It should come as no surprise to anyone that Jesus/Yeshua was a Jew and his disciples and early followers were all Jewish. After all, nobody would ever suspect that a non-Jew who had only non-Jewish followers could possibly be the Jewish Messiah. But since at least the time of the apostle Paul's epistle writing career (beginning around the year 50 CE) there have been non-Jews that have also been followers of Jesus/Yeshua, though to what extent his non-Jewish followers were accepted as legitimate by his Jewish followers is a matter of debate that is beyond the scope of this article. For now, suffice it to say that from every bit of evidence that comes from outside of the canon of the New Testament, and even plenty of evidence in the New Testament itself, indicates that the Jewish followers of Jesus/Yeshua did not feel that his non-Jewish followers were legitimate members of what I will call "the Jesus movement". I'm using the phrase "the Jesus movement" in this article to distinguish the original movement that Jesus/Yeshua started from the various incarnations of Christianity that have existed throughout the years. The Jesus movement was most likely a legitimate form of Pharisaic Judaism that had the added belief that Jesus/Yeshua was the promised Messiah that was foretold in the Tanach (the Jewish Scriptures). According to the book of Acts (5:33-39), the Jesus movement was well within the acceptable range of normative Judaism and the great Jewish Sage Rabban Gamliel remarked that the Jesus movement wasn't doing anything wrong or outside of the acceptable behaviour for Torah observant Jews. Since the book of Acts was written relatively late (around the year 80 CE), it's historicity is questioned by scholars, but I'm only using it to demonstrate that the New Testament does state that the Jesus movement didn't begin as the completely different religion from Judaism that Christianity is today. So let's examine the different claims about what exactly the Messianic movement is.
The first claim I'd like to discuss is the claim that the Messianic movement represents the original teachings of Jesus/Yeshua and has continued in an unbroken chain of succession since the time of Jesus/Yeshua. In order to examine this claim properly, we have to delve into history and see what the historical record has to say. Somewhere in the neighbourhood of 2,000 years ago, it's thought that there was a Jewish rabbi named Jesus/Yeshua of Nazareth who was believed to be the Jewish Messiah by his followers. As it turns out, there is no historical record of Jesus/Yeshua ever actually existing outside of the different religious literature that was written about him. This lack of any historical records mentioning anything about him has led some scholars to conclude that he might not have even existed, but I personally think that he probably did exist and was a part of a religious movement that envisioned him as the Jewish Messiah. The movement that he led was devastated by his death, and while the New Testament testifies that he resurrected and later ascended into heaven alive, it's obvious that the movement continued in his absence regardless of whether he resurrected and ascended into heaven or not. As a matter of fact, historical records tell us that Jacob the Tzadik (called James the Just in Christianity), who was the brother of Jesus/Yeshua himself, took over the Jesus movement after Jesus/Yeshua, and leadership of the movement stayed within Jesus/Yeshua's family after Jacob was murdered. This could be compared to the leadership of a Chasidic group being inherited by a family member of a Rebbe who dies, in this case Jesus/Yeshua would have been the Rebbe, and Jacob would have been the New Rebbe after Jesus/Yeshua was no longer physically leading the movement. As I mentioned before, the New Testament book of Acts (5:33-39) asserts that the great Jewish Sage Rabban Gamliel had no real issue with the Jesus movement and believed that they were Torah observant Jews who kept true to Torah Judaism even though he clearly thought it was strange that the Jesus movement plainly acknowledged that their choice for Messiah had already died. Since, according to Acts, Rabban Gamliel attested to their observance of Torah, we can safely assume that the Jesus movement would never have abandoned Torah for any reason. After all, they were Jews who followed a Jewish rabbi that taught basic Torah observance and that observing the Torah was the way that Jews