The MJRC Vision of Messianic Judaism

The primary purpose of the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council (MJRC) is to articulate and promote a cohesive vision for Messianic Judaism rooted in Torah, responsive to Tradition, and faithful to Messiah Yeshua. Such a vision must (1) state how the MJRC sees the relationship between the Messianic Jewish movement and the Jewish people as a whole, the historical churches, and the Jews within those churches. It must also (2) define the Messianic Jewish relationship to the traditions transmitted and embodied by the Jewish people and the Christian church. Finally, a cohesive vision for Messianic Judaism must (3) include reflection on the potential eschatological significance of this movement. The following is an attempt to accomplish these three tasks by painting a portrait of Messianic Judaism not as it is, but as we work, pray, and long for it to be.

1. The Two-Fold Yeshua Community

As the resurrected Messiah, Yeshua of Nazareth came to fulfill God’s purpose for Israel, a purpose which included the redemption of the nations and the entire cosmos. Yeshua and his apostles established a community within Israel which confirmed God’s eternal covenant with Israel while extending Israel’s reach beyond its own social borders.

The community established by Yeshua has an essential two-fold constitution: it is composed of Jews and gentiles. In order for the two-fold character of the Yeshua community to be adequately expressed and preserved, it is necessary to foster distinct but united Jewish and gentile communal environments (though Jews will sometimes live in the gentile environments, and gentiles will sometimes live in the Jewish ones). Although the nature of this two-fold community is articulated in the Apostolic Writings, it cannot be understood apart from God’s relationship with Israel which is articulated in the Tanakh and which endures perpetually. For this reason, the Jewish Yeshua-community is called to live as an integral part of the Jewish people, mediating Yeshua’s holiness to the rest of Israel (Rom 11:16), while the gentile Yeshua-community is called to serve as a messianic extension of Israel among the nations of the world. As such, the Jewish Yeshua-community has a vocation of being a principal source of unity and reconciliation in the differentiated people of God.

Historically this two-fold constitution binding the gentile Yeshua-community to the people of Israel through the Jewish Yeshua-community was compromised with the disappearance of the Jewish Yeshua-community. The Jewish people and the gentile Yeshua-community (i.e., the historical Christian church) share responsibility for this loss, each in its own way. The people of Israel eventually denied the legitimacy of the messianic remnant and at times even vigorously suppressed it. In this way Israel undermined the visible mediation of Yeshua’s sanctifying presence in its midst. Likewise, the historical Christian church denied the legitimacy of its Jewish communal partner and the enduring covenantal identity of Israel as a whole. Moreover, the Christian church far exceeded the people of Israel in suppressing Jewish expressions of Yeshua-faith, at times even resorting to violence. In this way, the Christian church undermined the visible mediation of Israel’s presence in the body of the Messiah. In undermining the Jewish Yeshua-community, the Christian church also undermined its own source of differentiated and reconciled unity, which is rooted in the life of the covenant people of Israel. It thereby opened itself up to opposing extremes of centralized clerical domination, on the one hand, and schismatic fragmentation, on the other.

Pressed on both sides, the Jewish Yeshua-community faded into the mists of a distant past. Yeshua continued to dwell in the midst of Israel, but now his sanctifying presence was hidden and diluted. Similarly, Israel continued to dwell in the midst of the Christian church through the church’s union with Yeshua, but the covenantal power of Israel’s life with God was hidden and diluted.

The MJRC believes that the God of Israel, who raised Yeshua from the dead, has begun the work of resurrecting the Jewish Yeshua-community. The MJRC sees the awakening of Jewish identity among Jewish disciples of Yeshua—manifested most visibly in the Messianic Jewish movement—as the first-fruits of that resurrection. The Messianic Jewish movement is not the full expression of that resurrection, but it points forward to that future reality. The MJRC employs the term “Messianic Jew” to refer to Jewish members of that movement, and the term “Messianic Judaism” to refer to their corporate way of life.

