"Again I ask, Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious."
A new thing on the Earth
In many evangelical circles, there is discussion of a fairly recent, but rapidly growing phenomenon: Messianic Judaism. There are very popular national television shows about it, and no less a publication than Christianity Today magazine has recently done a major article about it. Students at Christian colleges and universities are asking about it. And churches are divided, in the words of the CT writer, "taking turns supporting and condemning" this new happening.
What is it?
What is Messianic Judaism? That’s a pretty easy question to answer, in general. Messianic Jews are those Jews who believe that the Messiah promised in the Bible has already come (they are waiting for him to come again), and that He is the one who Christians call Jesus. They maintain their Jewish lifestyle and identity, but believe they are redeemed through God’s grace, by faith in the Messiah, Jesus (who they know as Yeshua, his Hebrew name). There are hundreds of Messianic Jewish congregations, with a growing representation on virtually every continent.
A significant move of God
Messianic Judaism is important for more than one reason. First, since the days of the Messiah, there have always been "MJs." In the first century, they numbered hundreds of thousands, perhaps as many as a million, at the end of the century. The early church was full of them. Then things changed, and it soon became impossible for a believing Jew to keep his Jewish identity. He was cast out of the synagogue into a "no-man’s land." He was accepted into the church only if he "ceased being a Jew," including even changing his name to a "Christian" one. This condition lasted some 1800 years or so, ending only very recently. Though there were Messianic Jews in the 1800s, there were no messianic congregations, per se. The situation changed dramatically at about the same time that Jerusalem once again came under Jewish control: 1967.
A big little war
In June, 1967, there was a short, violent war between Israel and the Arab nations, called the Six-Day War. Israel prevailed, and captured the old city of Jerusalem, along with other territory.
This is significant especially because the Israeli recapture of Jerusalem ended the "times of the Gentiles" spoken of by the Prophets. Jerusalem had been under Gentile domination for more than 2,000 years. Then it became, once again, a Jewish city, and events prophesied in conjunction with that began to occur.
At about the same time another event took place, which is only now being noticed by most of the world, but which is also an important event: The modern Messianic Jewish movement became a reality about the time of the Six-Day War.
For the first time in over 1,500 years, Jews generally were free to come to faith in Yeshua as their Messiah, and remain Jews. For the first time, there are Jewish congregations who believe in Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. And, amazingly, non-Jews have joined these believing Jews in worshiping the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in a Jewish manner: there are as many "Messianic believers" (non-Jewish believers who adopt a Jewish lifestyle) as there are Messianic Jews..
A difficult history
For over 1,500 years, most of the abundant persecution of Jews has come from the Church, those professing the name of God. The cross, a sign of redemption to Christians, is a sign of persecution and horror to Jews. Clearly, something is wrong. It is impossible to read Romans (Ch. 9-11) and conclude that God intended this.
There are many factors in this animosity between Jews and Christians, and neither side is without fault. A major change occurred in the fourth century when the Roman Emperor Constantine effectively made the Rome a "Christian" state, which brought a huge influx of pagans into the Church. They had not, for the most part, experienced a true conversion, but were now "Christians" because it was expedient. To accommodate this new population, many pagan customs—i.e., Christmas and Easter—were incorporated into the life of the church, "baptized" to make them acceptable.
As the numbers grew, the Jewish character of the Church diminished, and the leadership rapidly became Gentile. Soon there was little left of the original Christianity, which had been simply a fulfilled, completed Judaism.
With a shrinking segment of the Church comprised of Jews, attitudes changed, and Jews were soon seen, not as the people God had chosen to bring redemption to the world, but as "Christ Killers." The Church began to demand that any Jew who came to trust Yeshua—Jesus—as his Messiah renounce his "pagan" Jewishness, change his name, and become a "Christian." On the other side, the Synagogue had neither room nor tolerance for Jews who became believers, and they were promptly expelled.
Believing Jews faced the difficult choice of hiding their faith and remaining in the Jewish world, or announcing their faith and losing their families, their heritage, their very identity. Still, many thousands came to faith in the Messiah. So many, in fact, that in the Middle Ages many of the ancient Jewish teaching and doctrinal documents were revised, with a strong bias against any possibility that Yeshua—Jesus—could be the Messiah. Judaism was recast in the Middle Ages, and modern Judaism differs in many important respects from ancient—biblical—Judaism. Much of modern Judaism is not Judaism, in the sense of the ancient, biblically based faith, but is a reaction to Christianity. Many Jews reject Yeshua as the Messiah, not because he does not fit the prophecies—he certainly does—but because Jesus is the "Christian god," and of course, must be rejected by Jews. They have never considered the prophecies.