can be assured of a share in Olam HaBa (the World to Come), according to Matthew 19:16-22. Since the Jesus movement shared the concept that Torah observance assures a Jew of his share in Olam HaBa with Judaism, we can see that any other movement that teaches something contrary to the teaching of Jesus/Yeshua in this matter was not a part of the Jesus movement and has to be discredited as such. As it happens, such a movement did arise after a few years, a movement that started teaching against Torah observance and instead taught that faith in the resurrection of Jesus/Yeshua was all that was needed and that if you thought that observing Torah was the way to Olam HaBa then you were not just wrong, but you were an enemy of G-d's grace. Does that sound familiar to you? It seems that this movement that teaches against the very teachings of Jesus/Yeshua was started by none other than Paul of Tarsus. In his epistle to the Romans in chapter 7, Paul speaks to the Jewish followers of Jesus/Yeshua who were in Rome and does his best to convince them that they no longer have to keep the Torah because the Torah is dead (Romans 7:3) and they are now "delivered" from the Torah (Romans 7:6). Romans is actually unique among the letters of Paul in the respect that Rome was the only community he wrote to that had Jews in it and it's the only community that he didn't found himself. Paul's epistle to the Galatians is written to several communities that he founded, with no Jews among them, and the entire letter is a long discourse about how the Torah is a curse (Galatians 3:13). So we can see clearly after reading Romans and Galatians that Paul is telling both Jews and non-Jews that Torah observance is nothing and that believing that Jesus/Yeshua was resurrected is the key. Notice how he writes this to two groups of people who didn't actually witness the resurrection happen. It's ok though, because even if they did see the resurrected Jesus/Yeshua, they wouldn't recognise him because it wasn't the body of Jesus/Yeshua that resurrected, Paul tells the Corinthians that it was a different body completely (1 Corinthians 15:42-54). Meanwhile, those of us who know that a resurrection is the same body that died being reanimated are trying to figure out how exactly Jesus/Yeshua could have resurrected if it was a different body. For that matter, how did anyone know it was really Jesus/Yeshua that was walking around if it was a different body? Interestingly enough, the epistle of Jacob (James) the brother of Jesus/Yeshua was written before any of Paul's letters and encourages the members of the Jesus movement to stay true to the Torah because Paul's "gospel" of faith without works is dead (James 2:26). It's worth noting that the epistle of the brother of Jesus/Yeshua never mentions the alleged resurrection, and only mentions Jesus/Yeshua in passing as the origin of the movement that Jacob was a part of. But that's a bit off subject, let's return to the matter at hand.
We know that the anti-Torah Paul had some serious issues with the Torah observant Jesus movement, and we know this from his own epistles. For example, in 2 Corinthians 11:4-5 Paul tells his audience that anyone teaching against his teachings is a "false apostle (verse 13)" and he mockingly calls them "super apostles" in verse 5. At the beginning of Galatians (1:9), Paul says that anyone who teaches a different message from him is cursed, and we learn from the epistle that the message of these "super apostles" that was different from his and worthy of a curse is that the Torah is not done away with and that the true followers of Jesus/Yeshua should keep the Torah. This message is echoed all over Paul's epistles, making it abundantly clear that he stood in direct opposition to the Torah observant Jesus movement. To further the point that Paul was not a member of the Jesus movement, in Galatians 1:11-22 Paul says that his message that he taught is something that no man taught to him (1:11-12), but that he heard it right from Jesus/Yeshua himself in a revelation (verse 12). Acts 9 mentions that the revelation was a vision, though Paul's conversion story is repeated three times in Acts (Acts 9, 22:6-21, and 26:12-18) and it's different every time. Paul says in Galatians 1:17-18 that he didn't even bother to go learn what Jesus/Yeshua taught from his own disciples, the men who studied with him for three years, instead he went to Arabia and then back to Damascus. Finally, after three