By Sam Nadler
The answer to this question all depends on who Yeshua is! The New Covenant presents Yeshua as the Jewish Messiah (John 1:41, 45, 49, etc.). If He’s not the Jewish Messiah then no one should believe in Him, because His credentials to be the Savior of the World are based on His credentials as the Messiah of Israel. If He is the true Messiah, then it is kosher that I as a Jewish person believe in Him. And I would be a Jew in good standing with God, even if no one else agreed.
For argument’s sake, suppose that Yeshua is a false Messiah. Even if this were the case, in the eyes of rabbinical authority I must still be seen as a Jew. Why? Because believing in a false messiah does not make any Jew a non-Jew. In 132 CE, the rebel leader Simon Bar Kochba arose during the Jewish revolt against Rome. At this time, Rabbi Akiva (a very famous rabbi) declared Bar Kochba to be the Messiah, although Bar Kochba clearly had none of the accepted Messianic credentials. Akiva’s declaration appears to have been a pragmatic attempt to unite the Jews against Rome. However, no Jewish authority has ever said, “Akiva is no longer Jewish for believing in a false messiah.”
If, after endorsing a false messiah, Akiva is still considered to be a Jew in good standing, then one who believes Yeshua is Messiah cannot be considered otherwise.
In a synagogue on Long Island, New York, I once had the opportunity to give a presentation of why I believe Yeshua is the Messiah. Afterwards, the senior rabbi stood up and declared, “Nadler, you’re no longer a Jew because of your belief in Jesus!”
“Rabbi,” I responded, “If the Bostoner Rebbe says I’m still a Jew, though a wayward one, and if the Encyclopedia Judaica declares I’m still a Jew, though a wayward one, then on what basis can you say I’m no longer a Jew?” “Well,” the rabbi said, “perhaps I’m wrong.” “Rabbi,” I quietly responded, “maybe you’re wrong about more than just that?” To my astonishment, the synagogue audience of over one hundred Jewish people erupted into applause. It was apparent to all who would consider the issues objectively that a Jew who believes in Yeshua is still a Jew, whether the rabbi approves or not.
Jewish Identity Remains
In the New Covenant book of John, the early believers in Yeshua described him as “the Messiah;” “the One spoken of in Moses and the Prophets;” “the King of Israel,” and so on. They consistently saw Yeshua in a Jewish frame of reference, as the centerpiece of Jewish history.
Please notice also how these believers understood themselves. In both Acts 21:39 and 22:3 in the New Covenant, Paul declares first to the Romans, then again to his own Jewish people, “I am a Jew from Tarsus.” Now at this time, Paul had been a believer in Yeshua for well over twenty years. So it isn’t that he’s confused or that he’s trying to say one thing to the Romans, and something else to the Jews. Paul doesn’t say that he “was a Jew,” or “an ex-Jew from Tarsus,” or a “former Jew,” etc. As a person who was born Jewish, Paul always considered himself a present-tense Jew.
Why “Still Being Jewish” Matters
In Romans 11:1, Paul reiterates his Jewish identity when he raises the rhetorical question, “Has God forsaken His people (Israel)?” He then answers, “Not at all! For I am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.” His first “proof” that God has not forsaken Israel is himself. God chose a “Hebrew of Hebrews” (Phil. 3:5) so that the Gentile world would never think that God would forsake “a people whom He foreknew.”
Today it’s the very same story. Every Jewish believer living his or her present-tense Jewish identity testifies, “Am Yisrael Chai b’Yeshua HaMashiach!” – “The people of Israel live in Yeshua the Messiah!” For if the Lord would break His promises to Israel, why should anyone else think Him trustworthy regarding the Good News of Yeshua?
Many people, both Jewish and Gentile, are unaware that the New Covenant does not in any way restrict Jewish believers from identifying and living as Jews. Yes, coming to faith in Messiah Yeshua is a radical change, a heart transformation of turning from sin and turning to God. That said, the New Covenant only builds upon and fulfills the ethical, moral and spiritual teaching and revelation of God in the Hebrew Scriptures. So, in the New Covenant we read that the early believers continued attending the Temple and synagogue, kept the feasts, circumcised their Jewish children, and kept other aspects of the Law – not to deny Messiah’s authority or to show they merited righteousness, but for the sake of identifying with their own people. In short, they remained Jewish (Acts 3; 20:6, 16; 1 Cor. 16:8; Acts 16:1-3; Matt. 11:29; Acts 15:10).
Unity, Not Uniformity
Unfortunately, because of church history, there’s a lot of “stinking thinking” on this subject, even among Christians. A few years back, I was invited to speak on a secular radio call-in show in Miami, Florida. I received a number of “you’re-no-longer-a-Jew” calls from Jewish listeners. Then a call came in from a more polite gentleman who began with: “Mr. Nadler, now that you’re a believer in Jesus you’re no longer a Jew, for the Bible says that ‘in Messiah there’s neither Jew nor Greek.’”
I recognized the Scripture portion and responded over the air, “Oh, you mean Galatians 3:28: ‘there’s neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female; for we are all one in Messiah Jesus’.”
“Exactly,” the caller replied.
“Then let me ask you a question: Are you a believer?”
“Yes, I am,” he answered.
“Great. Are you married?” I asked.
“Well, yes, I’m married,” he slowly answered.
“Is your wife a believer?”
“Yes, she’s a believer,” he responded after a longer pause.
“Well,” I said, pausing to catch my breath. “If you’re a believer and still a male, and your wife is a believer and still a female, then I’m a believer and still a Jew. The verse you quoted from Galatians is not teaching that we lose our identities once we come to Messiah, but that there’s only one way to God for all people.”
There was an extremely long pause before the man said, “You mean… I’m still Jewish?”
“If you were born a Jew,” I responded, “then you’re still a Jew.”
“Hallelujah!” he shouted over the airwaves, “They told me I was no longer Jewish.”
Yes, it has been said that one cannot believe in Jesus and still be Jewish. If however, Yeshua is our Messiah as the Jewish Bible teaches, then trusting in Him is the most Jewish decision one can ever make!
For more Messianic questions, we’ve got answers for you!