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How Old is Messianic Judaism?

Updated: May 18, 2023

Rav Richard ‘Aharon’ Chaimberlin

ONE of the occasional questions we receive is, “How old is Messianic Judaism?” The common assumption is that Messianic Judaism is a relatively modern religion, about a half-century old. There is the mistaken assumption that Messianic Judaism is the result of merging Judaism with Christianity. They are surprised when I tell them that Messianic Judaism is older than Christianity!

In the first two centuries, Christianity was quite pure, with very little difference between Messianic Judaism. The first ones to be known as Christians were Gentile believers in Antioch.[1] As the number of Gentiles increased, they eventually began forming their own congregations.

There is a process called syncretism, which is the merger of two or more philosophies, religions, parties, or principles. I assure you: Messianic Judaism is not a syncretic religion in which Judaism and Christianity suddenly joined to create a new religion. Christianity did not even exist when Messianic Judaism first appeared on the world stage! However, Christianity eventually became a syncretic religion, merging the Biblical faith with various non-biblical faiths to make Christianity more appealing to the pagan and non-Christian masses. Christians also wanted to make a separation between Judaism and Christianity in later centuries.

The Eseret HaD’varim (“Ten Commandments,” but literally “Ten Sayings”) were given to Moshe on Mount Sinai in the third month.[2] The month of Sivan is the third month of the sacred calendar of Leviticus 23. Therefore, the Rabbis believe that the Eseret HaD’varim were given on Shavuot, and I concur. Shavuot, therefore, is usually celebrated as the “birthday of Judaism,” because Torah is foundational to Judaism.

Shavuot (“Pentecost” or “Weeks”) is one of the Holy Days of Leviticus 23, celebrated in the month of Sivan on the modern Jewish calendar. Unlike all other Holy Days such as Yom Kippur (“Day of Atonement”), there is no exact date given for its celebration. Instead, we are instructed to begin a count of 50 days beginning the day after the Shabbat that occurs during Pesach (“Passover”). The count ends 50 days later,[3] after the seventh Shabbat.[4] The day after Shabbat is Yom Rishon (“Sunday”), which biblically begins at sunset on “Saturday” and ends at sunset 24 hours later. Rabbinically, the count begins after the first day of Passover, and ends 50 days later, which can be on any day of the week. We choose to celebrate it according to the biblical reckoning, on Yom Rishon, “Sunday.” This is also the day on which the ancient Sadducees observed it, as do also the Karaites of today.

Almost 1500 years after Moses, the outpouring of the Ruakh HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) occurred on Shavuot. You can read all about it in Acts chapter 2. Christians call this day Pentecost, based on the Greek word for 50, as it is 50 days after the Shabbat that occurs during Passover. Because of this outpouring of the Spirit in Acts 2, Pentecost (Shavuot) is often celebrated as the birthday of Christianity.

One little problem: Christianity did not even exist at that time. These were all Jews and proselytes to Judaism who had come to the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) to worship God in one of the Shalosh Regalim (Three Pilgrimage Festivals), as commanded in Scripture.[5] They did not suddenly become Christians. They continued being loyal sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They continued observing Shabbat, the Holy Days of Leviticus 23, and the dietary laws. In Jerusalem alone, we learn that there were myriads (tens of thousands) of Jews who believed in Yeshua and were “all zealous for Torah (the ‘Law’)[6].”

As such, this wasn’t the birthday of Christianity – certainly not Christianity as it is known today. It is more correctly a movement within Judaism, which we today call Messianic Judaism. In the First Century, it was known as HaDerekh – "the Way."

Shavuot is also a harvest festival, also called Yom HaBikkurim (“Day of First Fruits”), for the wheat harvest. There is another Yom HaBikkurim during Passover for the barley harvest. Yeshua was resurrected at the beginning of Yom HaBikkurim during Passover, the First Fruits of the Resurrection.

During Shavuot, the Ruach HaKodesh was poured out, during the Yom HaBikkurim (First Fruits) of the wheat harvest. Three thousand brand-new Messianic Jews were immersed that day.[7] By the way, it is obvious that the events of Acts chapter two occurred at the Temple. Nobody else in Jerusalem had a house that would hold many thousands of people except God! And nobody else had enough mikveh baths for the tevilah (ritual immersion in water – “baptism”), except for God.

On Shavuot, two loaves of leavened bread were waved before God in the Temple. As in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8, the leavening or “chametz” is symbolic of sin.[8] According to the Rabbis, the two loaves of leavened bread represent both Jew and Gentile – contaminated by sin – being presented to God.

