JEWISH CONVERSION : STEPS INTO MESSIANIC FAITH
by Robert Brow (www.brow.on.ca) Kingston, Ontario, April 2006
For many Jews it makes less and less sense to believe in the Messiah coming one day to set up a Jewish state. Surely the Messiah has to be King for people of all nations. And his reign cannot be in the distant future but rather a present reality all over the world. Rulers and kings are always under his ultimate control. That was the perception of the Jewish psalm writers from the time of King David :
"The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and his Messiah" (Psalms 2:2).
"O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth" (Psalm 8:1, 9; 47:2).
"The LORD’s throne is in heaven. His eyes behold, his gaze examines humankind" (Psalm 11:4; 74:12).
"Dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations" (22:28; 45:6; 47:8).
"The LORD is king, he is robed in majesty . . . your throne is established from of old, you are from everlasting" (93:1-2; 99:1-2; 102:12; 103:19).
There is no suggestion that the Messiah’s reign would be delayed to some time in the future. This same faith in the present reign of the Messiah King is also found among the Old Testament prophets:
"The Sovereign, the LORD of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel" (Isaiah 1:24; 3:1; 10:33; 19:4. The term "LORD of hosts" used here occurs dozens of times).
"Thus says the LORD; Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool" (Isaiah 66:1).
"The LORD is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King" (Jeremiah 10:10).
"As I live, says the King, whose name is the LORD of hosts" (Jeremiah 46:18; 48:15; 51:57-58).
Again and again in the above texts the name of the eternally reigning Messiah King is the LORD.
As explained in Bruce Metzger’s introduction to the New Revised Standard Version the word LORD in capital letters is used to translate the four Hebrew consonants YHWH. It seems certain that this name was originally pronounced "Yahweh." In the Middle Ages the Jewish rabbis thought this word was too sacred to be pronounced and they attached the vowel signs for Adonai which means Lord. The NRSV term the LORD occurs in many places throughout the Old Testament. In every case the LORD is the name of the Sovereign Messiah King of the Old Testament. In the Greek New Testament the term Christos (the anointed one) was used, and in the NRSV this was properly translated "Messiah" (as in Matthew 1:1, 16-18 and throughout the Gospels and in Acts 2:36 before reverting to the transliteration "Christ").
It is time both Jews and Christians changed their perception of the term "Messiah" to refer to the King of kings and Lord of lords who has always, and is still, reigning among the nations. We defined conversion as resulting in a new way of living. Instead of longing and praying that the Messiah will come one day, there is the faith that the Messiah is reigning among all nations. We have the confidence to address him personally as "My Lord, My King, My Sovereign, My Redeemer." In C.S.Lewis’ Narnia stories he was known as Aslan, the Lion of the tribe of Judah (an image taken from Revelation 5:5).
A second step of conversion is when we begin to make a distinction between the reigning Messiah King and the love of God the Father. The LORD is actively engaged with humans, and appears among them from time to time (as in Genesis 12:7; 17:1; 18:1, 22; 26:2, 24; 28:13; 32:30; 35:9). But the Father works behind the scenes and is never seen by human eyes (see John 1:18). This moves us away from the Unitarian model of God adopted in Islam. There are also Old Testament references to ruakh elohim, the Wind of God (as in Genesis 1:2, Judges 3:10, 6:34; 11:29; 1 Samuel 10:6; 11:6; Psalm 104:30). And once a Jew gives a personality to the Holy Spirit he or she is using a Trinitarian model of God as three Persons eternally held together by love.
By adopting a Trinitarian model of the complexity within the oneness of God a Jew does not become less Jewish than the strict orthodox rabbis. In Israel Jews are free to be atheists or to live by any vision of God that suits them. What is important is that the new way of living resulting from this conversion is a great enhancement in our freedom to pray and worship. Obviously the Father or the Son or the Holy Spirit are not going to refuse to hear us if we make a mistake and use the wrong name. But the threefold experience of God so to speak above us, God beside us, and God within us, opens up the vast riches of what the three Persons are doing in us, in the lives of others, and in the world.
A third step in Jewish conversion is an exploration of the person of Jesus of Nazareth. For many centuries he was hated as the cause of the terrible persecutions that Jews endured all over Europe. In our day Jews are more and more fascinated by his Jewishness. And each of the twelve apostles, Jesus’ brother James, and Paul, the great convert, all turn out to be as Jewish as can be imagined. The term "Christian" was only invented many years later in the great city of Antioch (Acts 11:26).
Jesus propagated his teaching, as John the Baptist had done, by enrolling disciples (learners). The enrolment was by baptism with water. Pharisees complained that "Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John" (John 4:1). In Christendom people are still formally enrolled by baptism to begin learning from Jesus. But millions are learning from him without the Christian rite. Jews are fascinated by Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, and his remarks about little children and Jewish freedom from the kosher laws. "Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile . . . Thus he declared all food clean . . . it is what comes out of a person that defiles" (Mark 7:18-21; Acts 10:13-15). Evidently millions of Jews already exercise the freedom to eat what seems good for their health without being any less Jewish for setting aside the traditional rules.
A fourth step in a full conversion is beginning to meet with others to learn about the love of God and how we can be empowered by the Holy Spirit to love one another. As Jesus explained, this cannot be learned alone. Christians used to insist that Jews who wanted to learn from Jesus had to be baptized and join one of their denominations. Now we recognize that this learning can take place in an informal household gathering (see the households in Romans 16:3-16). More and more of our Jewish friends find that they can explore their freedom and Jewishness in a congregation of Messianic Jews. Most of all they are attracted to the New Testament, which not only explains how Jews can be true children of Abraham, but also shows how people of all nations are being included under that one faith (see Genesis 12:3; Acts 10:34-35).
Christian and Jewish traditionalists find this unstructured approach to faith very hard to fit into their system. But if we are right in this article, conversion is not a matter of submitting to a label or the traditions of a particular denominational discipline. As Jesus, and his apostle Paul kept insisting, true Abrahamic faith is childlike and a matter of the heart (Matthew 18:1-4; 19:13-14; John 1:12; Romans 2:28-29; 4:1-17). Compared with the rigid dividing lines of previous centuries, Christians and Jews are insisting on their common faith.