It has been said, “Two Jews, three opinions!” Our Hebrew nation has a long recorded history of theological debate, especially regarding rabbinic law and related discussions. In the Talmud (the rabbinic commentary on the Bible, codified between 400-500 A.D.) multiple perspectives and differences of opinion are recorded regarding each and every issue discussed. This rhetorical methodology eventually has become part of Jewish thought – hence the above proverb.
An apocryphal tale recounts how one yeshiva student advised his younger brother (who was entering his freshman Talmud class), “If you find yourself not paying attention in class and the teacher calls on you for an answer, just say that the issue is a machloket (Hebrew for ‘a matter of dispute’). You will nearly always be right.”
Messianic Jews are made of the same flesh and blood as the rest of our Jewish brothers. We too have areas of dispute and disagreement. But one thing distinguishes us from our rabbinic fellow Jews – our ultimate source of authority. Whereas in rabbinic Judaism differing opinions often co-exist (sometimes uneasily), most Messianic Jews agree that our perspectives need to honestly reflect and accurately represent the exegetically based truths that the Bible teaches: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a worker who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
Regrettably, some teachings coming out of the Messianic Jewish community do not always accurately reflect Biblical truth. Not every dynamic ‘prophetic revelation’ coming from Messianic spokesmen responsibly represents the word of God. This newsletter considers a handful of relevant examples which show us the need to exercise greater discernment in these areas. “Do not quench the Spirit, do not utterly reject prophecies, but examine everything. Hold firmly to that which is good, abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22).
Identity – Jewish, rabbinic or Gentile?
In Ephesians 2:11-11 (KJV) the Apostle Paul tells us about the incredible gift of Messiah Yeshua’s Good News: both Jews and Gentiles can enter as fully equal co-citizens into the one Jewish commonwealth through repentance and faith. When they become part of the body of Messiah, men are not transformed into women, and women do not become men. Jews do not turn into Gentiles, and Gentiles do not become Jews. The rich do not become poor, and poor do not suddenly become rich. We become born-again Jews, born-again Gentiles, born-again men and born-again women. We become co-equals, co-citizens – yet with continuing God-breathed callings: Jews remain Jews, Gentiles remain Gentiles, etc.
- Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this way let him walk. And so I direct in all the churches. Was any man called when he was already circumcised? He is not to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? He is not to be circumcised (1 Corinthians 7:17-18)
- The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter. After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us. And He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Since this is the case, why are you putting God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our forefathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are” (Acts 15:6-11)
The bedrock message of the Gospel is that Jews and Gentiles enter into one spiritual body without going through any kind of ‘trans’ process. Gentiles do not need to convert to rabbinic Judaism and, in any event, cannot become Jews.
According to the Bible, Jews are defined as the patrilineal descendants (‘the seed’) of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob:
- See, I have placed the land before you; go in and take possession of the land which YHVH swore to give to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, and their seed after them (Deuteronomy 1:8)
- You who fear YHVH, praise Him! All you seed of Jacob, glorify Him! And stand in awe of Him, all you seed of Israel! (Psalm 22:23)
- O ye seed of Abraham His servant, ye children of Jacob His chosen (Psalm 105:6)
There is a teaching among some streams in the Messianic Jewish movement that advocates Gentiles converting to rabbinic Judaism if they want to be an integral part of Messianic Jewish congregations. This false teaching is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of apostolic teaching, and muddies the clean waters of the gospel. “Remove the false way from me, and graciously grant me Your Teaching” (Psalm 119:29).
Is all Jewish teaching kosher?
There are some streams in the Messianic Jewish movement which advocate for an abiding authority to be ascribed to rabbinic teachings. They convey the impression that rabbinic perspectives are more authentic, more Jewish and more authoritative that those of Jews and Gentiles who follow Messiah Yeshua and the New Covenant scriptures. This is not the place to explain in great detail why this perspective is askew. For more information see https://davidstent.org/product/how-to-be-messianic-without-becoming-meshuggeh/ for greater detail on these matters.
Often these rabbinic advocates quote Yeshua’s words: “Then Yeshua spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses. Therefore, whatever they tell you, do and comply with it all” (Matthew 23:1-3). But they sidestep Yeshua’s conclusion in the verses immediately following regarding the glaring spiritual problem of many of these self-appointed teachers:
- Therefore, whatever they tell you, do and comply with it all, but do not do as they do; for they say things and do not do them. And they tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as their finger. And they do all their deeds to be noticed by other people; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. And they love the place of honor at banquets, and the seats of honor in the synagogues, and personal greetings in the marketplaces, and being called Rabbi by the people. But as for you, do not be called Rabbi; for only One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers and sisters. And do not call anyone on earth your father; for only One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called leaders; for only One is your Leader, that is, Messiah. But the greatest of you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut the kingdom of heaven in front of people; for you do not enter it yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves (Matthew 23:3-15)
Yeshua explains to us in His Great Messianic Commission that dependable teachers not only teach the principles of the kingdom; they also disciple believers how to follow these principles. They not only teach the truth; they do the truth.
