Messianic Judaism refers to Jews who accept and follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. This group, also described as Jewish Christians, emerged around the first century. Judaists have always awaited the Messiah and the Jewish Christians believe that Jesus is the long-awaited messiah that was prophesied by Prophets like Isaiah. They, therefore, believe that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ ushered in a new era of salvation for both Jews and Gentiles. The first Jewish Christians maintained their Jewish identity which means they continued to observe common Jewish practices. These include the observance of the Sabbath, Jewish festivals, circumcision, etc. For them, believing in Jesus was an extension of Judaism as opposed to adopting a new religion.
Christianity emerged after the resurrection of Jesus Christ primarily in Roman-Cocupied Judea. The movement grew quickly from its original Jewish membership to include the Gentiles. The Gentile church expanded rapidly and there was soon a distinguishing between the Jews that held on to their Jewish heritage and traditions and those that treated Christianity as a new religion. This is what created the schism between messianic Judaism and Christianity.
What is the difference between Christianity and Messianic Judaism?
The main difference between Messianic Judaists and Christians is the fact that the Messianic Jews celebrate their Jewish heritage by following the teachings of Judaism which are largely derived from the Tanakh. For instance, unlike the Christians who predominantly worship on Sunday, Messianic Judists observe the law of the sabbath which means they worship on Saturday.
Messianic Judaism Beliefs and Doctrines
There are several beliefs and practices that distinguish messianic Jews from Christians. The following are the core beliefs and doctrines of Judaism.
- Embracing Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah: Just like Christians, Messianic Jews recognize Yeshua, which is the Hebrew name of Jesus, as the messiah that was to come as prophesied by the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures (Tanakh). They believe in his divinity and affirm that he is the son of God who came to save humanity through death on the cross.
- Continuation of Jewish Identity and Practices: Messianic Jews did not abandon their Judaism to pursue their faith In Christ. On the contrary, they believe that Christ is a fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures and as such, they still continue with their Jewish practices. Some examples of these customs include Passover, Hanukkah, Circumscioon, Sabbath, as well as observance of the kashrut (dietary laws)
- Inspiration from the Tanakh and the New Testament: Messianic Jews recognize both the Tanakh and the New Testament and they believe that both of these comprise the holy scriptures which contain God’s inspired word. The Tenakh is viewed as the foundation text that foretold the coming of the Messiah while the New Testament documents the teachings of the Messiah and that of the Apostles.
- view the Tanakh as a foundational text that contains prophecies about the Messiah, and they believe that the New Testament provides the accounts, teachings, and writings of Yeshua and his early followers.
Even though Messianic Judaism emphasizes their Jewish identity and practices, it also leaves room for non-Jewish believers who may want to explore the Jewish roots of their faith.
Core Beliefs of Christianity
Christianity has some shared beliefs and traditions with Messianic Judaism. These include:
- Jesus as the son of God: Christians believe that Jesus is the son of God who came to earth via incarnation to save humanity to be the ultimate sacrifice for man’s sins. As a consequence, those who believe in him can receive forgiveness of sins and attain eternal life.
- The Trinity: Christians hold to the doctrine of the Trinity, which states that God exists in three persons: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ), and God the Holy Spirit. The trinity does not mean there are three Gods bur rather, one God who manifests in three forms.
- The Importance of Faith in Salvation: Christian doctrine teaches the importance of faith in salvation. Individuals can only attain salvation by accepting Jesus Christ by faith. Even though Christians have different views on grace and salvation, they all agree that faith in Jesus is the beginning point of salvation.
Messianic Jewish Worship
Messianic Jewish worship is an amalgamation of both Christian and Jewish traditions. Here are the most common Messianic Jewish worship practices:
- Shabbat Observance and Synagogue Services: Messianic Jews observe the law of the sabbath as instituted in the Torah. Sabbath is considered a holy day of rest and worship. The observance of the sabbath begins on Friday evening and runs through Saturday evening. Sabbath is typically a day of communal gathering, Bible study, prayer, and fellowship. Their worship services are a combination of Jewish and Christian liturgical elements. For the most part, the order and elements of the service are similar to what happens in a Jewish synagogue.
- Use of Hebrew Language and Jewish Liturgy: Messianic Jews typically use Hebrew in their worship, which is not surprising since the denomination is for the Jewish people. As such, prayers, blessings, and almost liturgical elements are recited in Hebrew. Their liturgy also borrows from the traditional prayer books used in Judaism. However, some of these elements (e.g.) prayers have been adapted to reflect their faith in Jesus as the Messiah.
- Celebrations of Jewish Holidays and Festivals: Messianic Jews observe most of the Jewish festivals and holidays. They believe that these festivals and holidays are a way of expressing their faith in the Messiah. Examples of these festivals include Passover (Pesach), Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot), and Hanukkah.
The following are the important tenets of Christian worship, most of which distinguish them from Messianic Jews.
- Sunday Worship Services and Church Gatherings: unlike Messianic Jews who observe the sabbath, almost all Christian denominations worship on Sunday (also referred to as the Lord’s Day). the worship services typically include singing hymns or contemporary music, prayer, reading the scriptures, and preaching the word.
- Sacraments and Rituals: Christians observe certain rituals and sacraments that symbolize the grace of God. All Christians observe the sacrament of Baptism and Holy Communion. However, Catholics have 5 other sacraments (Holy Orders, Confirmation, Penance, anointing of the sick, and matrimony). Some of the sacraments coincide with the Jewish tradition but they are still observed differently and with different significances too.
Messianic Judaism is very closely related to Christianity. Not only do the two have the same origin (Judaism) but they both uphold Jesus as the Messiah. The only significant difference is the observance of Judiast practices which is characteristic of Messianic Judaists, unlike Christians who do not observe most of the teachings of Judaism.