Does it matter that Jesus was a Jew? Let’s talk about it today at Deeper Waters.
For those who don’t know, I’ve taken a new job on the night shift and since I work by myself or with one another, I have found that I can listen to the radio or to podcasts. I have been playing much of N.T. Wright who frequently speaks about the relation of Jesus to Second Temple Judaism. What makes this interesting for me is that a lady I work back there with who doesn’t mind hearing this is Jewish and not Messianic.
This is something that gets me pondering as I hear this. What does it mean to say that Jesus is Jewish? How does an understanding of Judaism at the time help us with understanding the New Testament? Do we really need to bother with all that stuff in the Old Testament to understand the New?
To begin with, imagine reading the gospels without knowing what comes prior. How confusing it would be! Matthew opens up with a genealogy that assumes you know about the persons of the Old Testament. Mark opens up with Scriptural fulfillment and Scripture quoted. Luke starts with talking about the priestly system. John has a wonderful prologue where within Jesus is seen as greater than Moses.
All of this assumes an understanding of the Old Testament. What about Jesus in particular? What we want to do is consider Jesus in light of his relationship to YHWH. Jesus shows up with the claim to be YHWH in the flesh and begins doing numerous miracles to back this claim. What on Earth is supposed to be done with this man?
Well we could shut him up as insane and if we found someone making similar claims today that would be our first thought. The Jews could not do that however because this man showed all signs of being in his right mind. He was doing numerous miracles which does not come along with insanity.
Maybe we can best him in debate! Yet at every turn, Jesus humiliates his opponents. With lines like “Have you not read?” he displays their ignorance in that which they ought to be experts on. His mind is fully rational and despite all attempts to show otherwise, those who seek to best him end up being bested themselves.
These claims however simply cannot be true. It cannot be true that a man like this is YHWH in the flesh! He does not keep the law! He works with sinners! He is lowly and disgraceful. He attends all these parties where tax collectors and prostitutes are present and he tells people to work on the Sabbath.
Within a Greek system, the idea of a man being a god and doing miracles would be unusual, but would be tolerable. Paul and Barnabas were mistook for Zeus and Hermes. Jesus is not in this system however. Jesus is in a system loyal to YHWH and while there could be openness to multiple persons being in YHWH, it wasn’t set in stone and to think YHWH would become flesh?!
Then Jesus also claims that he is the long awaited Messiah. I can think about what that means to a Jew today, but what about back then? The first thought would have been about freedom from Rome. Surely the Messiah will come to set us free. The Messiah can overcome the Roman Empire. We will enter the Davidic Kingdom once more when Messiah comes.
Messiah did not come at the head of an army. He did not come with much pomp and grandeur. There is nothing in Jesus that ever suggests that He is a military genius. He simply travels around with a bunch of ragtag followers, most of whom were going nowhere in society to begin with.
This is the Messiah?
Yes he was. What does it mean when we think about that today? I listen to Wright and I wonder what a Jewish mind is thinking when they hear about Jesus who is Lord and Savior and being worshiped as God. It is no scandal for us to do that, but let us never lose sight of the fact that it sure sounds scandalous. For the Jew listening, it likely is.
This gets us to the crucifixion. With the claims that Jesus made and how he showed no signs of insanity, I can only conclude one of two things is true. Either what Jesus said was false and the crucifixion was the most righteous act of all that put to death the most wicked man who ever lived, or what Jesus said was true, and the crucifixion was the most wicked act of all putting to death the most righteous man who ever lived.
There is no middle ground.
Now as it was then, Jesus is someone that people have to respond to and something has to be said about Him. Perhaps some of the Christ myth idea is reactionary to this, but also failing to account the awesomeness of this figure thinking that anyone could just make him up. If you’ll believe that, you will believe anything else. Ultimately, this is the case. What will the person who denies all of Jesus and His claims believe? It is not that they will believe nothing. The problem is that they will believe anything else.
It should not be a surprise that even our calendar system is based on this man and as He refused to stay dead 2000 years ago, so He refuses to stay dead today. Jesus was the true revolutionary of all time. It is not the case that Jesus turned the world upside down however. The reality is He turned it right-side up and we would hardly today recognize a world where Jesus never existed.
If we are to appreciate Jesus more however, I urge us also to not just think about Him as man and God, important and essential as both of those are, but let us think about him as a Jew in a Jewish system and may we never look at Him the same way again.