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The Model for the Messianic Community
“Christian” or “Messianic?”
Fast-forward another few years. Rabbi Sha’ul has completed a number of missionary trips throughout the entire Mediterranean region, and has returned to Jerusalem for a visit. Upon his arrival Ya`akov and a number of the other Zakenim report to him a false rumor they have heard:
Now what they have been told about you [Sha’ul] is that you are teaching all the Jews living among the Goyim to apostatize from Moshe, telling them not to have a b’rit-milah for their sons and not to follow the traditions. (Acts 21:21).
Of course this was not true, and to demonstrate to the entire Messianic Community, both in Jerusalem and throughout the Diaspora, that the rumor was false, Sha’ul agreed to publicly demonstrate his obedience to Torah by undergoing a purification ritual in the Temple along with four other members of the Jerusalem Community, so that “everyone will know that there is nothing to these rumors which they have heard about you; but that, on the contrary, you yourself stay in line and keep the Torah.” (Acts 21:24). Sha’ul had emphatically not been teaching that Torah had been cancelled, or that obedience to Torah is optional, but only that Gentiles coming to Messiah do not need to be circumcised to become righteous (since it is saving faith alone, and not any physical ritual, which makes one righteous).
Please hear me well: Sha’ul never stopped being a Jew to become a Christian! Neither did the multiplies tens of thousands of Jews in Jerusalem who had come to faith in the Messiah by this time.
During Sha’ul’s meeting with the Zakenim, they had told him, “You see, brother, how many tens of thousands of believers there are among the Judeans, and they are all zealots for the Torah.” (Acts 21:20)
As David Stern correctly translates in the Complete Jewish Bible, the Greek word in this sentence that most English translations render as “thousands” is the Greek word muriaß (murias), which should be translated “myriads,” which means “ten thousand,” not “thousand.”
By most estimates, the population of Jerusalem at this time was about a hundred thousand. One or two myriads would not be referred to as “how many myriads,” but three or four myriads might be, and three or four myriads would represent between 30 and 40 percent of the population of Jerusalem at the time.
And these Messianic Jews were all still zealous for the Torah. They had given up nothing of their “Jewishness” in order to become “Christians.”
Later, at his trial before the Kohen Gadol Hananyah and the Sanhedrin, Sha’ul did not say that he used to be a Pharisee; he said, “Brothers, I myself am [presently] a Parush and the son of P’rushim” (Acts 23:6).
A few days later he stood before Governor Felix, and again defended his “Jewishness:”
“But this I do admit to you: I worship the God of our fathers in accordance with the Way (which they call a sect). I continue to believe everything that accords with the Torah and everything written in the Prophets. And I continue to have a hope in God — which they too accept — that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous. Indeed, it is because of this that I make a point of always having a clear conscience in the sight of both God and man. After an absence of several years, I came to Yerushalayim to bring a charitable gift to my nation and to offer sacrifices. It was in connection with the latter that they found me in the Temple. I had been ceremonially purified, I was not with a crowd, and I was not causing a disturbance.” (Acts 24:14-18).
Two years later Sha’ul was still in prison in Caesarea, and was brought before the new governor, Festus. He told Festus, “I have committed no offense — not against the Torah to which the Jews hold, not against the Temple, and not against the Emperor.” (Acts 25:8).
The only possible interpretation of these statements is obvious: Sha’ul was still living a totally Torah-observant life-style.
Several days later, Sha’ul appeared before King Agrippa, and challenged him to find any fault with his Jewish life-style, because Agrippa was “so well informed about all the Jewish customs and controversies” (Acts 26:3), and Agrippa was unable to find any fault in him.
Months later, Sha’ul finally arrived in Rome to be placed in prison awaiting his trial before Caesar. Soon after his arrival, he called together the leaders of the Jewish community in Rome and essentially presented himself for their examination. “Brothers, although I have done nothing against either our people or the traditions of our fathers, I was made a prisoner in Yerushalayim and handed over to the Romans” (Acts 28:17). And they replied to him, “We have not received any letters about you from Y’hudah, and none of the brothers who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you” (Acts 28:21).
The Book of Acts ends with Sha’ul spending an additional two years in a Roman prison. While many believe it was this imprisonment which ended with his martyrdom, others believe (primarily from information found in 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus) that Paul was released, preached several more years, perhaps going all the way to Spain (cf. Romans 15:24), and was then returned to Rome to be executed (ca. 64-67 CE), probably by Nero as part of his plot to blame the burning of Rome on the Messianic Jews.
But nowhere in either sacred or secular history is there any evidence that Sha’ul (or any of the other Shliachim or any of the early Messianic Jewish Believers) died as anything other than Torah-observant Jew who knew and trusted Yeshua as Israel’s Messiah.
Sha’ul didn’t “plant” any “churches” as we know them, and he never taught anything other than the Judaism in which he was raised and lived his entire life, with the addition of a resurrected Messiah and the inclusion of Gentiles in God’s plan of redemption.
On his missionary journeys he always went to the synagogue in every city and there he preached Yeshua as the resurrected Messiah. Some believed and others didn’t believe. Among those who believed he appointed Zakenim to be their shepherds, but he never encouraged them to leave the synagogue, and he never taught against the Torah or against a Torah-observant life-style.
Not many years before his death he is recorded speaking to the Jewish leaders in Rome, but not about anything called “the church,” but about the “sect of Judaism” (Acts 28:22) that had come to be known as “the Way” — the exact same sect of Judaism that today we call “Messianic Judaism.”
111. Elders. [RETURN]
112. Circumcision. [RETURN]
113. High Priest Ananias. [RETURN]
114. Pharisee. [RETURN]
115. Pharisees. [RETURN]
116. Please note that “the Way,” also called the “sect of the Natzarim [Nazarenes]” (Acts 24:5) was not considered a different religion, but only a sect of Judaism, as were the P'rushim [Pharisees] (Acts 15:5), Tz'dukim [Sadducees] (Acts 5:17), Zealots (Luke 6:15), and Essenes. [RETURN]
117. Judea. [RETURN]
118. Elders. [RETURN]