Scion Series: Book V, The Paraclete will deal wholly with Gentile participation in traditional Jewish lifestyle events. One of these controversial topics addresses the question of Gentile participation in the annual feast cycle observed by Jews around the world from the time they were given on Mt. Sinai and recorded in Leviticus 23.
The Paraclete opens with verses from Colossians 2:16-17: (16)"So don't let anyone pass judgment on you in connection with eating and drinking, or in regard to a (Jewish) festival or Rosh-Hodesh or Shabbat. (17) These are a shadow of things that are coming, but the body is of the Messiah" (CJB). Briefly summarizing these statements made by the Apostle Paul, the Gentiles were welcomed to participate in Jewish events (Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8) to the extent they wished, though they were not required (Acts 15). There were some, however, who were causing trouble and making the allegations that various Jewish practices were required for salvation. Paul refers to them as those who were "in subjection to a legalistic perversion of Torah" (1 Corinthians 9:12). Paul's teachings to the Gentiles and Peter's acknowledgment that the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44-48) express God's desire to make Jew and Gentile one new man in Messiah (Ephesians 2:14-16). How should that look? Are Gentiles required to participate in the Jewish expression of that faith? The apostles gathered in Jerusalem to discuss this controversial issue (Acts 15). Some were spreading false notions that conversion to Judaism was still the path into the Kingdom of God. The council stated emphatically that salvation is through trust in Yeshua the Messiah. Any other teaching is a perversion of Torah, for Torah was never designed to "save," but rather to point the way, like an arrow, to mankind's need for a savior. So, the feast question needed to be answered. Since they are sign covenants between God and the Jewish people, do graphed-in Gentiles have to participate? Again, the Jerusalem Council emphatically agreed, "No"—in fact, they said, "Therefore, my opinion is that we should not put obstacles (cf. verse 10) in the way of the Goyim (nations aka Gentiles) who are turning to God. Instead, we should write them a letter telling them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from fornication, from what is strangled and from blood" (Acts 15:19-20).
Jewish participation in the feast cycle and other distinctively Jewish regulations such as, kashrut or dietary laws, is mandated (except for sin offerings after Messiah) as a perpetual convocation from "generation to generation." Their perpetual nature provides an annual remembrance of the work of deliverance by God. Paul alludes to this in verse 17 above when he refers to the feasts collectively as a "shadow of things." These "shadows" are, in a metaphorical sense, remembrances. Of greater importance is the body that casts those shadowy feasts—that is Messiah. In the feasts, the redemptive and restorative work of God is seen in Yeshua (Jesus). Each feast prophetically points to a stage of redemptive work which "is and was and is to come." The feasts speak to God's ever presence in our remote desert places. His faithfulness is abundant. The Paraclete will explain the feasts and their messianic implications in greater detail and with personal revelations as one who did not grow up observing them, but rather came to appreciate their significance. Here is a brief introduction from The Paraclete:
Controversy to Contemplate: Keeping the Feasts
Gentiles are not liable for the sign covenants (feast, circumcision, Saturday Sabbath, kashrut). These are the appointed times and laws given to Israel on Mount Horeb to establish them as a set apart nation for God’s redemptive plan. They are a part of the Jewish identity much like a constitution is to a country. God is orderly. He draws distinctions in nature. He separated light and dark, established the boundaries between land and sea, took Eve from Adam, and created many other beautiful differentiations. God also draws distinctions between corporate callings and gifts and individual callings and gifts. Romans 11:29 says that these gifts and callings are irrevocable. Disobedience may cause a "pause" in their usage or put a people into exile, but it doesn't erase God's purpose for a people or the gifts endowed for the execution of that purpose. Israel was called to be a light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6) from a land designated by God. How would we feel if God were to take away our gifts and callings for the disobedience that we have displayed? This is something to contemplate.
Balance and Order:
Galatians 5:3 exhorts that any male Gentile undergoing circumcision will be liable for the entire Torah; “ Again, I warn you: any man who undergoes circumcision is obligated to observe the entire Torah.” The Greek tense of "man" is unisex implying "mankind" rather than men in particular. So in this context, Paul is using the term, circumcision, as a catchword for conversion. With this, we can deduce that the opposite is also true: If the Galatians did not undergo conversion to Judaism, then they would not be liable for the entire Torah. The Gentiles must adhere to the four particular rules specified by the Jerusalem Council.
These laws, outlined in Acts 15:20, prohibit activities associated with idolatry, sexual immorality, and consuming the lifeblood of animals. The council did not give detailed regulations for the Jewish believers because none were needed; they were to continue to live as Jews with exception to the sin offering, which was given through Yeshua once for all time. Galatians 5:3 is particularly interesting in this regard. Clearly, Paul is upholding the lifestyle of those who by circumcision enter into the Abrahamic Covenant and follow the Laws of Moses, that is to say, the Jewish people. God grafted the nations into His covenant people, though both remain in their distinct conditions in which they came into covenant. This is the important focus of Paul's Rule to the Churches, as it is softened labeled:
17 Only let each person live the life the Lord has assigned him and live it in the condition he was in when God called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the congregations. 18 Was someone already circumcised when he was called? Then he should not try to remove the marks of his circumcision. Was someone uncircumcised when he was called? He shouldn’t undergo circumcision.19 Being circumcised means nothing, and being uncircumcised means nothing; what does mean something is keeping God’s commandments. 20 Each person should remain in the condition he was in when he was called. 21 Were you a slave when you were called? Well, don’t let it bother you; although if you can gain your freedom, take advantage of the opportunity. 22 For a person who was a slave when he was called is the Lord’s freedman; likewise, someone who was a free man when he was called is a slave of the Messiah. 23 You were bought at a price, so do not become slaves of other human beings. 24 Brothers, let each one remain with God in the condition in which he was called (1 Corinthians 7:17-24).
