Your world has been turned upside down!
You leader is dead.
He was accused of sedition, tried, found guilty, and executed by the state government.
You are afraid – and yet you are not fearful. You are alone – and yet you meet others daily to pray and eat in each others homes.
You have no possessions. You have sold them. You have sold all your property too. Why? To give to those that are in need.
You also share your food joyfully with those in need. You praise God for the ability to do so. Many people respect you for this. People are being added to your numbers daily as a result . . . in spite of, and because of, your leader’s execution.
The ruling authorities do not like you. Most of your own countrymen do not like you. Most of the indigenous religious populations do not like you.
Members of your own community are being arrested by the local authorities. Some are being put to death – some of your other leaders are being put to death. Because a large number of the indigenous religious population that is similar to yours is pleased with your members being arrested and killed, it spurs the local authorities on and more of your number are sought out to be arrested and killed – especially your leaders.
Why? Why do those with such similar religious beliefs (your own countrymen) want you arrested and killed? Why do the local authorities find it necessary to arrest and kill you? Why did the state government arrest, torture and kill your leader?
It depends on who you ask because opinions will vary.
What are the beliefs of your religious sect that has so many up in arms? Beliefs that cause the state government to execute your leader. Beliefs that cause the local authorities to seek out and kill the rest of your leaders within your religious sect?
- Your leader believed he and God were one.
Think about it. If somebody from your own religion were to go around teaching that he and God were one, wouldn’t he be excommunicated? Shunned? What about if leadership in your religion started following this man, wouldn’t they be excommunicated and shunned too? How about people that followed these leaders?
How would your government feel if they watched a man gain a huge following and were told that he was setting himself up to be the leader of the county? Would it make them nervous? A religious fanatic that would be the supreme leader of the country and maybe the world? Do governments tolerate that kind challenge to their authority? How many countries have ignored this and have new governments as a result?
So what other beliefs does your religious sect have?
- Your group only accepts the 5 books of Moses and the Prophets as canonical.
The writings (Psalms, Proverbs, Job etc) aren’t considered sacred scripture. They also don’t accept the New Testament – to them, it doesn’t even exist.
Is this group a cult? Again, it depends on who you ask.
There are two main religious groups that they contend with:
- Group 1 believes the same texts as you. Has most of the same understandings as you. However, this group feels you have turned away from the truth and are now heretics and blasphemers that follow 2 Gods instead of 1.
- Group 2 believes that following one god or even 2 gods in stupid. They had 370 or so gods – gods for every occasion. They even had an “unknown” god. They don’t follow your texts or accept them.
Who are these religious fanatics willing to face death and persecution for their beliefs? Again, it depends on who you ask. They have been called many names:
- Minim (Jewish heretics)
- Netzarim (Nazarenes)
- Followers of the Way (their leader said “I am the WAY, the truth . . .)
- Christian (first used in Antioch of the disciples including Paul and Barnabas)
- Messianic (a modern term for those that followed Messiah at the time of Yeshua)
Until Antioch (at least 30 years because Paul was born 2 years after the death of Yeshua (Jesus) and he was present when they were first called Christians), the first 3 are more than likely what they were called during this time, and even then it would depend on who you talked to at the time as well.
The bible that they knew at the time was:
- Torah (The five books of Moses)
- Nevi’im (The former prophets and the later prophets)
The Ketuvim (The Writings: Psalms, Proverbs, Job, etc) wasn’t entirely accepted as sacred scripture by the Jews until around 110. This doesn’t mean for instance that Psalm 22 wasn’t around, it just wasn’t accepted at canonical by the Jews until around 110.
There was also no New Testament. It wasn’t written yet.
The Greek version of the text at the time of Yeshua known as the Septuagint (translation of the 70) would have been the Torah and the Nevi’im.
This may stick in your craw a little bit if you don’t know biblical history very well or if you assumed something that isn’t supported with historical facts. You would not be alone. You can find many contradictions about the Septuagint based on theological suppositions – even by scholars. The only thing you need to figure out to be able to understand this is to figure out when the writings were considered canonical.
Yeshua Himself bears out canonicity at the time for us a couple of times in the text itself:
Matthew 5:17 (CJB)
17 “Don’t think that I have come to abolish the Torah or the Prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to complete.
Matthew 22:40 (CJB)
40 All of the Torah and the Prophets are dependent on these two mitzvot (commands).”
“The law and the prophets” denotes “all the Scriptures” (i.e., the Old Testament) and merely divides them into two recognized divisions (cf. 5:17)…
Thoralf Gilbrant, ed., The Complete Biblical Library – Matthew, (Springfield, IL: World Library Press, Inc., 1988), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 485.
