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The Great Jewish Christian Divide

Jesus began His ministry in early 30 A.D. He initially appeared to be just another itinerant rabbi followed by a small group of devotes. While He was noted for His abilities to preach, His sermons had a decidedly down-to-earth translation quality to them. While He was noted for His abilities to heal, this was a gift from God that other rabbis had displayed in the past. While He gave prophecies, there was no way to confirm them until they came to pass. And even though talk immediately started to spread that He may be the long awaited liberator known as the Messiah, this idea had been said of many past zealot holy men before Jesus.

The expectation of the Messiah, or Anointed One of God, was thought to be a man in the lineage of King David who would rise to fame. He would then be ordained by the Jewish Civil government the Sanhedrin and Temple priesthood as one sent from God. At the appropriate time, and with the powerful hand of God behind him, he would organize and lead a rebellion against the enemies of Israel. In this case, the enemy was Rome which had ruled Israel for over 90 years. The defeat of Rome would return Israel back to theocratic rule and cause the nation to be seen as exemplary in its religious, governmental and military might.

Jesus was clear that He only came to the Children of God the Jews. He only healed two pagans or gentiles during His 40 month ministry. The real problem was, He only spoke about the love of God for His people and the need for them to repent for the Kingdom of God was at hand. There were no rousing speeches or talk of a national uprising. At the end of His 40 month ministry, He had tens of thousands of people who saw Him as the Messiah but had made no attempt to use this understanding in order to induce an armed rebellion against Rome. He was arrested by the Temple guards, tried and found guilty of blasphemy. He was then tried by the Sanhedrin and this initial judgment was upheld. He was then found guilty of the crime of sedition by Rome and crucified. The idea that Jesus was publicly humiliated and executed, cemented in the minds of the majority of Jews that He was simply another delusional false Messiah who met an untimely death at the hands of Rome. If He had been the Messiah, God would not have allowed Him to be killed.

However, after His resurrection from the dead, He told His followers to take the Good News of eternal life through faith in Him as the Messiah or Saviour out into the world (Matthew 28:19). Then, 50 days after Passover and His resurrection, the Holy Spirit arrived in the Temple courtyard during the Feast of Pentecost. It was then that the Apostle Peter preached the resurrected Christ and 3,000 Jews were publicly baptized in His name. He was now seen by many of His followers as divine or the Son of God. Others saw this as a sign that He was in fact the Son of David and would soon return from wherever He went to defeat Rome. He would then establish a messianic reign in Israel that would be the envy of the world. So now we see the start of two distinctly different camps of thought on who Jesus was.

Initially, those few who saw Jesus as Messiah continued to worship in the Temple or synagogues on Saturday. Even the Apostles continued in this tradition. Everyone remained distinctly Jewish following the Mosaic laws, Temple traditions and dietary customs. The only difference was, some believed Jesus as Messiah who would shortly return, others saw Him as only a great Rabbi while still others saw Him as a convicted blasphemer.

However, trouble began to brew as gentiles began to believe in Jesus as the divine Son of God. To make matters worse, they began showing up at the Temple and in synagogues to pray to Him. We read of an early example of this in the Book of Acts. Around 40 A.D. a Roman centurion named Cornelius in Caesarea was welcomed into the Jesus as Messiah movement as cited in the Book of Acts chapter ten. This movement was at this time referred to as The Way as Jesus taught that He was the way, the truth and the provider of eternal life.

It was also around this time that Paul began his mission of establishing churches in Antioch as well as in Syria, Asia Minor {Turkey} and Greece (Acts 11:19-24; Galatians 2:11-14). Paul’s method was to go into a synagogue, introduce himself and immediately began to preach Jesus as the long awaited Messiah. Thus, the founding members of a church were almost exclusively Jewish. If the Jewish religious leaders had a problem with his message, Paul would simply hold meetings in homes, outdoor settings or rented buildings.

This was a major turning point in the Jesus as Messiah understanding. The Temple was forced to step in and try to control a movement that would see five million members by the end of the first century. The religious leaders initially saw Jesus as a great recruitment tool. The thinking was, anyone who wanted to follow the great rabbi known as Jesus and pray in the Temple, would have to meet the following requirements. First, they would need to be schooled on Jewish history, laws, diet and customs. They would then need to be circumcised and go through a ritual putrification ceremony. Only then would they be allowed to attend Sabbat or Saturday worship services. They could think of Jesus as a great rabbi, healer, prophet or even a would be Messiah, but not the Son of God as that had been deemed as blasphemous.

As Jews and gentiles began attending service in greater numbers, the need to first Judaize the gentiles made no since. It was determined that since only Jesus ever fully kept the Mosaic Laws, why were His followers being asked to try and keep these same laws. After all, no one was ever able to keep them. Therefore, it was determined to be nothing more than what it was, an abject exercise in failure. Thus, the focus on Jewish law customs and rituals decreased and the doctrine of faith plus nothing else drew in a larger and larger following. This was when we begin to see the split within the two belief systems. For the Jews it was always about following the Law and works. For the followers of Jesus it was all the grace and mercy of God and faith in Jesus for having self-sacrificed Himself in order to release mankind from the unkeepable burden of the Law. For the Jews it was Law, failure, judgement and the possibility of an after life. For the followers of Jesus it was redemption, grace, mercy and guaranteed eternal life. Christianity had become a religion that had its roots in Judaism but was now fundamentally very different. It could be likened to the story of the small acorn verses the mighty oak tree. One originally relied on the other, but now the empty hollow shell has served it purpose and been replaced by the mighty living tree giving shade and comfort to all who seek rest and shelter from life’s storms.

