A Brief History of Messianic Judaism
HISTORIC MESSIANIC JUDAISM
In the first century there were numerous sects of Judaism: Pharisees (with 2 main varieties: Beit Hillel & Beit Shammai), Sadducees, Zealots, Boethusians, Essenes, etc. The first Christians (called Nazarenes) were all Jewish, and predominately followed after the customs of Hillel the Great and Rabban Gamliel. As the message about Yeshua reached the Gentiles, many of them became His followers. But as more and more Gentiles believed the Gospel, they soon outnumbered the Jewish believers. In time, the Gentile Church lost touch with its Jewish roots and became anti-Semitic. Meanwhile the Jewish Church (the Nazarenes) retained its Jewish identity, functioning as the remnant of Israel in the midst of the Jewish community. By the 7th century, though, Jewish Christianity basicly disappeared.
MODERN MESSIANIC JUDAISM
In what could be called prophetic fulfillment, Jewish people began to embrace the Gospel as their own simultaneously with the advent of Zionism. There was a spiritual awakening as Jewish people began to return home to the land of Israel. This happened in waves: First in the late 1800’s, then in the 1940’s-50’s, then after the 1967 war when Jerusalem was unified. In a few cases (like Joseph Rabinowitz of Russia or Rabbi Lichtenstein of Hungary), Jewish people embraced the Gospel message but continued to live and identify themselves as Jews. In most cases, however, Jewish believers assimilated into the larger Gentile Christian Church. Resisting assimilation and recognizing the need to remain distinct, many Jewish believers (or Hebrew Christians as they came to be called) began to meet together. They eventually formed organizations, and by the early 1970’s began to form their own congregations as well. In the quest to reclaim their Jewish identity they opted for a name change and began using the term Messianic Jew instead of Hebrew Christian. By this time there had been a shift in their theology as well, as Messianic Jews began to take more seriously their responsibility to live as Jews first.
Today Messianic Judaism has scattered around the globe, and may be found in almost any area with a significant Jewish population. There are two principle organizations: The International Messianic Jewish Alliance and the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregatons. This is just a brief history, but we hope it answers your basic questions. Interested in learning more? Come check us out!