Blast!

(Photo credit: Denty One)

Historical parallels can be overdone and misleading, but there’s one I’m sensing that would explain a lot.

In the first century, faith in Yeshua of Nazareth was a Jewish phenomenon for several years, decades even. It doesn’t appear that the first Gentile believed in Yeshua until nearly 20 years after his death (although some say 10), namely Cornelius the Centurion stationed in Caesarea. Even then, we can tell from Paul’s letters and the accounts of Acts that faith in Messiah continued to be declared in and find adherents mainly among Jews and God-fearing Gentiles in synagogues throughout the Roman empire.

So, even though it had become apparent that the Kingdom of God had been opened up to Gentiles and was no longer an exclusively Jewish domain, it also appears from the Acts narrative that the “Jesus movement” continued to be a Jewish movement, based in synagogues. That’s where Paul primarily went to proclaim the Gospel, although it also appears from his letters that separate fellowships, if not separate congregations, had developed. However, there’s nothing to suggest that these groups didn’t continue to follow a Jewish rubric, either led by Jews or by God-fearing Gentiles.

Although we have no Scriptural record beyond approximately A.D. 60, it appears that this remained the situation until the Jewish war with Rome that ended in 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem, including the Temple. Following that event, Rome instituted the “fiscus Judaicus,” a punitive tax levied against Jews throughout the Roman empire to help pay for the construction of a pagan temple in Rome. Combined with the lack of a central messianic authority in Jerusalem, that tax may have been one of the factors to begin the division of Gentiles from the Jewish people, even from the Jewish believers. It is speculated by many scholars that Gentile believers in Messiah didn’t want to have to pay the tax or face the anti-Semitic wrath of the Roman government, and so began to identify themselves separately from the Jewish people, even from the Jewish believers. Philip S. Alexander, in Jews and Christians: The Parting of the Ways, A.D. 70 to 135, says that another result of the war, the triumph of rabbinic Judaism over other forms, also helped to speed the division.

In any case, it’s clear that by the end of the first century and early second century, Gentiles had begun to dominate the assembly of Messiah, creating what we know as the Church. They started to change traditions, drifting from Jewish observances such as Shabbat, festivals and the dietary laws. At first, that may have just been a natural consequence of being separated from their Jewish roots; later, it became intentional as a way to distinguish themselves from Jews. New church structures began to arise, as did theologies that demeaned the place of the Jewish people in the Kingdom.

In short, what started as a Jewish movement became, less than 100 years later, a predominantly Gentile faith, one in antithesis to Judaism. Was this because Jews turned their back on Messiah en masse? That could be part of it, although the faith at first had plenty of Jewish momentum and was even well-regarded by many Jews who didn’t believe in Yeshua, especially in Jerusalem. James, the brother of Messiah, for instance, was well-regarded in Jerusalem as an exceedingly pious man, only put to death by the same Sadducean leaders that sent Messiah to the cross. By the end of his life, though, Paul appeared to be pretty disillusioned about more Jews coming to faith (Acts 18:6).

This change resulted in such developments as:

1. Jewish leadership of the Yeshua sect disappearing, being replaced by Gentile believers.

2. Observance of outward Torah covenantal signs such as Shabbat, the feasts and dietary laws by Gentile followers of Messiah being altered or abolished.

So what’s the parallel? I think the same thing is happening with the messianic movement of today.

The early days of what we now call messianic Judaism were dominated by Jews, chiefly in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many Jews had come to faith through the Jesus movement, which appealed to members of the ’60s counterculture, and they decided to embrace some traditions of their Jewish heritage in worship and lifestyle. This was reinforced by Israel’s Six-Day War triumph that saw the reclamation of Old Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, especially the Wailing Wall. Many saw that as a sign that prophecy regarding those sites was being fulfilled and that the “time of the Gentiles” had been fulfilled, that it was time for Jews to begin embracing their Messiah.

As Gentiles began to join this messianic movement in the 1980s and ’90s as a more authentic expression of a primitive Yeshua faith, though, history began to repeat itself. At first, many Gentile messianics operated within Jewish frameworks, such as the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations or the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America. They bristled, though, at not being counted as full partners in the messianic movement, saying they felt like second-class citizens. For instance, to be a full congregational member of the UMJC, a congregation has to have at least 10 Jewish members and a Jewish leader.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, the Gentile messianic movement began to assert itself through such organizations as the Messianic Israel Alliance and, now, Messianic Covenant Community. The One-Law movement, that Torah applies equally to both Jewish and Gentile believers, also began to grow in that time period.

One of the results of this has been an antagonism toward Jewish interpretation of Torah (even among some Messianic Jews). Messianic Gentiles frequently frown on Jewish tradition as the “traditions of men,” as if nothing they do are traditions of men.

And, as time goes on, it appears (although this is just a guess from observation of messianic interaction and discourse on the Internet) that messianic Gentiles are nearly to the point of outnumbering messianic Jews.

Numbers aside, though, what counts is the attitude. And the attitude that I see from the Two-House, One-Law movements is another shoving aside of Jews in the messianic movement. This is mainly being done through efforts to erase the distinction between Jews and Gentiles by misappropriation of verses such as Ephesians 2:14 and Galatians 3:28.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to discourage Gentile involvement in the messianic movement. It’s a glorious fulfillment of prophecy about Gentiles coming to the Jewish Messiah and His people. What I’m concerned about is that the messianic movement in the 20th and 21st centuries is making the same mistake as the messianic movement in the 1st and 2nd centuries.

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