The work of atonement was accomplished for us by Yeshua, as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” [9] This is pure grace, whereby Yeshua became our Passover Lamb. The Passover lambs in Egypt purchased freedom for the Israelite slaves. However, freedom without laws to guard that freedom would soon descend into chaos. Therefore, 50 days later, the Torah (“Law”) was given to us on Mount Sinai to protect that freedom. For this reason, Judaism teaches that Passover without Shavuot is incomplete. Therefore, another term for Shavuot is Atzeret Shel Pesach (“the Completion of Passover”).

After Yeshua finished this work of atonement on our behalf, He sent the Spirit of God to enable us to overcome sin. “Moreover, I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you, and I will take away the heart of stone from your flesh, and give you a heart of flesh, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you shall keep my ordinances and do them.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

It is the power of the Holy Spirit that enables us to live the New Covenant lifestyle described in Jeremiah 31:31-33: “I will make a New Covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah… This is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days… I will put My Law (Torah – or “teaching”) in their inward parts and write it in their hearts.” According to Acts 5:32, “God has given the Holy Spirit to those who obey Him.”

The New Covenant was made only with the houses of Israel and Judah. It was not made with any Gentiles. However, Romans 11:17-24 tells us that Yeshua grafts Gentiles into the Jewish Olive Tree. Any Gentile who refuses to be grafted into the Jewish Olive Tree has no covenant relationship with God.

Because Shavuot is a harvest festival, it is traditional to read the book of Ruth during this holiday. Rav Michael Washer wrote, “When a Gentile accepts the Jewish Messiah, Yeshua, that person is grafted in against nature into the Jewish people and becomes a partaker of the rich root of Judaism. However, this requires the same kind of forsaking the past and following that Ruth exhibited.”

It is also traditional to read Exodus 19-20, Numbers 28:26-31, and Ezekiel 1, 3:12. And of course we like to add Acts 1 and 2 to the readings.

“You shall receive power…”

Since Shavuot is a Biblical Jewish Holy Day (and a pilgrimage festival – Deut. 16:16), it should not be surprising that many myriads (tens of thousands) of Jews were gathered to worship in Jerusalem on this day. In ancient Israel, it was among the three most important festivals, the other two being Pesach (Passover) and Sukkot (Tabernacles). These were the only festivals in which the men were commanded to travel to the Beit HaMikdash (“Temple”) in Jerusalem, if they were at all able.

In modern Judaism, the holidays of Yom T’ruwah (Rosh HaShanah--Trumpets) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) are the most important holidays, in which the synagogues are filled, whereas Shavuot and Sukkot are not as widely observed or celebrated today.

Many years ago, “Pentecost Sunday” was widely observed in Christian churches. Surprisingly, most modern Pentecostal and Charismatic churches tend to ignore this day. It would be neat to see Christians observing at least one biblical holiday. I can tell you with certainty that during the Millennium, Christians will be commanded to observe Sukkot,[10] and presumably the other Biblical holidays as well.

Because of the importance of Shavuot, and especially the importance of this Shavuot almost 2000 years ago, Yeshua commanded His talmidim (disciples) to remain in Jerusalem,[11] saying, “You shall be immersed with the Ruakh HaKodesh not many days from now.”

Prior to Yeshua’s ascension to Heaven, His talmidim asked Him, “Lord, is it at this time that You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?”[12] Yeshua did not criticize them in any way regarding the question. He is indeed coming back, and at that time will establish His Messianic Kingdom, and Isaiah 2:2-3 will come to pass:

Now it shall come about that in the last days, the mountain of the house of YHWH shall be established… And all the nations will stream to it. And many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of YHWH, to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may teach us concerning His ways, and that we may walk in His paths.” For the Law shall go forth from Zion, and the word of YHWH from Jerusalem.

Yeshua’s disciples were also good, patriotic Jews. It is only logical that they should ask Yeshua, “Lord, is it at this time that You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” Israel had been under the heavy hand of Rome for several decades. They now understood that Yeshua had paid the penalty for their transgressions against God’s commandments at Golgotha, but it was now finally the time to kick the Romans out and establish the Messianic Kingdom, or so they hoped. Imagine their disappointment if they had been told that they would have to wait almost 2000 years before Israel would become an independent nation again, and even longer before the Messianic Kingdom would be established!

