That They May be One: Bridging the Gap Between Jews and Christians
by Harvey L. Diamond
Since the beginning of creation, every generation (thanks, Adam and Eve) has bought into the lie that the Creator of the universe is a liar. To those whose eyes of faith have been opened, He has revealed Himself as the One true Lord God.
Two specific divisive lies that have been passed down through the generations are: 1) Christians have always persecuted Jews; and 2) The Jews killed the Christian god.
Raised a Jew, I was brought up under the former misconception. As a Messianic Jew (or as some may call us, a completed Jew or Hebrew Christian—or as I really prefer to call myself—a child of God) I have learned that those Gentiles who persecuted us (and yes, I’ve had my share of it) may have come by the name of “Christians,” but did not truly know the God they proclaimed to be God. For, had they known Him—His heart, His character, His real nature—they could not have had an ounce of hatred against the people to whom His Father originally revealed Himself, and called “the apple of His eye.”
Here’s an issue to ponder: there are many who call themselves Jews and say they know God the Father; and there are many who call themselves Christians who say they know God the Son—Jesus Christ. How many, though, really know the Spirit of God, or God the Holy Spirit?
What did other Bible characters think?
King David, the man after God’s own heart, knew the Holy Spirit. For, he pleaded with God after being convicted of his sin with Bathsheba, “do not take your Holy Spirit from me.” (Psalm 51:11) The prophets also knew the Holy Spirit. As the Scripture reports, Isaiah knew that the Holy Spirit was with the children of Israel during their wanderings. “Where is He who put His Holy Spirit within them, Who led them by the right hand of Moses…” (Isaiah 63:11-12)
The early disciples of Yeshua (Hebrew for Jesus) and the apostles—the real “church fathers”—all Jews—also knew the Holy Spirit. For, the entire book of Acts is about the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Jesus, Himself, taught the disciples that one of the main reasons He came was to release the presence of the Holy Spirit in a very real, wonderful and permanent way!
What did Jesus think? Listen to His words.
"These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. You have heard Me say to you, 'I am going away and coming back to you.' If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said, 'I am going to the Father, for My Father is greater than I.' (John 14:25-28)
Jesus knew the disciples had difficulty comprehending what He taught them. He, therefore, tried to help them understand that they would need to depend on God’s Ruach, the Holy Spirit, for future guidance and spiritual growth.
"I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.” ( John 16:12-14)
It was during the Jewish feast of Shavuot—the Day of Pentecost—that it began to make sense to them! For, they were filled with the Holy Spirit. The jubilee celebration of the law became a jubilee celebration of the Spirit!
What is so significant of this? The Law of Moses specified a jubilee year, every fifty years, whereby total liberty was to be proclaimed throughout the land. Indebted property was to be returned, and indentured laborers were to return to their families.
In Isaiah 61, the phrase, “acceptable year of the LORD” refers to a spiritual jubilee. See the context of scripture.
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the LORD has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.”
This is the Scripture Jesus quoted in the synagogue. It became His mission. It is the great commission!
Jesus in essence proclaimed in the beginning of His earthly ministry that the time of the eternal jubilee had come. At Pentecost, the disciples were empowered to fulfill His mission. It became a truly great commission!
At Pentecost, the gears of the old covenant life they had known all of a sudden shifted. It was a time of great transition.
Their knowledge of Scriptures and of God had all of a sudden taken on a three-dimensional meaning. They had known about God the Father, had spent time to learn from God the Son, and now they had experienced the very presence—inside them—of God the Spirit.
In this new light, the disciples engaged with God—and one another—in a more active and dynamic way. They would now meet in the central temple and from house to house, sharing their new insights about God, the meaning of the Scriptures, the Messiahship of Yeshua, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
They were being enriched by their fellowship, which was centered in Yeshua, Jesus Christ the Messiah. As a result, they had favor with the people, and the Lord added daily to the community of believers.
This new life was certainly something that took time for the disciples to absorb. Life was a challenge, but dynamic! However, the disciples learned how to walk in this new way, applying Yeshua’s word by the power of the Holy Spirit. They made an impact in the world in which they lived.
