Jesus Was A Jew – Really?

The question of who the man Jesus was is one that has dominated discussions for 2000 years. Many have tried to describe Him, and many artists have tried to capture His likeness. These decisions seem to make the topic more confusing, as historians did not find much to comment on Jesus’s looks and artistic renderings are inconsistent, including the way His racial identity is portrayed.

European art makes Jesus look European; African art going back centuries makes Him look African; Asian art makes Him look Asian. And American art makes Him look American with lighter hair and blue eyes. Despite these contradictory images, the Bible is clear about His genealogy and religious identify – He was Jewish.

There is Biblical and cultural evidence to support the stance that He was an ethnic and religious Hebrew, who reached across these barriers to bring all people to the Father.

The Bible provides 2 genealogies for Jesus in the Bible, tracing His earthly heritage back in time, one of them all the way to Adam. Coupled with the genealogical records in the Old Testament, it’s easy to trace Jesus’s heritage back through the history of the Hebrew people who became the Jewish nation. The 2 genealogies traced in the Gospel are generally accepted to trace Jesus’s heritage through both His earthly parents, and are targeted at 2 different audiences.

Matthew, the Apostle, was Jewish, and the primary audience of his letter was targeted at a Jewish audience. He begins his record with Abraham, the father of the Hebrew nation, and ends with Joseph, the man who raised Jesus and acted as his earthly father. The line-up of men in the genealogy run from the father of the nation, to David, to Joseph, which would have been culturally important for establishing Jesus’s Jewish heritage to that audience.

The emphasis on Abraham would have set up Jesus’s credentials as the Messiah, and showing the connection to David through his son Solomon would have shown how he fulfilled some of the prophecies about the Messiah. It also makes sure to hit all the important moments in Isreal’s history. “So all the generations from Abraham to David to the deportation to Babylon to Christ was fourteen generations” (Matthew 1:17). Matthew’s records hold cultural and historical information supporting Jesus’s heritage.

Luke’s gospel follows the genealogy of Mary. She is not mentioned by name, but that would have been common during the 1st century. The connection to David is reinforced, this time through his son Nathan. It is important to trace Jesus’s linkage around the 1st century, Jewish heritage was passed matrilineally, through His mother. While certain aspects of the Jewish culture and religion are passed through the father, such as priesthood, the birth tight to be considered Jewish comes from the mother because of the general consensus of interpretations of the Torah and the Talmud (Jewish religious texts which include the Bible.

The genealogy is the biological connection to David. Unlike Matthew, Luke was a gentile (a person who is not Jewish), writing to another gentile – a friend of his named Theophilus. Luk traces Jesus’s heritage all the way back to Adam. The reason that it was important for Luke, and the gentile audience, is because it is a good reminder that Jesus was not just the Messiah for the Hebrew people, but for all people.

Jesus was also a Jew in the religious sense, though He had a perfect understanding of a right relationship with the Father, where mankind has misunderstood it. Jesus was called a Rabbi, or Teacher, and preached in temples throughout Isreal during His 33-year ministry. He followed the Holy Days of the Jewish calendar and had an observable relationship with God. Though the religious practices of the day do not exactly align with contemporary Judaism, at that time, He would have been considered a religious Jew by the Roman authorities. Other Jewish leaders, including the Pharisees, would have considered some of His teachings heretical.

In Jesus’s time there was a strong desire for the Messiah to come because of the oppression of Rome. The Messiah was perceived in a similar way as He is today, but many also believed He would overthrow Rome, leading to an independent Isreal.

Like today, devout practitioners of Judaism would have observed high Holy Days, many which involved a trip to Jerusalem if possible. They followed Levitical law, giving tithes and sacrifices as required. Historians categorize this period as the Second Temple period. Solomon’s temple was gone, and Herod constructed the second. The influence of the Pharisees and Sadducees increased, and they added the to rules and regulations of the laws to Hebrew traditions.

Jesus commented on this issue, “But you say, If a man tells his father or his mother, what you would have gained from me is Corban (that is given to God) – then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making good the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down (Mark 7:11-13). Even though there was religious corruption, there were many honorable and sincere Jewish believers waiting for the Messiah.

Matthew 5:17, says “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law of the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but the fulfill them. Jesus’s teaching were the ultimate of the law, rather than new and contradictory. He took the rules and prophecies from the I, d Testament and explained them I full, rather than from the limited and flawed view of man. He highlighted the limitations of the law to redeem a soul, and that following the rules does not fix the inner man’s sins, that is something only God can do.

He laid this premise out cleat in the Sermon on the Mount:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, You shall not murder; and murders will be liable to judgment; But I sat to you that everyone who is angry with his brother (or sister) will be liable to judgment.

Matthew 5:21-22

You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery; But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with , lustful, the intent has already committed adultery with her (or him) in their heart

Matthew 5:27-28

These are two of several examples of Jesus highlighting that the point of law was not only to prevent wicked actions, but to also turn a mirror inward, and require the individual to repent of their inner sins, which prevent someone from being righteous before God. Because no one can live in perfect righteousness on his own, Jesus paid the price for the is a of the world so that their righteousness can be attributed to the sin er, saving that person from judgement.

Who’s the primary focus of Jesus’s ministry was His people, the Israelites, but He still reached out to the Gentiles (us). He shared the Gospel with the Samaritan woman. When the Centurion in Capernaum reached out to Him to heal a gravely ill servant, He said that if Jesus commanded it, the servant would be well. even if Jesus did not take the physical journey to the home. In response, Jesus devoted, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Isreal have I found such faith. I tell you many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven…” ( Matthew 8:10-11. Here, Jesus declares the future salvation of the Gentiles.

The Messiah came to save both the Hebrew people and the whole world. He reached out to both groups. He discipled 12 Jewish apostles, who became the formidable force behind the beginnings of the church, bringing the Gentiles into the family of God. Through His death, Jesus saved the Gentiles just as much as the Jewish people.

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