EXPOSITIONS ON THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEWThe BRI and IMCF. Our Unique Presence on the “Messianic Map.”
Whatever Happened to the Nazarenes?
Les Aron Gosling, Messianic Rebbe
CAUTION: These BRI Expositions are not available to the general public. They are not for distribution. They are not for reproduction. The notes may also bear little or no resemblance to the actual audio or video recorded BRI Yeshiva lecture.
Copyright © BRI 2009, 2015 All Rights Reserved Worldwide by Les Aron Gosling, Messianic lecturer (BRI/IMCF)
There is very little doubt in the mind of this Messianic lecturer that the Jewish writers of the Messianic Scriptures would be aghast at the lifeless spiritual state (indeed, the totally apostate condition) of the Christian community today were they to visit us.
Indeed Yeshua, Paul, and others warned the Christians of their day of a great apostasy that was to occur within the Messianic Community and that situation proved to become a reality long before the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. Luke records in Acts 8
that this move away from
the truth of God began very early indeed with the sudden appearance of a Samaritan known as Simon the Magus, and later church historians refer to him as the originator of all heresies.
As the Scribes and Pharisees pointed people to mere words of a written scroll thinking there was a salvation in ink
, Simon claimed the ability to interpret those holy scrolls at a higher level and grant his adherents a salvation based on gnosis
By the fourth century, with the rise of emperor Constantine, the predicted apostasy was in full swing. Today, however, the apostles would find it extremely difficult to recognise any semblence of the Messianic Community which the Lord Yeshua founded. In my opinion, it is completely unrecognisable. And I am not merely referring to that with which we are all familiar, namely the worldwide Christian church.
At this time we are all witness to the phenomenal rise of what are labelled “Messianic congregations” in the world today. Our own IMCF is a part of the international Messianic movement. Unfortunately, most if not all of these various affiliations and assemblies – while having an emphasis on the basic fundamentals of the Christian faith such as a belief in “Yeshua” as Lord and Saviour – they have (at the same time) a generally unhealthy disregard for both Grace and the Gentiles who would seek to align
to “the national life of Israel” (Eph 2.10
Frankly, most are outright legalists. It's invariably a case of “Torah, Torah, Torah.” As Tora, Tora, Tora
destroyed Pearl Harbour, so Torah, Torah, Torah
will destroy the Messianic Movement unless its proponents repent and place a more appropriate emphasis on the spiritual essentials – such as GRACE
. I make no apology for this statement and position.
Our office has recently been receiving emails from Christian Gentiles (and from Jews) desiring to meet with other believers (outside of Australia) who also recognise God's Grace as displayed in an eventual universal salvation. They tell us that our Internet site is proving to be a field of right knowledge which can be inculcated into their lives and into their existing trust as A DYNAMIC LIVING FAITH. When they read our literature it becomes apparent to them that Yeshua is NOT a doctrine, but an abiding entity who is very real to us.
One believer noted: “There is nothing like [your] teaching anywhere. I know. I have spent years searching for just one
church [in the USA] like your own!” (Emphasis entirely their own.) Another – a converted Jewish lady – has written to us on a number of occasions wanting a Messianic congregation in her region of the US that believes in the Grace of God as revealed in a universal salvation.
Sadly, we have to turn these people away with the news that at this time only in Australia
can you locate a Messianic congregation with such an emphasis. Of course, this will change, and we are praying this into existence daily. But the reality for the moment is that only here in this country is there such a ministry. Hence the VITAL IMPORTANCE of getting behind BRI/IMCF with your prayerful energy and finances so that this situation can change and we can become much more effective pertaining to sharing in outreach to others with this UNIQUE GOSPEL.
In truth, it is my absolute personal conviction that what we see now emerging as the IMCF is in fact a spiritual organism wearing the authoritative mantle of the ancient Nazarenes – the original Messianic Community but adapted to our modern age
with its peculiar and particular realities.A SHORT HISTORY OF THE NAZARENES.