The disciples definitely encountered a great amount of dissension and opposition. Many persevered, and experienced God’s favor. In fact, over time Messianic synagogues began to spread throughout the Roman Empire. They were simply viewed as another sect of Judaism. It became very “normal” for Jewish people to believe in Jesus, and embrace Him as the Messiah. These Messianic Jews maintained their Jewish ethnicity as well as their love of God. As Gentiles embraced Jesus as the Messiah, Jews and Gentiles worshiped together.
How did the Great Divide occur?
As the book of Acts depicts, the early congregations were viewed as a sect within Judaism, and referred to as the “sect of the Nazarenes.” (Acts 24:5) They embraced the teachings of Jesus, which were all taken from a Jewish context. They were fully convinced that that the appointed time of the Spirit-born community as prophesied by Joel had arrived. (Joel 2:28-29) Many Gentile believers were embracing the Jewish Messiah, Yeshua, and assimilating into these messianic communities.
It didn’t take long for conflict to arise—on many fronts. First, there was conflict between the traditional Rabbinic Jewish sects and the emerging Messianic sects. As the number of Gentile believers began to outnumber the Jewish believers, confusion and conflict grew due to various interpretations of Scripture, practice of traditions, and influence of Greco-Roman philosophies. The issue of diversity in plurality came to the forefront. Is there anything new under the sun?
In some areas, like Ephesus and Corinth, the lack of awareness and understanding of the richness of Old Testament Scriptures led to confusion. Roman and Grecian influences crept in, and controversies spread. In other areas like Galatia, some Jewish believers held too tightly to Jewish traditions, causing problems with Gentile believers. Paul’s epistles were attempts to correct these problems. He exhorted all to embrace the ministry of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus said would provide comfort, peace and guidance.
There was a third group of God-fearing people who had simple hearts, and in many ways acted to bridge the emerging divide between the Hebraic and Hellenistic cultures. Cornelius, a Gentile, was such a sort. Groups of such people can be seen emerging throughout the book of Acts. Their way became referred to as “the Way.”
James, Peter, and Paul, all Jewish apostles, yielded to the Holy Spirit and worked through their progressive understanding of God’s ways. Their ministries, therefore, reflected a balanced approach. Paul, especially, reached out to all groups, pursuing “the unity of the faith.”
The greatest source of pressure, however, came from the Romans. While the Jewish community held legal status under Roman law, the Romans continued to have difficulty dealing with the issue of Christ being heralded as the Messiah, spiritual King of the Jews. Even though the traditional Rabbis held this belief in contempt, the Romans saw it as a problem that wouldn’t go away.
Three critical events that changed the tone and face of Judaism and Christianity
Roman pressure intensified, and in 73 A.D., after seven years of bloody fighting, (known as the First Jewish Revolt) Jerusalem fell to the Romans. The Jewish Christians fled east to Pella, a town sixty miles northeast of Jerusalem. This caused the first formal schism between Messianic and Rabbinical Jews. The Rabbinic Jewish leaders responded by forming an academy at Yavneh, a city west of Jerusalem.
It was during this time that Rabbinic Judaism was institutionalized. The Massorah, or official text of the Hebrew Holy Scriptures was established, and the Jewish prayer service was formalized. There became a clear distinction between Rabbinic Judaism and Messianic Judaism/Hebrew Christianity.
The next critical event occurred between 132 and 135 A.D. Roman pressure to destroy the Jewish culture persisted. Emperor Hadrian began rebuilding and repopulating Jerusalem. The Jewish sage, Rabbi Akiva convinced the Sanhedrin to stage a revolt against the Romans.
Messianic Jews, Gentile Christians and traditional Jews fought together against their common Roman enemy until Rabbi Akiva proclaimed commander Simon Bar Kochba to be the Jewish Messiah. That widened the schism. After the Romans crushed the opposition, the remnant of Jews and Christians dispersed.
As different views of Messianic Judaism/Hebrew Christianity pervaded, a movement to “de-Judaize” Messianic Jews caught fire. Greco-Roman philosophy began to dominate Christian thought. The clear turning point came through the writings of Justin Martyr.