As far as the New Testament is concerned, there is some dispute about exact times when the different books were written. However, consensus opinion is that Galatians or Thessalonians was written first around 50 years after Yeshua’s death. Revelation and the 3 Johns are generally thought to be written last around 90-95 years after Yeshua’s death. Matthew may possibly be written last around 110 years after Yeshua’s death but the consensus is around 65-70 years after His death. This is a huge subject and these are just the basics.
Another very important fact to consider in all of this is:
“What was the makeup of the early assembly of believers (church)?
It was Jewish. The Messiah (Yeshua) was Jewish. The disciples were Jewish. Church leadership was Jewish. The book they read was Jewish. There were Gentiles (nations) that came to the faith, but in the beginning “Followers of the Way, Netzrim, Christians,” were mostly Jews who followed a man they believed to be the prophesied Jewish Messiah – a Messiah that followed the text and kept Sabbath. They witnessed His miracles. They witnessed His resurrection from the dead.
You see, accepting Yeshua as the prophesied Messiah of the text was nothing more than Judaism. The text pointed to the Messiah. It wasn’t some new religion regardless of what some Jewish counter missionaries would have you believe. It was Judaism regardless of what some Christian counter missionaries would have you believe.
Do I need to make it simpler?
What religion does the concept of Messiah come from?
What religion does the concept of resurrection of the dead come from?
The above are NOT Christian concepts or beliefs, these are Jewish concepts and beliefs. They were Jewish beliefs and concepts before Yeshua was even born (there was no one calling the believers in Antioch Christian before Yeshua died on the execution stake).
This next one is the tough one because so much has been done to obscure its truth on both sides of the fence that it may also be hard to understand or accept:
Does believing and accepting
what a religion already teaches
make it a new religion?
Jews like Paul and Matthew and John believed in a Messiah prophesied about in the text. Did accepting Yeshua as that Messiah negate their Judaism?
What religion did the Messiah Yeshua follow?
What religion did Paul follow?
What religion did John follow?
What religion did the first martyr Stephen follow?
I realize that for some of you this may be hard to digest. You may not be able to get past your own traditions concerning what you think Christianity is. The ante-Nicene fathers and their anti-Jewish diatribes may contribute to this. Regardless, Christianity in its infancy (the apostolic age) was nothing more than another sect of Judaism.
You may wonder why I have given this small history lesson, and why I have approached it in the way that I have. I can answer that by asking a question:
- Why would you follow a Messiah and not want to follow the religion He followed?
This is a legitimate question. I am NOT saying that modern day Christianity is a false religion. All I am saying is that modern day Christianity in not the same Christianity found in Acts. It has evolved. It starts changing soon after the temple is destroyed. Modern day Judaism is not the same Judaism found and practiced by those in Acts. It has evolved too. It starts changing after the temple is destroyed. The Bar-Kokhba revolt also changes both.
While modern day Judaism has stayed somewhat closer to its biblical counterpart practiced in Yeshua’s time, modern day Christianity has not stayed as close. Why do I say this? Simple, it admittedly has separated itself from most of its Jewish practices and many of its Jewish beliefs including some of the biblical commands in the text that were observed by the Jewish Church Fathers, and directly to the point, by the Messiah Yeshua Himself. This separation started as a schism between Jews that believed in Yeshua and Jews that rejected Yeshua. This schism resulted in the death of the suffering servant prophesied about in the text.
There are many modern day Christians that call people who are trying to return to the Jewish roots of the Christian faith heretics. Some would call them Judaizers. Some would call then apostates.
Paul wrote a verse in the text that bears repeating:
1 Corinthians 11:1 (CJB)
1 try to imitate me, even as I myself try to imitate the Messiah.
Some of you may try and dismiss this and say that I am taking it out of context. Some of you may say this has nothing to do with Judaism. What does the text say?
1 Corinthians 11:2 (CJB)
2 Now I praise you because
you have remembered everything I told you
and observe the traditions
just the way I passed them on to you.
The word here for traditions is paradosis. A precept expanding and illustrating the written law. Jewish traditionary law. Transmission of doctrine.
You have to know that the Rabbi Paul was a Jew known as Sha’ul. He was teaching the Gentiles in Corinth Biblical Judaism 101. He did not teach in contradiction to Yeshua. Remember what Yeshua said about tradition?
Mark 7:8-9 (CJB)
8 “You depart from God’s command and hold onto human tradition.
9 Indeed,” he said to them,
“you have made a fine art
of departing from God’s command
in order to keep your tradition!
This is the same word for tradition ( paradosis) used in Corinthians. Man-made doctrine vs God-made doctrine. Man-made law vs God-made law. The “traditions” Paul was teaching the Corinthians were biblical and not man-made. He was NOT teaching them to depart from God’s commands!
