It seems that since the division of time from BC to AD (Before Christ and Anno Domini – Latin for the “Year of our Lord) there has been some confusion as to the identity of those who follow the God of Abraham—the God of all Creation and those who believe in His Messiah, Yeshua, God incarnate. For those desiring clarification, it requires a diligent search in the Scriptures for a clear description of just who we all are as God’s people.
The Bible gives us some glimpses into our true identity with many descriptions that have become common to us, such as:
- The Bride of Christ
2. The Sons of God
3. The Sons of Righteousness
3. The Born Again
4. The Family of God
5. Joint Heirs with Christ
6. The Redeemed
7. The Harvest
- A New Creation in Christ
- Faithful and True
- The Body of Christ
Most of us rely on the common term Christian to describe our affiliation of faith. With that in mind, let’s delve into the deeper aspects of the etymology and modern connotations of not only Christian consortiums but other groups and subgroups associating themselves with the monotheistic God of the Bible.
Going back to the time of Noah, we see two of Noah’s sons who were obedient, blessed, and highly favored, Shem and Japeth. Shem was considered a prophet after his father and would himself become the father of a Godly line known as Semites, derived from his name. The Shemites or Semites paralleled the terms Hamites (after Noah’s son Ham,) and Japhetites (after his son, Japeth).
Over time, a Semite was anyone who spoke a Semitic language such as Hebrew, Arabic, or Aramaic, in particular, the Jews and Arabs. Later in the late 19th century the compound word antisemite was popularized in Germany as a scientific-sounding term for Judenhass (“Jew-hatred”) and has been its common use since then.
Judaism and Christianity are rooted in the rich Semite history of Noah’s son Shem and then through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Several hundred years after Noah, the beginning of the covenant with the One True God began with Abram, who was a Chaldean from Ur. Ur was a region of Mesopotamia, which is now known as modern day Iran. The Chaldeans were a royal dynasty of Babylon. As we look at this timeline, one must understand that Judaism did not exist yet as Judah, the fourth son of Abram’s grandson Jacob had not yet been born. In fact, Abram was 99 years of age when God declared his new name to be Abraham, “a father of many nations.” Abraham was a Semite.
The literal English translation for Hebrew is “crossover.” Besides being the word used for a people and a language, the word Hebrew (or eber) has a deeper meaning not conveyed in English. The time in which Abraham lived was very complex. It was a time when all nations were pagan, and God required Abraham to leave his country and gods and “crossover” to have a relationship with Him. God said, “Lech lecha,” get up and go to a place I will show you. Abraham had to cross the Euphrates and Jordon Rivers, both significant, representing a “baptism” into a new faith. Abraham “crossed over” from paganism to faith in God. This initial covenant was the beginning of a people that would come to be known as those who worshipped the God of Abraham.
Thus, Abram was the first Hebrew as Scripture proclaims: “But one of Lot’s men escaped and reported everything to Abram the Hebrew” (Genesis 14:15).
As the covenant was reestablished with Abraham’s son Isaac then later with Jacob, his grandson, the three promises were always the same.
- God would make them a great nation. A nation to which He would connect His Name. Now there was established a people that would be known to the world as the people of the Most High. All other nations were established by principalities and rulers such as Ba’al, Tamuz, Molech, Ishtar, and the like.
- God promised them a land flowing with milk and honey. So not only was He going to give them real estate but the blessings of provisions on and through it.
- God would bless all the nations through this new people. Ultimately, this is the Messianic hope that was promised to everyone. That all the people in all the nations will be able to draw near to the One True God through the Seed that would come from the Hebrew people.
Here’s a question for the Gentiles in the nations.
Have you “crossed over” from paganism to the faith of your spiritual father, Abraham? Abraham was from the nations of the world like all of us. He left his far away country and idols and was brought near to His God. Hebrews 11 tells us Abraham trusted God. Have you crossed through your own Euphrates River? Have you trusted in what God has promised? The Messianic hope?
But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood (the cleansing flood) of Christ (Ephesians 2:13).
Those living in biblical times that were of Jacob’s biological family were called Israelites. Just as He renamed Abram to Abraham, God renamed Abraham’s grandson Jacob to Israel. Thus, Israel’s family made up the citizenship of the Kingdoms of Israel and eventually the nation of Israel.
