Jesus, King of the Jews! Messianic Judaism, Jewish Christians, and Theology Beyond Supersessionism – ed. James Earle Patrick

Reviewed by Russ Resnik

A sea-change in Jewish-Christian relations since World War II is undeniable. The two world-wide communities that for many centuries saw themselves as adversaries and often behaved accordingly have in recent decades been seeking peace and understanding.

But one of the ironies of Jewish-Christian dialogue is that Messianic Jews have generally been left out, being seen as a stumbling-block to Jewish participation in the dialogue. Some Christian groups have explicitly excluded Messianic Jews from their understanding of Jewish-Christian relationships. Other Christian groups have been less forthright but still keep Messianic Jews at arm’s length for fear of damaging their relationships with the Jewish people as a whole. Over the past quarter-century, however, informal (and often very low-key) dialogue between Messianic Jews and Christians has expanded into more public dialogue between leaders of Christian and Messianic Jewish institutions—most notably an increasingly open dialogue between Roman Catholic and Messianic Jewish leaders.1

The recent publication, Jesus, King of the Jews? brings together four essays plus an Introduction and Afterword exploring the depths and the urgency of this dialogue. In his Foreword, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna writes, “Jewish believers in Jesus are exceptionally gifted to bridge the great divide between Israel and the believers from the nations, since they are truly family to both. Within the Church, therefore, there is an urgency also for the Gentile Christians to be reconciled to our Messianic Jewish brothers and sisters.”2 Cardinal Schönborn, a prominent Roman Catholic leader, is acknowledging that Messianic Jews, far from being a stumbling-block to Jewish-Christian dialogue, are essential to it.

In his introduction, editor James Earle Patrick, Theological Coordinator of Towards Jerusalem Council II (TJCII) – Europe, notes the role of TJCII, the book’s publisher, in raising awareness and acceptance of Messianic Judaism among the gentile churches.

The first Jerusalem Council was a representative assembly of the Church who welcomed in the Gentiles as Gentiles, so the second Jerusalem Council towards which we strive will be a representative Gentile assembly of the Church who welcome in the Jews as Jews once again.3

This welcome of Jewish followers of Jesus who remain loyal to the wider Jewish community and its legacy is essential to reversing the Church’s historic misunderstanding and mistreatment of the Jewish people. It views Jewishness not as a problem to be solved by conversion to Christianity, but as a God-given identity that is sustained even by Jews who follow Jesus. In its four chapters, Jesus, King of the Jews? explores the implications of this emerging Christian perspective in what the Introduction terms a “logical progression.”

Chapter One, “From Enemies to Siblings: On the Paradigm Shift in Jewish-Christian Dialogue,” by Jan-Heiner Tück, introduces the “positive theological climate change that has been underway since the 1960s,”4 which is starting to affect every aspect of the Church.5 Tück lists three indicators of this change that he considers most important, the first two of which are widely recognized: the repudiation of supersessionism that arose especially after the Holocaust forced a recognition of the legacy of Christian anti-Judaism; and, second, the rediscovery of the Jewishness of Jesus within both the Jewish and Christian scholarly communities. A third element noted by Tück is not so widely recognized: an increasingly visible Messianic Jewish movement. Tück follows Pope Benedict XVI in seeing this remnant within Israel as an “eschatological sign” and an essential partner in the intra-sibling dialogue between Christianity and Judaism, despite complications that Messianic Judaism might present to the dialogue.6

Chapter Two, “The Cost to the Church of Losing the Jews: Christian Doctrine as a History of Forgetting,” by Fr. Johannes Cornides, traces the origins of an anti-Jewish understanding of the gospel and the damage this has inflicted on Christian theology. This is a sad chapter, but it’s framed in a more positive perspective of the gains for Christian theology as it recognizes the “priority and implications of Jesus’s eternal kingship over his people.”7 To foster such recognition, the article lists four subheadings that identify distinct losses to Christian theology: The mystical Body of Christ without His Jewish face; Reading the Bible against its first addressees; A disincarnated Christ; and Kingdom of heaven vs. going to heaven. This last subheading contrasts the biblical Jewish hope of a restored worldwide Davidic Kingdom with an individualistic hope of leaving this world and going to heaven. It also brings the reader back to the book’s central question, which will be explored in the next chapter.

Chapter Three, “Is Jesus of Nazareth Still King of the Jews? New Testament Christology and the Jewish People,” by Mark Kinzer,8 constitutes what editor James Earle Patrick terms “the theological heart of the book, highlighted in our title and cover image.” 9 This “theological heart” is raised as a question—Jesus, King of the Jews? Kinzer expands this question in the title of his chapter, arguing that if the crucified, risen, ascendant, and returning Jesus is still King of the Jews? in all these related roles, Christian theology and practice need a radical realignment. Kinzer describes this realignment as a “king-of-the-Jews-Christology,” which “has three noteworthy advantages.”10 First, it is faithful to the message of the four Gospels, which all portray Yeshua as king of the Jews, especially in the climactic scenes of their passion narratives. Second, it provides a balanced rendering of “both sides of the mystery of the incarnation.”11 Yeshua is for all time a Jew, crucified and resurrected, who has ascended to the heavenly court, and will return as king of the Jews. Third, this Christology “offers a post-supersessionist perspective on Judaism and the Jewish people”12 that aligns with Christian orthodoxy.