For example, in his letter to those in Corinth, he quotes Isaiah 29:14 and Jeremiah 9:23. He is teaching them, reassuring them, correcting them throughout the letter of 1st Corinthians (Paul does the same with other congregations too). They have adopted some practices and beliefs that are contrary to the law like sexual immorality in their midst. They have brought some of their former pagan practices into the congregation at Corinth that are in direct opposition to the God’s instruction (Torah: law).
That is why he says, “try to imitate me, even as I myself try to imitate the Messiah” and “observe the traditions (precepts-doctrine).”
Understanding the above has led some within the church to question the doctrines and teachings of the religions they belong to. As they research and study both God’s word and church history together, they see some traditions that depart from God’s word. They see how man has “made a fine art” of departing from God’s command in order to keep his own traditions. A lack of Sabbath observance would be just one of many examples of this.
This leads some to study and try to understand the Jewish roots of their Christian faith. There are many names those that seek out the Jewish roots of their Christian faith are called by. Not all of them are in agreement. Not all of them are biblical. It is the same in the Christian church although it is on a much bigger scale there. Want examples? Mormons call themselves Christians but don’t believe that Yeshua and God are one. They believe they will be a God when they die. Is this Christianity? Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church believes that God hates EVEYONE but him and his congregation. He calls himself a Christian even though what he teaches is not Christianity.
I am not going to go into it any deeper other than to state this: “These are fringe groups under the guise of Christianity. Jewish roots congregations have fringe groups as well. We can NOT judge a whole group based upon the fringe groups in that whole.”
In The Complete Jewish Bible translation by David Stern, the believers in Yeshua (Jesus) are called Messianic. So what is Messianic? Is it a cult? Is it anti-Christian? Is it legitimate?
It is a big subject with many different perspectives. I am not going into to delve deep into it at all. I am just going to give you a very generic version of what it is, its main beliefs, and what a typical Messianic service might be like.
- Messianics strive to worship God in the same understanding and manner that Paul, John, Steven, Matthew, Peter, etc understood and worshiped God – in the way that Yeshua (Jesus) taught and worshipped.
- Messianics acknowledge that the God of Israel – The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the one true God
- Messianics believe that Yeshua (Jesus) is the prophesied Messiah
- Messianics accept the Brit Chadashah (New Covenant: New Testament) as Torah
- Messianics believe that Yeshua (Jesus) endured the cross, shed blood and died for our sins against God as a substitutionary atonement, was resurrected from the dead and now sits at the right hand of the Father.
- Messianics believe that Yeshua and the Father are one
- Messianics believe if you will turn from your sins towards God and call upon the name of the Lord for you salvation, that you will be saved.
- Messianics believe that you can do nothing to earn your salvation – that salvation is a gift from God – unearned and unmerited – as a result of His grace.
This is just the basics and there are books on this that you can read if you need to go deeper. I will recommend some if you so desire.
As far as worship at a Messianic congregation, It starts on Friday night (the beginning of Sabbath) until the evening of Saturday (the end of Sabbath) per the commandment to honor the Sabbath and keep it Holy.
Prayers are read from a Siddur (Prayerbook). Many of these prayers start with, and acknowledge, the following:
Baruch Atah Adonai (Blessed are you Lord)
Eloheinu Melech Haolam (God, King of the Universe) . . .
Prayers are recited (or sung) in Hebrew, then they are recited in English. Jews and Gentiles worshiping together as one new humanity – the way the Messianic believers in the Acts church worshiped. For many, this becomes a very intimate form of worship. Singing the Shema in worship is a way of acknowledging the most important commandment to love the Lord God with all of your being. It is also a way of memorizing and making it part of you.
Every Shabbat the congregations acknowledge in unison that God is sovereign – that God is Holy – that God is to be obeyed – that God is to be honored.
No snake charming here. No God hates . . . statements. No Christian church bashing. It is all about Adonai, His son Yeshua HaMashiach, and the Ruach HaKodesh.
There is worship music where people sing and often dance before the Lord: popular Jewish and Christian songs that acknowledge Gadol Elohai (How Great is our God).
Oneg Shabbat (Joy of Sabbath) – A meal is shared in fellowship.
After Oneg, Torah study! Iron sharpens iron as believers get together for several hours and read and discuss the prescribed Torah portions from the Old and New Testaments for that Sabbath.
There is so much more to it than this, and yet, this is a good snapshot of what it is like. This is just the basics. Some in modern Christianity are very suspicious of Messianics. Some are downright hateful. It is my experience that most speak without knowing. That is why I wrote this piece. To give you a glimpse of what a Messianic is and why they are Messianic.