I have been looking at several Messianic Websites and it is wonderful to witness the original branches of the vine bearing fruit. Messianic Jews have a fresh perspective (not a new one—one as old as Abraham—but fresh in the sense of coming to life in Yeshua) that Gentile followers of Jesus need to pay attention to. Messianic Jews may differ among one another when it comes to their interpretations of the Laws of Moses and their application to Gentiles as opposed to Jews, but from what I am reading it looks like Paul, for example, never believed that Jews who accepted Jesus were to stop observing Torah.
From what I also understand, early Gentiles who accepted Christ were encouraged to observe Torah. While Paul did rebuke Peter for caving before those whom we refer to now as Judaisers, Paul was not rejecting Torah; he was rejecting the requirements that men added to the Torah. It appears that Gentiles who accepted Jesus as Messiah were attending holidays based on the Jewish calendar for three hundred years after Jesus’ resurrection, at least until the Roman Emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea.
If we turn to Acts 15:19-21, we can see that, after Paul’s vigorous opposition to Jewish believers who wanted to insist that Gentiles be circumcised, James is quoted saying the following:
“Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.” [James in Acts 15:19-21]
The statement “For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him” I think means that the Laws of Moses proclaimed in ancient times provided the guidelines necessary to obey the Laws directly handed to Moses from God without adding requirements made by men. Some clarification of this is provided by Paul when he admonishes the Galatians to stop adding works when grace alone is sufficient for salvation.
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?
This appears to support the idea that works and grace are incompatible, but Paul then clarifies:
21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. [Galatians 3]
Paul’s principled flexibility in a different situation is demonstrated when Paul told Timothy to get circumcised so that Timothy could more effectively witness to Jews. Paul’s teaching was consistent with Torah because he accepted the authority of the Pentateuch. Paul was teaching what Yeshua had already spoken of. Jesus had condemned additions to Torah by rabbinical authorities. As the Writer of the Torah, Jesus commanded obedience to His Laws, not to the self-serving laws of men.
Today, Messianic Jews encourage Gentiles who join them in worship to observe Torah, asking them to follow the Jewish calendar and the feast days. Whether Gentile followers of Christ should follow Torah is something I will leave theologians to argue. But whether one does or does not, the meaning of observance for Messianic Jews as it pertains to the fulfillment of prophecy in Jesus is quite powerful. For example, at Passover in observant Jewish homes, a cup of wine is left on the table in front of an empty chair to symbolize hope at the coming of Messiah. In Messianic homes, the wine is left on the table in the hope of Messiah’s return. Messianic Jews experience His first coming as the long-awaited Messiah with a joy that is only comprehensible to those whose forebears have waited expectantly for many generations.
What many Gentile believers in Jesus do not know are the events that pushed Jewish followers out of the early Church. The decisions made at the Council of Nicaea in the fourth century were a forceful rejection of forms of worship that were embedded in Hebraic tradition. Thus, the Roman Emperor Constantine is seen by Messianic Jews as encouraging an end to the authentic, historically grounded Christian Church. From what I have read, the Messianic perspective is spot-on. Constantine was like the serpent in the Garden, using his sly political maneuvering and the unspoken threat of coercion to convince the bishops attending the Council of Nicaea to abandon Saturday as the Sabbath in favor of Sunday, a Roman day of idol worship. Thus was granted the first of many syncretic compromises over many centuries that allowed people to worship idols while pretending to worship God.
Whatever reasons the bishops may have had to change the calendar were secondary to Constantine’s wish to push the Jews out of the Church. When I read a translation of his statements about the decision, it was clear to me that he was rabidly anti-Semitic.
Few Christians have understood or accepted that Yeshua’s lineage was central to His message. A Savior could not have come from any other lineage. It was God’s plan from before the beginning of time.
One of the great travesties in the Christian Church has been the vilification of the Jews. This causes God tremendous pain. To keep this in perspective, people have been murdering anyone who had the temerity to tell the truth about the human condition or to worship the God of Israel. When Jesus said that Israel killed its own prophets, he was talking about the fallen nature of men in Israel, but His statement applies to all people. Anyone who examines the vicissitudes of obedience to God’s Word in Israel needs to understand that no nation or tribe has ever been populated by saints. True followers of Yeshua, Jewish or Gentile, are in the minority. They always have been. The rest of the people who call themselves Christian have joined what they think is the winning side. When Constantine proclaimed that Christianity was now a legally allowed religion and also called himself Christian, the people who once murdered Christians called themselves Christian. Their “conversions” were largely self-serving. Today, many who have called themselves Christians will abandon Christianity when they realize they may have to suffer and die for their beliefs. They have believed in the Messiah but did not know Him nor did they have genuine faith, just lip service. They have not had the life-changing, thunderstruck encounter with Jesus that signals the beginning of a sanctification walk.