How Did Jewish Yeshua Become Gentile Jesus?

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Jonathan Bernis shares how the Jewish community of faith was extended to the Gentiles

Sadly, Judaism and Christianity are today distinctly separate religious institutions with very little in common. Considerable animosity remains in the wake of an almost 2,000-year legacy of hatred and persecution against Jews in the Name of Christ and Christianity. At the root, historic Christianity blames the Jewish People for killing their Savior, Jesus Christ. Jews reject this notion, placing blame on the Romans. For true Bible Believers, we know that neither the Jews nor the Romans were at fault. Jesus laid down His life for us as the Lamb of God, to take away the sins of mankind.

How is it possible that a message so grounded in the Torah, the prophets, and Jewish history has become so distorted? After all, Jesus was a Jew. His given name was a Hebrew name—Yeshua, which means “salvation.” All of His first followers were Jews who faithfully retained their Jewish identity and continued to observe their biblical practices such as worshiping in the Temple on Shabbat. How did the Messiah of Israel become a blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryan figure—someone Jews do not recognize because He looks so much like a Gentile?

We first need to understand that it was always God’s plan to bring the Gentiles into His Kingdom. John 3:16 NKJV reveals that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. That said, Yeshua’s earthly ministry was directed solely to the Jewish People (see Matthew 15:24). And for the first thirty years of what later came to be known as Christianity, the community of faith was limited to Jews and proselytes to Judaism. Even though it had been prophesied, these Jewish Believers had no idea that the Gospel would ever include the Gentiles.

All this changes in Acts 10 when Peter had his vision in Jaffa. He is shown something like a sheet full of animals being let down from heaven that included reptiles and other creatures that no law-abiding Jew would eat. As he saw this vision, Peter heard a voice tell him to eat this food and not to call anything impure that God has made clean. The vision repeated itself three times, and the Spirit told him to go and greet three men who were looking for him. “Go with them,” God said, “for I have sent them” (Acts 10:20).

He is led to Caesarea to the home of Cornelius, a Roman centurion, and comes to recognize that the message of salvation is now opening to him and his family. With full understanding of the true meaning of the vision in Jaffa, Peter then proclaimed, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears Him and does what is right.” (Acts 10:34-35). After Peter shares the Good News of Yeshua, the Holy Spirit is poured out on them and Cornelius and his family become the first Gentile followers of Yeshua in history.

Back in Jerusalem, the news of this event stirred considerable controversy. Acts 11:2-3 says, So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised Believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.” But after Peter explained what had happened, They had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18). It was further determined in the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 that Gentiles who embraced Israel’s Messiah did not need to convert to Judaism to be in fellowship with Jewish Believers, but simply follow some basic biblically based requirements: It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things (Acts 15:28-29).

After this decision, the Gospel spread quickly through the Gentile World through the ministry of Paul, Barnabas, and others. At the same time, the relationship between Jews who accepted Yeshua as Messiah and those who rejected Him continued to decline and persecution intensified. In fact, one reason for this was that Jewish Believers now welcomed Gentiles into their ranks, treating them as equals. This was not something a religious Jew of those times could easily tolerate.

The final break within the Jewish Community occurred early in the second century, when a famous Rabbi named Akiba declared that Simon Bar Kochba, the leader of the Jewish forces fighting against Rome, was the Messiah. Until this time, Jewish Believers in Jesus fought side by side with their non-believing countrymen. Now, in light of this declaration, the Jewish Believers could no longer support the war and departed, leading to the complete defeat of the Jewish resistance and dispersion of the Jewish People.

By the mid-second century A.D., the Emperor Hadrian banned circumcision. Over the next century, Gentiles dominated the Believing Community and treated unbelieving Jews as enemies of their Lord. The relationship between these early Gentile Christians and the Jewish People continued to deteriorate and by the year A.D. 306, the Council of Elvira in Spain banned the intermarriage of Christians and Jews.

Nineteen years later, after Constantine the Great converted to Christianity, the Council of Nicea convened to seek unity within the Church. No Jewish Believers were invited. That was not a surprise, for the attendees issued an edict separating Easter from Passover. “We desire, dearest brethren, to separate ourselves from the detestable company of the Jews,” they wrote. “How then, could we follow these Jews, who are almost certainly blinded?”1 In the years that followed, other Jewish practices such as Shabbat were banned and declared heretical.

The unwritten doctrine some now call “Replacement Theology,” gained momentum, teaching that because the Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah and were responsible for His death, the Church or “The New Israel” had taken their place as God’s Chosen People. This erroneous theory set the stage for centuries of adversity and atrocities against the Jewish People such as the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Holocaust.

Clearly, these divisions had nothing to do with what Yeshua actually taught. Rather, they are the result of gross misinterpretations of the New Testament. At its root, it is a demonic strategy to twist the truth and keep the Gospel from reaching those for whom it was originally intended, the Jewish People. I am certain that Yeshua is grieved over the terrible things that have been done to them in His name. Sadly, most Jews have come to equate Jesus with the actions of those who claim to be His followers.

Jesus repeatedly stated that His ministry was to His own People—the People of Israel. He came for His own, and although many did follow Him, it is true that most of His own did not (see John 1:10-11). Jesus wept over Jerusalem because He loved His Land and His People. He will not return until they recognize who He truly is and embrace Him as Messiah and Lord (see Matthew 23:37-39). And that day is coming soon!

1. Henry R. Percival, ed., “Constantine I: On the Keeping of Easter,” Internet Medieval Sourcebook, March 23, 1997, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/nicea1.txt.

 

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