The Body of Christ (Messiah)/The Church
By Dr. Deborah A. Burd, D.Min.
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. (1 Corinthians 12: 12-13, New International Version)
When the first-century church began, it was predominately Jewish, but as more Gentiles entered the Kingdom of God, Jewish leadership and influence began to play a lesser role in the Great Commission, placing many more Gentile believers in leadership positions within the Church rather than their Jewish counterparts. This continued on for centuries until much of the Jewish influence and traditions, with some exceptions, had greatly diminished from within the Church as a whole. Today, however, we are witnessing a miraculous turnaround within the Community of Believers. Many Jews are coming to faith in Messiah Jesus (Hebrew: Yeshua), and with that growing Messianic movement both here in the US and overseas, Jewish influence is once again impacting the Church in a big way, drawing many back to the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. As a result of this incredible movement of the Holy Spirit, those who grew up in a traditional Gentile church are seeing Jewish brothers and sisters assuming more and more leadership roles within the Body of Christ (Messiah). So why is this important? Let’s take a quick look at the book of Exodus.
Around the year 1446 B.C. (NIV commentary), God (Elohim, ´elōhîm) directed the Hebrew nation to meet with Him at Mt. Sinai and made an extraordinary covenant with them. He also commissioned those chosen people to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19: 6). In other words, they were to be the first missionaries and apostles to the world to help bring the nations to faith in the one true God. It was always God’s heart for the world to know and be reconciled to Him and for Jews and Gentiles to worship Him together as one body. Led by Moses, the children of Israel spent forty years in the desert, learning God’s laws and preparing for ministry before they were ready and allowed to enter the Promised Land. That land was given to them not only as a possession and an inheritance, but it was to be a place for them to begin sharing a message of hope of a future Messiah for the entire world. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob wanted to be in a relationship with all of humankind. Old Testament history, though, shows that often instead of winning souls to God, many Jews lost sight of their priestly charge and fell to the seductions of other religions. However, the Old Testament (Tanakh) also tells us that there was always a group or remnant of Jewish people (including many noted Jewish leaders) who remained faithful to God and their mission, and because of their devotion and faithfulness, the Messiah was able to enter the world through the Jewish people.
When the Messiah did come, He spent much of His time and energy reaching out to His Jewish brethren. Some might be puzzled as to why Jesus wanted his Kingdom message to be shared with the Jews first (Matthew 15: 21-28, Matthew 10: 5-8), but if you think about it, that makes sense because the Jews were the ones originally called to be ministers and evangelists to the nations. Their calling, according to Romans 11: 28-29 was still in effect, so Jesus had to reach out to them first in order to get them back on course. However, it needs to be pointed out that even though the Jewish nation was Jesus’ first order of business, He also reached out (Mark 8: 1-13, John 4: 1-26) and responded to the needs of Gentiles (Matthew 8: 5-13, Matthew 15: 21-28) when He was here on earth. They were not overlooked or excluded. Going further, if you review the genealogy of Jesus found in both Matthew and Luke, you will find that Jesus, though Jewish, had some Gentile ancestors (Matthew 1: 5, Luke. 3: 32). I believe that is significant. In addition, when all had been accomplished through His suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus told his disciples (talmidim) to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28: 19). Matthew 12: 21 also tells us, “In his name the nations will put their hope” (also see Isaiah 42: 1-4). That sounds pretty inclusive to me.
Like the Israelites, Jesus’ disciples had been prepared for ministry and were now being sent out to every part of the globe to bring others into the Kingdom of God, both Jew and Gentile. Yes, Jesus’ kingdom message was delivered first to the Jews, but He died and rose again for everyone. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3: 16). In addition, anyone who accepts Christ receives the Holy Spirit (Romans 8: 1-17) and is given spiritual gifts for ministry (1 Corinthians 12: 1-11). All believers (Jew and Gentile) share the royal priesthood (1 Peter 2: 9) and are ministers of Christ (1 Timothy 4: 6). Gentile believers are grafted into the nation of Israel (Romans 11: 11-24, Ephesians 2: 11-13) as sons and daughters of Abraham by faith (Romans 4: 1-25) in Jesus Christ, and all believers (Jew or Gentile) are members of the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12: 12-13).
In spite of the many terrible and tragic conflicts that have occurred between Jews and Gentiles over the centuries, through Jesus, Jewish and Gentile believers become knitted together as one body and find forgiveness, reconciliation, and perfect shalom. The Apostle Paul referred to this union as the one new man. “ For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility” (Ephesians 2: 14-16).
With the current Messianic movement gaining considerable momentum in the world, Jewish believers are not only fulfilling their original calling as priests but find themselves sharing a divinely ordained mission with their Gentile counterparts. In God’s Kingdom, then, Jew and Gentile followers of Jesus bring valuable contributions to the table. Bound in love, they become a beautiful symphony of instruments of God’s will as they work side-by-side in His harvest field to bring the world hope and truth and the message of salvation. Together they are the Community of Believers, the Body of Christ (Messiah), a Royal Priesthood, a Kingdom, a Holy Nation, the Church.
Brown, M. L. (1992). Our Hands Are Stained With Blood: The Tragic Story of the “Church” and the Jewish People. Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers.
Dobson, K. (2014). NIV First Century Study Bible: Explore Scripture In Its Jewish and Early Christian Context. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Juster, D. C. (2007). The Irrevocable Calling: Israel’s Role as a Light to the Nations. Clarksville, MD: Lederer Books/Messianic Jewish Publishers.
Moseley, R. (1996). Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church. Clarksville, MD: Lederer Books/Messianic Jewish Publishers.
Seif, J. L. (2012). To the Ends of the Earth: How the First Jewish Followers of Yeshua Transformed the Ancient World. Clarksville, MD: Lederer Books/Messianic Jewish Publishers.
Spangler, A., & Tverberg, L. (2009). Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Wilson, M. R. (1989). Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. and Dayton, OH: Center for Judaic-Christian Studies.
From Zola Levitt Ministries – A DVD series titled, “Called Together: Jew and Gentile One in Messiah.” It can be viewed via their TV archives on their website or purchased in DVD format from their online ministry store.
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