THE PROBLEM OF MESSIANIC JUDAISM
EXPOSING THE ROOT OF DI-VISION
The debate between the Messianic and independent New Covenant streams of the faith in Yeshua is an intense one, and always has been from its inception in the early church. The intensity of debate leads one to ask, “How can men who believe in the same God and the same Son of God—the same Yeshua / Jesus the Messiah—have such entirely irreconcilable positions and belief systems regarding the believer’s relationship to the Jewish legal heritage?”
Either there is only one Yeshua or there are two. Since there cannot be two Yeshuas but only One, then the divide in relationship between His Jewish and Gentile-origined worshippers does not stand to reason. A key reason the debate does not make sense is because it is conducted on levels that do not identify and address the root issue.
Virtually all “Messianic / Christian” debate is conducted around the doctrinal issues of Paul’s writings and activities, and also the meanings of the Restoration prophecies. To be sure, the prophetic and apostolic writings are at issue, and we will tackle them in this treatise. But the discussions from these platforms never prove conclusive. The reason they are never alone conclusive is because the scriptures are being discussed through different lenses.
As long as the difference in the Messianic and pure New Covenant lenses remains unexposed, the scripture-based debate will remain unresolved. The purpose of this treatise is to address the root lens differences between Messianic and pure New Covenant believers, and from there shed light on the larger bodies of scripture.
The root di-vision between Messianic and New Testament believers in Yeshua is traced to a difference in vision of Yeshua Himself. Truly, there is only One Yeshua. But there is not one vision of Him. There are two. Further, the difference in vision is keyed to distinctly different dimensions of Yeshua’s identity, which is in fact, a dual identity. To settle the Messianic debate, we must go back to the beginning, to the root of Yeshua’s identity, and reference from there both the history of divergent relationship to that identity and the systems of argument attached to it.
Once we have done all this and proven the true lens for seeing Yeshua as He intends for us to see Him, we will tackle the specific issues of the debate—something that will then become comparatively easier.
Yeshua’s Dual Identity
In common discussion, all believers in Yeshua acknowledge that Yeshua was “a Jew.” In point of fact however, Yeshua was only a “half Jew.” For though his mother was Jewish, His Father was not. His Father (as all also know and agree) was God in heaven, the Heavenly Father—God without descent. The problem is that this fact is so plain that we are blinded to its significance. For it’s the practical realities attached to this obvious difference in Yeshua’s parentage that lies at the heart of the Messianic conflict.
From the night He was physically born to Mary in a hillside cave, the story of Yeshua’s life on earth is the story of the growth of His divine identity as the Son of God inside the “womb” of His Jewish identity as the son of Mary. This is the meaning of Luke’s statement that He “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Lk. 2:52). Everyone knew who Yeshua was humanly—the Son of Mary. But no one but He, His mother and those few close to them knew that He was also the Son of God.
The growth of Yeshua’s divine identity occurred as He learned to submit His human will (attached to His human identity) to the Father’s will as He perceived the Father through His divine identity. This transpired His entire life, and involved a certain inward friction that also affected His relationships with those closest to Him.
Over time, as Yeshua’s divine identity began evidencing itself, it produced clashes with those related to Him primarily via His human identity. This is first seen in the familiar story of His visit to the temple at age 12. At the end of the story, a telling exchange occurs between Yeshua and Mary. She is upset with Him for wandering off from the family. He replies, “Didn’t you know I must be about My Father’s business?” This is the first in what was to become a line of increasingly frictional events between Yeshua and those who loved Him, but who related to Him primarily through His human familial identity.
It is really important to grasp here that this is not about Yeshua’s conflicts with those who didn’t believe in Him or know who He was. This unique friction was between Yeshua and those who did know who His Father was, but who primarily related to Him (“believed” in Him) as the son of Mary. It in fact fulfills Simeon’s prophecy to Mary of the “sword” that would pierce Mary’s own soul. And believe it or not, this same friction drives today’s Messianic / New Testament conflict.
