Ever since Jesus’ ministry began in Israel, there have been Jewish people who believed in him. Jesus’ first followers were Jewish, and within thirty years of his resurrection from the dead, thousands of Jewish people in Jerusalem alone believed he was the Messiah (Acts 21:20). Today, Messianic Jews—as many Jewish believers in Jesus call themselves—are a visible reminder of the fact that Jesus was Jewish and that he preached a message of salvation and hope to the Jewish people. Jesus even went so far as to say, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24).
Rough estimates put the number of Messianic Jews today upwards of 300,000. However, this number would have been much higher had not hundreds of thousands of Jewish believers in Jesus perished in the Holocaust. For example, Hungary had more than 100,000 Jewish believers in Jesus before World War II; we grieve at how few made it out alive.
To outsiders, this discussion may sound odd or counterintuitive, since common wisdom would say that Jewish people cannot believe in Jesus without changing to another religion. However, Jewish believers in Jesus view themselves as Jewish and believe that following Jesus as the Messiah is a Jewish thing to do! Indeed, Jewish tradition often affirms that Jewish people who believe in Jesus remain Jewish in certain respects.1
Jewish believers in Jesus often find themselves caught between two worlds. From one angle, Messianic Jews agree with non-Jewish followers of Jesus in the acceptance of Jesus’ Messiahship, his divinity, and the New Testament as a continuation of the Bible. However, when viewed from another angle, Messianic Jews observe the holidays, circumcise their boys on the eighth day, and quite a number of Jewish believers in Jesus keep kosher. Many Messianic Jews hold bar and bat mitzvahs for their children, travel to Israel and are ardent Zionists, speak up against antisemitism, and regularly study the Hebrew Scriptures.
So, who are Messianic Jews? Put simply, they are Jewish people who believe Jesus is the fulfillment of the Bible and the shalom of Israel. Perhaps believing in Jesus is a more Jewish thing than you may have previously thought!
- Kassel Abelson and Reuven Hammer, “The Status of ‘Messianic Jews’” (The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, 2012), https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/public/halakhah/teshuvot/2011-2020/abelson-hammer-messianic-jews.pdf, Accessed 4-7-20.