Christianity is Jewish
Jesus was as thoroughgoing a Jew as anyone who ever lived. In fact, Jesus wouldn’t have responded to the name Jesus if you yelled “Jesus!” to him across a busy street. Known in his time as Yeshua, which we would translate in English as Joshua, he was named for the Jewish hero who led the Israelites into the Promised Land. Joshua, of course, prefigured Jesus’ own mission to lead people into the Kingdom of God.
The one we call Jesus was born to Jewish parents. He was raised in a Jewish community. He attended a Jewish synagogue weekly. He celebrated the Jewish holidays at the Jewish Temple. He kept a kosher home. He almost certainly never ate pork. There is no story in the gospels where Jesus sat down to eat a ham sandwich at lunch. It would have been unthinkable for him to do so. Jesus read and studied the Hebrew Bible that we call the Old Testament. He loved and prayed to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jesus died with the words of the Hebrew Scriptures on his lips. Jesus was Jewish!
All of the men that Jesus chose as his 12 apostles were also Jewish! He chose 12 as a clearly symbolic act in which he was calling into being a new Israel led by 12 new patriarchs. Just like the Jewish nation was birthed from 12 patriarchs in the Old Testament, so the new people of God (the church) rests on the foundation of 12 apostles. Thousands of Jews in the New Testament believed in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah (Acts 2:41; Acts 21:20). It’s conservatively estimated that there are between 200,000-300,000 Jews today who believe that Jesus is the long awaited Jewish Messiah sent by the God of Israel to bring salvation to the world.
It is impossible to read the New Testament well without a foundation of understanding of the Old Testament. Indeed, the first gospel, Matthew, is as Jewish a book as one could ever read. Matthew begins his gospel this way: “A record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.” (Matthew 1:1) Right from the outset, Matthew tells us that his gospel about Jesus is thoroughly rooted in the Hebrew Bible. Jesus is the “Son of David”, the title that Jews gave to the Messiah. He is heir, the answer to all of the promises God made to King David, the greatest of the Old Testament kings. And Jesus is the “Son of Abraham”. He is THE true Jew.
Matthew tells us from the beginning of the New Testament that he is not sharing with us a story about the founder of a new religion called Christianity. Rather, Matthew is telling us about the person who fulfills all that the Hebrew Scriptures pointed to, and all the prayers prayed by Jews over thousands of years. To understand the relationship between the Old Testament (the Hebrew Bible) and the New Testament, we must understand the Old Testament to be the roots and the New Testament to be the fruit. Or as the old nursery rhyme put it:
The New is in the Old contained
The Old is by the New explained.
The New is in the Old concealed
The Old is by the New revealed.
Many Jewish people today object to calling Jesus the Messiah. They say, “If Jesus was the Messiah, the fulfillment of all the hopes of Israel, where is the worldwide peace that the Messiah was supposed to bring? Is anything more evident today than that the world lacks peace? If Jesus was the Messiah, where’s the end of suffering and tears? Jesus could not be the Messiah because the world is now not at peace.”
A very legitimate response to this objection would be to ask: “Who says that the Hebrew Scriptures only describe Messiah as the one who’s going to bring about a worldwide age of peace?” If you read through the Hebrew Bible, one thing you will discover is that prophecies regarding Messiah are not marked out as such. There is no text in the Hebrew Bible that says, “Now, get ready. The following verses are about the Messiah.” Rather, we find descriptions in the Old Testament about the one who is coming, sent by God, and we fit those descriptions together in forming our picture of what Messiah would be like.
To me, one of the saddest things in Jewish history has been the incomplete picture of Messiah that has been drawn out of the Hebrew Scriptures by the rabbis. The Hebrew Bible does speak about a king who is coming to establish an age of peace and righteousness, a king who will defeat the enemies of Israel and allow Israel to live securely and at peace. But there is another strand of teaching regarding the coming Messiah that many Jewish rabbis have reinterpreted or neglected. The other strand of teaching speaks about the one who is coming who will be rejected, who will suffer at the hands of God’s own people, and his suffering will result in the forgiveness of sins and salvation of the world.
Here’s what we read in the 53rd chapter of the book of Isaiah:
3 He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
4 Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
So, the Hebrew Bible tells us that only part of the biblical portrait of Messiah would be to bring about an era of worldwide peace. What Jewish people have done is take the final act of the play and put it as the first act. A fuller understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures would be that in the first act of the play Messiah would come and be rejected by his own people. He would suffer. He would be pierced for our transgressions. God would put on Messiah the iniquity of us all. Messiah would be the sin bearer. He would make atonement for our sins and bring about forgiveness and reconciliation between God and his people. As Messiah King, he would extend his dominion person by person, heart by heart, to anyone who embraces Jesus as his or her Messiah.
But one day he will return. The final act of Messiah will be to execute judgement on the earth and to establish his Kingdom in its fullness. In the final act, Messiah will bring about world peace.
This summer, we’ll consider the Jewishness of Christianity by preaching through the New Testament book of Hebrews. You’ll find that every symbol, every sacrifice, every holiday, every promise of God and every famous person in the Old Testament was written about in order to point to Jesus’ fulfillment not only of Jewish hope, but of Gentile hope as well. We cannot understand Christianity without understanding its Jewish roots. Christianity is Jewish!