Yeshua’s Ministry and the Beginnings of the Messianic Faith
The ascendance of Yeshua’s divine identity and its attendant rubbing graduated to a new level at His baptism and release into the ministry. At His baptism, Yeshua received His first direct and public witness to His divine identity from His Father from heaven. At this point He left the confines of His human family to follow His Father’s Voice without constriction and the Father began to witness to His divine identity through His works.1
Meanwhile, all Israel was in expectation of the Messiah. Yeshua had come as that Messiah. However, Israel was looking only for a human Messiah, a son of David. They were looking for a man according to his royal earthly lineage. They were not looking for a “half Jew / half God” Who takes His primary Identity from God as His literal physical Father—an idea which to them could only be taken as blasphemy!
Importantly, Israel’s humanly defined Messianic expectation also defined the substance of the first faith anyone had that trusted in Yeshua! This means when the gospels say men “believed” in Yeshua, it was in terms of His human identity (the Jewish son of David), not His heavenly identity of which they still had no revelation. (Though Mary certainly knew Yeshua was God’s Son, even she did not apprehend the meaning and destiny associated with His divinity—as will be seen.)
So it was Yeshua had believers. Mary believed in Him. His disciples believed in Him. Various ones believed in Him. They had faith. But it was a humanly defined faith—a faith according to family and national lineage. And with this human faith came humanly confined expectations—Jewish expectations—about the meaning of the kingdom, the meaning of salvation and the meaning of Israel itself. It is this locally confined, lineally defined faith in Yeshua that went on to form the substance of the faith in the Jerusalem church, and is in turn the essence of the faith in Yeshua possessed by Messianic Judaism today!
Yeshua Under the Law
The Scriptures tell us that Yeshua was “made of a woman, born under the law” (Gal. 4:4). The concepts of “Lineage and Law” are intricately tied, and have great bearing on the friction associated with Yeshua’s dual identities. Humanly as a Jew, Yeshua was born under the Law and subject thereto. It was in fact His calling to perfectly fulfill that Law in a human body. He was to do this by the power of sinless Life resident within His deathless body—something no sinful man could ever do. Through perfectly fulfilling the Law up to and including His sacrifice, He would—through their faith in Him—redeem all who were under the Law.
The important point here is that, though released from the limits of Mary’s home at His baptism and ministry inauguration, Yeshua was not freed from the Law. The remainder of His earthly life spent pursuing obedience to the Father would still occur under the Law’s confinement, until He had fulfilled all. As a Jew born under the Law, Yeshua reaffirmed the Law’s inviolability to His followers (Mt. 5:17-20). Thus it is plain that those having faith in His humanity could only believe it was incumbent on them to keep the Law—and would forever be so. And so it was believed in the Jerusalem church, and so among the Messianics today.
Yeshua’s Divinity Presses Out
Though according to His Jewish identity Yeshua was seen by all as the son of Mary, believed in as the son of David, and abode faithfully under the Law, His transcendent Identity as God’s Son continued growing in expression, pressing the limits of and rising in ascendance over His human identity. The emerging of Yeshua’s divinity inspired Him to teachings and behaviors that challenged the restrictions of both Lineage and Law, severely taxing relationship with those whose faith in Him was based in the revelation only of His humanity (and causing Him to suffer the loss of good relationships as a result).2
Relative to lineage, Yeshua, (in consort with cousin John the Immerser) immediately began teaching on the “spiritual rebirth” necessary to see God’s kingdom. This teaching, which denied any intrinsic connection between human heritage and divine lineage (Jn. 3:6), directly opposed the rabbinic teaching that one had automatic share in the kingdom by right of Jewish birth. (John had already been teaching that God could raise up children to Abraham “out of stones.”)3
From here Yeshua pressed the need to leave one’s earthly roots (“father and mother”) behind in order to follow Him. He began defining His family (“mother and brothers”) in terms of those who “do the will of My Father,” giving no preference to His physical mother and brothers (whom on this particular occasion, he ignored!) And he took his ministry well outside the confines of the synagogue system.
Mary was chagrined by her Son’s direction in all this—whether by His offensive teachings, His clashes with the religious authorities, His seemingly “aimless” movements (none of which befit the royal son of David}, her loss of influence with Him, or perhaps all the above. She thought He was “out of His mind” (Mk. 3:21 NIV). Simeon’s “sword” had only just begun to do its work.
