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When Orthodox Jews became the First Christians




You may know that Christians had their beginnings at a Jewish feast of Pentecost in Jerusalem about 33 AD.  But did you know that from 33 AD until about 50 AD, this new group of Messiah followers was primarily Jewish Orthodox? These Jews had come to believe that Yeshua, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, was the Jewish Messiah of Israel. This agreed with hundreds of prophetic statements found in their Torah and Tanakh (Old Testament). But this belief did not change their identity as Jewish Orthodox. They considered the arrival of Messiah to be the natural completion and fulfillment of their Jewish Orthodox faith. In this blog we will explore this phenomenal beginning when Orthodox Jews became the first Christians.


In the beginning of the 3 year ministry of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, He named 12 Apostles who were to be His team. One of them, Judas, was lost because of betrayal, but was replaced by Matthias. These men were all Orthodox Jews, as was Jesus Himself. These men were close companions of Jesus Christ for 3 years, and eye-witnesses of His teaching and miracles.

The Apostles were there when He was arrested by some of the Jewish religious leaders and turned over to the Roman Governor to be crucified. When the first reports came in that He was alive, they were present. They soon saw Him in person, along with 500 other individuals. For 40 days after his resurrection they lived with, ate with, and enjoyed the presence of their resurrected Savior. At the end of the 40 days, they thought that He might re-establish the long awaited kingdom to Israel. Instead, He instructed them to stay in Jerusalem until the Feast of Pentecost. He said that they would receive special Power and be made His witnesses throughout the earth.


Sure enough, when Pentecost arrived, the 12 apostles and other observant Jews totaling 120, were praying in an upper room in Jerusalem. Without warning they were suddenly engulfed by the visible and rushing wind of G_D1 the Spirit descending on each of them. They began speaking in other languages. This was the promised energizing and empowering Spirit of G-D.1
It changed them from sometimes cowardly followers, into fierce advocates of the Savior who they knew had conquered death. These Orthodox Jews didn’t realize it then, but they had become the first members of a special group later called “the Body of Christ.” This group would consist of all who would confess that “Jesus Christ is Messiah and Lord.”

The Apostles’ new confidence brought them to the streets of Jerusalem where thousands of visitors from distant nations had gathered for the Feast Day. They were mostly Orthodox Jews, but also a few Gentile proselytes. When the Apostle Peter and others began to proclaim to the crowds about the resurrected Christ, a miraculous phenomenon occurred. Peter and the other Apostles were speaking in their native Judean language. However, the crowds of people were hearing them speak in the listeners’ native languages. And there were dozens of different languages represented! It must have been bedlam!


Some listeners concluded the speakers were drunk! Peter assured them this was not the case. He went on to proclaim that Jesus Christ was the promised Jewish Messiah. That G_D had vindicated Christ by raising Him from the Dead. He explained that everyone, in every nation, needed to confess Jesus Christ as Lord, be baptized, and be cleansed of their sin. And that very day 3000 more individuals made that choice. They joined the Apostles as members of the special group that would be called by the Greek word, ekklesia, or, “called out ones.”


In the days and weeks following Pentecost, the Good News of Christ was carried “back home” by those who had heard it at Jerusalem. And in some cases “home” was a thousand miles away, in every direction. The Apostles themselves took to the highways and began spreading the “Good News” that Jesus Christ was Lord and Coming King. There are unofficial reports that certain Apostles made it as far as India, and China. Wherever and whenever a person heard and accepted the news that Christ had Risen and was Lord, that person experienced the same indwelling of G-D’s Spirit.


Immediately after the events of Pentecost, a new association of people appeared in Jerusalem. By outsiders, this new group of believers was considered an offshoot of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were Orthodox Jews who believed in a resurrection. And these new believers not only believed in Yeshua’s’ resurrection, they were expecting Him to return and establish His Kingdom any day now. They had a noticeable love and care for each other which made them seem like one large family. Some even sold properties and brought the proceeds to the Apostles for their work. The Apostles and disciples continued to proclaim the Good News in Judea and Samaria and a number of miraculous signs and healings accompanied their efforts.

The new believers and the Apostles continued to frequent the Temple, but they spent much time meeting together in public places or in their homes.2 When they met together, their main activities were studying what the Apostles had taught them about Yeshua, praying, and the Breaking of Bread.2 The latter was something Yeshua had shared with the Apostles on the night he was betrayed.

The term “Christian” would not be created or applied to this group of believers until approximately 15 years later.  As we look back, we can say that Pentecost began a 15 year period when Orthodox Jews were the first members and leaders of a group that would later be named “Christian.”

This new group of Christian believers was never called by the name “church.” There was no word “church” in the Greek or Hebrew language. The Greek word used to describe the Christian believers was “ekklesia,” a secular term used to describe any group of individuals selected or “called out” to a specific cause or task. Applied to the Christians, it meant they had been “called out” to the cause of  Christ.


