Jesus was Jewish

April 27, 2020

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Jesus of Nazareth was an ethnic descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and his life and words are best understood in the context of the common Jewish apocalyptic view of history in the first century. In this short video, I explain why this often overlooked idea is important for modern Gentile disciples of Jesus.


How are you, friends, Josh here. I want to talk just briefly today about what might seem like an obvious point to some and emphasize just a couple of important implications of it, and that’s the point that Jesus of Nazareth - the one who died on the cross and rose again on the 3rd day, was Jewish. That’s right, Jesus was not a white European with long flowing hair and a neatly cropped beard. And as he sits at the right hand of God in the heavens right now waiting for the day his enemies are made his footstool, he still is a Jewish man. Now you might be thinking “well, duh, he was born in Israel, he was a son of Abraham and a son of David, of course he was Jewish.” And while we often intellectually affirm this, we don’t often think through some massive implications on what this means especially for us as 21st century Gentiles when we read the words in red in our Bibles.

What do I mean? Well, if Jesus was Jewish and came to the Jewish people in the land of Israel 2000 years ago, it’s important for US to read his words and see the events of his life through that lens. Jesus and the Jews of the first century had a preexisting worldview - a very specific way of understanding God, the events that had happened in Israel’s history, where everything was headed, and what the future held for the nation and for the world, etc. So the events we read about in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were not the beginning of a new novel, they were later chapters in a continuing novel that began all the way back in Genesis, specifically with the promise of the seed from Genesis 3:15 and the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12, 15, 17, etc. where God said that it would be through Abraham’s family that all the rest of the nations of the earth would be blessed. Think about it - if we picked up a 10-chapter novel and started reading it at chapter 7, how much of the details of the story would we miss or get wrong or misunderstand or misinterpret? This is why it’s important to see that when Jesus came the first time, he was a Jew who came in context to a very Jewish story, and the words he spoke were in context to THAT story and THAT worldview.

And why does that matter? Well we have the tendency to be anachronistic, meaning we read our Bibles and primarily apply what we read to our situation and our time period with either little or no regard to what Jesus’ words and actions meant to the Jews in the first century. We tend to individualize or spiritualize things that were understood sometimes in the complete opposite way in Jesus’ day, as corporate or as not “spiritual” at all. So if we want to be disciples of Jesus and understand his message, we really need to get our minds and our hearts wrapped around what his words and actions would have meant for a first century Jew. This isn’t something new - in seminaries, this is Hermeneutics 101. This is about just reading the Bible in context.

Since as early as the 2nd and 3rd centuries and really taking shape in the 4th century with the emperor Constantine, Christianity has set itself in opposition to this Jewish story through what biblical scholars and historians call “replacement theology” or “supesessionism”. This belief holds that the Christian church has replaced ethnic Israel, the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in their role in the gospel story because of the rejection of Jesus as their Messiah. This way of thinking has caused many Gentile disciples of Jesus to see the Jewish scriptures, what we just call the “Old Testament”, as either irrelevant or unimportant for us today, or at best, just a bunch of prophecy that all just “points to Jesus” and what he did at the first coming. Often times the things that the Old Testament says about the future of the Jewish nation and even about the Gentiles are an afterthought or take a back seat to the things that Jesus did at his first coming.

Now in no way am I minimizing what Jesus did when he came the first time, I’m just saying that it’s important to see those things in context to the larger story of the Bible. Because the Old Testament has been building a story that didn’t come to its ultimate climax or its final conclusion in the first century with the death and resurrection of Jesus. Scholars and theologians throughout history have used the word “apocalyptic” to describe the worldview, the perspective, the eschatology of first century. This just means that the themes so often developed by the Law and the Prophets - themes like the Day of the Lord, the resurrection from the dead, eternal life, the day of judgment, the kingdom of God - these themes were very real, tangible, future realities that were on the minds of Jesus’ hearers and flowing off of Jesus’ lips as he spoke. The first century Jews understood, from their own scriptures, that history was moving toward this climactic end when the messiah appears, the righteous would be rewarded, the wicked would be punished, the age to come would be launched, and God would set up a kingdom of righteousness with the Messiah reigning in glory over the nations from Jerusalem.

So as we approach the life and the words of Jesus, words that are more familiar to many Christians than the Old Testament, we would do well to remember that Jesus was Jewish, talking to Jewish people, addressing very Jewish themes and affirming Jewish ideas from their scriptures. This doesn’t mean that Jesus’ words and life don’t matter to us as 21st century Westerners - of course they do. In my experience, they matter a great deal more when we see them through a first century Jewish apocalyptic lens. Because as the apostles go on to make clear from their writings, this gospel story had not come to be a completely different story than what they had been expecting, as if Jesus redefined or reimagined the prophecies of the Jewish scriptures, but rather, it was a continuing story that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus confirmed to be true. This is what the apostles say throughout the book of Acts and in the epistles. I think of passages like Acts 17:31 where Paul says that God has “fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” Paul is strongly affirming Jewish eschatology and the Jewish story there. Also Peter in 2 Peter 1:19 where he says, because of what he heard and saw at the transfiguration of Jesus, he says: “we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises”.

So not only are we as 21st century Western disciples of Jesus invited to understand this very Jewish story and our place as the Gentiles - the nations - in it, but we’re invited to participate in it, boldly tell others about it, and long for its ultimate conclusion, which is eternal life in a resurrected body, the restoration of creation, and the administration of blessing to the world through Abraham’s descendants in the age to come when Jesus returns and reigns on David’s throne. This epic story is designed to thrill our heart so much more than the western narrative where you accept Jesus into your heart, live a nice life, and go to heaven to float on a cloud forever.

I wanted to talk about this because there has been nothing more invigorating to my faith than seeing the details of the broader story of the Bible and understanding my place as a 21st century Gentile in that story. I can’t tell you how much I’ve grown in love and obedience as I’ve seen the details of the scriptures as real, verifiable events in history, and how my anticipation is growing for all that the God of Israel has said will come to pass.

So I’ll be putting out some more shorter videos like this one addressing themes around these topics and much more in the days ahead, so like, share, and subscribe for more. I also have a full series of more formal videos I did on the Gospels that you can check out on my YouTube channel. I hope they are a blessing and encouragement to your faith. Well, God bless, and Maranatha.

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