The Messianic Movement in a nutshell

Within a few decennia a new sprout came forth from Western Christianity; the Messianic Movement (MM). It distinguishes itself by putting emphasis on three issues of faith: Torah observance, Israel and Creation. They find that Christianity has never adequately addressed these issues of faith nor appreciated these as main foundation blocks of its faith. The MM is actually a reformation movement which puts emphases on the Hebrew or the Jewish roots of Christianity. In doing that, it continues, without realizing it, an ‘old’ Christian tradition.

By Marco van Putten
Certified Christian Theologian specialized in Judaic and rabbinic studies

What makes the MM Messianic?
Some might find the name ‘Messianic’ pointing to some end-of-days group of believers or that it is a rather swollen name as if other Christian denominations would be less Messianic. The name ‘Messianic’ suggests none of these two, but it points to the Hebrew name Masjieach and thus represents their emphasis on the Hebrew and Israelite character of Christianity. Most of them even put emphases on the Jewishness of Christianity, although this creates a tension with the non-ethnic character of Christianity and forces to define a special Israel-theology. However, they do long for the coming of the Messiah and do reject or are critical towards many of the sometimes for them inconsistent ‘beliefs’ of Christianity and find it missing out on fundamental issues of faith.

Two main branches
From early on the MM has brought forth two main branches. Messianic Judaism, representing the majority of the Movement, and a smaller branch of Christians striving to return to its Hebrew roots.

The latter branch finds that the New Covenant has put the earlier definition of faith fundamentally in a new light. This Covenant, mediated by the Lord Jesus for all (Jews and gentiles) who believe in Him, does not only encompass all that was handed down from previous covenants, but must have also made things much better (Hebr: takkanah) & changed (Hebr: ma’aseh) and ended certain things. Some even think that this principle is a given to each generation of believers on the way of making the world better (Hebr: Tikkoen ’Olam) in becoming Sons of God.

Messianic Judaism regards that branch, which just wants to return to the Hebrew roots, as remaining ‘too Christian’ and following a too farfetched view on the New Covenant. For Messianic Judaism this Covenant is just a ‘renewal’ of the Covenant mediated by Moses for Israel. They cling to the eternal and unchangeable character of that Covenant. That is remarkable, since the overwhelming majority of Messianic believers are non-Jewish and largely come from the Pentecostal or the Charismatic Movement. Though some wrongly limit the MM to Jewish believers in the Lord Jesus as Israel’s Messiah and thereby sinfully scorning many non-Jewish brothers in the MM.

Both main branches find each other for the time being in their support for the Jewish people, the State of Israel, the observance of Biblical commandments, specifically the feast- and commemoration times and in the revaluation of the Old Testament. They tend to call that Testament ‘the Tenach’, since it is the basis for the New Testament and thus cannot be called ‘old’ nor ‘testament’. Consequently, they call the New Testament; ‘New Covenant writings’.

Torah observance
According to Messianic believers the fullness of the Messiah has yet to come and thus they see no reason for the optimism of Christianity. They believe that one can only be made righteous for God through observance of the Biblical commandments. Through this Way the necessary cleansing & sanctification is achieved through which the fullness of the love of God is reached. Whoever trespasses these commandments cannot serve God rightly and cannot be assured of the full blessings that God wants to give. Correction and forgiveness is needed until the requited maturity and perfection is attained. Man has the ability to observe all the commandments and that is seen as grace of God.

The focus is on Torah observance, but the definition of what Torah is differs between Messianic believers. Messianic Judaism adopts Talmudic Judaism, which, according to them, is inspired by God. Their definition of Torah is the same as contemporary Judaism (i.e. Oral Torah determines the interpretation of the Written Torah of Moses and these are dominant to the interpretation of the New Testament). Other Messianic believers reject that. For them it is a historic fact that Christianity has come forth from pre-rabbinic Jewish religion of the second Temple period. However, they interpret the Gospel as a different religion from that Jewish religion. New even on several fundamental issues of faith. For them the Jewish religion has become a world religion in comparison to what the Lord Jesus taught. Some relate Christianity with Jewish religion in the same way as it is related with Islam. Although they see some use in the Judaic heritage, but for them it is not inspired by God. For them the New Testament is dominant to the interpretation of the Bible but for them Torah observance is an imperative of the New Covenant.

