The first followers of Jesus were Jews and one of their first theological disputes was over the tricky issue of circumcision. When Gentile men were baptized, did they also have to undergo a second, and rather more painful procedure? To become Christians, did they also have to become Jews?
Today the same debate is turned on its head. For Jews to become Christians, do they have to renounce their Jewish way of life?
Over the last 60 years, a strong evangelical strand of Christianity has been convinced that the creation of the state of Israel is a sign of the “end times”. Organisations such as Jews For Jesus have been on a mission to convince Jews that Jesus was the Messiah, so that the righteousness of Israel will be restored and Jews will be saved on Judgement Day.
Many young Jews, especially in the US and the old Soviet Union, were converted to this vision, but were reluctant to deny their Jewish heritage. In Messianic Judaism, the essentials of the Christian creed are acknowledged, but in Jewish style.
As the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute declares, “We believe in the Deity of Yeshua HaMashiach,” the Messianic Jewish name for Jesus Christ. “His virgin birth was a sign to Israel of His Messiah-ship… We believe in the present ministry of HaRuach HaKodesh,” the Holy Spirit, and that bloodline Jews “who place their faith in Israel’s Messiah Yeshua have not disowned or separated themselves from their race and Judaic heritage, but remain sons and daughters of Israel.” Gentiles who place their faith in Jesus become spiritual sons and daughters of Israel.
There are some 100,000 Messianic Jews in the US and up to 350,000 worldwide, including thousands in Israel. Orthodox, and many liberal, synagogues entirely reject the theology of the Messianic Jewish movement and oppose its conversion programmes. Evangelical Christians, however, see them as allies.