What Is a Messianic Congregation?
First, we should answer the question, who is a Jew? Biblically, anyone, beginning with Jacob’s children, who has a Jewish father, is a Jew. Modern rabbis say everyone who has a Jewish mother is a Jew, but this is unbiblical. All the genealogies in the Bible are traced through the males, not the females. For example, “Pharez begat Hezron, and Hezron begat Ram, and Ram begat Amminadab, and Amminadab begat Nahshon, and Nahshon begat Salmon, and Salmon begat Boaz, and Boaz begat Obed, and Obed begat Jesse, and Jesse begat David,” Ruth 4:18-22. Yeshua (Jesus) is a Jew because he is descended through David’s male descendants. Regarding Yeshua’s Jewishness and who he is see https://www.ariel.org/resources/jesus-was-a-jew.
When Yeshua began his ministry in Israel around 30 AD, the Jewish people who believed he is the Messiah and followed him were simply called his disciples. As their message began to spread to mixed Jewish and Gentile areas, the disciples began to be called Messianics. “The disciples were called Messianics first in Antioch,” Acts 11:26. In the Greek that the New Testament was written in, the word for Messianics was “Χριστιανούς,” “Christianous.” Unfortunately, this word is usually ‘transliterated’ as “Christians,” like “Χριστός” is usually ‘transliterated’ as “Christ.” Instead of being ‘transliterated,’ the words should be ‘translated,’ not to the literal meaning of “anointed,” but to the commonly understood meaning of “Messiah.” Nobody has a concept of what a “Christ” is, except for some unfortunate ‘religious’ overtones, but everyone knows what a “Messiah” is.
Messianics were originally only Jews, but later also Gentiles, that believed Yeshua is the Messiah. The prophets foretold that many Gentiles would eventually follow the Messiah. “[God] said [to Messiah], It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob [Israel]: … I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth,” Isaiah 49:6 (also Isaiah 11:10 and 42:1, 6).
Just as the Jewish priests of the first century belonged to the Jewish sect of the Saducees, “The high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, which is the sect of the Sadducees,” Acts 5:17. And just as the ultra-orthodox rabbis of the first century belonged to the Jewish sect of the Pharisees, “After the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee,” Acts 26:5. So also, the Jews who believed Yeshua to be the Messiah were considered to belong to the Jewish sect of the Nazarenes or Messianics. “We have found this man [to be] a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes,” Acts 24:5. “Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Messianic,” Acts 26:28.
There’s nothing more Jewish than to be a Messianic and believe in the hope of the coming of Messiah and the future Messianic Kingdom. Many Jewish people think Yeshua can’t be the Messiah because they focus only on prophecies about Messiah reigning as king, and ignore the prophecies about Messiah’s suffering and death, like “After threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be executed, but not for himself [i.e. for our sake]: and the [Romans] shall destroy the city and the temple,” Daniel 9:26.
Yeshua brought individual forgiveness of sins and spiritual salvation at his first coming as the sacrificial “Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world,” John 1:29. He will bring Israel national forgiveness and salvation at his second coming when he sets up the Messianic Kingdom. “Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven,” Matthew 26:64 referring to Daniel 7:13-14, “One like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, … and there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” Regarding what Yeshua accomplished in his first coming, and will accomplish in his second coming see http://bible.ag/en/bs/jrFiveJewishCovenants.pdf.
Just as the Chabad today believes Rabbi Schneerson, who died in 1993, is the Messiah and will be resurrected to establish the Kingdom, and yet they are considered a sect within, and not a different religion outside, Judaism. And just as the Jewish people set a seat for Elijah every year at Passover, because Elijah was taken alive into heaven (“Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven,” 2 Kings 2:11), and will return just before the Kingdom (“I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord,” Malachi 4:5). So also, Yeshua was resurrected and is waiting in heaven to return and establish the Messianic Kingdom, “The day of the Lord cometh, … for I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle. … Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, … and HIS FEET shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east. … And the Lord my God shall come, … and the Lord shall be king over all the earth. In that day shall there be one Lord, and his name one,” Zechariah 14:1-9.
It’s important for Jewish people to know that most so-called “Christians” follow ‘religions’ that have almost nothing to do with Yeshua and the New Testament. There were no church buildings, or priests in vestments, or rosaries, or special saints, or incense, or statues to kneel before and kiss in the New Testament among the followers of Yeshua. This all came about around 300 AD when the Roman emperor Constantine took the names of things like Jesus, salvation, and grace from the New Testament and put them as a thin veneer on the pagan Roman concepts of ‘numen’ and ‘lares’ and forced the masses to accept it. This was the source of Jewish persecution during the Crusades and Inquisition, and Gentile Bible-believing, born-again followers of Yeshua were persecuted right along with the Jewish people and still stand with the Jewish people today. It makes sense that in Satan’s battle against God, he would have brought in many counterfeits, like so-called ‘Christianity,’ to confuse as many people as possible.