This was the time of the fulfillment of the second promise of the covenant – that God would give Abraham’s seed a land where He would place His Name. A land with a city called Jerusalem where He would establish His throne one day in the Golden Era of His reign. This would be a time when His Word would go forth from Zion (another name for Jerusalem) to all the Earth. The Hebrew people—specifically the Jews—are now the rightful stewards over this coveted land.
Here’s another question for the Gentiles in the nations.
Are you grafted into the commonwealth of Israel as the Bible describes?
That at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:12).
The Jewish People
Judah was the fourth born of Jacob’s twelve sons. The word Jew is a contraction of the word Judahite who were not only those from the tribe of Judah but eventually, in time, included the tribes of Benjamin and Levi. Judah (or the Jews) once shared an identity with the eleven other tribes collectively known as Israelites. But in 930 BC the 12 tribes of Israel split into two kingdoms. The ten tribes to the north were known as the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and the two tribes of the south (that is Benjamin and Judah, as well as many of the Levites who had no land but served in the Temple in Jerusalem) were known as the Southern Kingdom or the Kingdom of Judah.
In time, because of idolatry, the ten tribes of the north were scattered into the nations, losing their identity and memory as Israel. Because they were not a part of the Kingdom of Judah but rather the northern kingdom of Israel, they were never known as Jews but rather Hebrews or Israelites. The Bible says that one day, God will whistle and these lost tribes that were scattered in the nations will “wake up” to their identity and join their brother Judah and come back to the land.
Judaism was coined as the faith of the Jewish people based on the Hebrew Scriptures that were given to all the tribes on Mount Sinai. The Jews (along with Benjamin and Levi) were the only tribe that God kept because of His covenant with King David to have a successor on the throne and His covenant with the Land or City of Jerusalem.
“… but he shall have one tribe for the sake of My servant David, and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel” (1 Kings 11:32 – NKJV).
In the first century during the time of Jesus (or rather Yeshua in Hebrew), Judaism was the faith He defended. Yeshua rightfully interpreted it and followed the Torah perfectly. He validated the Scriptures and proclaimed that Moses was speaking of Him and that all things pertaining to Him in the Torah, Prophets, and Writings (Tenach) must come to pass.
Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me” (Luke 24:44 NKJV).
For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (John 5:46-47 NKJV).
Clearly, Jesus was a Jew! His faith was Second Temple Judaism. He honored the Sabbath and kept the Feasts and loved the Torah.
Unfortunately, what was once the first century faith of Yeshua has been Romanized, Latinized, and even paganized over the centuries. And sadly, the Universal Church of the 4th century cut off the rich root of our Jewish mother-faith and replaced the biblical ways with cultural expressions and traditions of the nations.
Rabbinic Judaism and The Way of Yeshua
After the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by Rome in 70 AD, the identity of the Jewish people was challenged. With the hub of worship (which included the Altar of Sacrifice, the Holy Place of the burning Menorah, the Altar of Incense, and the Holy of Holies where His Presence dwelt) destroyed, the Jewish people had no central expression of worship.
The Jews that followed The Way of Yeshua understood the spiritual significance that it was those who believed in Him that were now His Temple as they were circumcised in heart and had written in them the Law of the Spirit in Christ Jesus.
The Jews that were not followers of the hallekah (Hebrew for the way) of Yeshua followed other Halleckic laws taught by the Rabbis. Judaism was modified and became known as Rabbinic Judaism. Various rabbinic interpretations determined the behavior and expression of the new Judaism.
The tense separation of the Jews that followed the teachings of Yeshua from those that followed the other rabbis escalated—especially as Yeshua’s followers were reaching out to the non-Jews and sharing their hallachah. At first, the Gentiles were converted to the faith as they left paganism and embraced Israel’s God. But as their numbers grew, the Jewish teachers and disciples either died off or assimilated into the masses of Gentiles in the nations. By the fourth century, the Jewish influence of what was once “the validated Torah of Yeshua” was compromised and re-established as the Universal Church, better known as the Catholic Faith.
And so, I ask those who identify as Christian, isn’t Yeshua a Jew from the tribe of Judah? Does Jesus (and therefore Yeshua) live in you? Could your identity be Jewish?
But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God (Romans 2:29).