In 65/66 CE – immediately prior to the Zealot revolution – the Spirit of God moved authentic Jewish believers (and the Gentiles who were aligned with them) who were scattered throughout Judaea, and who continued to embody the TRUTH as it is in Yeshua, to flee “from the wrath to come” (Mt 3.7
) across the Jordan river to Pella of the Decapolis and other outlying regions. The Christians in those days were known generally as “Nazarenes.” This fact is recorded in the Lukan Acts
. About ten years earlier when Rav Shaul was standing before Felix, Rome's Governor in Caesarea, he was accused of being a “ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes
” (Acts 24.5
According to Encyclopaedia Britannica
, the “Nazarenes, [were] an obscure Jewish-Christian sect existing at the time of Epiphanius [circa 370 CE] in Coele-Syria, Decapolis (Pella) and Basanitis (Cocabe). According to that authority (Panarion, xxix. 7) they dated their settlement in Pella from the time of the flight of the Jewish Christians from Jerusalem, immediately before the siege in A.D. 70; he characterizes them as neither more nor less than Jews pure and simple, but adds that they recognized the new covenant as well as the old, and believed in the resurrection, and in the one God and His Son Jesus Christ... Jerome... says that they believed in Christ the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary, who suffered under Pontius Pilate, and rose again, but adds that, 'desiring to be both Jews and Christians, they are neither the one nor the other.' They used the Aramaic recension of the Gospel according to Matthew, which they called the Gospel to the Hebrews, but, while adhering as far as possible to the Mosaic economy as regarded... sabbaths, foods and the like, they did not refuse to recognize... Paul or the rights of heathen [Gentile] Christians (Jer., Comm. in Isa., ix. I). These facts, taken along with the name (cf. Acts xxiv. 5) and geographical position of the sect, lead to the conclusion that the Nazarenes of the 4th century are... to be identified with the Ebionites" (Encyc. Britannica
, 11th Ed, Vol. 19, 319).
James, the most important man in Judaea, had been recently assassinated (62 CE). Nero had unleashed his persecution on the Jewish Christians and they were being hunted down and crucified, burned alive as torches for his garden orgies, thrown to wild beasts in the arenas that dotted the empire, drowned, raped, tortured. Now the Zealots were about to signal war with Rome by refusing to sacrifice any longer in the Temple to the emperor. Such was the uncertain situation within the kingdom of Judaea. The Nazarenes were fleeing the bounds of the Roman empire. Outside of the Holy Land, the Christian faith had already been established early in the drama of Jewish-Christian history. The Messianic assemblies (synagogues) were scattered throughout Asia Minor, the Aegean, in Alexandria, Syria, and in Rome. But they were also founded further afield.
William Camden informs us, “The true Christian Religion was planted here [in Britain] most anciently by Joseph of Arimathea, Simon Zelotes, Aristobulus, by St. Peter, and St. Paul, as may be proved by Dorotheus, Theodoretus and Sophronius [respected historians of that period]” (William Camden, Remains of Britain
, 1674, 5).
Cressy writes: “Joseph [of Arimathea] was buried near the little wattle church he built [at Glastonbury]. The lid of the sarcophagus said to have contained his remains bore the simple inscription: 'To the Britons I came after I buried the Christ. I taught, I have entered my rest'” (Hugh Paulinus Serenus Cressy, Church-history of Brittany from the beginning of Christianity to the Norman conquest: under Roman governours, Brittish kings, the English-Saxon heptarchy, the English-Saxon (and Danish) monarchy ... : from all which is evidently demonstrated that the present Roman Catholick religion hath from the beginning, without interruption or change been professed in this our island, &c
And, while scholar Stillingfleet rejected the notion he attests that: “It is the opinion generally received among our later writers, as one of them tells the world, 'That the conversion of the British nation to the Christian faith was performed towards the latter end of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,' i.e. about thirty seven years after Christ's nativity” (Edward Stillingfleet, Antiquities of the British Churches
, 1685, 1,2).
Such an early date for the establishment of the Messianic Community amongst the Britons would bring us to late 34 CE. Paul did not pen his letter to the Romans for another 20 years! Still, the early scholars insist that the Gospel infiltrated the British Isles (or at the least a seaside colony of Jewish traders among the tribal Britons) at this early date. Certainly by the end of the first century there is proof of Christian teaching on these shores.
Again, in his Church History of Brittany
, Cressy writes: “St. Aristobulus [Romans 16.10
], a disciple of... St. Paul in Rome, was sent as an Apostle to the Britons, and was the first Bishop in Britain, he died in Glastonbury, A.D. 99.”
Elaborating on the evangelistic work of Rav Shaul's disciple Aristobulus, the Greek Martyrologies
inform us that: “Aristobulus was one of the seventy disciples, and a follower of St. Paul the Apostle, along with whom he preached the Gospel to the whole world, and ministered to him. He was chosen by St. Paul to be the missionary bishop to the land of Britain, inhabited by a very warlike and fierce race. By them he was... scourged, and repeatedly dragged as a criminal through their towns, yet he converted many of them to Christianity. He was there martyred, after he had built churches and ordained deacons and priests [bishops or elders] for the island.”
Perplexed scholars admit that this ancient Christianity was a form of Judaism. The Sabbath was kept. The Christians differentiated between clean and unclean foods. There is irrefutable evidence abounding that the Celtic Church in Ireland remained Torah-observant until the late fifth century when Rome decimated it. Although Rome claims St. Patrick as one of “theirs” he was, and remains, “one of ours.”
