by Bill Nugent
Messianic Jews are Jewish people who believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah of Israel. This view is identical to the views of historic Christianity. Jewish believers formerly called themselves “Hebrew Christians” but in recent years this term was dropped in favor of the term “Messianic Jews.”
Messianic Jewish organizations include the International Messianic Jewish Alliance, The Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations and Jews for Jesus among others.
Most Messianic Jews continue to regard themselves as Jewish. They boldly proclaim that believing in Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, does not diminish their Jewishness but in fact enhances it. Not surprisingly, they have found themselves in disputes with traditional, non-Messianic Jews.
Traditional Jews have attacked Messianic Jews over the concept of blood atonement. Blood atonement is the Bible concept of substitutional sacrifice. In the Old Testament, animals were offered in sacrifice to make atonement for sins. In the New Testament Jesus the Messiah suffered and died on the cross shedding His blood to make atonement for the sins of all mankind.
The Old Testament animal sacrifices were a prophetic picture of the future ultimate sacrifice of Messiah who came to die in our place. Messianic Jews (and Gentile Christians) maintain that the crucifixion of Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament animal sacrificial system. The New Testament portion of the Bible clearly teaches that Jesus received upon Himself the punishment for our sins so that we can receive forgiveness.
In attacking this position, the traditional Jews claim that the animal sacrifices were not a central part of Old Testament teaching and that the main emphasis in the Old Testament was on prayer and good works as the means of atonement. They claim that although God gave the sacrificial system under Moses, the prophets in later centuries taught atonement by prayer and good deeds as a higher way.
The traditional Jews’ position is incorrect on several levels. First, I must point out that the sacrificial system set up by the God of Israel was no minor enterprise. The Tabernacle of Moses and its priesthood and blood sacrifices are given very high status and prominent mention in the Old Testament. It was clearly the centerpiece of the Jewish faith. Vast passages in the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy are dedicated to detailing the priesthood, tabernacle, altar and instructions on how to offer animals in sacrifice. The Old Testament in Leviticus 17:11 says“it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.”
Traditional Jews point to various passages in the prophets that emphasize good works such as the 18th chapter of Ezekiel. The prophet Ezekiel does indeed convey great revelation on the importance of good works but we must not forget that in chapters 40-46 of this same book Ezekiel reveals God’s will for the rebuilding of the Temple (destroyed earlier by the Babylonians) and gives great detail regarding restoration of both priesthood and blood sacrifice! Ezekiel, a great prophet of God, clearly endorses blood atonement at a late period in Israel’s biblical history.
The prophets Zechariah and Haggai exhorted the people to rebuild the Temple after they returned from the Babylonian captivity. Their prophetic instruction was not to ignore blood atonement but rather to rebuild the Temple to continue it!
The very last book of the prophets in the Old Testament is the book of Malachi. In the last chapter of this book we read“Remember ye the law of Moses My servant, Which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, Even statutes and ordinances” (Malachi 4:22 The Holy Scriptures According to the Masoretic Text, The Jewish Publication Society of America). Clearly Malachi is commanding the people to continue to obey the revelation given to Moses which of course includes the blood sacrificial system.
Isaiah the prophet, in the 53rd chapter of his book gives a very clear prophecy that the coming Messiah would die for the sins of the people.
Jesus died for our sins. This is the basis on which we ask God for forgiveness. Once forgiven we are truly free to do good works from a pure heart to bring God praise and glory!