It’s sad that the term Jew has such a negative connotation in the worldview today and even in Christianity. Why do you think that’s the case? The early Church teachers impressed that it was the Jews who killed Christ. This misguided narrative set a very negative opinion within the Church and in the minds of people throughout the world about the heritage of our Lord.
It is true that the Sanhedrin, who was the Judean government seat, saw to it that Yeshua was crucified for fear of Rome coming against them. The reason they had this fear was the sheer multitude of Jewish disciples and followers, especially those from Galilee who were in Jerusalem at the time of Passover. This made the ruling Sadducees nervous. They were fearful that the people would unify and revolt causing civil problems between Rome and Judea. After a kangaroo court proceeding in the middle of the night spearheaded by Caiphas, the Chief Sadducee, a Roman edict put Yeshua on the cross as Roman soldiers carried out the orders.
But the truth is neither the Jews nor the Romans killed Yeshua. Our sin did. He voluntarily laid down His life and died in our stead, paying the penalty for what we deserve. As we enter into this wonderful covenant with our Messiah, we are set free from the Laws of sin and death that were written against us. As He opens The Way to the Father and eternal life, He also writes the Law of His Spirit in us. Therefore, as followers of Jesus/Yeshua, we have the evidence of this born again new life, imbued with the selfless gifts of the Spirit, preferring one another, helping the poor, and showing kindness and mercy—traits that define our true identity.
The Various Sects of Judaism
Over time, major splits and separations occurred in Judaism, much like the numerous denominational splits that now comprise Christianity. Let’s talk briefly about the main sects of Judaism as listed below.
The Ultra-Orthodox Jews are exclusive and employ the strictest version of Judaism. They believe all the Torah and Talmud must be observed, and they do not integrate into modern society.
Those of the Orthodox community are the religious seekers of Judaism, careful to follow God’s laws as interpreted by the rabbis, both the Oral Law and Written Torah. They support their nation, encourage good deeds, look for the Messiah, and study the Torah with great passion.
The Reform Jews are very liberal and adapt or curtail the Law to meet a more modern society.
The Conservative sect is a more middle of the road group, somewhere between the Orthodox and the Reform, keeping the Law as it can be adapted or applied.
Karaite Jews use only the Bible as their guide and do not incorporate the Oral Law.
Then we have Messianic Jews. Messianic is the Hebrew word that means Anointed One. The word Christian comes from the Greek word Cristos, which also means Anointed One. Today, Messianic Jews are the growing community of Jewish people who come to faith in Yeshua as Savior—and who believe in the second coming of the Messiah as King and Judge.
Long before the first century, the Jewish people were looking for the coming of the Messiah. The passionate desire to see Messiah come was spurred on by the persecution and oppression experienced by the Jewish people from their enemies. The subjection and slavery that started in Egypt continued in Babylon then was waged by the Assyrians and magnified by the Romans.
The Jews longed for the King to liberate them and right Israel as the head of Nations. They longed for the Messiah to set up His Kingdom. Because they were concentrating on the Golden Era of the Messiah as the Lion of Judah, many believed in various false Messiahs that would lead revolts against the tyrannical rulers. One of those false Messiahs was Simon Bar Kokba who was responsible for the revolt that resulted in the final fall of Jerusalem.
When Yeshua came as the Suffering Servant, the Redeemer, and the Lamb of God, many religious Jews (and zealots) missed Him. Looking forward to the time of His coming as Judge and King, He wasn’t recognized in the personification of gentleness and love as a Servant and Savior.
But multitudes did recognize Him. Some scholars say as much as one third of Judea were followers of this great Rabbi. Indeed, masses were convinced without question that He was their true Messiah.
Although many Orthodox Jews will use the term Messianic to describe their future expectations, when we speak of a Messianic Jew today, it is primarily used to describe the Jews who believe that Yeshua is indeed the Messiah.
The term Christian was first coined by the Jews to describe the non-Jews in the Gentile city of Antioch in Turkey who came to faith in the Jewish Messiah.
So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:26 NKJV).
Sadly, Christian was used as a negative term among the Rabbinic Jews in the 1st century.
Messianic is also often used as a negative term describing the Jewish followers of Yeshua by many Rabbinic Jews today.