years of teaching a message he didn't know anything about because he didn't hear this message from any man, he goes to Jerusalem and sees only two of the actual disciples of Jesus/Yeshua (verses 18-19). Then after staying two weeks in Jerusalem (verse 18), he went back out to teach his unauthorised message to people in Syria and Cilicia (verse 21). It seems in the book of Acts (21:17-24) that Jacob and the rest of the Jesus movement heard that Paul was teaching against the Torah and wanted to reign him in, so to speak. The suggested that he sponsor the offerings of a group of men taking the vow of a nazirite (Numbers 6:1-21) and that he take the vow with them as a sign that he was not teaching against the Torah. Paul did as they suggested, but we can learn that Paul didn't feel like he was under the obligation to keep the Torah and only did it to keep himself out of trouble with the Jesus movement so that he could continue teaching his unauthorised message. We can learn this from his statement that he "became as a Jew to the Jews, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law (1 Corinthians 9:20)". He only kept their suggestion so that he could keep teaching without their interference. What's really striking is that Paul proudly says that he opposed Peter and Jacob in Galatians 2:11-12. He proudly admits to opposing the leadership of the Jesus movement, which should remove any doubts that maybe he wasn't a part of the movement. If he opposed the leadership of the Jesus movement on one thing, especially something as important as keeping kosher, we can rest assured that he opposed them on other important matters as well. What we see is that Paul didn't learn much, if anything, from the Jesus movement and he really set out as a sort of "lone wolf" on his mission to convert non-Jews to his anti-Torah message of faith. I know that may come as a shock to any Christian or Messianic reading this, but it's an obvious fact when you examine the evidence left in the New Testament.
While Paul was off going out on his rogue mission to convert the non-Jews, the Jesus movement in Jerusalem was led by Jacob the Tzadik, the brother of Jesus/Yeshua. The Jesus movement continued to keep the Torah as Jacob continued to lead the movement until his death. Eventually, the Jesus movement became known by several different names, but they all revered Jacob the Tzadik and his successors as the leaders of the Jesus movement and "stubbornly" kept the Torah according to Christian Church Fathers like Origen and Eusebius. Though they became known by names like "Ebionites" and "Nazareans", they remained united in respect to their core doctrines, so much so that the Church Fathers criticise them for keeping Torah, rejecting the teachings of Paul on the grounds that he was against the Torah and perverted Scripture, and rejecting the virgin birth and divinity of Jesus/Yeshua. At the Council of Nicea in the early 4th century, the non-Jewish Christians who followed Paul's teachings voted to declare the surviving Jesus movement that kept the Torah as heretics for keeping the Torah, and Christianity as we know it today began to evolve over the years into what it is now in the hands of the non-Jewish followers of Paul's doctrines. And now that Emperor Constantine of the Roman Empire was a Christian, the non-Jewish Pauline Christians were given the "holy" task of destroying every last remnant of the Jesus movement that refused to become Pauline Christians. This marks the start of the Church's war on the "heresy" that Jesus/Yeshua taught, the "heresy" of keeping Torah. Within about 200 years, in an ironic twist of history, the Jesus movement would be completely killed off by the followers of Paul who taught that the Jews killed Jesus/Yeshua and the prophets, persecuted Paul and his fellow Pauline teachers, who weren't pleasing to G-d and were hostile to everyone in the world (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16). Since Paul's followers eventually murdered the Jesus movement, no remnant of the movement survived, and the modern Messianic movement is not a movement that was started by Jesus/Yeshua and continued in an unbroken chain of leadership until today. These are all facts that are attested to in historical documents, some of it is even a part of the recorded history of the Christian Church. I encourage you not to just take my word for it, but look it up for yourself, if you can stomach how terrible some of it gets.
