WHEN DOES A JEW BECOME A CHRISTIAN ?
By Robert Brow (www.brow.on.ca)
The man, who was obviously Jewish, did not mention Jesus, but I sensed a spiritual oneness with him. What would it take for me to call him a Christian?
In his prayer of thanksgiving he clearly indicated his faith in the God of Abraham. That is the faith shared by Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Paul, the Jew who became a great Christian leader and theologian, wrote that Abraham "received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still un-circumcised. The purpose was to make him the ancestor of all who believe without being circumcised" (Romans 4:11).
This means that circumcision was a sign or seal of heart faith. As Paul explained, "A person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. Rather, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart - it is spiritual and not literal" (Romans 2:28-29).
Abraham had the faith to go the land that God had promised him, but the heart of his faith was that "he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Hebrews 11:10). Evidently many Jews look forward to resurrection and life after death. But they have not learned to connect that with the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.
Many Christians would want to insist that faith in Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God is an essential component of our Messianic faith. But we should remember that the word ‘Christian’ was not coined till seventeen years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. As a result of the teaching of Paul and Barnabas it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians’ (Acts 11:26). That is how Jewish and non-Jewish believers became known as "Messiah Persons."
In older translations of the Bible the term Christ was taken from the Greek word Christos. It was a translation of the Hebrew word Mashiakh which means the Anointed One It was used of prophets, priests, and kings who were anointed for their function. The term was also used for the King of kings and Sovereign Ruler of the nations in the world (as in Psalm 2:2; 5:2; 8:1, 9; 22:28; 24:7-8). In the prophets there are dozens of references to the Son of God reigning as King and Lord of Hosts among the nations (Isaiah 1:24; 2:19; 10:33, etc.).
The term Christ has little content for most people, and many see it more as a surname. The Revised Standard Version corrected this by translating the Greek word Christos as the Messiah throughout the Gospels and most of the Book of Acts (as in Matthew 1:1, 16, 17; Acts 2:31, 36; 3:18, 20). Strangely they reverted to using the term Christ in the Epistles (Romans 1:1, 4, 6, 8, etc.).
By using the Hebrew term as in "Paul, a servant of Jesus the Messiah" (Romans 1:1) it is easy to see that Christian faith begins when we recognize that the King of kings and Sovereign Lord of Lords of the Old Testament chose to take birth and live among us as Jesus of Nazareth. And after his ascension he has continued his reign as he intervenes in Days of the Lord all over the world.
In that sense there are many Jews who recognize that in their Jewish Bible the King of kings and Lord of lords was reigning throughout the Old Testament period. But somehow after the time of Malachi, the last of the Old Testament prophets, they forget that he is reigning now, and began looking to a future date when the Messiah would come and begin his reign. There are also Christians who assume that Jesus will not begin his reign as King of kings till after his return some time in the future.
Obviously there are many points of contact between Christians and Jews who both follow in the faith of Abraham. When Jews follow the kosher food rules of Leviticus, and keep the annual celebration of the Passover, it does not exclude them from Christian faith. This is evident in the life of the Messianic Christians who follow many Jewish traditions as they love and serve Jesus as the Messiah.
But surely baptism must be required before a Jew can be viewed as a Christian? As set out in Go Make Learners, 1981 and published on this website since 1996, baptism was used by Jesus and his apostles to enrol disciples to be taught. And evidently many learn a huge amount about Jesus the Messiah without undergoing baptism. Could we say that a Jew is one who is learning about the Messiah, but has not yet grasped that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah? We could therefore view a devout Jew as someone who is seeking to learn about the faith of Abraham, and the reign of the Messiah, without being enrolled in a Christian community.
That brings us back to the man who gave thanks in my dream. Could I view him as a Christian who has not yet understood all that was taught about Jesus in the New Testament? I now feel it does not matter very much what label I give him. If I was able to talk to such a Jewish man of Abrahamic faith I would prefer to share with him from the Old Testament all that we have common. I might then be able to explore the New Testament with him.
I would certainly not want to begin by assuming he is an outsider to Abrahamic faith. I can begin with the assurance that he would be happy with "the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Hebrews 11:10). And I can rejoice that none of us is rejected from the perfect love of God if our theology is deficient in some respects.