the moral life as was taught in epistles of Paul and the teaching of Yeshua. Though James notes that “Moses is read every week in the Synagogue,” there is no exhortation in the decision that they should submit to the Synagogue teaching. It was assumed that there would be a growing appreciation for Jewish roots as well as understanding what was necessary to enable Jewish people to relate to Gentile believers. Circumcision was the key sign of entrance into the Jewish covenant and its responsibilities. It is very important to note that there is not one word to contradict the expectation that Jews were responsible to circumcise their sons and to maintain their covenant responsibilities to the whole Torah.
With regard to Jewish believers, James urges Paul to give testimony in Acts 21 that Jewish people are still to maintain the covenant Torah responsibilities in the New Covenant. In verse 24 Paul is urged to pay the sacrifice price for those under a Nazarite vow to show that he lived in an orderly way. The NIV translates this as in obedience to the Law of Moses. However, the language actually conveys the idea of the right order. James is saying that while the Gentiles have been released, it is right to order for Jewish believers to maintain their Torah life. This was not a stretch for Paul. For he himself, with no outside pressure, had been under a Nazarite vow and cut his hair at its completion (Acts 18:18 and Numbers 5). So we see a distinction. Some want to play down this distinction as only one of the entry requirements for Gentiles who will later be trained to keep the whole Torah. Yet, we would say, if this was the case, why not urge them to be circumcised someday? Why is there not one word that teaches this in the New Testament.
The Teaching of Galatians
In Galatians 5:3 Paul teaches that if one is circumcised, he is ‘obligated to obey the whole Law.’ The implication is airtight. If one is not circumcised, then one is not obligated to obey the whole Law! With regard to the whole thrust of covenant circumcision, Paul’s general advice for Gentiles who come to faith is DON’T!
It is remarkable that there is hardly one verse that we can point to encouraging the Gentiles to keep the feasts literally. One may only point to a veiled reference in I Corinthians 5, which may only be metaphor concerning congregational discipline and purging out the leaven — keeping the Festival (the whole of New Covenant life?) without the yeast of malice, but with sincerity and truth.
The Teaching of Colossians
Furthermore Colossians makes it clear that the heart circumcision that had been received was fully sufficient for those who had come to Yeshua. They are told, ‘Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day’ (Col.2:16). These are a shadow of the things to come. The substance is the Messiah. Some in a most twisted way turn interpretation on its head and actually teach that this is saying that believers are to be rigorous in their observance so that no one will be able to judge them. Romans 14 gives further evidence that there is now liberty for Gentiles with regard to such practices. This is really the Apostles’ application of the authority given them from Yeshua to bind and loose with regard to behavior and practice. The whole thrust of the New Covenant Scriptures makes this quite clear. So in what way are Jewish and Gentile believers distinguished? It is not in regard to worth or status in the New Covenant. It is rather in regard to calling and responsibilities arising therefrom. Can we list some distinctions?
The Distinctions between Jew and Gentile in the Messiah
Jewish believers are responsible to: circumcise their sons and to observe the Torah as it can be applied in the New Covenant order. We are to observe the feasts. We also are to identify with Jewish history, both its good and bad, as our history. We repent for what is bad and embrace what is good. This ties us to our national heritage. It honors our fathers and mothers. In addition, we identify with the land of Israel as promised to us as a national people. This ties us to Jewish culture as our culture. Jewish life is an irrevocable calling (Romans 11:29). In addition, we are given the responsibility to say the words – ‘Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord’ – that are the catalyst of World Redemption. Many of us are called to return to the Land of Israel.
Gentile believers are responsible to obey the commandments of Yeshua as He applied the teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures in a way that is universal. His teaching gives us the keys for applying the universal dimensions or principles of the Hebrew Bible. In addition, Gentile believers are responsible to love the Jewish people and to understand the Bible according to the original Hebraic meaning, for all are called to understand the Word with accuracy. In addition, they are called to love the Jewish people and show them mercy. In so doing, many will want to join in Jewish celebration to deepen their understanding and identification with the Jewish people. They are free to do so and encouraged. The physically uncircumcised are invited to the Passover meal if they are circumcised in heart. However, those from other nations are also free to develop styles of worship and cultural expressions that are creative expressions of Biblical truth. The hymns of J. S. Bach, Charles Wesley, Vineyard folk styles, the classic liturgy of the churches, and Black Gospel are all wonderful and valid expressions. Not all are called to a primary Jewish cultural expression of faith. This shows both a regard for Jewish roots and for liberty in creative development.
God loves variety and thus created many peoples to be a source of mutual enrichment. It is a mistake to seek to homogenize the whole Church and to turn all congregations into Messianic Jewish Synagogues. Some Gentiles are called to join Messianic Jewish Congregations. When they do so, they largely give up corporate worship styles and expressions that are deep and wonderful which were developed by godly saints through the history of the Church. Yes, they may still have times to reconnect to such expressions, but their primary experience will be in sights and sounds that are Jewish, albeit New Covenant in emphasis. This is also deep and wonderful. Jewish roots can be maintained without cultural conformity. We do ask that truly pagan and Greek ways that are not compatible with the Bible be abandoned.
It is crucial that Messianic Jews attain to an appreciation for the Church and seek to live in unity with all true believers. For this was the prayer of Yeshua (John 17:21). It is also crucial that the Church gain appreciation for the Messianic Jewish communities that now exist in every nation where there is significant Jewish population. Let us join together in mutual blessing.