The next claim I'd like to investigate is the claim that the Messianic movement is a legitimate form of Jewish Orthodoxy that the rabbis have tried to suppress. So is it a legitimate form of Judaism, and have the rabbis been trying to suppress the movement? The short answer is no. Judaism is a religion based on the revelation of G-d at Mt. Sinai defined by the observance of the Torah G-d saw fit for His people to observe. The Messianic movement is based on Jesus/Yeshua, plain and simple, the core doctrines of the Messianic movement aren't based on much more than him. Torah tells us in Numbers 23:19 that G-d is not a man, and Judaism maintains that any belief that contradicts the Torah especially on this topic is not legitimate Torah observance, and thus is not Judaism. The Messianic movement teaches that Jesus/Yeshua is not only a man, but he's also of equal divinity as G-d Himself (and in fact is G-d, G-d forbid) and worshipped as a god (Philippians 2:5-8, John 20:28, Matthew 28:17). That's a pretty clear distinction, Judaism is partially defined by our acceptance of the fact that a man cannot be G-d, the Messianic movement holds a contradictory view. That means that the Messianic movement was never a legitimate part of Judaism. In fact, based on conversations I've had with Messianic leaders in various parts of the US, the leadership of the movement is well aware that they are a completely different religion from Judaism and makes no effort to disguise that. Though you won't hear them preach that from the pulpit, they generally stick to claiming that Judaism rejects them as a legitimate form of Judaism because of their belief that Jesus/Yeshua is the Messiah. But as you can see from this article, there's good reason to not believe their claim that Jesus/Yeshua is the Messiah. The reason that Judaism doesn't accept the Messianic movement as a legitimate form of Judaism is because it's not, it's a religion that contradicts the Torah almost every step of the way, though the Messianic movement was designed to look superficially Jewish. So no, the Messianic movement was never a legitimate form of Judaism, so no rabbis are trying to suppress anything in rejecting the Messianic movement as a different religion.
Let's examine the last claim about the Messianic movement. Is it really just another form of Christianity that's making an attempt to return back to a form of Judaism? The Messianic movement, as I stated before, is not monolithic, so there are several different groups that are part of the movement. The Messianic movement of today is partly composed of older groups that were missionary organisations who had the goal of converting Jews to Christianity, and it's partly composed of newer groups that formed in the 20th century with the same goal, and in the 20th century the older and newer groups merged into what we now know as the Messianic movement. Keep that in mind, the Messianic movement is a denomination of Christianity that has always had the goal of converting Jews to Christianity. So let's look at the history of some of these groups so that we can gain an appreciation of the history of the Messianic movement. The London Society of Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews was formed in 1809 by the Anglican Church (called the Episcopal Church in the United States and some other English speaking countries) with the goal of converting Jews to Christianity, as the name implies. It was originally founded by two non-Jewish Anglican clergymen in an attempt to convert Jews to Christianity and to show the Christian Church its Jewish roots. The group went through a couple name changes, first to the London Jews' Society, then to the Church's Ministry Among Jewish People which is the current name. This is the first recorded group of ethnic Jews who converted to Christianity (or ethnic Jews descended from converts to Christianity) that worshipped together as a congregation. They called themselves "Hebrew Christians" and used the Anglican Book of Common Prayer translated into Hebrew as their prayer book. The first stand-alone congregation of this group was called "Benei Abraham" and was founded in 1813. The American Society for Meliorating the Condition of the Jews was incorporated in 1820, "to invite and receive, from any part of the world, such Jews as do already profess the Christian religion, or are desirous to receive Christian instruction (meaning they tried to convert Jews to Christianity), to form them into a settlement (a church), and to furnish them with the ordinances of the gospel, and with such employment in the settlement as shall be assigned them; but no one shall be received, unless he comes well recommended for morals and industry, and without charge to this society." In 1855, there were reports of some scandals involving the leader of the society, and the group ceased to exist by 1867. The Jewish Converts' Society was formed in 1823 for the purpose of mutual edification and the important work of converting Jews to Christianity. In 1824, non-Jewish Christians began to be admitted to the society. In 1826, the leader was accused of heresy and the Jewish Converts' Society ceased to exist. The Brotherhood of Jewish Proselytes was