'Jews for Jesus' - Controversial movement continues to grow
Dr Glenville Ashby, Contributor
Messianic Judaism or Jews believing in salvation through Jesus may seem foreign, almost incomprehensible. But the reality is that early Christians, known as Ebionites, were steeped in Jewish culture and identified themselves as Jews.
By the 4th century, though, the Council of Nicea officially mandated that Jews accepting Jesus had to surrender their Jewishness, leading to a schism and an ongoing contention among Jews. It also scarred relations between Christians and Jews and led to the later's rejection of Jesus.
David Sedaca, a second-generation Messianic Jew and ordained Messianic Rabbi, recently recalled his many discussions with dissenting colleagues during an hourlong interview.
"The underlying problem is that Judaism holds that only through our deeds and actions can we be saved. This is where Judaism and Christianity part ways. Judaism, as we know it, will not embrace the Saviour. It also rejects Jesus because it teaches that the coming of the Messiah will bring peace and contend that the advent of Jesus did not produce such a reality."
Sedaca said he has incurred the wrath of many 'mainstream' Jews because of his unyielding position on this controversial issue. Sedaca, who served as the secretary general of the Messianic Movement for 25 years, and is a professor of Biblical Studies and Archaeology at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is unmoved by any vitriol towards him.
Assured and comforted that Jesus had prophesied that his believers would be chided and ostracised, citing: "You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved," (Matthew 10:22)
Sedaca, who is also the vice-president of Chosen People Ministries and a Baptist minister, detailed the history of his ministry that in the 1820s was called Hebrew Christians and by 1992, Messianic Jews.
As part of the International Messianic Jewish Alliance, Sedaca has witnessed an exponential spike in the number of Jews who believe in salvation through Jesus. He estimated that more than 200,000 people now identify themselves as messianic Jews, a growing trend he partly attributed to the rebirth of the State of Israel.
Sedaca viewed the Old Testament through a Jewish prism, holding a linear view of the Bible. Referring to God as Yahweh, and not Jehova (a name which he calls a later contrivance), Sedaca considers both biblical testaments as monolithic, homogeneous and bound through revelation. "The God of the Old Testament speaks through the New Testament."
Paul and Christianity
He debunked any thesis of Paul having invented Christianity. According to Sedaca, this position as pedestrian, misleading and baseless, as Jews and gentiles were one people in Christ.
"Paul identified himself as a Pharisean Jew in the same vein as Hillel and Gamaliel, and evangelised in numerous synagogues," he said, later quoting Acts 23:8: "Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out to the Sanhedrin, My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead."
Sedaca argues that "although Paul said that it is was unnecessary for gentiles to be circumcised, he said no such thing of Jews".
The outspoken scholar viewed Messianic Jews as religious descendants of the apostles who "never gave up or denied their Jewishness as they held fast to the law, while proclaiming Jesus, the Saviour".
Swayed by the messenger
Sedaca was pointed as he recalled his father's acceptance of Messianic Judaism. "My father was a medical doctor who was inspired by the sincerity that was shown by a well-known Hebrew Christian who brought the message. You have to understand that Jewish people are swayed by authenticity of the messenger and not the message. That is what moved my father."
He referred to the missionary work of Leopold Cohn who established an infirmary and social services for Jewish immigrants in Williamsburg around 1892. Cohn was also the architect of the American Hebrew Mission, now known as Chosen Peoples Ministries.
"These immigrants, many who were socially and economically displaced, witnessed the genuine compassion of Rabbi Cohn. It is compassion that made believers in Jesus." And while Sedaca is obviously aware of the slew of Old Testament prophecies said to herald the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus, he argues that prophecy does not change the hearts of men as much as mercy and compassion.
And on the unceasing regional conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, Sedaca is uncompromising. "There is absolutely no historical support for any Palestinian right to Jerusalem. In fact, the Koran never mentions Jerusalem. Muhammed's hiraj or ecstatic flight to the Holy Land is implied."
Later, he painfully explained how the 70AD destruction of the temple and the Bar Kokhba War of 135AD scattered the Jews, essentially creating a vacuum in Jerusalem, but "did not efface its Jewish roots".
Interestingly, Sedaca upholds the classical evangelical vision of eschatology. He calls himself a 'dispensationalist', or one who believes in redemption through Jesus, in the Rapture, and 'Premellenialism', (Jesus will literally and physically return to the earth and reign for 1,000 years during a golden age of peace).
"The end of days are here. All signs and events point to that direction. History started in Megido or Armageddon in the Holy Land, and it will end there," adds Sedaca.