The MM regards it as its calling to add to the reconciliation and restoration of the Jewish nation and their Land by expressing love and friendship to both. Many of its believers call themselves Christian Zionists, although some keep a distance to Zionism or reject it. Messianic believers hope that Jews feel especially welcome in their Movement. This is in sheer contrast to the majority of Christianity where there is specifically no room for the Jewish identity of believers. Messianic believers point at the prophecies about the restoration of Israel through the coming of the Messiah (Is 24:23). According to them Israel therefore has top priority in God’s restoration plan instead of the Christian community which is already saved. Hence, also according to them, Christianity can only reach its fullness through the restoration of Israel.

Some Messianic believers point at the destruction of the 2nd Temple, which according to them marks the second time that God has banished the Jewish nation as a consequence of rejecting the Lord Jesus. This banishment holds unto this day. One would expect that the small number of religious/observant Jews would dedicate themselves at remorse & conversions and that these would daily ask God to end their banishment. But surprisingly there is little focus on that. Zionism sees more in human power and its ability to change things in the here and now instead of patiently waiting for God’s mercy. They have little expectation on the possible fruit of religious awakening and its prophesied effect on the future. Others even think that it is God alone Who determines Israel’s spiritual salvation, but that Israel should continue to do what is beneficial in the mean time. But the fact remains that the way Jews returned to parts of the Land promised to them is a mismatch with how it is prophesied in the Bible. Still the majority of Judaism agrees with Zionism. On the issue of the banishment of Israel some in the MM see it as their calling to stir up the Jewish nation to seek God to end their Diaspora definitively, so they can live peacefully in their own Land (Is 14:1; 33:20).

Messianic believers feel strongly connected to the Jewish nation, since they do not base their identity on individual believe, as is customary in mainstream Christianity, but on them being part of Gods people. For them collectiveness comes first to individuality. Clearly Torah is ultimately fulfilled from the collective of God’s people. However, God’s people will only just be revealed in the end of days (Rm 8:19).

For Messianic believers it is fact that the Jewish nation ‘wrote’ history of an important period of God’s people. This is, among others, one of the reasons why the MM is strongly connected with the Jewish nation and according to them its status in the end of days shall be elevated in the midst of God’s people. The whole of Israel shall be represented in Gods people, although the definition of Israel is different in the two main branches of the MM.

When the Messiah, the Last Adam, comes He will bring order to Creation as it was meant by God (Is 11:6-16). Some Messianic believers reject the idea that Creation is the second revelation of God next to the Bible. For them Creation is currently in a troubled and corrupt state due to Satan, the anti-Messiah (Rm 8:22). However, most believers see Creation in a Kabalistic sense and thus that it is Devine as man is Devine.

Messianic believers think they have a calling in the now and the future of physical Creation. Therefore the restoration of Creation is vital to them. A future in heaven is seen as absurd and unbiblical. However, the status and role of Gods people in the future restoration of Creation is again differently defined in the branches of the MM.

Characteristics of the Movement
People outside of the MM characterize their followers simplistically as ‘Jewish’ or Jewish proselytes, but that is not fully correct.

The ‘Christianity’ of believers depends on whether they have put their focus on the Lord Jesus and the return of Gods Messiah and on whether they accept the Gospel message as inspired through the spirit of God. This is (still) the case in the majority of the MM. Then it cannot be otherwise that they belong to Christianity.

Jewish is not the same as Hebraic. Namely, Jewish is a national identity and Hebraic is a religious affinity. Abraham was a Hebrew because he was obedient to the call of God, but he was not a Jew. Although the Jewish nation has sprouted from his descendants. Being Jewish means putting the sole (religious) focus on the Jewish people and nation (i.e. exclusiveness of one people, its history, its culture, its believes, etc.) as is in a Judaism. The latter is surely the case in Messianic Judaism. Therefore that branch needs to cope with the challenge of being able of combining characteristics of two, Judaism and Christianity, in one without losing the balance between the two. Others in the MM doubt whether that is this possible and required by God.