Jewish followers of Christ in Jerusalem, had to decide if they wanted the ancient traditions of the Jewish which carried with it the burden of the Law. Or, did they prefer the lack of traditions and a guarantee of eternal life created by Christ on the cross. For a while there were some who attended both services out of respect for tradition but the relief of the promise of life after death that Christ made possible. However, as Church doctrine solidified/codified around basic core beliefs, these teachings forced parishioner to have to make a decision. Either Jesus did or did not satisfy the Law. His promise of eternal life as shown by is resurrection proved that His Church was God ordained or it did not. Trying to be a law following Jew while accepting the free gift of salvation thru Christ was like trying to mix oil and water.

While the two groups could agree on Jesus as the Messiah, one group saw Him exclusively as a singular Jewish Messiah while the other group saw Him as a universal gentile Messiah. So while Rome originally saw the Jesus movement as just another sect of the Jewish religion, the Jews were split three ways on the issue. One group saw Jesus as a misguided, delusional rabbi, one group saw him as a decidedly Jewish Messiah and a third group saw him as the universal Messiah of all mankind. These divisions would soon reach a breaking point.

Rome was becoming concerned about the divide. Rome always had respect for ancient religions including Judaism. And while they originally saw Christianity as simply a sect of the Jewish religion, they now saw that riots were breaking out in the synagogues as to who exactly Jesus was. They were also concerned that the followers of Jesus saw Him as a King. This went against a foundational belief that held the Roman Empire together. There was only one King and it was Caesar. Any movement that supported a king was to be immediately crushed. There would be no exceptions to this iron clad rule.

Siege of Jerusalem 70 A.D.

In 70 A.D. the Jews of Jerusalem rose up against pagan Roman rule. This rebellion caused Rome to send sixty thousand troop who sieged the city for 4 months, 3 weeks and 4 days. The city was then looted, burned and the majority of buildings were torn down to their foundations including the Temple complex. Over one million Jews were crucified and the rest sold as slaves. Some Jews escaped to surrounding areas in the hope of returning to their homes once tempers calmed down, but most moved north and west into Europe. The Christians were allowed to return to their homes since they had evacuated from Jerusalem as the Roman army approached the city. This was an insult that the Jews would not forget.

Simon Bar Kokhba

In 132A.D. the Jews reorganized and made one last fatal rebellion attempt against Rome. At that time they elected a man by the name of Simon Bar Kokhba to be their leader and crowned him as messiah. This appalled the Christian population which again refused to help the Jews in this final and feudal rebellion. The Christians once again left the city and the Jews were summarily defeated by Rome. The Jews never returned in mass to Israel and they never forgot that the Christian’s abandoned them repeatedly in their times of need. This created the final break between the Jews and Christians.

However, the returning Christians were allowed by Rome to live wherever they wanted. Many chose to live adjacent to those sites where Jesus lived, taught, performed miracles or that involved His execution. This was a major help to Empress Helena when she visited the Holy Land in 324 A.D. in an effort to locate and preserves as many of these sites as possible. Please see related: How Sacred Sites Were Discovered”.


A Jewish Christian Didache or document circa 85A.D. focuses on the need for parishioners to love of God and the neighbors. It also describes the observance of Jewish traditions alongside baptism and the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. This document sees Jesus as a charismatic prophet and refers to Him by using the term pais. This is a word used to describe a servant or child. This term was also used when referring to King David, and is not synonymous with the term the “Son of God”.

Epistle of Barnabas

By contrast, the early second century Epistle of Barnabas c.125 A.D., reveals a distinctly gentile Christianity in its presentation of the Hebrew Bible. It sees the Old Testament as shadow prophecies and allegories concerning Jesus as Messiah instead of simply historical facts. This document also clearly sees Jesus as divine. Thus, the doctrinal divided between Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians continued to widen. With the disastrous outcome of the Second and final Jewish Revolt of 132A.D., Jewish Christians quickly became a minority group in the newly established and rapidly growing gentile church movement. It is now that we see the Jewish population of the Church forced to either reject Jesus as the Messiah in favor of a future one, or join the church based on Jesus as the Son of God.

On a closing note, the issue of Jesus as the Messiah is still one of many dozens of issues that divide modern Jewish doctrine. The Jews do not universally agree on any of the teachings of their religion other than there is only one God. The Jews also believe they should love their fellow man, show that love through works, and that there will be a great resurrection of the dead at the end of the Age of the Rule of Man. At that time, the entire population of the world both, Jew and gentile, will physically experience a Messianic Age in which all of mankind will live together for a time in peace and harmony. How long this age will last, or what happens at the end of this age is not agreed upon in Jewish doctrine. Please see related: "Jewish Doctrine on Death"

Thanks be to God that we have Jesus who has given us reliable and detailed information concerning the coming Tribulation Period, the Rule of the Antichrist, His Second Coming and His Millennial Reign on earth.

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