About New Testament Judaism…
“That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past” – Ecclesiastes 3:15.
Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, was the promised Messiah of Israel and the Saviour of the world. His miraculous birth, His sinless life, His atoning death, and His glorious resurrection were all predicted by the Hebrew prophets of old. His divine mission on earth was encapsulated in this statement: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
But, did Jesus starta new religion? Is He responsible for all the differing doctrines and practices which bear the name of Christianity today? Why is there such a startling difference between Christianity and Judaism, the religion of the Old Testament? Can two religions that claim to spring from the same God fail to have many – indeed, most – things in common? These are reasonable questions that deserve sensible, factual answers.
Jesus Was A Jew
Jesus (Yahshua) was a Jew according to the flesh, an heir of the covenant of God through Abraham. His lineage was of the tribe of Judah (Hebrews 7:14). He was reared in a Jewish family that was proud of the heritage of Judaism and that did everything according to its precepts (Luke 2:39). While Jesus often attacked the oral traditions that became the basis of Talmudic Judaism, He respected and honored Biblical Judaism, the religion of the Old Testament.
Think Not . . .
If you think that the ministry of Jesus destroyed the Jewish religion, listen to His own words: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle will shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:17, 18). Jesus completed the fulfillment of all the Messianic aspects of the law and the prophets; however, He did not terminate all the law any more than He fulfilled all prophecy (Acts 24:14). Jesus, then, came to fulfill, not to terminate the religion of the Old Testament.
The Time of Reformation
Jesus was a reformer. It might be said that he was a reformed Jew, or should we say, the Reforming Jew. His ministry was Judaism’s time of reformation (Hebrews 9:10).
The Messiah simply did not come to destroy the oracles of God that He had given to the Jewish people (Romans 3:1-3). He did not come to replace a bad religion with a good one (Romans 7:12). His coming brought a new covenant which reformed and perfected the ancient religion of Judaism (Jeremiah 18:1-6) by taking away the superfluous, strengthening the meaningful, and adding the dimension of the Spirit. Jesus established an experience which makes it possible for men to live the righteous principles that Biblical Judaism espoused (Romans 8:4; Hebrews 8:10).
Christ, Our Righteousness
The life and death of Jesus Christ satisfied the demands of divine justice for the sins of the human race. He became the perfect sacrifice when He voluntarily offered Himself once for all as a perpetual atonement for the sins of mankind (Hebrews 9:14, 24). Because of this eternal work of redemption, Jesus stands as the only embodiment of the righteousness and justification of God for man (1 Corinthians 1:30).
In justification by faith we see the perfection which Jesus brought to Judaism. “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth” (Romans 10:4). While we have the Messiah’s word that He did not end the law, we see that the use of the law for justification or righteousness is ended. Justification before God is no more a heavy yoke of works to establish self-righteousness; it is now a righteousness of faith. Still, the law remains as a guideline for discipline and worship.
Nailed To The Cross
By His atoning work on Calvary, Jesus transformed Judaism, God’s religion, from an enforced fleshly ritual that was carried out in fear of death into a voluntary spiritual experience that is carried out in love for the Creator. The righteousness of God is now a faith righteousness imputed to the heart of the believer when “with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:10).
Because the believer is justified by faith alone, the commandments of Judaism contained in carnal ordinances (rules governing fleshly works, animal sacrifices, and the like) became useless and were nailed to the cross through the body of Jesus (Ephesians 2:15; Colossians 2:14).
A Perfected System of Worship and Service
The death of Jesus brought about a change in the law (Hebrews 7:12). Though the eternal principles of Judaism remained the same, the manner of and motive for its observance were changed. The new covenant perfected Judaism by elevating its system of worship and service to God into the dimension of worship in Spirit and in truth. A classic example of the reformation and perfection of Judaism is the Passover. In Old Testament Judaism the Passover commemorated liberation from Egyptian bondage with a supper of roast lamb and bitter herbs. In New Testament Judaism the Passover commemorates liberation from the bondage of sin and death with a supper of the communion of the body and blood of Jesus. New Testament Judaism, then, is merely a perfected order of worship and service. It is not a method of establishing righteousness but a better way in which we may worship and serve the living God in obedience to His “one faith” (Ephesians 4:5)
The Christian’s Heritage in Judaism
There is only one religion (faith) given by God to mankind; He simply does not have one religion for the Jews and another for the Gentiles. Every Christian, therefore, is involved in Judaism in one way or another, whether he is aware of it or not. Remember, Judaism gave the New Testament believer the two most important things the world have ever known: the Bible, which is Judaism in its purest form, and the Messiah, who was the Jew of Jews, and the Lord from heaven.
