Is Jesus Jewish?
Is Jesus Jewish? (and other questions)
by Lonnie Lane
Following are a few questions I received from a 16 year old girl named Leah. These are not trivial questions but rather very important and foundational ones. Unless one understands these things, there are many things about the Lord you can miss. I have taken one question at a time and answered them below. While you may feel that you already know the answers, please read through tham all as there may be aspects you hadn’t considered before. Thanks, Leah, for giving us an opportunity to answer some very good questions for you.
Q. There’s something that’s been bugging me for a while. Recently I was looking at the Sid Roth website and came across a statement claiming that Jesus was a Jew. But I have been taught to understand that Jesus wasn’t necessarily a Jew – He was what everyone could identify with. Was Jesus fully a Jew?
A. I understand the “universality” of portraying Jesus so that anyone can identify with Him. Perhaps it’s more so that people are assured that Jesus can relate to them in their own culture. I once saw a wonderful picture of a Japanese Mary holding a similarly Japanese baby Jesus while seated in a small boat which Joseph, also Japanese, was rowing down a stream past an obviously Japanese landscape as they were fleeing to Egypt. More likely you’ve seen pictures of the “holy family” on a donkey, or a camel riding through the desert, on their way to Egypt. But this is how this apparently Japanese artist identified Jesus as being Someone he could relate to.
However, Jesus was born a Hebrew and lived an entirely Jewish lifestyle. (We are using the terms Hebrew and Jewish interchangeably here.) Aside from being taken to Egypt to protect his life as a very small child, Jesus never ventured outside of Israel. He was fully engrossed in the culture of Israel. His self-identity was that of a Torah-keeping Jew, living in impeccable obedience to all the precepts of God to Israel, and following everything in Scripture that would define a Hebrew.
His life was in fact the fulfillment of everything that Torah required. That word “fulfillment” means to accomplish it entirely, not to cancel it as the church has often interpreted Jesus’ words that He came to fulfill the Torah to mean. In fact, He said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law (Torah) or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matt 5:17). If you go on to read in verse 19, He states, “Whoever then annuls (cancels) one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” What He is saying is that the Torah and the Prophets, which are the foundation of all that is Jewish, was to continue to be taught by His followers.
Unfortunately, the church either misunderstood what He said or disregarded it not too long after He walked the earth, for very soon it became difficult to find the “Jewishness” of Jesus in the church. While much has been restored in that regard, even now, the question of His Jewishness is still an issue as indicated by Leah’s question. But consider this: What is most important for the well-being, power and holiness of God’s people is that which satan would most like to get rid of. And so, even early on, the schemes of the devil managed to, little by little, wean the church away from its roots, until he was able to get a Roman emperor named Constantine to convene a council that would basically outlaw anything that in any way resembled the Jewishness from which the Gospel was born.
Similarly, while we’re thinking about what the Adversary was trying to remove from the church, quite early on the gifts of the spirit which the early (Jewish) disciples benefited from were no longer to be seen, and the offices of apostle, prophet and evangelist were no more. Pastors and teachers which remained basically went together as one gift or calling, as anyone who is a pastor teaches. That was allowed because the power was in the other three offices. So without the foundation of all that is in Torah and the power offices in the church, the church was restructured and redefined by men who had no understanding of Jesus’ Jewishness, nor the righteousness that Torah defined. It was into that righteousness that the Gentiles were invited to participate with the Jews through Jesus. But having departed from Torah, the (almost entirely Gentile) church became weak and was in much error, superstition and fear for many centuries.
Remember, it is the Holy Spirit that inspired Moses to write the Torah, so to outlaw Torah was to outlaw the Holy Spirit since it was His Word that was rejected, so He withdrew and the church was left without revelation, inspiration and the light of the truth for the most part.
To get back to the question about Jesus’ Jewishness, the reason for the hundreds of prophecies in the Old Covenant was so that Israel would recognize the Messiah when he came as the ONLY and UNIQUE ONE sent by God. God put lots of years and effort into creating a spiritual environment into which He could bring His son. That environment was Israel. Jesus is identified as the King of Israel (Pilate even wrote it over His cross), the Lion of Judah (Judah meaning Jews), the Passover Lamb (no other nation keeps Passover but Israel), and He is the Atoning sacrifice for sins (Only Israel had a God-ordained sacrificial system to do away with the guilt of sins.)
