11 Aug 2020

Jesus of Nazareth: Does it Matter that the Messiah is a Jew?

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Hebrew Bible, Jesus, Jewish Backgrounds, Race Relations, resurrection, Salvation
The depiction on the right is more realistic of Jesus of Nazareth
than the picture on the left.

Why Does it Matter that Jesus IS a Jew

I was asked why it matters that Jesus is, not was, a Jew. It is a profound question and one we probably need to spend a lot more time on.

What does it matter to Christian faith that Jesus is, not was, a Jew? N. T. Wright once noted, that for many as long as Jesus had a virgin birth and died a sin-bearing death on the cross, Jesus himself and his life is practically irrelevant to their faith. For them Christianity is shaped and molded by other commitments.

Honestly, that Jesus is a Jew will not matter to a Marcionite nor a Gnostic. But for biblical Christianity it is not only important but essential. I confess that, at one point in my life that is exactly where I was. In short it matters

historically,
biblically,
theologically,
ethically
.

Because it is Part of the Gospel

The first words in the New Testament declare,

the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah,
the son of David,
the son of Abraham” (Mt. 1.1).

Paul a servant of Jesus Messiah … set apart for the gospel of God, promised through the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David” (Rom 1.1-3).

Remember Jesus Messiah/Christ
raised from the dead,
a descendant of David,
this is my gospel” (2 Tim 2.8).

Christians believe that Jesus is the Messiah. The word Christ and Messiah are the same (one comes from Greek and the other Hebrew). Messiah is a Jewish category, the Son of David. So for starters the Gospel declares that God is faithful to his promises. We cannot have Jesus without his family. We cannot have Jesus without Abraham, without David … without Israel.

To be Messiah is to be the King of Israel. As Matthew tells us Jesus (and Christmas reminds us of this) was “BORN king of the Jews” (2.2). The nearest equivalent for Christ/Messiah in English is King. Every time we see the word “Christ” or “Messiah” we should read “King.” Some translations actually do this (the Kingdom New Testament for example). King of what? Israel

According to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament the King of Israel (Messiah) will inherit the nations. That text from Psalm 2 is quoted at Jesus’s baptism (Mt 3.17; Ps 2.7). Gentiles do not become Jews by becoming “messianics” rather we confess that Jesus is the King of Israel and that makes him “Lord of all.” We Gentiles are his inheritance. That Jesus is a Jew matters greatly. God’s credibility is on the line.

Jesus’s, whose name is really Joshua (namesake for the book of Joshua), identity is one with the whole history of the people of God in the Hebrew Bible. Their story is his story. His life is the culmination of that story. We have the wrong Joshua if our Jesus is not from first to last, Joshua the Jew who is is the Son of Abraham, the Son of David, the Son of Mary … the King of the Jews.

See also Picturing Jesus, the Jew: Images Project and Shape Theology.

Jesus’s birth, the Incarnation, Affirms Creation and Thus our Identity

Jesus’s, Joshua’s, Jewish identity and context is often (literally) important to understand what he said and did. Jesus’s teaching is rooted in first and foremost the Hebrew Bible itself. We are prone to distort Jesus’s mission when we take him out of his own historical, context.

Against the Gnostics, biblical faith affirms that Jesus (the Word) became flesh, that is he became a genuine human being. This means being a human is good. Humans do not become angels, or spirit beings, at the resurrection. Instead what we are is redeemed. All of me is redeemed. Jesus being born a Jew not only affirms God’s faithfulness but it also affirms that God did not make a mistake in creating the world in the first place.

Jesus remains who he was born to be. The Joshua who was raised from the dead, and shall return, is the same Jesus born of Mary, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham. John dares to label folks who deny Jesus remains in the flesh, redeemed from the grave (see Acts 2.31), as “anti-Christs” (that is anti-messiahs). These people in 1 John and 2 John were actively against this fundamental teaching, it was not that they simply did not understand.

Jesus/Joshua did not come to destroy, get rid of, God’s creation,= Rather King Jesus came to set God’s creation free from death and decay. If Jesus ceased being a Jew then he would not be what he was. If he ceases to be who he was, then I, too, will cease being who I am.

But that is not what “salvation” does. In the new heavens and new earth, I will still be Bobby Valentine – redeemed from sin and the power of death. Every tribe, every tongue, every nation will be represented (cf. Revelation 7.9-1; Ephesians 2.11-3.10). This includes Jews and Gentiles – Abraham is the father of many nations all now united into Israel by the King of Israel who is Savior and Lord of All.

The word “Christian,” like “Christ,” is just the Greek form for “messianics.” We are the people of the Messiah, which includes both Jews and non-Jews. The NT does not teach, anywhere, that the “church” replaced Israel. What Luke teaches, what Paul teaches, what Peter teaches, is that Gentiles (the inheritance of the King of Israel) are now incorporated into Israel – they have become citizens of Israel (Ephesians 2.11-22) – on the basis of their faith in the King of Israel, Jesus the Messiah.

