Throughout the past 2000 years, millions of people around the world have believed that God sent Jesus to the world as an example of how to live. Since the example he lived was life as an observant Jew, shouldn’t we be all the more serious about pursuing Jewish life? Here are some points to consider.
New Testament – Context
- The New Testament takes place in Israel, a predominantly Jewish land.
- The New Testament is a Jewish Book – written by, to, for, and about Jews and converts to Judaism (and also a minority of people who were followers of Jesus without having converted to Judaism). It is constantly making explicit and implicit references to the Old Testament.
Jesus Was Jewish
- Not only was Jesus Jewish by heritage, he was also an observant Jew, as was evidenced by his Synagogue attendance, observation of the Biblical Jewish feasts, and frequent quoting of Jewish scripture.
- Jesus had a reverence for his Jewish heritage and went so far as to proclaim that, “Salvation is from the Jews.” [John 4:22]
- Regarding The Law (the beneficial guidelines of Jewish life set forth in the Old Testament), Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” [Matthew 5:18 NIV] If you are reading this page, then it is likely that heaven and earth have not disappeared, and therefore, according to Jesus, Judaism is still of value to us today.
- The life and teachings of Jesus challenged the people in his day to walk more deeply in their Jewish faith. When people would ask Jesus for advise, he would not quote Plato or Socrates, but consistently referred to the Jewish scriptures (the Old Testament) and Jewish life as a guide to those who wanted to know how to live. Jesus never told people to leave Jewish life in pursuit of another way of life or faith. He constantly sent them back to the Jewish scriptures and guided them in the Jewish way of life. Here are some examples of this from the New Testament:
- ” “Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.” ” [Matthew 19:16-17 NIV]
- “…go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” [Matthew 8:4, Mark 1:44, Luke 5:14 NIV]
- ” ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” [Mark 12:29 / Matthew 22:37-40 NIV]
Jesus Pointed People to God, Not to Himself
- It seems that people wanted to worship Jesus. However, Jesus did not point people to himself, or a religion about himself, but only to God, saying, “Why do you call me good? . . . No one is good – except God alone.” [Mark 10:18, Luke 18:19 NIV]
- Regarding fellowship with him, Jesus said: “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” [Matthew 12:50 NIV]
- Jesus explains what he means by “the will of my Father” in this parable: “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, “Son, go and work today in the vineyard.” “I will not,” he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, “I will, sir,” but he did not go. Which of the two did what his father wanted? “The first,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.” [Matthew 21:28-32 NIV] Elsewhere it is written, “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” [Romans 2:13 NIV]
- Regarding salvation, Jesus said: “Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” [Matthew 7:21 NIV]
If the Bible Could Talk
- Referring to Jesus, the New Testament describes “The Word became flesh…” [John 1:14 NIV] If this is so, then Jesus is the living, breathing, walking, Tenakh (Old Testament). When he says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” [John 14:6 NIV] He is speaking prophetically as the Tenakh (Old Testament) and referring to the Jewish way of life that he was living. This is further clarified in these statements: “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me.” [John 7:16 NIV] “He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” [John 14:24 NIV] His teachings were not the teachings of “Jesus,” but of God, or rather God’s Word, the Bible. This is why he was constantly pointing people to God rather than to himself.
The Followers of Jesus Were Jewish
- The followers of Jesus were predominantly Jews and converts to Judaism. The Apostle Paul describes one early Christian in this scripture, “A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there.” [Acts 22:12 NIV]
- Some followers of Jesus proposed this guideline: “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.” [Acts 15:5 NIV] However, this suggestion was rejected in favor of less stringent requirements.
- Regarding Judaism and the Jewish people, the Apostle Paul states, “a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. (See Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:6, and Jeremiah 4:4) Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God. What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.” [Romans 2:29-3:2 NIV] “Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.”