formed in 1844. Its founder was Silian Bonhomme, a French Jew, who was a faithful traveling missionary of the American Society for Meliorating the Condition of the Jews. The group ceased to exist in 1844 due to pressure and a smear campaign from the American Baptist Association for Evangelising the Jews. The American Baptist Association for Evangelizing the Jews was formed in 1844 by S. H. Cone and Joseph Frey, who thought it was his duty to counteract as much as possible the missionary work of all non-Baptists. In 1885, the first Hebrew Christian church was founded in New York. In 1860 the Hebrew Christian Alliance was founded in England as an organisation dedicated to converting Jews to Christianity and establishing Hebrew Christian churches to serve the Jews that they would convert. It was founded by Dr. Carl Schwartz, and later absorbed Henry Aaron Stern's Hebrew Christian Prayer Union as a part of it in 1882. This group is known today under the name "the British Messianic Jewish Alliance". In the 1890s, Jewish converts to Christianity immigrated to the United States and founded the Hope of Israel mission to try to convert American Jews to Christianity, and they put out the first Hebrew Christian monthly magazine called "Our Hope". Hope of Israel was controversial in the Christian world because many non-Jewish Christians accused them of being Judaisers (people who tried to make Christianity more observant of Torah), which is still a problem among many Messianics today. The accusations distressed the movement so much that many people abandoned it and one of the editors of "Our Hope", Arno Gaebelein, actually left the movement to pursue his former life as a Methodist pastor. The group has ceased to exist. The Brownsville Mission to the Jews was formed in 1894 by Leopold Cohn, a Jewish immigrant who converted to Christianity. In 1924, the organization changed its name to "the American Board of Missions to the Jews" to better reflect their goal of converting Jews to Christianity. In 1984, the name was changed again to its current name, "Chosen People Ministries". In 1915 the Hebrew Christian Alliance of America was founded as a movement dedicated to converting Jews to Christianity and dedicated to alleviate the fears of mainstream Christianity that Hebrew Christians were judaisers. They officially maintained that they were not a separate movement from mainstream Christianity, but that they were only "an evangelistic arm of the evangelical church", even though they outwardly appeared Jewish. I can't stress enough that they claimed to be evangelical Christians and not a separate movement. In 1975, the HCAA officially changed its name to the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America. In the 1940s and '50s missionaries in the Land of Israel officially adopted the term "Meshichim/Messianic" rather than the term "Notzri/Christian" because they felt that it would make it easier for a Jew to convert if he didn't have to call himself a Christian. The Association of Hebrew Catholics, the Remnant of Israel, and Miriam bat Tzion are all Catholic missions to convert Jews to Catholic Christianity that no longer seem to try to convert Jews, and even though some of them keep to some parts of the Torah, they are in full communion with the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) and they blend some elements of Jewish observance with Roman Catholicism. Probably the best way to think of them is as "Hebrew-rite Catholics" who have their own distinct form of Messianic Judaism, as opposed to being full-fledged Messianic Jews or Latin-rite Catholics. The term "Hebrew Catholics" was first used by Fr. Elias Friedman, who is himself a Jewish convert to Catholic Christianity. In the 1960s and 70s, Hebrew Christianity took an interesting turn. Many of the Hebrew Christians wanted to actually retain their Jewish cultural heritage and identity, as opposed to abandoning their cultural heritage and only retaining their cultural identity as Jewish converts to Christianity. They began to band together in what they believed was a prophetic movement of culturally Jewish Christians returning to some aspects of the Torah in order to not lose their Jewish identity, which they believed would be needed in the end times. Their various modern movements view their unique eschatology as being dependant upon their retaining their cultural identity as Jews. Their modern movements are even more dedicated to converting Jews to Christianity than before, but now they do it by appearing to be Torah observant Jews rather than blatantly trying to convert their fellow Jews to Christianity. It should stand out that they were not returning to Judaism, but they were creating a Jewish flavoured form of Christianity. The Hebrew Christian Alliance of America changed their name to Messianic Jewish Alliance of America to reflect their shift from just another arm of a non-Jewish denomination of Christianity into their own distinct denomination. The International Alliance of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues is the international arm of the MJAA, and has congregations in several countries. The Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations was founded