Paul never stopped being a Jew any more than Jesus did. To the Jew first, Paul wrote and then to the Greek. The Gentiles were “grafted” into the Olive Tree of Israel. The nations, as the nations, matter to God.

Denying that Jesus IS a brown skinned, Middle Eastern Jew has led to serious distortions of theology and crimes against humanity

Anti-semiticism flourished in the Roman Empire. Paul had to deal with it in Romans 9-11 (whole epistle in my view), where he says in essence “You cannot have Jesus without Israel.

In the Second and Third centuries, the Marcionites and Gnostics however rejected all things Jewish (the Old Testament, many books in the NT, heavily edited letters of Paul, etc). Jewish was bad to people with this orientation. Once we separate Jesus from his Jewishness, from the Hebrew Bible, then we can refashion Jesus into anything we want. These two views, Marcionism and Gnosticism, have been perpetual demonic poltergeists in Christian history.

Divorced from the Hebrew Bible and his Jewishnesss suddenly Jesus is now a Gentile and against the Jews. This move empowered centuries and centuries of not only Anti-Semitic sentiment but outright murderous violence. This ultimately culminates in Nazism, which affirmed Jesus indeed. But not a Jewish Jesus, an Aryan Jesus. See The Aryan Jesus, Part 1.

In our own historical context of North America we were never far from Nazism. It is hard to hold black folks in slavery when you believe the one you call King Jesus is a brown skinned Jew!

After slavery and the Civil War, the Klan appropriated a white Aryan Jesus. It is hard to lynch blacks and hate Jews when you know that Jesus is a brown skinned middle eastern Jew.

It is difficult to be a white nationalist when the disciple humbly submits to the brown skinned King of the Jews. We realize that Joshua is the King of Israel and Lord of all nations and will in the end eliminate all kingdoms that are not his (Daniel 2).

Historically some of the greatest crimes ever perpetuated have been empowered at their root by an ideology (that Paul protested against) that denies the Jewishness of Jesus.

Conclusion

The Jewishness of Jesus matters to everything about Christianity. His Messianic identity is inseparable from his Jewishness which is the whole point of Matthew 1 and 2 (especially that genealogy church’s tend to skip). The Gospel is not just that Jesus died for our sins. It is that Jesus the Jewish Messiah who is the the Son of David, saved us from our sins and through his resurrection in the flesh redeems God’s creation (and our own body with it) from the power of death and decay (Romans 8.11, 18-23).

The Jewishness of Jesus matters incarnationally and affirms the goodness and creational intent of God. That Jesus was born a Jews and raised a Jew means that I, too, will be “me.”

The cutting off of Jesus from his Jewishness has resulted in gross distortions that are still held by many today. It has resulted in crimes that are unspeakable.

The Jewishness of Jesus matters:

historically,
biblically,
theologically,
ethically

… and we have just touched the subject.

[Edit – Clarification on “Israel.” It is a misunderstanding to simply equate the modern state of Israel founded in 1948 with biblical Israel. Jesus is the King of Israel does not commit me blindly to the modern state of Israel. It does not mean the State of Israel is beyond criticism especially in regard to Palestinians. Renewed Israel as Scripture sees it is Jews + Gentiles who confess Jesus as the King of Israel. This is not replacing Israel but an expansion of Israel to include the believers of the nations.]

4 Responses to “Jesus of Nazareth: Does it Matter that the Messiah is a Jew?”

  1. John Acufff Says:

    outstanding i am pondering what you say here. thank you and as i have said before when you are on you are awesome or rather HE is awesome through you

  2. Kenny Says:

    Well written. The only disagreement I have, if you can call it that, is using solely “King” for MESSIAH!

    Surely, King is part of it. But Prophet and Priest are as much a part of MESSIAH!

    Anyway, those are my thoughts. Great article. Blessings bro.

  3. Bobby Valentine Says:

    Kenny,

    First, I appreciate you reading. I would have replied in a certain FB group but that was short changed.

    Second, on the term “Messiah/Christ.” I simply offered a translation of the term that can be backed up by numerous sources. The English words “Messiah/Christ” are simply transliterations rather than a translation, like the word “baptism.” These words have taken on traditional religious connotations which obscures the fact that in the first century the word “Messiah” was not a religious term but a political one, King. Jesus is King (Caesar!) and Augustus is not. This is extremely important and why the Jewishness of Jesus matters.

    While I have no doubt that Jesus is both prophet and priest those do not relate so much the office of King, though it is true that a few Kings seem to have had priestly and prophetic roles. But in Jesus’s day most held these categories differently. See how John 1.24 makes a clear distinction. But we agree that Jesus as King of Israel is also the Word of God and Priest of God.

    And check out the links within the article. I appreciate you reading and responding.

  4. Monte R Hawk Says:

    Excellent article. With Acts 15 you have two assemblies, one remained Jewish and the other was Gentile minus the Jewish. With the fall of Jerusalem this seems to gravitate more to the Gentile view.

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