After doing a lot of research on the internet, I learned about the Messianic movement. One website in particular was instrumental in my thinking: www.jewsforjesus.com. Messianics call themselves Hebrew Christians or, more commonly, Messianic Jews. They observe a lot of modified Jewish rituals and customs in their synagogues, which are often sponsoring Baptist or Pentecostal congregations who give them space on Saturdays or Friday nights, the times when they conduct their services. In their view, they are simply Jews who believe that Jesus was the Messiah. To an outsider it may seem that way as well, since they use a lot of Hebrew—in their songs, in some of their prayers, and to refer to almost everything in Christianity, from the New Testament (“Brit Chadisha”) to the name of Jesus himself (“Yeshua”).
I tried to imagine if I was a Jew at the time that Jesus lived, and I had decided to follow him, what my faith and actions might look like. I decided it might look a lot like what the Messianics were modeling. Intrigued, I attended a Messianic congregation for about a month and half, and continued to read about the movement on the internet. Services were interesting and spiritually uplifting for me—I loved hearing the Hebrew, listening to Jewish music, imagining what it would have been like to be an early Jew rejoicing at the arrival of this messiah. But then I began to discover things on the internet that disturbed me.
One was the fact that this movement was primarily aimed at converting Jews to Christianity. As a Christian at the time, I didn't have a problem with this per se, but it was the deceiving way in which this was done that bothered me. A common tactic was to suggest to born Jews, many of whom were severely lacking in their own religious education, that the most natural and most Jewish thing in the world would be to recognize that Jesus was the Messiah. With the Jewish trappings of the service, and the loving welcoming atmosphere, a Jew who had been reared in a dull, lifeless synagogue, may have accepted that without realizing the next step is acknowledging that this messiah, Jesus, is G-d incarnate, something that is most definitely NOT a Jewish thing to do. The unity of G-d, the fact that He can never take on fleshly form, that He is not some mysterious member of a hard to grasp Trinity, are central ideas in
Judaism. It seemed a dishonest approach for the Messianics to take: one can either be a Jew or a Christian, but one cannot be both.
In my meanderings on the internet I came across a lot of Jewish reaction to the deceitful tactics of some members of the messianic movement. One site stood out as being a good source of this Jewish viewpoint: www.jewsforjudaism.com. I began to read their counter-missionary material aimed at providing a reasoned, scriptural basis for rejecting Christianity's various claims, particularly the deity of Jesus, his status as Messiah, and the Pauline rejection of the Law.
Reading non-Christian material was nothing new to me. My bookshelves contain material from Christian Scientists, Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, Muslims, and New-Agers. My minor during one of my undergraduate degrees was Religious Studies. I've always enjoyed reading other religious perspectives, out of a desire to see how others see, and to learn how far from my Christian “truth” they were. But what happened when I read the Jewish responses
surprised me. Instead of it reaffirming my own faith, my own belief in the superiority of Christian apologetics, it was weakening my certainties. The Jews were providing very good reasons for rejecting Christianity that I found very hard to deal with.
What followed was months of reading material on both websites, bible passages, and as much of the outside material I could get to which they referred. Jews For Jesus and Jews For Judaism were in my courtroom and I was judge. Again and again, I was struck by the depth, by the wisdom, by the consistently scriptural responses the Jews gave to
Christian missionary claims. Conversely, I was struck by the blatant faulty logic of those missionaries, the kind of thing that would have been blown out of the water easily in any Philosophy class in Informal Logic—the kind I had taken my first semester in college. But I was still a Christian, still trying to find some loophole in their arguments, some way to keep the faith I felt about to slip away from me. After a few months I knew that it was no use. I had learned the truth, and there was no unlearning it. I was no longer a Christian. All that was left was to admit it.
The realization was devastating at first. I cried. I mourned. There are many wonderful, comforting things about Christianity, and those things would never bring me wonder or comfort again. I was losing my extended family. My whole world view crumbled. It was like Neo in The Matrix taking that pill, seeing the matrix of his life as it really is, seeing the futility of so much that had seemed so important before.
Through it all I was confronting a tough question: why is anyone a Christian?
And, more personally, why was I one? There are many reasons people are Christians: they were born into it, raised that way, they are spiritually nourished by it, they have had some intense personal experience with something they recognize as Jesus, they like its moral
teachings, they have a sense of needing to start over or be forgiven, or they feel afraid that they will go to Hell if they are not. While at certain times in my life some of those would have applied to me, in the last days of my Christian faith, none of those were my anchors. My reasons were the same, I suspect, as most Christians who actually took
the time to think about it: I believed the bible was inspired by G-d and it demonstrated that Jesus was the Messiah indicated by prophecy, that he was the only way for me to escape a sure trip to Hell on account of my sinful nature, and that he was, in fact, G-d as well.
Let me now share with you what I learned. I warn you it will only be a very quick overview. For an in-depth understanding, you will need to go to your own bible and read thoroughly, as well as read through the Jews For Judaism website or another good Jewish source of information.
I learned that Jesus couldn't have been the Messiah. The Jewish scriptures (called the Tanach), and by them I mean what Christians refer to as the Old Testament, indicate very specific criteria for identifying the Messiah. The Messiah will be a special Anointed One, or leader, of Israel, who will rule at a time of a restored third Temple (Ezekiel 37:26-28), of world peace (Isaiah 2:4), when there will be universal knowledge of G-d (Isaiah 11:9, Jer 31:33). He will also be instrumental in all Jews being brought back to Israel. (Isaiah 43:5-6). Clearly, a brief look at the world today shows that these things have not been fulfilled—by Jesus or any other person who has claimed to be the Messiah over the years. There is no third Temple, no world peace, no universal acknowledgement of G-d, and the Jews have not all been restored to the land of Israel.
This was the beginning of the end of my faith in Jesus. His Messiahship was the anchor without which I could not sustain a belief in the rest of the tenets of Christianity. But I tried mightily to find a way to locate that anchor and secure it again, through the Jews For Jesus site, various Christian apologetics books that I own, and other related sites.
The apologists admitted, as they must given the evidence, that the above four criteria were indeed not met by Jesus, but they insisted they would when he returned. There are two problems with accepting this though. One, is that there is no prophecy of the Messiah dying and then coming again to fulfill his mandate, and two is that it doesn't
prove Jesus is the Messiah any more than any other figure who wants to invoke the doctrine of the Second Coming. Rabbi Joe Schmoe might be the Messiah by that criteria, because when he comes back again he will fulfill the things that will prove he is. It is a classic case of faulty reasoning. The question is why should we recognize him as the
Messiah before he's actually fulfilled the things the Messiah is to do? Furthermore, nothing in the scriptures prophesizes a need to simply “have faith" in a Messiah claimant, either before or even after he has done what the Messiah is supposed to do.
I desperately tried to hold on to a belief in Jesus as Messiah by other means, but every investigative path I chose led me to the same conclusion. It really was quite simple and clear, although I had to go through the process of exhausting other options before I could see that. There are supposedly hundreds of prophecies in the Tanach which
point to Jesus; however, when you read them for yourself (which I never really did as a Christian) you discover that they are used out of context, are the result of mistranslations, or are simply invented by New Testament writers. I don't have space to outline everything here, nor could I do it as well as other writers have, so I will only mention
a few of the problems and leave you to read some of the other fine material at the Jews For Judaism website.
Continued in Part 3...