The Apostles themselves were convinced that Pentecost was a Jewish event. They were dumbfounded when reports came in that a few Gentiles were also responding to the Good News.  Interpreting Pentecost as a Jewish event made sense because it was the Orthodox Jews who owned, and revered, the Torah and Tanakh. The latter described the events of the Messiah’s Coming, His Death, and Resurrection. In addition, Christ had come from the Jewish lineage of King David, and represented the G_D of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

This Jewish composition and leadership of the “ekklesia” would continue for at least 15 years. The recognized leaders of the group continued to be the 12 Apostles in Jerusalem. The New Testament would not be written until about 55 AD. Until then, it was the word of the Apostles that was the authoritative truth for the new believers.  In the meantime, the Good News spread farther and farther from Jerusalem. And the numbers of Gentiles who responded continued to grow.


It was about 50 AD when the Jewish believers in Antioch decided that some decisions would have to be made regarding the many Gentiles who had responded to the Good News. The issue came to head largely as a result of the conversion of Saul, the ultimate Orthodox Jew. After Pentecost, he was assigned by the Jewish religious hierarchy to find and hunt down these new believers in Yeshua and to commit them to prison. Miraculously, on one of his ”witch hunts” he was accosted by the Risen Christ in such a way that he too, “bowed his knee” to the Savior.

Paul then became one of the strongest advocates in proclaiming the Good News. From his conversion soon after Pentecost, until about 50 AD, Saul, now Paul, spent most of his time preaching around his hometown of Tarsus. For about 15 years Paul was far removed from the Apostles in Jerusalem. His primary mission, given to him by Christ, was to go to the Gentiles. In addition, he was given special revelation about the nature of this new message of the Good News.


One place where Paul did meet with believers was at the town of Antioch in Syria. Antioch was about halfway between his hometown of Tarsus and Jerusalem. It was here in Antioch, about 50 AD, that questions were raised: “What should we advise all these Gentiles who have now embraced Christ?” “If they are now Jews, should they be circumcised?” It was Paul’s strong conviction that the answer was NO, based on what had been revealed to him. This resulted in strong disagreements at Antioch between supporters of Paul, and those Jewish believers (called Judaizers) who said Yes.


To resolve this issue the Antioch believers decided to ask for the opinion of the Orthodox Jewish Apostles in Jerusalem. They were considered the total authority on all matters concerning Jesus of Nazareth. Paul and Barnabas were among those who went from Antioch about 50 AD to meet with the Apostles in Jerusalem. In the meeting, the Apostle Peter recounted the first occurrence of Gentiles turning to Christ. Paul then described how that many Gentiles were responding to the Good News and were receiving the evidence of the indwelling Spirit of G_D. The Apostle James referred to the Tanakh’s mention of Gentile conversion.

Then the Apostle James issued his conclusion that: NO, the Gentile believers should not be required to have circumcision or to keep all the Law. Instead, the Apostles recommended that Gentile believers should simply avoid idols, fornication, strangulated meat and blood. This decision by the Jerusalem Apostles about 50 AD began the separation of the Christ followers from Orthodox Judaism.


It would still be many years before the separation was complete in the regions far from Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas had begun their extensive missionary journeys in Turkey just before the Jerusalem Council.  Their practice when entering any town was to first visit the synagogue and ask for a hearing. Many Jews and Gentiles accepted what they had to say. However, Paul was often driven from town by a larger group of Orthodox Jews who did not accept the Message of Christ. Over time the separation became complete. And it was at Antioch that the Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ were first called “Christ’s Ones,” “Christians.” And in the Apostle Paul’s letters about 60 AD, he clarified for all time that a new entity was now in existence. It was called the “Body of Christ,” or, “Christian believers”, consisting of both Jews and Gentiles.


For many years after Pentecost 33 AD, the apostolic leadership and the majority of the Christ followers were Orthodox Jews. As noted, these Apostles had no idea of what the Lord was planning when He had asked them to remain at Jerusalem until Pentecost. They had no plan of their own for the future. No organizational model. They were simply ordinary men who were energized and directed in their decisions by the indwelling Spirit of the living G-D. Because they had no preplanned agenda, G-D was able to create this new and eternal group of Christ followers.

G-D has added to this new group of Christians in every century since Pentecost. The total number of the those who have confessed Christ as Messiah and Lord, from every nation on earth, must number in the Billions. And every one of them is known personally by Yeshua. As He once said. “I know my sheep, and I am known by them.”3


And every one of these believers, from Pentecost until now, has been, or is waiting for the promised conclusion, when the resurrected Messiah and Lord will return to establish His Kingdom. “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.”And when that Kingdom appears, there will be 12 Messianic Orthodox Jews in a place of high honor. There names will be inscribed on the 12 foundations of the City of God. They are known as the 12 Apostles of the Lamb. 5

1. I have used G_D in this article in deference to any orthodox Jews who do not write out the name of the Creator.
2. Acts 2
3. John 10:14
4. Matthew 6:10
5. Rev 21:14

For additional reading on this topic see:
The Most High God and the Jewish View

A free Online Bible is available for your use at:

When Orthodox Jews became the First Christians

When Orthodox Jews became the First Christians

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