Ari Montanari wrote in the Jerusalem Post on 12/21/2017 that “The theology is the same, or identical. … They incorporate some rabbinic traditions, [but] however they use them, [it is] still just plain old Christianity. I refuse to acknowledge that the messianic Christian brand of their religion has anything to do at all with Judaism.” Ari doesn’t understand that the vast majority of so-called ‘Christianity’ has almost nothing to do with the New Testament or Yeshua, and therefore Messianics have almost nothing to do with so-called ‘Christianity.’
Also, it’s not the addition of ‘rabbinic traditions’ that technically make a congregation a Messianic congregation. The New Testament calls even Gentile-oriented congregations that follow Yeshua “Messianics,” though unfortunately the New Testament word has been transliterated into “Christian” instead of being translated into a word we all understand, “Messianic” (both words refer to “followers of the anointed one”). And even Gentile-oriented congregations (except for some that have been misled into a symbolic vs. literal interpretation of the Bible), submit to the authority of the Old Testament, and have a special love for the Jewish people because God chose them, they brought the Bible (even the New Testament since all the apostles were Jewish) to the world, and they are Yeshua’s beloved brethren.
The followers of Yeshua have the freedom to choose any degree of the use of rabbinic traditions and Jewish culture they wish to in their gatherings. Most congregations that are predominately Gentile call themselves “Christians,” and have little or no Jewish flavor in their regular gatherings though they still have an interest in and love for Jewish things. Many congregations that have a higher percentage of Jewish people include a significant amount of Jewishness in the format of their gatherings, and these are the congregations that are usually considered and identify as “Messianic.”
Biblically, “Jewish” is the description of a race, not of a religion. It is impossible for a Gentile to become a Jew, though he can become a Jewish proselyte. Likewise, whether a Jew is an atheist, agnostic, Hindu, or whatever in his beliefs, he cannot stop being a Jew if he is the child of a Jewish father. Jews who believe Yeshua is the Messiah have the right to continue to include their Jewish culture in their meetings. But more than that, beliefs about who is or is not the Messiah should be an integral part of study and discussion within the Jewish community, not a cause of ostracism.
Although Messianic congregations include some rabbinic traditions in their gatherings, like lighting the Shabbat candles, which isn’t in the Bible, Messianics hold that rabbinic traditions have no weight in comparison to the Bible. The Pharisees of the first century rejected Yeshua because he refused to give the traditions of the elders, rabbi so-and-so said rabbi so-and-so said this or that, the same weight as the Bible, the word of God; especially regarding Sabbath traditions. “He went into their synagogue: and, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him. And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days. Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other. Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him,” Matthew 12:9-14.
The word “Yeshua” means “salvation.” Yeshua the Messiah is God’s provision for salvation of Jew and Gentile. Job was one of the most righteous men that ever lived. God said, “there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil,” Job 1:8. Yet Job knew he was a sinner and said, “I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes,” Job 42:6. Instead of trusting in his own righteousness, he trusted in his redeemer. “I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me,” Job 19:25-27.
Abraham was relatively righteous in comparison to other men, but God “counted” him as -perfectly- righteous because he trusted in God. “[God] brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the Lord; and he -counted- it to him for righteousness,” Genesis 15:5-6.
David was “a man after [God’s] own heart,” and yet he said, “Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. … Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me,” Psalm 51:2-5. And, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity. … I acknowledge my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid,” Psalm 32:1-5. “Every one that is proud in heart [self-righteous] is an abomination to the Lord,” Proverbs 16:5; but “Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, according as we hope [trust] in thee,” Psalm 33:22.
The only way to have any chance of surviving the coming Day of the Lord is to trust in God for his salvation and forgiveness of sins. “The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call,” Joel 2:31-32. “Before the fierce anger of the Lord come upon you, before the day of the Lord's anger come upon you, seek ye the Lord, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the Lord's anger,” Zephaniah 2:2-3.
We all need to be like Hannah, who said, “I rejoice in thy salvation [בִּישׁוּעָתֶֽך]ָ,” 1 Samuel 2:1, “in thy yeshua.” “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace, … that publisheth salvation [יְשׁוּעָ֑ה, y’shua],” Isaiah 52:7.
מַה-נָּאווּ עַל-הֶהָרִים רַגְלֵי מְבַשֵּׂר
מַשְׁמִיעַ שָׁלוֹם [מְבַשֵּׂר טוֹב] מַשְׁמִיעַ יְשׁוּעָה