At the same time, this “very Jewish Messiah” (as Messianics fondly refer to Him) stepped outside the confines of His race to minister God’s salvation. Samaritan women, Roman centurions, Syro-Phoenician women, Gadarene demoniacs—to name just the recorded ones—received His grace. Though as David’s son He was sent only to the “lost sheep of Israel,” as the increasingly evident Son of God—Creator of all men—His ministry showed no regard for race or political affiliation (enrolling both “traitorous” tax collectors and Jewish [“Zionist”] zealots into His transnational kingdom plan).
And for the Law? While Yeshua came to fulfill the Law in His perfect humanity, His identity as the Son of God—the Eternal Word Who entirely surpassed the Law—led Him to declarations in which He distanced His teaching from Moses (e.g., Mt. 19:3-9) and even signaled the termination of their application (Mk. 7:18-19). Of course, the “vagrant” nature of His ministry also took Him outside strict observances of all the calendar feasts.
These first measured transcensions by Yeshua of Lineage and Law marked a Spirit trend that was to set the stage for the great clash ahead within His own body—the church—after His departure.
As the proving of His divine Sonship under human confinement neared its zenith toward the end of His ministry, Yeshua became desirous to know to what degree the faith of men, including His own disciples, had at all migrated from a faith in His human Messiahship to recognition of His deity as the Son of God. In reply, Peter alone had finally come to this revelation directly from the Father: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Mt.16:13).
This was a signal moment. For Yeshua next pronounced that it was upon this rock of revelation—the revelation of Yeshua’s transcendent divine Sonship—that He was going to build His church; and that to Peter, as one now standing on that rock, would be committed the same class of Kingdom authority as Yeshua now had. This set the stage for Peter’s leadership position in the church about to be born, and what was to be revealed to him after Yeshua’s departure.4
Finally, the time of testing was fulfilled. Yeshua was ready to make His great sacrifice that would both complete His fulfilling of the Law as the One born of the flesh, and the successfully birthed manifestation of His identity as the transcendent eternal Son of God. Nevertheless, His disciples were not ready for the implications of this. Except for Peter, their revelations of Him remained confined to His human identity. There was much He had to tell them about things that would be different once He was revealed as the Son of God, but because of their still limited revelation, they could not “bear them now.”
After that final Herculean struggle in the garden where He certified the conclusive submission of His humanity to His deity, and knowing the joy that awaited Him on the other side, Yeshua went to the cross. There, on knowing He had fulfilled all the Law for which He had taken on Jewish humanity, He dismissed His spirit from His body to await His physical transformation as the Son of God.
Manifestation of Yeshua’s Transcendent Deity and the Plan of Spiritual Rebirth
Within three days, the Father completed the resurrection of His Son from the dead. Through His resurrection into a glorified body, Yeshua became declared universe wide the only begotten Son of God (Rom. 1:4; Ac. 13:32-33), the Firstborn from the Dead and of [the New] Creation (Col. 1:15,18)—with many designated to follow Him (Rom. 8:29; Heb. 2:10-11)
With this Declaration, several absolutely monumental spiritual realities came into force, realities that were to indicate God’s plan for the church on earth:
1. Yeshua was now released from his original Jewish humanity. His body was transformed to become a genderless, hence, raceless body—no longer of “flesh and blood,” but of “flesh and bones” without reference to blood (Lk. 24:39), thus without any further connection to human lineage. As a glorified Man physically reborn from the dead by the Spirit, Yeshua was marked now only by descent from the Heavenly Father. He was no longer a Jew “born of a woman.” His earthly Jewish identity passed away. Paraphrasing Paul, “We no longer know Him after the flesh—old things have passed away.” (II Cor. 5:16-17 KJV).5
2. Yeshua was also now released from the Law. Because through bodily rebirth His identity as one “born of a woman” passed away, so too did His status as one “made under the Law.” The Law of Moses designed for men under mortality had no jurisdiction over Him as the declared Son of God. Rather, He became manifested as the Living Word of God that is above all Law.