After studying Stoicism, Aristotelianism, Pythagorism, and Platonism, he converted to Christianity. In an effort to reach out to the Greek culture, he evangelized a philosophy promoting Christianity as the completion of Greek philosophy. It became the “politically correct” Christian philosophy.
Unfortunately, his writings became the catalyst of a track of thought termed, “Replacement Theology.” Christian thought began to be centered in an idea that the Jews had lost their claim of belonging to God, and that the “church” had replaced Israel as God’s covenant people. A clear misinterpretation of Scripture, this philosophy totally violates Paul’s writings in Romans 9-11, as well as misinterprets much of the books of the Prophets. God doesn’t violate His own covenants.
With Rabbinic Judaism sternly defining its course and new forms of worship, and Christian thought becoming dominated by Roman-Greco philosophy, Messianic Jews were losing their place in society. As a result, the Hebraic roots of the Christian faith were being loosened, and doomed for destruction. At the same time, faithful Christians were being persecuted by the Romans.
The axe that cut the Hebraic roots of the faith came by the hands of the Roman Emperor Constantine. In 312 A.D. Constantine converted to Christianity. Six months later, he declared Christianity the official imperial religion. To institute a new religious order and bring about philosophical uniformity, dissenters were persecuted.
Unfortunately, his reforms had a profound impact on Christianity. No longer functioning as a faith grounded on God’s Word and conviction of the heart, Christianity as the world began to know it, found its focus around a political allegiance to an imperial authority. Christ became a “friend” and pseudo “co-king” with the emperor; and Mary, mother of Jesus, became known as “Mother of God” and friend of the world.
By then, unfortunately, the authentic Jewish roots of the Christian faith had been severed. A great degree of understanding of the original context of Jesus’ teachings and New Testament writings had been lost. To fill the gap, many pagan influences infiltrated the emerging Christian faith.
Over the centuries, many reformers have progressively brought the spirit of God’s word back into perspective. Forms of revival have sparked renewed faith towards God and adherence to Biblical truths throughout the world.
God, however, continues to advance His cause of answering the prayer Jesus prayed in John 17, and establishing a body of believers rooted in a personal and dynamic relationship with God; “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” (John 17:21-23)
Grafted back into their own tree
A major part of God’s cause is renewing the vitality of His relationship with the Jewish people. For, God had specifically cultivated a special relationship with the Jewish people over a period of several centuries. He invested His heart in the Jewish people. Hear His heart as His word speaks:
For the LORD's portion is His people;
Jacob is the place of His inheritance.
"He found him in a desert land
And in the wasteland, a howling wilderness;
He encircled him, He instructed him,
He kept him as the apple of His eye.
The oracles of God were given to the Jewish people to pass down to future generations. He revealed the counsel of His heart to them. They are still His covenant people, and He has promised them restoration of the divine intimate relationship: a relationship of and by His Spirit.
Over the last century, we have witnessed a tremendous move of God’s Spirit drawing Jewish people to embrace Yeshua as Messiah and Lord. Interestingly enough, Jews who believe in Jesus are not encumbered by religious traditions that have evolved from the various Gentile cultures and thought patterns. Instead, we tend to have a more holistic view of Scripture, and a faith that is at its roots, as simple and as vibrant as that of the early disciples!
It is by this faith, and with simplicity of heart, that we endeavor to spread the richness of God’s message of grace; and moreover, His invitation to enjoin in a dynamic relationship with Him through His Son, and by His Spirit—that He be glorified.
In the post-modern culture in which we live, it is ever so apparent that Jew and Gentile both need to embrace Israel’s hope—the glory of God expressed in the saving grace of Messiah—Jeshua HaMaschiach—Jesus Christ our Lord! For, He truly came that we might intimately know the heart of God; and experience a bountiful measure of His joy and life. For, He came not to abolish the law, but fulfill it. He came that we might be free in Him, nurtured by His Word, captured by His love, and filled with His Spirit.
We pray that you will allow us to challenge you to enter into a dynamic and expanded engagement with God, and progressively grow your relationship with the Lord your God through His Son and by His Spirit.