Chapter Four, “The Challenge of the Messianic Jewish Movement for the Churches: Repositioning Ecclesiology in the Reflections of Msgr Dr Peter Hocken (1932–2017),” by Ann Friemel captures the pioneering contributions of Peter Hocken to the church’s understanding of Messianic Judaism—and of itself in light of Messianic Judaism. The Messianic Jewish movement presents a “challenge” to the churches because of “the transposition between the first and fourth centuries from a church rooted in Israel and centred in Jerusalem to a ‘church of the nations’ in which the Jewish disciples of Jesus had no place.”13 In response, Dr Hocken recognized the essential place of Jewish disciples of Jesus. He often spoke on corporate repentance, and enacted it as a representative of the Roman Catholic Church, particularly in response to its haughtiness toward the natural branches of the olive tree as in Romans 11:19–22.14 Such repentance is part of an historic “repositioning” of the Catholic Church in relationship to the Jewish people.15

A common thread between all four chapters is the focus on Jesus as King of the Jews?, with a proper Christian understanding of the Jewish and Messianic Jewish community arising out of that focus. Three of the four chapters also have the common thread of being contributed by authors within the Catholic Church, “a denomination that has perhaps the most to overcome as one looks at the history of anti-Semitism, replacement theology, persecutions such as the Spanish/Portuguese Inquisitions, forced baptisms, and other deplorable acts,” according to the Catholic author of Chapter Four, Ann Friemel.16

The Catholic voices are balanced not only by Mark Kinzer’s chapter, around which the whole book is organized, but also by the Afterword by Ole Chr. M. Kvarme, a bishop emeritus of the Lutheran Church of Norway. Overall the book lives up to its editor’s claim that its content is “ecumenical in tone.”17 Bishop Kvarme validates the perspectives of the Catholic authors, including their emphasis on repentance and “repositioning” in relationship to the Jewish people. His summation of the book captures the work of all four authors, Catholic as well as Messianic Jewish.

This book is unique in not focusing upon the messianic movement as a fringe phenomenon, not in discussing its diversity, but relating it to the foundations of our faith: Christology, ecclesiology, eschatology, or in other words: the mystery of the Messiah, the mystery of God’s people and its hope for the Kingdom of God and the world to come.18

The book is also unique in its treatment of the foundational topics of Christology, ecclesiology, and eschatology in the light of Jesus as King of the Jews. And, finally, it is unique in its perspective on the Church as needing to recognize and relate to the Messianic Jewish community to fulfill its own calling and destiny.

It is axiomatic in Messianic Jewish circles that Yeshua did not come to create a new religion, much less to replace an old religion (Judaism) with a new one (Christianity). Jesus remains a Jew and so do his Jewish followers. What then would be the defining difference between the religious traditions that arose after his resurrection and the Judaism out of which they arose? The difference is the person of Yeshua himself, or more precisely the differing responses to the question of who Yeshua is.

Something similar can be said about the difference between Messianic Judaism and most of the Christian world. We have multiple differences of practice and custom, but the essential difference is in the way we address the question, “Who is Jesus?” Broadly put, is he the new Adam, the firstborn of a new third race of humankind, the universal Christ who brings redemption to all peoples without discriminating between them—or is he (still) the King of the Jews? In this latter identity all that Jesus does for the whole of humankind he does as the monarch of a restored Davidic dynasty. The title, Jesus, King of the Jews? captures the dynamics behind this claim succinctly and well, as do the chapters of the book itself. It should prove to be a valuable resource to the Messianic Jewish community as well as to those seeking to more fully understand and engage with it.

1 As noted in this issue of Kesher, James Patrick, “Turning the Tide of Replacement Theology in Europe: Report on Vienna Theological Symposium, 11–13 July 2022,” 98.

2 Jesus, King of the Jews? Messianic Judaism, Jewish Christians, and Theology Beyond Supersessionism, ed. James Earle Patrick (Vienna: Toward Jerusalem Council II, 2021), 9–10.

3 King of the Jews? 16. Patrick is also the author of an article in this issue of Kesher, noted in fn. 1.

4 King of the Jews? 16.

5 King of the Jews? 19.

6 King of the Jews? 30.

7 King of the Jews? 33.

8 King of the Jews? notes on page 43, “This article first appeared in Kesher: A Journal of Messianic Judaism 39 (Summer/Fall 2021), article 1.”

9 King of the Jews? 17. The cover features “The Crucifixion in Yellow,” by Marc Chagall.

10 King of the Jews? 53.

11 King of the Jews? 53.

12 King of the Jews? 53.

13 King of the Jews? 62, quoting the paper, “Why the Relationship with the Messianic Jews is so Important” (2015), from Hocken’s private collection, located in Mysterium Christi house in Hainburg, Austria.

14 King of the Jews? 65–66.

15 King of the Jews? 61–62, 71.

16 King of the Jews? 59.

17 King of the Jews? 16.

18 King of the Jews? 74.