It would have been too much to take. (We are still waiting! Yeshua, come quickly!) Yeshua answered their question by saying, “It is not for you to know the times and seasons, which the Father has fixed by His own authority. But you shall receive power after the Ruakh HaKodesh has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses, both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, even to the uttermost parts of the earth.”[13]

It is fine and dandy to speak in tongues, prophesy, and exhibit various other manifestations of the Holy Spirit. However, that is not the primary purpose of the Holy Spirit coming upon an individual. The primary purpose of the Holy Spirit coming upon people is to make them witnesses for Yeshua, beginning first at Jerusalem. As Rav Sha’ul wrote in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the Good News, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”

After Yeshua spoke these things, Yeshua ascended toward heaven, “and a cloud received Him out of their sight.” Two men in white apparel (angels?) suddenly appeared, saying, “You men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Yeshua, who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as you have seen him go into heaven.”[14] When Yeshua returns, it will be a visible return. In Revelation 1:7, we read, “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye shall see Him…” There is no “secret” coming of Yeshua, as is taught by some cults.

Second Chapter of Acts

And when the day of Shavuot had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the House where they were sitting. 3And there appeared to them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. 4And they were all filled with the Ruakh HaKodesh, and they began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:1-4)

These are the introductory verses to Acts chapter 2. In verse 1, we see that these events happened “when the day of Shavuot had fully come.” Each of the Holy Days of Leviticus 23 has a historical significance, a current spiritual reality, as well as a prophetic significance. Passover remembers the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt. Prophetically, it points to the death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua.

Yeshua commanded His talmidim to not leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, saying, “For Yochanan immersed with water, but you shall be immersed in the Ruakh HaKodesh not many days from now.”[15] Finally, in Acts chapter 2, we see the fulfillment of this promise, but it would not be until “the day of Shavuot had fully come.” God chose to pour out His Spirit on the disciples on Shavuot, one of the moedim(“appointed times”) of Leviticus 23. There were 120 disciples who were in an “upper room” of a House.

There is a place in Jerusalem which Christian tourists go to, which is called “the Upper Room.” I have been there, and I can safely assure you, it isn’t so! This so-called “Upper Room” was built by the Crusaders less than 900 years ago. The “upper room” referred to in this chapter was in the House of Adonai, that is, the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) in Jerusalem. This is the House referred to in 2 Chron. 5:14, 1 Kings 9:1, and many other places in Scripture. When the Temple was established, this was the destination that Jewish men were to travel to for the Shalosh Regalim (“Three Pilgrimage Festivals”) of Deuteronomy 16:16.

When the talmidim “began to speak in other tongues,” they were doing something that they had never done before. The “tongues” were actual human languages, spoken by the Jews of the various nations, as we see in Acts 2:8.

And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. 6Now when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were bewildered, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. 7And they were all amazed and marveled, saying one to another, “Behold, are not all these which speak Galileans? 8And how do we hear every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?... 12And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, “What does this mean?” 13Others mocking said, “These men are full of new wine.” (Acts 2:5-13)

WE find that this multitude of men had come in from many different nations. This is what you would expect because Shavuot was a pilgrimage festival. Those who had come were both Jews and proselytes (gerim, converts to Judaism). They heard the disciples speaking in the languages[16] of the various nations that they had come from. This puzzled them, because they recognized that the ones speaking these various languages were Galileans, and were not highly educated, sort of the “hillbillies” of Israel. They heard them speaking “in our tongues (languages) the wonderful works of God.”

I doubt that the disciples of Yeshua even fully understood themselves what was happening, or even had any understanding of what they were saying. This was a truly supernatural event. I have heard some say that the miracle wasn’t “speaking in tongues,” but in the “hearing.” In other words, the Galilean disciples may have spoken in Aramaic or Hebrew, but the Holy Spirit caused the people to hear them in their own languages. However, others mocked the talmidim, saying, “These men are full of new wine,” in other words, that they were drunk.[17] (New wine also contains alcohol, but at a much lower percentage.)

At this point, Shimon Kefa (Peter) got up and spoke to the myriads who had assembled in the Temple for Shavuot. He gave an amazing sermon, quoting from memory verses from Joel, the Psalms, and Kings, no Bible in hand. The only “books” available at that time were the large, bulky scrolls, usually found only in the beit knesset (synagogue).

The men were “pierced to the heart,” saying, “What shall we do?” Shimon Kefa said, “Repent, and let each of you be immersed in the name of Yeshua the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Ruakh HaKodesh.” In verse 41, we discover that thousands received the word that had been spoken, among whom were 3,000 that were immersed. In Judaism, the actual immersion is known as tevilah. The “baptismal tank” is called a mikveh. Nobody in Jerusalem had a house big enough or with enough “baths” to immerse 3,000 people in one day, except for God!