At present only a minority of Jewish disciples of Yeshua participate in the Messianic Jewish community. The majority are members of Christian churches, and their faith is shaped by the theological, liturgical, and devotional traditions of those churches. Some continue to identify as Jews and seek ways to express that reality. If properly related to Messianic Jews and to the wider Jewish world, followers of Yeshua in the church who are awakening to their Jewish identity could become a sign and instrument of the Christian church’s enduring connection to the Jewish people. Strictly speaking, the MJRC sees these Jewish disciples of Yeshua as practicing Jewish Christianity rather than Messianic Judaism, for their communities are not Jewish, and the pattern of life of their communities is largely unaffected by the ongoing tradition of the Jewish people. In their service to the gentile Yeshua-community, Jews in that community order their life in relation to the life of their gentile brothers and sisters, for whose benefit the community has been established. Though such Jews have a different orientation to Jewish communal life than Jews in the Jewish Yeshua-community, the MJRC affirms them as fellow Jews in the Messiah. At the same time, the MJRC views the participation of Jews in the Christian church as an exception to the normal vocation of Jewish disciples of Yeshua, which lies within the Jewish Yeshua community.

At present the majority of participants in the Messianic Jewish community are gentiles. While such gentile members are not Messianic Jews, they have a share in Messianic Judaism insofar as they participate in and serve the Messianic Jewish community. Without their dedicated and often sacrificial support Messianic Judaism would not have come to birth or have grown to its present level of maturity. If properly related to the Christian tradition, affirming its gifts even as they heed a call to a Jewish rather than a Christian communal life, these gentile members can serve as a continual reminder of the Messianic Jewish debt to the Christian church. The MJRC appreciates their ongoing contribution. Nevertheless, the role of gentiles in the Messianic Jewish community should be ordered in relation to that of their Messianic Jewish brothers and sisters, just as the role of Jewish Christians in the church is ordered in relation to that of their gentile brothers and sisters. Gentile members of the Messianic Jewish community are called to serve and advance God’s purposes for the Jewish members, who are central to that community. Moreover, the participation of gentile members of the Messianic Jewish community is an exception to the normal vocation of gentile Christians, which lies within the gentile Yeshua-community. In the future the MJRC hopes to see a Messianic Jewish community in which a majority of its members are Jewish.

2. Torah, Besorah, and the Two-Fold Tradition

The MJRC envisions Messianic Judaism as the corporate way of life practiced by Jews within the Jewish corporate expression of the two-fold Yeshua-community. The MJRC believes that this way of life must be rooted in the Torah, guided by Jewish tradition, and oriented to the welfare of the Jewish people. When this is the case, the Jewish expression within the two-fold Yeshua-community remains vitally connected with the ongoing life of the Jewish people. But the Messianic Jewish way of life is also to be animated by and centered upon the teaching, example, and redemptive self-offering of Messiah Yeshua, who is present among his disciples through the gift of his Spirit. Consequently, such a Messianic Judaism represents in visible form the hidden presence of the resurrected Messiah in the midst of the Jewish people, and it mediates corporately the resurrected visible presence of Israel in the midst of the two-fold Yeshua community.

The Messianic Jewish understanding of the Torah focuses upon God’s eternally-faithful love expressed in Israel’s election (Deuteronomy 7:6-7) and in the mission of the Messiah who gave his life for Israel and the nations (John 3:16). That love is now embodied within the Yeshua community through the presence of the Spirit (Romans 5:5), empowering its Jewish members to fulfill the Torah by rooting observance of all the mitzvot in Yeshua’s own perfect fulfillment of the two great commandments of love of God and love of neighbor (Mark 12:28-34).

As those whose way of life visibly represents and mediates the sanctifying presence of the Messiah in the midst of the Jewish people, Messianic Jews have the vocation to live as part of that people and as descendants, heirs, transmitters, and practitioners of its interpretive tradition. Messianic Jews have received the Torah—and Tanakh as a whole—through generations of Jews who have gone before them, and their engagement with Tanakh is always also an engagement with those Jews.