3. Yeshua entered the Priesthood of Melchizedek, a priesthood founded on His eternal sacrifice and awarded to those who are no longer of human descent, indicating the termination of the Levitical priesthood, and signified on earth by the rending of the veil in Herod’s temple; and
4. Most significantly for those on earth, all who now believed in Yeshua as the declared Son of God were to be imparted with the seed (ie, spiritually reborn) of the same Transcendent Glorified (Heritage and Law Free) Life of which He was now formed, thus considered children of God and joint-heirs in principle (brothers) with Yeshua—designated to work through the same process of identity growth and purification by self-denial leading to glory that Yeshua patterned for them.
- The Believers’ New Transnational Identity, Commission and Incorporation
Upon His resurrection, Yeshua returned to appear to His followers over a period of 40 days—first to His eleven and the women, then to eventually as many as 500. During this time, each received his new vision of the Son of God, becoming reborn of Yeshua’s inwardly imparted new identity seed. (Thomas was the last of the eleven to declare Him as “my Lord and my God.”)
At the end of this period—a time in which they had difficulty recognizing Him in His glorified state—Yeshua left His “newborns” with a commission that reflected the transnational reality of their new identity and the new order associated with His eternal Deity. Their commission was to bring the witness of His Deity through resurrection to the “uttermost part of the earth,” beginning at Jerusalem. This meant—as Revelation ultimately shows us—“to every tribe, kindred, tongue and nation”—without regard to His former Jewish identity.
Ten days later, at Pentecost, the core 120 followers received their corporate rebirth as the church by the Holy Spirit—becoming the new temple of Yeshua’s divine spiritual habitation. At that hour, they received a manifestation of the Spirit to complement the commission He had just given them. This was the manifestation of supernatural tongues “of every tribe and nation” upon a sound of a “mighty rushing wind”— the very sound of transnational worship heard before heaven’s throne (Rev. 19:1,6).
Immediately the 120— through dozens of languages—bore that supernatural witness to Jewish pilgrims from around the world. True to his lead calling based on his previous deific revelation of Yeshua, Peter arose to declare, "Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ…For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself." (Ac. 2:36,39). Here, from Peter’s own lips under the transnational anointing was the first prophetic declaration that the Gentiles had equal status in calling under the divine Lordship of the risen Christ. (It was Paul who later referred to the Gentiles as “you who were far off” [Eph. 2:13].)
1 This also launched His temptation in the wilderness, the feature point of which was Satan’s attempts to get Yeshua to subvert His consciousness of His newly confirmed divine identity (“IF you are the Son of God….”). Very importantly, Yeshua rarely identified Himself as the Son of God and forbade the demons from doing so (e.g., Mk. 3:11-12). He virtually always referred to Himself as the “Son of Man.” This is because it was imperative that His divine identity be revealed directly to men by the Father through faith—and also because His divine identity was still under testing for perfecting (Heb. 2:10; 5:9). Not until His successful rebirth from the dead could He become fully manifestedly approved and declared as the Son of God (Ac. 13:33; Rom. 1:4).
2 As noted already, Yeshua’s ascending divinity created friction most of all within Himself as He had to suffer the social consequences of acting more and more outside the parameters expected of His human role. This faithful subjecting of His sinless human will to His Father’s divine will with its consequences was Yeshua’s own “self-denial,” His “cross” before the cross.
4 Satan also knew the significance of Peter’s revelation and therefore sought to “sift him as wheat.” But Yeshua interceded for Peter so that Peter would not lose his faith, that is, his vision of Yeshua as the Son of God. As we shall see, that sifting continued right into and through his apostleship in Jerusalem.
5 Though in immediate context II Cor. 5:16-17 applies to the reborn believer in Christ, it is but the sub-context for the fact that Christ Himself has first been reborn from the dead. So when Paul says “we no longer know Him after the flesh,” it is not just because we have been changed, but because He has been changed and cannot be so recognized or related to on that basis any longer. Likewise, when Paul says “old things have passed away, behold all things have become new,” they apply first to Yeshua in His physical rebirth from the dead, not just to us as believers. His old lineage has passed away.