Can you be Jewish and believe in Jesus?

For many the concept of Jewish people believing in Jesus as the Messiah seems like an oxymoron. The response “I’m Jewish” is sometimes used as a reason why people do not believe in the most famous Jewish man who ever lived. What are some of the reasons behind that response? More often than not there are concerns involving losing Jewish identity or betrayal and ostracism of friends and family and the faith. Others respect some of His teachings though the ubiquity of Anti-Semitism and much though not all of Church history, confounds this further. But how many have actually thoroughly investigated the historical setting, the Scriptures, and the teachings of Yeshua?

Jesus was Jewish

This may sound strikingly obvious though considering the way Yeshua has been portrayed through art and in various historical contexts one could easily be led to think otherwise. Depictions of Jesus as European in medieval clothing in the National Gallery are neither helpful nor accurate. It is therefore wiser to examine what the Scriptures teach us.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem and was circumcised on the eighth day (Luke 2:21). He had a Jewish genealogy on both sides (Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38). He often answered questions in response to questions, which of course is very Jewish and spoke in parables. All of His disciples were Jewish, and He promised them twelve thrones, sitting on the twelve thrones of Israel (Matthew 19:28; c.f. Luke 22:28-30). Jesus celebrated Passover, Tabernacles and Hanukkah. What did Nicodemus the Teacher of Israel, a ruler of the Jews and a Pharisee call Him? Rabbi.

The Jewish disciples and the gentiles

It is easy to think of ‘Christianity’ as merely a Gentile religion. That may be an accurate assessment purely in terms of current numbers, though certainly not in terms of origins, covenants, or concerning end time fulfilment. One might cite the Council of Nicaea in AD325 when what was a Jewish faith embracing Jewish and Gentile believers became mixed with Mithraism and Pagan ideas by the Emperor Constantine. He supposedly converted the Roman Empire to Christianity though not only did he change the feast days and celebrations on the calendar, he also hybridised Christianity with popular pagan beliefs of the time.

Almost three centuries before the Council of Nicaea we can read about the Jerusalem Council. This was markedly different in terms of Jewish representation and the issues being discussed. There was a conflict over circumcision according to the custom of Moses, whether Gentiles who were not circumcised could be saved. The Jerusalem decree gave the verdict that no greater burden should be placed upon the Gentiles others than that they abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled and from blood (Acts 15:20).

The New Testament is a Jewish document

The Brit Hadasha is written by Jewish authors with the possible exception of Luke. Matthew was a Jewish writer, writing to a Jewish audience about a Jewish Messiah in a Jewish context and He commences by detailing Yeshua’s Jewish genealogy. He goes out of his way to detail precisely how Jesus fulfilled prophecy.

The New Testament was written in Greek, yet it constantly quotes from the Tanakh and is clearly written from a Hebraic mindset in a Jewish context. At the time of the New Testament the Jewish groups that were around included the Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, and the Essenes. Events occurred in Israel and in the Bible Lands all with a bearing on the Jewish people and God’s plan of salvation for Jewish and Gentile people.

Eschatology is centred around Israel

Israel became a Nation-State on May 14th, 1948 in accordance with Isaiah 66:8-9. Isaiah 2:1-4 and Micah 4:1-3 speaks of the Messianic kingdom where war shall cease and of going up to Jerusalem. Zechariah 14:4 tells us of Messiah returning to the Mount of Olives and Zechariah 14:16-21 mentions all of the nations, going up to Jerusalem to keep the feast of tabernacles.  

The disciples asked Jesus when He would restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). He did not reveal to them when that would happen, though He did explain the signs of the times and the end of the age (Matthew 24:3-25:46; Mark 13:1-37; Luke 21:7-38).

The apostle Paul was a Pharisee, circumcised the eighth day, from the tribe of Benjamin and was raised under the teaching of Gamaliel (Philippians 3:5; Acts 22:3). What was his aspiration for his countrymen? “Brethren, my hearts desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they might be saved (Romans 10:1).” In Romans 11 Paul speaks of God’s sovereign plans for Israel and the nations and of a great ingathering of Jewish souls when “all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:26)”, not meaning every Israelite that ever lived but a great number of Jewish folk in the end times.

Jewish identity in Messiah Yeshua

Centuries of anti-Semitism and replacement theology have taken their toll. This has made it even more difficult for Jewish people to find Messiah amidst boycotts, blood libels, the crusades, the inquisition, the pogroms, and the holocaust. Survival has been a priority. Scripture is extremely clear in that God will bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse her (Genesis 12:3). Thankfully, there is increasing love and support for Jewish people and Israel particularly amongst evangelical Christians who recognise that God has a plan for Israel and the nations and that whoever touches Israel touches the apple of His eye (Zechariah 2:8)

When Israel became a nation-state on May 14th, 1948; there were perhaps 30 Jewish believers in Jesus. Now there are around 30,000 Jewish believers and there are approximately 300 Messianic fellowships in Israel. There are messianic believers and fellowships in other countries too plus an increasing amount of good literature and courses written from a Messianic perspective. Many Jewish believers like to identify as Messianic Jews since believing that Yeshua is Messiah, does not mean that a person ceases to be Jewish. In fact it would be more accurate to say that they become a completed Jewish person by trusting in the Jewish Messiah.