- And Yeshua came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, immersing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to follow all that I commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20)
When a teacher of the Bible says one thing from the podium, and does the exact opposite in his private life, he is deceived. He is not worth following:
- But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not just hearers who deceive themselves . . . If anyone thinks himself to be religious, yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this person’s religion is worthless (James 1:22, 26)
Kosher Messianic leaders do not encourage their followers to ‘kiss the rabbinic ring,’ or to honor those aspects of Jewish tradition that run roughshod over the Hebrew Scriptures. There are some wonderful nuggets to be found in rabbinic writings, but there are also other tidbits which can bring spiritual shipwreck and malady.
Messiah Yeshua’s sober words are worthy of our consideration:
- Then the disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?” But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant will be uprooted. Leave them alone; they are blind guides of blind people. And if a person who is blind guides another who is blind, both will fall into a pit” (Matthew 15:12-24).
Two recent examples of such spiritual blindness can be seen in the use of rabbinic liturgy without the necessary discernment and sifting, and in the support by some Evangelicals in efforts to rebuild the Third Temple and raise red heifers for rabbinic sacrifice.
Jewish spiritual identity– based on Mosaic Covenant-rabbinics or the New Covenant?
A measure of confusion exists in some areas of the Messianic Jewish movement regarding how to relate to the Mosaic covenant. Since Orthodox (and even secular) Jews view Mosaic observance (as interpreted by rabbinic teaching) as the touchstone of Jewish identity, some Messianic Jews struggle with trying to sidestep rejection by the Jewish community through touting Mosaic-rabbinic ‘observance credentials.’ There is a studious avoidance in some circles of declaring that we Messianic Jews are followers of the New Covenant. Instead, some of us declare that the New Covenant is simply a ‘renewed Mosaic covenant.’ This sidestepping finds its origins in rabbinic attempts to avoid the clear declaration of Jeremiah 31:31-32:
- Behold, days are coming, declares YHVH, when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Judah,not like the covenant which I made with their fathers on the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them, declares YHVH.
The apostolic declaration is more than clear on this matter:
- But before faith came, we [the Jewish people] were kept in custody under the Torah (ed., the Law), being confined for the faith that was destined to be revealed. Therefore the Torah has become our guardian to lead us to Messiah, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian (Galatians 3:23-25)
The disciple whom Yeshua loved (see John 13:22-24) cautions us here: “Little children, guard yourselves from idols!” (1 John 5:21)
Does prophecy describing the Jewish people find its most prophetic fulfilment in non-Jewish events?
The past 14 years have seen the rise and rapid spread of a few teachings which take Hebrew prophecies concerning the Jewish people, and apply them as really referring to various international events among the nations. There is no question that certain biblical principles can be applied to various and sundry nations in a secondary sense – without robbing those prophecies of their God-breathed and God-intended priority relevance to the sons and daughters of Jacob. Regrettably, some of these ‘new prophetic teachings’ replace the Jewish people and insert other events as the prophetic culmination of Hebrew Last Days oracles.
Two examples of this new form of Replacement Theology:  teaching which states that Isaiah prophesies about the events of September 11, 2001;  teachings misinterpreting Isaiah 19 in order to create a distorted and unbiblical Last Days theology regarding a supposed mediatorial role of Egypt and the non-Abrahamic Islamic world in Israel’s salvation and protection.
Isaiah’s prophecies regarding Israel can be spiritually applied in a secondary and pastoral sense to other nations, but that is not the main thrust of those prophecies. Isaiah 19 does refer to a Last Days role for Egypt, but that passage is quite sobering in its future rebuke of Egypt and of prophesied coming judgments on that nation – and not only of some wonderful End Time blessings after those shakings are past.
Gathering inaccurate usages of the word of God under the umbrella of ‘Messianic Jewish revelation’ or ‘Middle Eastern revelation’ does little to straighten that which is crooked. “What is crooked cannot be straightened, and what is lacking cannot be counted” (Ecclesiastes 1:15). God wants us to accurately handle His word.