in 1979 and takes part in extensive missionary work to the Jewish people. The Orthodox Netzari Jewish Union was founded in the 1970s in an attempt to keep Messianics Torah observant, and did not make any effort to convert Jews. The group was led by Moshe Gomez and purported to be an actual continuation of the earlier Ebionites of the 4th century and carried on at least some of their teachings and practises, including forming their own order of the Mishnah and studying it in addition to the Mishnah and the rest of the Oral Torah of Judaism. The group ceased to exist about three years ago, in 2014. The Coalition of Torah Observant Messianic Congregations was founded in 2006 in an attempt to appear to be Orthodox Jews who embrace Jesus/Yeshua as the Messiah in an effort to convert observant (Orthodox) Jews to Christianity. The Union of Conservative Messianic Jewish Synagogues was founded as an attempt to convert Jews in the Conservative movement to Christianity in addition to developing strong Messianic believers. In 1998, the Messianic Israel Alliance was founded as a missionary effort to convert Jews to Christianity and to judaise (make Christians more Jewish) non-Jewish Christians in the belief that if they accepted Jesus/Yeshua as the Messiah then they must also be physically descended from the "Ten Lost Tribes of Israel". In 2001, about half of the MIA's congregations split from the MIA and founded the Union of Two House Congregations, then changed their name to the Union of Nazarene Yisraelite Congregations in 2003. In 2013, after ten years of close association with another Nazarene association, the two groups formally merged into one group, the Worldwide Nazarene Assembly of Elohim led by James Trimm. And they have multiple congregations in several different countries. Jews For Jesus was founded in 1973 by Martin Rosen (he changed his name to Moshe to sound more Jewish), a Jewish convert to Christianity, in an effort to convert Jews to Christianity and resurrect the all but dead Hebrew Christian movement. This is nowhere near all of the Messianic groups that have existed or currently exist, but the majority of the other groups that are still around are groups that have broken off of the ones I mentioned here and they are small groups.
You may have noticed that almost all of these Hebrew Christian/Messianic groups have the common goal of converting Jews to Christianity. In fact, that was the stated purpose of the Hebrew Christian movement that the Messianic movement grew out of. Since the surviving movements actively try to convert Jews to Christianity, I think it's safe to say that the modern Messianic movement was never an attempt to bring Christianity back to its Jewish roots. The Messianic movement started out almost exclusively as an attempt to convert Jews to Christianity, but has evolved into its own special denominational breed of Christianity. It is true that the different groups all want to convert Jews to Christianity, but they seem to have gotten distracted by their own heritage and appear to be slowly moving back toward the Judaism that most of the Jewish members of the movement never knew. In all honesty, a lot of the people in the movement are studying Judaism a little deeper and are discovering that they have been lied to about the Messianic movement really being Jewish. As they learn more about Judaism, they learn that it's not possible for Jesus/Yeshua to really be the Messiah according to Scripture. And as they learn that, they generally leave the movement and either return to mainstream Christianity, leave religion altogether, become Noahides (for non-Jews), or they join the world of Torah in Judaism.
So what is the Messianic movement? It's a Jewish flavoured denomination of Christianity that was originally founded to convert Jews to Christianity. Let me say that again because I cannot over stress it: The Messianic movement is and always has been a part of evangelical Christianity, so "Messianics" are actually just Christians who wear a kippah and talit on Saturday and superficially appear to be a Jewish movement. Most Messianics are sincerely misled into believing that the Messianic movement is Judaism, but it is really just another kind of evangelical Christianity. In fact, the majority of Messianic leaders are ordained under various non-Jewish Christian denominations. Now that you know the origins of the Messianic movement, I encourage you to study Judaism for a while, particularly why we don't accept the claim that Jesus/Yeshua is the Scriptural Messiah. If you're Jewish by birth, we encourage you to visit your local Orthodox synagogue and study with them for a while to learn about the covenant that G-d has called you to be a part of and the Torah that He gave to you out of His love. If you're not Jewish, we encourage you to learn about the seven universal laws, also called the Noahide Laws, and reject Jesus/Yeshua as a god so that you can keep the seven universal laws. You can visit your local Orthodox synagogue and learn with them if there's one near you. If you'd like more information about anything discussed here, or if you'd like to talk to someone about Judaism or the seven universal laws, contact us by clicking here.