The first mention of Christians were those non-Jews of Antioch who were added to the believing community of the disciples of Jesus Christ. For 300 years, the faith of Yeshua grew in the nations until AD 325 when Constantine the Great called the Church leaders to the Council of Nicea. At that council, Constantine redefined the tenants of the ancient faith to reflect his own conclusions. It was there that the faith was de-Judaized and many pagan traditions were added. He changed the Sabbath (literal meaning in Hebrew as seventh day) to Sunday (which is the first day of the week). He eliminated the Feasts of the Lord listed in Leviticus 23 which included the Feast of Passover that Yeshua greatly desired to celebrate (and looks forward to celebrating with us when He comes to restore all things.)
Constantine demanded this new variation of the faith to be recognized as the one world religion requiring all to memorize creeds and be baptized into the Church. The Church fell into one of the darkest ages of history as many were forced to convert by the sword, pay their way into heaven with monetary indulgences, and self-harm (flagellate) as an act of repentance.
The Crusades were initiated to rid the world of the Muslims and Jews. For 1200 years the term Christian became synonymous with Catholic (the universal, one world faith) until Martin Luther, a Catholic monk, challenged the abuses of the Church and started the Protestant Reformation.
Since then, some 33,000 different Christian denominations have formed. Is it any wonder so many have lost sight of their true identity in Christ?
In the late 19th century and early 20th century, several phenomena began to occur; Jews were coming to faith in Yeshua. They called themselves Hebrew Christians. This term was somewhat of a misnomer as they used the non-Jewish description of a believer coupled with the Hebrew ethnic designation. Most of these believers in the Messiah were once again assimilated into the Gentile Church losing their Jewish identity.
Another phenomenon was the supernatural infilling of the Holy Spirit within the hearts of Christians. The blind began to see, the lame walk, and people were being healed. God was moving mightily.
Then God woke up to fulfill prophecy.
Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Can a land be born in one day? Can a nation be brought forth at once? For as soon as Zion was in labor, she gave birth to her children (Isaiah 66:8 TLV).
Out of the ashes of the Holocaust, the Jewish people were given back their land and recognized by the League of Nations to be a sovereign state. And just as in America, a patriotism of country grew in the hearts of the Jews.
Tzion is another term the Bible uses for the “The Land of Israel.” Modern re-interpretation for Zionism is a political movement to establish a national homeland for the Jewish people. There is also a Biblical Zionism, a time when God describes His favor and His return:
Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come. For thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and favour the dust thereof. So the heathen shall fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth thy glory. 16 When the Lord shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory (Psalm 102 KJV).
The Revelations of the Late 20th Century and the Early 21st Century
Indeed, Jesus was a Jew! Many Christians started to explore the first century faith of Yeshua. What did He believe? How did He live out His faith? What should we understand about His traditions and culture? What did the Jews of the first century hear and what did they hang His teachings on?
At long last, much of the Christian discourse of the past is being restored to its original context. We are beginning to see Scripture from a whole new and authentic vantage point. Our identity is becoming clear with new understanding and refreshing revelation. No longer forcing the Bible into our western perspectives but placing ourselves into the times and culture of first century Judea, we are seeking to become familiar with the original language of Yeshua, seeking to grasp idioms and contexts within ancient Biblical situations.
Here we find ourselves as God’s workmanship and partakers of a covenant that He cut on our behalf.
Our Significance—Our Identity is in Yeshua
And by the power of the One True God, He bought us with His blood, He has awakened and quickened our spirit. Right?
For we are His workmanship—created in Messiah Yeshua for good deeds, which God prepared beforehand so we might walk in them (Ephesians 2:10 TLV).
He has called us to obedience by writing His Laws in us and guiding us by our conscience. None of this has to do with our own power. We are the Living Stones that He is building together. As we realize that boasting in our denominations and magnifying our differences is futile, our identity and purpose become quite clear. He is what unites us! Without question we are; The Bride of Christ, The Sons of God, The Sons of Righteousness, Born Again, The Family of God, Joint Heirs with Christ, The Redeemed, The Harvest, A New Creation in Christ, Faithful and True, and The Body of Christ. In short, we are the precious children of God, brothers, and sisters united in His pre-destined Plan of a perfect Kingdom that is to come.
Dear readers, can it get any better than that?