It is false teaching that denies that Jesus was or is no longer a Jew. In fact, when He returns, He will set His feet on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, Israel, and He will come as the manifest King of the Jews. All men will be required to “go up (to Jerusalem) from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Sukkout” (Booths or Tabernacles) (Zech 14:16), one of the Feasts that Israel celebrates, after He returns. A pretty Jewish thing to do.
However, Jewishness must not be seen as really having to do with a people in and of themselves, but rather what we must see is God Himself as He has revealed Himself to and through a community of people who happen to be the Jews. He then sent His Son as one of them who, by doing away with the wall of separation between them, allows Gentiles to enter into the same revelation and relationship with God as well.
Q. I always heard that in the Bible, Jewish lineage was reckoned through the father. But who was Jesus’ Father?
A. Yes, biblically lineage is reckoned through the father. God being Jesus’ Father makes Him the Son of God. But in the practical sense, no one really knew or would have believed His biological Father was God, except Miriam (Mary) and Joseph. That is a major reason why the rabbis and priests were so appalled at Him, because He presumed to say His Father was God, which would make Him equal with God, or of the same nature as God. Since Miriam was married to Joseph, Joseph was Jesus’ legal father. Jesus was known as Yeshua Ben Yosef, Jesus son of Joseph, and in fact, followed in Joseph’s footsteps as a carpenter as any good son would do to apprentice into his father’s trade. Miriam was from the same tribe of Judah as Joseph so Jesus’ lineage was of the tribe of Judah either way.
Q. To say that Jesus was sent particularly to the Jewish people seems a little, well, assuming.
A. Jesus was sent by God to the children of Abraham, a man with whom God had a very special relationship and to whom God promised that his seed (descendents) would include the Messiah and blessings to the entire world. We marvel that Yeshua was God and a man. But as a man He had to be a part of some people, and God took 2,500 years to prepare the people into whose midst He would send His son. It was God’s choice, not the choice of the Jews. Remember, God chose Israel because they were the least, not the greatest of people. It was His sovereign choice of the Jews.
Q. But there is that other thing, “In Christ there is no Jew nor Gentile.” Doesn’t that imply that Jesus is larger than such human differences?
A. Of course He’s larger – than everything – but He created our human differences. I believe it takes all of us over the centuries in all of our array of differences and all our vast complexities of culture to begin to “fill” His Body. Some of the beauty of the Lord is in all our cultural differences, like many facets in a diamond that reflect the light, so each reveals the light of Yeshua in some way. He is so complex and awesome. How can we grasp the greatness of our God?
However, what this verse means is that at one time only the Jews could approach God because only they had been shown by God through Torah how to be ritually clean to be able to do so. Only the Jews knew of God’s requirement of the sacrifices and the blood that covered their sin. No other people on the earth at that time knew what the Jews knew about God or had a relationship with Him. He interacted with no other people than the Jews. Now through Yeshua, the Gentiles could also approach God through His sacrificial one-time-for-all-persons Atonement. This verse about “no Jew nor Gentile” has to do with approaching our holy God, not about doing away with culture.
The entire verse says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek (Gentile), there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28) We each know whether we are male or female without question. That wasn’t done away with when we were saved. At one time, however, women could not approach the Lord in the same way as men could. Even the Temple Wall area in Jerusalem still has separate areas for the men and the women. But in the Lord, men and women alike can approach God and be equally His. There is no cultural, gender or social status that keeps us from approaching God. We are all one in that regard just as we are one in Jesus. None is excluded.
Neither does this verse mean, as it is often interpreted to mean, that Jews should do away with their Jewishness while Gentiles get to keep their cultures. If I were Italian, or Polish, and I got saved, I wouldn’t cease to be Italian or Polish. But the devil would like to make that the case for the Jews because “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22) He is still out to obliterate from the church the significance of her Hebrew roots.
But praise be to God, we are privileged to live in a day when God is “restoring all things.” Peter said, in talking about the return of Jesus, “whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth His holy prophets from ancient time.” (Acts. 3:21) We live in the days of unprecedented restoration. At least we are in the process of it unfolding. This restoration of things Jewish or Hebrew, may in fact be more of a prophetic reality for the return of Jesus than anything else taking place in our day. (Selah!)
Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible Copyright ©1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, Calif. All rights reserved. Used by permission.