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Jesus - His Jewishness

Introduction

It comes as a surprise to some people when they discover that Jesus was in fact Jewish. This is so both for Jews and Christians. Here we will explore the evidence.

The Name of ‘Jesus Christ’

The name ‘Christian’ of course comes from the word ‘Christ’ but there are those who think that ‘Christ’ is also part of the name of Jesus. It is erroneously thought by some to be a surname but it is in fact a title.

The English word ‘Christ’ comes from Greek, the language in which the New Testament was written. It is a translation of the Greek word ‘Christos’. In the Tanach, the Old Testament, which was written in Hebrew, the Hebrew equivalent is ‘Moshiach’ or in English ‘Messiah’. Both ‘Christos’ and ‘Moshiach’ mean ‘Anointed One’.

Jesus Christ therefore means Jesus the Messiah. Christians believe He is the One promised in the Tanach, the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible. Jesus never Himself used the word ‘Christian’ or ‘Christianity’ and it is a common misconception that He came to start a new religion.

The name Jesus was announced by angels to both his parents, Joseph and Mary (Yosef and Miriam would have been their original Hebrew names). Jesus is an English way of saying a name from Hebrew which would be ‘Yeshua’ and in Hebrew-speaking Messianic Fellowships in Israel you will hear the name Yeshua used.

In the Brit Chadashah or New Testament, in Luke 1:30-31, Mary is told by an angel ‘“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus”’.

In Matthew 1:20-21 Joseph is also told what to call the child that Mary has conceived – ‘an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."’

Yeshua

The reason for the name Jesus then, is that He will save his people from their sins. There is a play on words in the Hebrew which is hidden in the original Greek and in the English translation. The Hebrew word for salvation is ‘yeshua’. That makes Isaiah 52:10 interesting – ‘The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation (yeshua) of our God’. Although this verse in Isaiah points to salvation for all the nations, yet the reason for His name points to salvation for His people, so a good question to ask at this point is ‘Who are His people?’ Let us answer this by looking at His genealogy.

The Genealogy of Jesus

The very first verses of the New Testament in the book of Matthew introduce us to the Genealogy of Jesus. He is a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David, three Hebrew Patriarchs and a King of Judah. Why is this so significant? There were certain promises God gave to Abraham in covenant that were passed down to Isaac and Jacob and also further promises to King David and these all related to the Messiah. What is so clear from the genealogy is that the family tree of Jesus is a Jewish one and that he was brought up in this culture. There is no evidence from the New Testament that He ever deviated or departed from his Jewish background. ‘His people’ therefore refers to the Jewish people although it can also be applied then to any who follow Him including Gentiles.

A Jewish Childhood

Jesus was circumcised as recorded in The Gospel of Luke 2:21 ‘And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb’.

His parents also obeyed what is written in the Law of Moses or the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament also referred to as the Pentateuch. In the following verses in Luke 2:22-24 we read ‘And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord") and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons."’

In verses 39 to the end of chapter 2 of Luke we see that Jesus returns to the Temple at the feast of Passover. He is 12 years old. The standard age for a Bar Mitzvah when a boy becomes a man in the Jewish tradition is at age 13. Jesus actually stayed behind and He must have already been immersed in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament, because He was sat among the teachers, probably the leading rabbis of the day, and He was asking them questions. Verse 47 tells us ‘And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers’.

During Jesus’ ministry years He was often to go up to Jerusalem and the Temple for the Jewish feasts as commanded in the Law of Moses.


The Jewish Disciples

One of the first recorded tasks of the ministry of Jesus is that of choosing the 12 disciples. Here, Jesus was beginning His teaching ministry and just like the Rabbis of that day He was to have those who were to follow Him. The marked difference here was that, in the main, these were unlearned Jewish men, men who were not training to become Rabbis themselves according to the Pharisaic tradition. His invitation was to ‘come and follow me’. The disciples did just that and they were to follow Jesus and receive His teaching.

Jesus taught from the Hebrew Old Testament being the Law of Moses (the Torah) as well as from the prophets and the writings. He showed them that, although His teaching was different than the Scribes and Pharisees of that day, He esteemed the Scriptures. In Matthew 5:17-20 He said ‘"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”’

The fact that Jesus often spoke in parables is also evidence of His Jewishness. Many rabbis of that day also spoke in parables to convey teaching. The huge difference about the teaching of Jesus was that He spoke as One who had authority yet without any rabbinic training.

Fulfilment of Old Testament Prophecy

In reading the New Testament one cannot fail to see how many references there are to Old Testament prophecies all written from a Jewish context. Even the New Covenant itself was prophesied in Jeremiah 31 and is a covenant which is for the House of Israel. Where then does the church fit into this? Essentially the church in the first instance was Jewish. Its leaders were Jewish and it was surprising to them when Gentiles (non-Jews) began also to come to faith in Jesus (Acts 10:45). Sadly, when the church later became institutionalised the then Gentile leaders wanted nothing to do with any Jewishness and in many places that remains so to this day. That such anti-Semitism should be found in the church is offensive to the One who it is supposed to be following – the Jewish Messiah. Gentiles have been grafted in to the Jewish ‘Olive Tree’ (Romans 11) and like Ruth have declared ‘Your people shall be my people and your God my God’. (Ruth 1:16). This of course does not mean that Gentiles become Jewish or that they should follow Rabbinic Judaism.

Some may say that Jesus is no longer Jewish but a careful reading of the book of Revelation suggests otherwise. In Revelation 5:5 we read - ‘And one of the elders said to me, "Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals."’ Also, we read in Revelation 22:16, in Jesus’ own words, “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.

Jesus was born King of the Jews, he died with that same title nailed to the cross and, according to the New Testament, He will return with that same title. His crucifixion and suffering not only fulfilled many prophecies from the Old Testament but also fulfilled the sacrificial atonement requirement for the forgiveness of sins. In the book of Revelation, He is referred to as ‘The Lamb who was slain’ bringing to mind the Passover lambs who were sacrificed and whose blood was daubed on the doorposts and lintels of Hebrew houses to save those who were inside.

The Jewishness of Jesus is not therefore a side issue but is vitally important to our understanding of who He is, what He has done for us and to better understand His teaching so that we may know His salvation and follow Him in close relationship for the rest of our life and into the next.

Recommended reading for further study: -

‘The Jewish Jesus’ – David Hoffbrand

‘The Kosher Jesus’ – Dr. Michael Brown

‘Sitting at the feet of Rabbi Jesus’ – Ann Spangler & Lois Tverberg

‘Identity Theft’ – Ron Cantor





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