Messianic Jewish fears
The Psalmist declares: “YHVH is for me; I will not fear! What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6). Yet Saul of Tarsus once confessed that he had “conflicts on the outside, fears inside” (2 Corinthians 7:5). The past few years have seen a dynamic across the globe of “people fainting from fear” (Luke 21:26). The people and State of Israel (now celebrating our 75th birthday as a sovereign nation) are no exception.
The past four months have seen well-funded and superbly organized demonstrations against the government. The majority of the spokespeople at these rallies are leaders of the political parties which have recently lost the latest round of elections. Their message (which stays on target throughout) is consistent: Israel is in mortal danger from the man who has been Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister and who has garnered the clearest electoral majority in many years. The slogans being used to instill fear into the hearts of Israelis include the charges that this government is a threat to democracy; that it is fascist; that it wants to set up an anti-democratic dictatorship; and that those religious parties supporting PM Netanyahu are going all out to establish a rabbinic-halachic dictatorship similar to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Interestingly, these talking points are the same ones as Israel’s long-hemorrhaging left-wing parties have espoused over the past thirty years.
It is helpful to focus on the last of these abovementioned points ever so briefly. Israeli talking heads in the media and at recent demonstrations express the most fear about a rabbinic (or halachic) take-over of the Jewish state. And certainly, there are those parties in the present coalition who would like to ram through laws establishing a rabbinic theocracy. This could entail suppression of Conservative, Reform and Messianic Jewish expressions of faith; limitations on women’s rights in the marketplace and in social settings; a creeping enforcement of religious adherence on Israel’s Jewish citizens, etc.
At the same time, it should be understood that the majority of religious Jews in the country would not support such drastic steps, preferring a ‘live-and-let-live’ approach of mutual toleration. To draw a parallel to the American social experiment, most Evangelicals would not want to enforce Christian behavior on secular Americans, though they would advocate for the limiting or banning of abortion (which is considered to be infanticide by biblical standards). Most Israelis (80% approximately) are not religious, yet their grandparents and great-grandparents certainly were. There is a tenderness among many Israelis toward moderated expressions of Judaism, of the holidays, of Jewish music, thought and philosophy. Those are user-friendly aspects of Judaism that much of Israel appreciates or at least tolerates.
But the stridently vocal shouts of thuggish voices (some of which are fringe members of Bibi Netanyahu’s present coalition) have seeded the soil of the Holy Land with fears. And much of the reaction of the demonstrators is based on such fears, and they express these fears openly and even with attenuated hatred. Many Orthodox Jews who see this rising secular hostility feel like hunkering down and pressing forward in defense of their way of life and their legal protections and advocacy.
How do Messianic Jews (and some Messianic Gentiles) fit in? Many Messianic Jews have suffered in the past (and not too distant past) from organized anti-Messianic groups which often have under-the-table government support. This has been the case since the 1950’s. Some have been denied civil rights; have experienced job discrimination and firing; have been picketed and had posters slapped up around their homes; have seen their congregations attacked, even with chief rabbis leading the charge; have had their marriage certificates refused, their passports withheld, their foreign spouses refused recognized immigration status, their meeting facilities cancelled, etc. More than all other Jewish Israelis, Messianic Jews in Israel have experienced such intolerance and persecution on our own flesh, from those who are also our own flesh and blood. So it is understandable why some Messianic Jews would side with the propagandistic narrative being foisted on an unsuspecting public by a media apparatus adversarially opposed to the present government in all of its permutations.
Yet the present divide and fostering of hatred from opposition-based political and corporate forces in Israel is regrettably influencing some local Messianic Jews, including some leaders as well. There is a groundswell knee-jerk reaction of “rally ‘round the flag, boys!” which can be seen in the writings of various Messianic leaders. Religious and Orthodox Jews are being ‘tarred and feathered’ and described as a threat to Israeli democracy. The right wing of Israeli politics (the electoral majority) are being typecast as fascists and supporters of dictatorship, as destroyers and troublers of Israel (see 1 Kings 18:17-18).
Some Messianic Jews are coming out to join demonstrators who are cursing the government and its leaders, calling for civil disobedience and even refusal of military service in defense of beleaguered Israel. It seems that some have forgotten the scriptural admonitions here:
- Moreover as for me, God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and the right way (1 Samuel 12:23)
- I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men – for kings, and for all that are in authority – that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
How should we then pray?
Would you pray for the nation of Israel at this moment in time?
- Pray for God to grant Messianic Israeli believers His heart, perspectives and prayers in these trying times
- Pray for YHVH to stir up increased intercession among believers worldwide for these issues
- Pray for the raising up of Ezekiel’s prophetic Jewish army throughout the earth
Your prayers and support hold up our arms and are the very practical enablement of God to us in the work He has called us to do.
In Messiah Yeshua,
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