Messianic Jews likewise represent and mediate the presence of Israel to the multinational extension of the covenant people established by the risen Messiah. As partners with the historical Christian church, Messianic Jews are beneficiaries of fundamental elements of its interpretive tradition. They have received the Besorah which tells of the crucified and risen Messiah, fully divine and fully human—and the Apostolic Writings as a whole—through generations of Christians who have gone before them, and their engagement with this message and these texts is always also an engagement with those Christians.

Messianic Jewish fulfillment of the Torah—through Yeshua, in the Spirit, and centered on the two great mitzvot—takes concrete form in the practices of study (Torah), prayer (Avodah), and deeds of loving-kindness (gemilut chasadim). As envisioned by the MJRC, Messianic Jewish study focuses especially on Tanakh, the Apostolic Writings, and the classic texts of the rabbinic tradition. Messianic Jewish prayer is rooted in Jewish liturgical practice, mediated by the heavenly priesthood of the risen Messiah, and empowered by the Spirit. Messianic Jewish deeds of loving-kindness actualize the conviction that all human beings are created in the divine image and that the Messiah himself is especially present among the hungry, the thirsty, and the stranger; moreover, they also take the form of addressing the underlying cultural, social, economic, and political realities which produce or exacerbate such conditions of deprivation.

As descendants, heirs, and continuators of the entire tradition of the Jewish people, we look for unifying commonalities among the diverse expressions of Jewish life through the ages, while respecting and learning from the distinctive contribution of each. As beneficiaries of fundamental elements of the tradition of the historical Christian church, we likewise look for unifying commonalities among the diverse expressions of ecclesial life through the ages, while respecting and learning from the distinctive contribution of each.

3. Messianic Judaism and the Age to Come

The awakening of Jewish identity among Jewish disciples of Yeshua occurred in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the midst of fervent expectation of Yeshua’s imminent return. While the MJRC is skeptical of efforts to chart the details of events that will occur at the final turning of the ages, it acknowledges that the Messianic Jewish movement is an eschatological sign. This sign challenges the entire people of God to attain the differentiated and reconciled unity befitting the consummation of history, and anticipates the return of the Messiah and the definitive establishment of his kingdom. Just as the return of Jews to the land of Israel over the past century signals a new phase in the eschatological frame of history, so the re-emergence of the Jewish Yeshua-community conveys the same message.

Messianic Judaism is not merely the restoration of an original biblical template for the people of God. The rebirth of the Jewish Yeshua-community is a new heavenly intervention in the world which intimates something of God’s ultimate purpose for Israel and the nations. As participants in this movement—heirs of a tradition oriented to the messianic future and beneficiaries of a tradition in which that future has already been inaugurated—Messianic Jews are called to live their lives in this age with eyes focused on the age to come.

The MJRC understands Messianic Jewish study of Torah, observance of mitzvot (including the messianic mitzvot of Tevilat Mashiach and Zichron Mashiach), and practices of prayer and deeds of loving-kindness as anticipations of the messianic age. The passionate desire for ultimate divine justice and peace expressed in the Prophets and Psalms has new meaning for Messianic Jews who taste now the powers of the age to come, and who humbly attempt to embody that eschatological vision in provisional form through practices of justice, peace, and healing in the present age.

The MJRC vision of Messianic Judaism is rooted in God’s eternally-faithful love for Israel, the nations, and all creation in Yeshua. It is a love which perseveres and will not fail. The One who raised Yeshua from the dead and enthroned him at his right hand will send him once again to reign in Jerusalem. From there he will raise the dead, restore Israel, renew creation, and unify all things under the sovereignty of God. All who embrace the MJRC vision long for Yeshua’s return and seek to advance it through lives lived in union with him in which the fragrance of the age to come ascends amidst a world still groaning in travail. Maran ata—Come Lord Yeshua!