Messianic Apologetics

Addressing the Theological and Spiritual Issues of the Broad Messianic Movement

Jewish Tradition

There is a great deal of significance attached to this day in Jewish theology, as it is most often emphasized as a time when God looks down from Heaven and reconsiders where He stands with people. It is a time where we are to rejoice and celebrate, remembering His goodness to us, but also begin a sober examination of our humanity, and consider faults and sins that must be rectified.

The Day of Atonement for Messianics can equally be a challenge, because of a possible emphasis on celebration at Yom Teruah/Rosh HaShanah, instead of a serious attitude and call to reflection from the sounding of the shofar. Many Messianics likewise have difficulty reverently focusing on their relationship with the Lord, and in considering where they need to improve in their spiritual walk. For us, while recognizing that our ultimate forgiveness is indeed found in Yeshua, we still need to know that we are humans with a fallen sin nature, and that we need the Lord to empower us for good works. We need to be reminded that without Him, we are nothing, and we need to intercede for the salvation of others.

The festival of Sukkot or Tabernacles (also commonly called Booths) begins on 15 Tishri and is intended to commemorate the time that the Ancient Israelites spent in the wilderness after the Exodus. Images of the post-Exodus period, God wanting Israel to remember what happened in the desert, and perhaps most importantly the need for His people to physically be reminded of His desire to commune with them, are all themes that are seen throughout one’s observance. The Feast of Tabernacles was considered to be so important in the Torah, that God gave it the distinction of being one of the three times of ingathering, along with Passover and Shavuot (Leviticus 23:39-43).

Shavuot[1] is one of three pilgrimage festivals that is commanded in the Torah (Exodus 23:14-17; Deuteronomy 16:16). In Hebrew, its name means “weeks,” derived from the command in Deuteronomy 16:19, “You shall count seven weeks for yourself; you shall begin to count seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain.” Many Christians know Shavuot from its Greek-derived name “Pentecost,” as Pentēkostē means “fiftieth,” indicative of the fifty days that are to be counted between Passover and this time.

Matthew 23:2-3 is a passage which has been used to justify everything from today’s Messianic Jewish Believers following almost every single halachic ruling of the ultra Orthodox and/or Chassidic Jewish authorities and their literature, to Messianic Believers completely disregarding all forms of ancient and/or modern Jewish tradition in their approach to the Torah or Law of Moses, totally dismissing works like the Mishnah or Talmud as valuable historical records. Unfortunately, for whatever reason or series of reasons, moderating the extremes on Matthew 23:2-3 has not been too permitted in the Messianic movement of 2013—for it is easy to see the negative spiritual and theological fruit of the extremes of Matthew 23:2-3, either (1) representing a widescale dismissal of all forms of Rabbinic Jewish tradition and custom, or (2) requiring a blind obedience to Orthodox Judaism on the part of contemporary Messianic Believers. A third, depolarizing alternative to the current interpretations widely touted, desperately needs to be presented.

If there is any area where today’s Messianic movement tends to absolutely excel, it is with integrating a wide selection of the mainline Jewish traditions and customs for observing the Sabbath. Regardless of their background before coming to Messiah faith, religious or secular, today’s Messianic Jews tend to remember Shabbat with the common elements of lighting candles, breaking challah, drinking wine, and attending synagogue services with traditional liturgy and Torah readings. Non-Jewish Believers who have been led by the Lord into the Messianic movement, seeking to embrace more of the Hebraic and Jewish Roots of their faith, have also taken a hold of Shabbat, the opportunity for rest it offers to the people of God, and many of the significant traditions that can make the Sabbath a very holy and sanctified time.