When James was killed, one of Yeshua's relatives – Simon the son of Cleophas (Lk 24.18; Jn 19.25
) – stepped into his vacancy at Jerusalem and, when the Nazarenes fled across the Jordan, Simon remained in that office for another 38 years. Ultimately he was crucified in 107 CE at the advanced age of 120 years (Eusebius, Ecc. Hist.
, III, 32). After Simon's demise thirteen Jewish elders successively presided over the Nazarene Council.
Then came the revolt of Akiva's Messiah, Bar Kochva, and the utter and total destruction of Jerusalem (135 CE). The Romans under Publius Aelius Hadrianus rebuilt it under the name of Aelia Capitolina (Aelia
after Hadrian, and Capitolina
after the god Jupiter Capitolinus). Jews were refused entry to the city under pain of death.
The Jerusalem-Pella Nazarenes then came under the administrative control of a compromising intellectual Gentile Christian called Marcus, who was one of them, and as a result of his concessions over the Torah most of the Nazarenes forsook God and adopted Roman social customs. They became one with the world. They had reasoned that their survival could only be sustained by aligning with the expectations of Roman authority. They had thus successfully reasoned their way out of God's economy. Certainly they were sanctioned by Rome and permitted to return to Aelia Capitolina but they soon lost all semblance of their originality.
The minority of Nazarenes who refused to compromise with Marcus – identified as Italian (and so in all likelihood, a Samaritan) by historian Gibbon – were rejected by the apostate Christians as legalists. Gibbon notes:
“At his [Marcus'] persuasion, the most considerable part of the [Nazarene] congregation renounced the Mosaic law, in the practice of which they had persevered above a century. By this sacrifice of their habits and prejudices they purchased free admission into the colony of Hadrian, and more firmly cemented their union with the [existing] Catholic church” (Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
, I, 390).
Gibbon proceeds to reveal what happened to the faithful remnant of Christians who refused to yield the Torah to the compromising injunctions of Marcus:
“The crimes of heresy and schism were imputed to the obscure remnant of the Nazarenes which refused to accompany their Latin bishop... In a few years after the return of the church of Jerusalem, it became a matter of doubt and controversy whether a man who sincerely acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, but who still continued to observe the law of Moses, could possibly hope for salvation” (ibid).
With a very short period the Nazarenes who had forsaken the Sabbath day and who were now following the “normal” Italian diet “excluded their Judaising brethren [those who were obedient to God] from the hope of salvation... [and] declined any intercourse with them in the common offices of friendship, hospitality, and social life.”
It was this legacy that the Catholic church bequeathed to our modern world today. Christians who have returned to the expectations of God for them are largely ostracised from the “community of the faithful.” Yet even within the Roman church there were sincere converted believers just as there are today (for God is holding these believers accountable for the understanding they have
, not the knowledge they do not have
As for the few original Nazarenes who remained faithful, the encyclopaedias tell us nothing more. According to them they were swallowed up into oblivion and (in the infamous fourth century) simply “died out.” Yet, immediately after the fourth century we find traces of the original faith
cropping up in the Balkans and then appearing and reappearing in eastern Europe proper. It is in the opinion of some scholars that these new sects of “Judaising Christians” were the children of the Nazarenes, for if they possessed one mere gift it was evangelism with “the [holy] Spirit of Truth” – “the Spirit of Right Knowledge.”
In our next exposition we shall examine the major Judaisms that existed in Matthew's day.
If you would like to continue studying the lecture series “EXPOSITIONS ON THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW” we would encourage you to become a member of the International Messianic Community of Faith (IMCF). The way to become a member is to get behind this ministry and Work of God by sharing your financial blessings as frequently as God desires of you. Our very survival depends on the generosity of our students/members.
We are not subject to any church or religious organisation of men, and are not under any authoritarian church board of any church, denomination, or sect. We are entirely free in the Mashiach Yeshua, and will not be muzzled by so-called religious pastoral “coverings.” We are not asking for a “tithe.” The paying of a Levitical tithe based on “net” or “gross” is illegal as far as God the Father, Yeshua (and the Torah) are concerned. Even though churches, and certain Messianic organisations, say they have a claim to a tithe of your increase God says the exact and precise opposite! (Please see our lecture on The Tithing Paper located under the Library header on this site.)
Please feel free to access the donation icon on the front page of this public site and send an email notifying us of your generosity and your identification so that you may be immediately admitted as a member of the International Messianic Community of Faith (IMCF).
We thank you for allowing us to serve you in this manner.