3,000 people! It’s interesting to note that when Moses was coming down Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments, he encountered the Israelites deeply immersed in the worship of the Golden Calf. Exodus 32:28 tells us that 3,000 men died in judgment that day.

Jews today still get “baptized.” However, Jews would not use the word “baptize.” There is the ritual immersion for those who had been ritually unclean, such as after the menstrual period or after contact with a dead body. Also, converts to Judaism are also immersed. The candidate immerses himself or herself – three times! During the third “dunking,” the candidate for conversion goes down as a Gentile but comes up as a Jew. The “baptizer” just supervises, to ensure that the candidate immerses himself completely including every strand of hair.

This is how the immersion would have been done in Acts 2:41. I believe that this is how John the Immerser would have “baptized” Yeshua. (By the way, John’s real name was Yochanan, and he was a Jew, not a Baptist!) In some of the “Jesus” movies, “John” sprinkles some water on Jesus. However, in a wonderful claymation video called “Miracle Maker,” Yochanan merely supervises Yeshua as Yeshua immerses Himself.[18] Very moving!

In Romans 6, Rav Sha’ul (“Paul”) writes about immersion, and tells us that with immersion, we identify with the death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua. We are considered “dead to sin, but alive to God in Messiah Yeshua.”[19] Symbolically, we go under as a sinner and are resurrected as a Believer. It is generally a public ceremony, as a witness to others. It is an outward ceremony demonstrating what has already taken place internally. Water baptism doesn’t “save” anyone. However, I do believe that there is an enablement that occurs in the life of an individual as (s)he obeys God in this area.

42And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. 44And all that believed were together and had all things common; 45And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. 46And they, continuing daily with one accord in the Temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their food with gladness and singleness of heart, 47praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the kehilah (congregation) daily such as should be saved. (Acts 2:42-47)

“Breaking bread” together is Jewish socializing. They did not have “the Lord’s supper” or “communion” everyday! There were also many “wonders and signs” taking place. I like to think that such signs and wonders will be restored to the kehillah (“congregation”) in our own days! They continued as good Jews worshipping in the Temple. They had all things in common, as with the modern-day kibbutz (Israeli collective commune, usually a farm). Communes have also appeared in other countries, past and present. This is pure communism, but it was voluntary communism, whereby the people voluntarily had all things in common. This is hugely different from the awful communist dictatorships and tyrannies of the Twentieth Century. However, even the voluntary communism of Acts 2 did not seem to survive long. You don’t read about it anymore after Acts 7.

The prophet Haggai wrote during the time when the Second Temple was being rebuilt, after the return of the Jews from Babylon. The old men who remembered the First Temple built by Solomon wept when they saw the foundation of the second house (Temple),[20] because it was so much smaller than the First Temple. Haggai (2:9) said, “The latter glory of this House shall be greater than the former glory…” The former glory under Solomon was amazing! YHWH filled the House with a cloud, and the glory was so strong that the cohenim (priests) could not stand to minister. When did any similar glory appear in the Second Temple? I would submit that it was the glory that occurred in Acts 2.

CUSTOMS: Dairy meals are traditionally eaten, as well as honey cake, to remind us of Israel “flowing with milk and honey” (Joshua 5:6). There is also a tradition to study Torah all night. The synagogue is often decorated with fruits and flowers.

[1] Acts 11:20-21, 11:26. [2] Sh’mot (Exodus) 19:1. [3] There is the tradition of “counting the omer.” However, Scripture commands us to “count the days” in Lev. 23:16. No one that I know has 50 omers of barley that they count! So, counting the omer would be strictly symbolic. [4] Vayikra (Leviticus) 23:11,15. [5] D’varim (Deuteronomy) 16:16. The other two pilgrimage feasts were Pesach and Sukkot. [6] Acts 21:20 [7] Acts 2:41. [8] More accurately, the chametz represents pride, because it “puffs up” the bread. However, pride was the first sin of HaSatan – the Adversary. From pride came all the other sins. [9] Yochanan (John) 1:29. [10] Zechariah 14:16-20. [11] Acts 1:4. [12] Acts 1:6. [13] Acts 1:8. [14] Acts 1:11. [15] Acts 1:4-5 [16] Actual languages, not gobbledygook. [17] Yes, new wine is also an alcoholic beverage. Hosea 4:11 says, “Harlotry, wine, and new wine take away the understanding.” [18] Available on DVD, © 1999, British Screen and Icon Entertainment International. [19] Romans 6:11. [20] Ezra 3:12-13.

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