Christians who observe communion, or the Lord’s Supper, are practicing Judaism by commemorating Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7, 8). Every believer who practices tithing is claiming his heritage in Judaism, for without the Old Testament, we could not understand tithing (Genesis 28:22). Most Christians observe the injunction of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 by abstaining from blood, a concept which is a direct product of Judaism (Leviticus 17:10). Christians also claim their heritage in Judaism by other practices: abiding by the Ten Commandments for moral conduct, setting aside a day for rest and worship, using Old Testament prophecy to understand the world about us, appealing to a High Priest (Jesus), and so forth.
When the nation of Israel rejected the Messiah, He did not abolish Judaism, the faith (religion) of God. The Jews’ unbelief did not make the faith of God without effect (Romans 3:3). What their unbelief did was to extend God’s religion to both Jew and Gentile, so that all believers may become part of Abraham’s faith race (Galatians 3:29).
A Legacy Deprived by Anti-Semitism
The perpetuation of Judaism in the first century church is well established both by Scriptures and by history. The believers were called Christians first at Antioch (Acts 11:26), years after the ascension of Jesus. The question arises, What were they called before that time? – And, the answer is clear: they were recognized as a sect of the Jews.
Why then does modern Christianity not have more identity with Judaism? The answer is simple. First century Jews and Christians had one common enemy – the Roman government. Because the Jewish people and the early Hebrew Christians refused to adopt Roman polytheism, they became targets of anti-Semitism, which is the hatred for and aversion to the Jews and things Jewish. As Gentile influence gained control of the church, however, most of its liturgy and concepts based in Judaism were gradually modified to include Roman ideas. Finally, the church and the state were united at the expense of the elimination of everything that had any obvious connection with Judaism.
Since that time, the spirit of anti-Semitism has seemingly characterized Christianity. Even when overt hatred and abuse of the Jews themselves have not been manifest, Christian tradition has consistently brought sweeping indictments against Judaism. Unfortunately the average Christian almost completely misses the advantage of Judaism, the profound legacy of understanding of the Eternal God that knowledge of His ancient religion affords (Romans 3:1). The ingrained fear of anything that even remotely sounds Jewish has kept most Christians from discovering their roots in Judaism.
Jesus Christ, The Same . . .
Hebrews 13:8 is a restatement of Ecclesiastes 3:15: “That which hath been is not; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past.” This is a declaration of the fact that God never changes (Malachi 3:6). Just as surely as the physical laws of nature are unchangeable (Romans 1:20), so are the eternal principles of God’s Word. With God there is neither variableness nor shadow of turning (James 1:17).
If Judaism were ever God’s appointed religious system – and we have His word that it was – then we must conclude that in some form it remains such. God did not give up on the Judaic law and repeal it; He merely reformed and perfected it by adding the new covenant in the blood of Jesus and making it available to whosoever will. The fundamentals of the Word of God remain the same – not abolished, but given a new manner of observance.
Judaism and The Kingdom of God
Since God never changes, we might logically expect His use of the system of Judaism to continue. It is altogether fitting and proper, then, that when Messiah Jesus returns to this earth to set up His Kingdom, He will use Biblical Judaism as a guideline for governmental order. First He will make Jerusalem, Israel, the capital for world government (Isaiah 2:2-4). Then all nations of the world will be required to observe the Feasts of Yahweh (Zechariah 14:16, 17). The pattern for judicial and executive government will also be that of Judaism (Matthew 19:28). In short, perfect Messianic Judaism will be restored in its fullness in the Kingdom of God.
This is why the spirit of restoration is at work throughout the Christian world today. Christians everywhere are re-awakening to the inherent Jewishness of their faith and are thereby making preparation for the return of their Lord and His Judaic Kingdom (Acts 2:30).
A New and Living Dimension
The one word which encapsulates the nature and goal of New Testament Judaism is restoration. While this concept is a new dimension in the world of religious thought today, in reality it is only the restoration of the first century dimension of Judaism in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a “Jesus kind of Judaism” as defined by the New Testament.
We encourage you to search for the roots of your faith in the Eternal God and His Son Jesus Christ. We believe that you will discover – as we have – that your Christian heritage is in New Testament Judaism, the Judaism that lifts up Jesus.