Many get "stuck" reading, "circumcision and uncircumcision mean nothing," and there it ends—a homogenized body of believers. The above pericope deals with the roles of Jews and Gentiles operating within a unified Body of Messiah. Much like a marriage, the “two become one flesh” yet both husband and wife remain distinct. This will be covered more fully in Scion Series, Book I: The Libertine 2nd edition.
That being said, under what circumstances might a Gentile join the feasts (modem—appointed times)? Ephesians 2 tells that the Gentiles were “in this world without God and without hope but have been brought near by the shed blood of Messiah.” Gentiles have sought to understand the appointed times of God perhaps out of gratitude or curiosity. The richness and fullness of God's redemptive plan is displayed in the elements of the Passover Seder. Sukkoth reminds us that God dwells with and will never forsake us. Shavuot is the giving of God's word and power. Rosh HaShanah-Days of Awe and Yom Kippur provide a season of reflection and reconciliation with those we have wronged and with God. Shabbat is God's day, set apart weekly to do nothing else except fellowship with mankind. Will we do the same? Imagine—an entire day basking in God's goodness! Rosh Chodesh is a fresh start, a new month with renewed intensions—Chodesh tov! (Have a good month)
There was a season when Gentiles did not seek, out of curiosity or gratitude, the feasts or any other Jewish basis of Christianity. There is a sad history and an ever-present undertow of disunity. The hellenization of Yeshua and the apostles began as early as the second century and was solidified by the fourth century. Since this time, believing Jews have had no clear way of expressing faith in Yeshua while maintaining their Jewish lifestyle, their distinct calling, as a branch within the Body of Messiah. Traditionally, Messianic Jews have been between a rock-and-a-hard-place; they may accept the Jewish Messiah and live as a Gentile or maintain their cultural identity as a Jew and denounce faith in Yeshua. Such a horrible choice! Essentially this means, "Don't be who God created you to be or be without the God who created you." If Paul's Rule to the Churches were diagrammed, it may look something like this:
For those eager to fellowship together, to maintain distinct callings, and to be one in Messiah as the diagram illustrates, the network of Messianic Jewish Synagogues provides a solution. Messianic Jewish Synagogues include Gentiles in a committed covenant relationship, while maintaining distinct roles for the two groups. However, from synagogue to synagogue, those distinctions can be a bit of a pendulum swing. Some allow Gentiles to participate more fully in the Jewish expression such as wearing tallitot and kippot (prayer shawls and head coverings for men). Others maintain a strict separation where Torah readings and bat/bar mitzvahs are exclusively Jewish. Sensitivity is needed by both groups to maintain relations. Messianic Jews realize that Gentiles within the synagogue are there to love and support the Jewish people, identify with the life of Messiah, and to gain greater understanding of God’s Word through a Hebraic approach. Gentiles understand that the sign covenants, like the feasts, and the Sabbath are exclusive covenants made by God with the Jewish people though Gentiles may participate (Colossians 2:16-17). While it is true that the sign covenants belong to the Jews, I believe an exclusive approach maintains Christianity as a separate religion with a separate god, Jesus. David Stern shares his observation on page 3, footnote 5 of his book, Messianic Judaism: A Modern Movement with an Ancient Past, noting that Israelis consider “Yeshu” the "Christian God”. My sense is that the non-believing Jewish community views Christian non-participation in the appointed times (Feasts) of God, as well as His Shabbat because we are a separate religion. They do not understand that within Christendom, there are Gentiles called of God to stand with the Messianic Jews. Messianic Gentiles, in some ways like a Ger Toshav, are called to stand with their Jewish brothers and sisters in the synagogue and are a distinct population. This calling is not incumbent upon all Gentiles everywhere. A Messianic Gentile makes an individual choice to forgo their freedoms as a Gentile by taking on a Jewish lifestyle. This is the distinction between a Messianic Gentile who applies for membership in a Messianic Jewish Synagogue and a Gentile Christian who attends a Messianic Jewish Synagogue for cultural interest.
To sum up this controversy, one is correct in saying that the Feasts of the Lord and the sign covenants are Jewish identity measures. God has ordained their observance as a mandate to the Jewish people to identify them as His set apart nation. Messianic Gentiles who are called to stand with the Messianic Jews, through membership in a Messianic Jewish Synagogue, should do so without condemnation (Colossians 2: 16-17) or insecurity. A balanced approach would affirm the call for Messianic Jews to observe their forever covenant responsibilities within the context of Messiah, Yeshua while acknowledging that some Gentiles are called to stand with them in these things. It is important for churches to link arms with Messianic Jewish communities to support and affirm one another. Perhaps our unity will diminish centuries of antagonism and express Yeshua's love to the greater Jewish community.
David Rudolph, Joel Willitts, Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations, Zondervan, 2013, pg. 48-49
David H. Stern, Messianic Judaism: A Modern Movement with an Ancient Past, Messianic Jewish Publishers, (copyright 1988, 2007), pg. 3, footnote 5
Messianic Gentiles are those “called” to stand with Messianic Jews by attending their synagogues, and identifying with the Jewish lifestyle, supporting the Messianic Jewish call to remain Jewish while worshipping the Messiah.