The animosity between the Church and the Synagogue has continued through the centuries. Christians have persecuted Jews, and Jews have correspondingly had an aversion—too mild a term—to Christianity, and an outright hatred for Jewish believers.
A crucial event
Then, in 1967, came the birth of the modern Messianic Jewish movement. For the first time in many centuries, Jews who believed in Yeshua as their Messiah could remain Jews, and could retain the rich culture, the heritage, and the scriptural base that was theirs as Jews.
So, what’s the point?
What does all this have to do with Romans 11:11? The messianic movement is a key to understanding this verse. In the messianic movement, we see Jewish and non-Jewish believers together for the first time in centuries, all believers in the same Messiah, all serving the same God, all worshipping the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
These verses have been overlooked by much of the Church, disregarded for the teaching that Israel is no longer significant in God’s plan. After all, the reasoning went, there was no Israel (before 1948), so references to Israel must refer to the Church. This teaching is a serious mistake, an attempt to rationalize what could not be understood, which is still widely accepted.
However, the passage raises an important question: What does Paul mean when he says "salvation has come to the Gentiles to make the Jews envious"? The list of envious Jews seems very short indeed.
The answer is in the steadily growing Messianic movement, and is found especially in the many non-Jewish believers who have discovered the beauty of the Torah, and of a biblically observant lifestyle. In many cases they have become "more Jewish than Jews," as an expression of their love for the God of the Jews and the Bible of the Jews. And increasingly, Jews are taking note, and becoming envious: What are these "goyim" seeing that Jews are not? There is a powerful witness in maintaining a Torah-observant lifestyle.
Back into "works"?
But wait a minute! Isn’t "keeping the Law" a form of works? Isn’t that going back into the bondage from which Yeshua set us free? That’s a good question. But if we understand the role of the Torah and God’s purpose in giving it, we will see that we are not talking about working for salvation, or anything like it. We are not talking about salvation at all, but about living a righteous, holy, set-apart life, is a testimony to the righteousness and holiness of the God we serve.
In I Corinthians 10, Paul tells of the lessons we can learn from the experiences of Israel. He speaks of their redemption, of their having been brought out of Egypt—the world—and having been "baptized into Moses" in the sea and the cloud. The children of Israel were redeemed from bondage in Egypt, and their redemption, says Paul, is a type or illustration of our own redemption from another kind of bondage in the world. And, importantly, the giving of the Torah happened after they were out of Egypt. It happened after their redemption from bondage. Torah was given, according to Paul’s illustration, to a redeemed people. It was not for salvation, but for righteous living after redemption.
A handbook to righteousness
As we understand this important point, we see that Torah is not a means to gain God’s approval, but a guide to enhance both our relationship with Him and our testimony before the world. Both the Church and Israel are intended to be a set-apart, visibly different people, a nation of priests (I Peter 2:9; Exodus 19:6). Torah is the handbook for a righteous life as a chosen, set-apart, visibly different people.
Recent years have seen a great interest among evangelical Christians in their "Jewish roots," and many are beginning to keep the biblical feasts, and to maintain a "Torah-observant" lifestyle. They are joining Messianic congregations, worshiping the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in a manner that any Jew could appreciate and enjoy. As a result, increasing numbers of Jews are coming to faith in their Messiah. Hallelujah!
What is happening today is perhaps the greatest move of God among the Jews since the first century: They are coming to faith in their Messiah, and remaining Jews.
The point of it all
God loves Jews. God loves everyone else, too, but it is clear from Scripture that God loves Jews. In Zechariah 2:8, God called Israel the "pupil (not the apple, as often quoted) of his eye." A pretty sensitive spot. Jews have had and still have a key role in history, and more than any other people, have shaped the direction of our lives. Jews have, as a people, again and again distorted the redemption message and even walked away from God. This does not change God’s purpose for them (Romans 11), any more than the unfaithfulness of the Church changes God’s purpose for the Church.
The task for the Church, for non-Jewish believers, is not to persecute or mistreat Jews. It is to genuinely love them, pray for them, and by a righteous lifestyle—one which manifests the love, grace and holiness of God—arouse the Jews to envy.