TRA Wordtalks

"Sunday, 10th May, 1998 - The Jewish Jesus."

12/98 Scripture: Matthew 5:17-20

WHAT would have happened if Jesus had lived in Poland in 1937? He would have been gassed with two and a half million Jews in Auschwitz, and his body burned in the crematoria. The Jewish Jesus was not Aryan. He would have stood in line, not for crucifixion, but for gassing. When will all Christians discover the Jewish Jesus? As mentioned last week, most Western artists still paint Jesus in our image, with blonde or brown hair and brown or blue eyes, without any semitic features.

Dr John Squires of UTC in "Insights" (Dec 96) rightly says: "Christian scholars now clearly agree that Jesus was born, lived, and died as a Jew. This is a quantum leap from the earlier view of Jesus (replicated in many Sunday School pictures and, indeed, in many stained glass windows in churches) of a blond, blue-eyed, gentle European figure, showing absolutely no trace of his Semitic origins. We now see clearly that the New Testament indicates the Jewishness of Jesus. Jesus cannot be fully understood without carefully locating him in his original Jewish context. This insight forms the basis for the third phase in what is known as the quest for the historical Jesus."

Gregory A Boyd says that "Among most scholars within the `Third Quest' is an emphasis on seeing Jesus as a Jew, and thus on understanding Him within the context of first-century Judaism." What is there about Judaism of the time of Jesus that helps us to understand more about Him? Have recently discovered manuscripts and archaeological sites taught us more about Jesus? The answer is "Yes", but also much that is old has been confirmed.


We are learning more about the villages and lifestyle of Jesus. Nazareth (as we discussed last week) was a small village on a hilltop 1,300' above sea level. Archaeologists in the 1950's unearthed wells, granaries and olive presses from the first century. From the time of His baptism, Jesus ministered round the cities on the north shore of Lake Galilee. We have spoken previously about the remarkable discoveries in Capernaum, of the Synagogue from the time of Christ which was a gift of a god-fearing centurion (Luke 7:5), of the first century house believed to have been that of Simon Peter with the prayers and names of Peter and Jesus painted on the plaster wall.

In the past twenty years, great interest has been shown in the other Galilean village where Jesus lived, Bethsaida. Here Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish and called five fishermen to be disciples. There are seven biblical references to Bethsaida in the four Gospels. (Matt 11:21,Luke 9:10-11,10:13, Mk 6:45,8:22; Jn 1:43-44,12:20-2l.) Bethsaida is only now being excavated after being lost since the Roman invasion. A Benedictine monk and archaeologist, Bargil Pixner, discovered Bethsaida in 1967 but archaeologists only started uncovering the 22 acre site in 1987.

The excavation reveals a fishing village predominantly Jewish in culture, even though Gentiles lived in nearby towns. "It is the only one associated with the life of Jesus that has remained unchanged since those days. We find a village that is practically the same as at the time of Jesus. We see the houses as they stood, the roads where he passed."

The archaeologists have discovered Jewish coins and Herodian oil lamps used in Jewish communities, and architecture that was Middle Eastern, not Greek. "These places that are mentioned in the Bible really existed. This man Jesus was a real human being; he was a Jew and lived like a Jew." ("Christians And Israel" Nov '95 Jerusalem)

Being able to walk through streets where He walked, and to sit on the floor of the Synagogue where he preached, and stand within the walls of a small house in a fishing village where He healed Peter's mother, and where four men let a paralysed man down through the roof to Jesus because they could not get near due to the crowds, is to know the environment and home life in which He lived. Many of His parables now take on new life.


As I said in the first sermon in this series "Historical Jesus or Christ of Faith" "From 1980 on, a whole series of archaeological and historical discoveries, new manuscripts and a better understanding of Judaism in the time of Jesus, set scholars off on a third quest for the historical Jesus, seeking to understand Him in the light of His times. The Dead Sea Scrolls have been the most famous of recent discoveries illuminating His era, but there have been many more that have led scholars to see Jesus within the vibrant times of the Second Temple Judaism, the beliefs that existed during the time Herod the Great rebuilt the Temple." We have the difficult task of looking back 2000 years and seeking to identify a single face in a Galilean crowd. As Robert Funk says, (p57) "Jesus is defined both by what he has in common with his contemporaries and by how He differs from them."

Jesus was not just another Jew. Even enemies said that. We look for Him in the places He lived and among the community group in which He had a place. We are discovering more about the Jerusalem in His day. The Temple of Herod which is central to His conflicts with the Jewish authorities was a massive construction destroyed by the Romans in 70AD. Herod the Great was one of the most ambitious and successful builders in antiquity. "The stone that connected Robinson's Arch to the western retaining wall of the Temple Mount is massive; it probably weighs over twenty tons. As Jesus and his disciples walked to the Temple, they could easily have seen it above their heads. The massiveness of this stone - which has been exposed for approximately two thousand years - becomes clear when one realises that the heaviest stone in the Pyramids is probably less than fifteen tons, and the most gigantic stone at Stonehenge weighs about forty tons. Yet, in the foundation of the western retaining wall, one stone weighs an estimated 415 tons. The size and majesty of Herod's Temple Mount has surprisingly loomed large before us." (p118, 119) "Jesus Within Judaism" J H Charlesworth) The villages and city speak of Him.


About the Temple were four groups of religious leaders.

1. The Pharisees. For more than a hundred years they had stressed the Old Testament Law and a great deal of oral tradition. They taught that there was a future for the dead, and believed in the immortality of the soul and in reward and retribution after death. They stressed the importance of right behaviour here and now with rules for everything. They tried to accommodate the invading Romans.

2. The Sadducees. They existed for about a hundred years before, during and after the time of Jesus. They denied that the oral law of the Pharisees was authoritative and binding and interpreted the law of Moses more literally than did the Pharisees. But they were very exacting in physical purity. They argued there is neither resurrection of the dead nor a future life. They rejected the idea of a spiritual world. They collaborated with the Romans.

3. The Essenes. They separated from the Pharisees as strict and zealous Jews. They rigidly observed the purity laws of the Torah and lived in communities such as Qumran. Daily worship, study of the sacred scriptures, daily baptisms with sacrifices offered on holy days marked their beliefs. Marriage was avoided. They prayed for deliverance from the Romans.

4. The Zealots. They existed only during the lifetime of Jesus and the last perished in A.D. 73 at Masada in a mass suicide rather than surrender to the Romans. They opposed payment of taxes to a pagan emperor, saying that allegiance was due only to God. They held a fierce loyalty to the Jewish traditions. They opposed the use of Greek language in Palestine and prophesied the coming of the Messiah. They fought against the Romans.

There were also many minor groups and different types of wandering sages, teachers, rabbis and prophets. We will study each from July to September. Do you see then Jesus is a child of his time, responding to the religious and political conflict of his time and place? Look again at Matthew 5:17-20. (SCROLL) It takes new meaning in a time of religious turmoil and Jesus was in the centre of it.


Yet Jesus is different. His is one face that stands out in the crowd. His life was different, his character, power, teaching and His death and resurrection are different. Dr John Squires says "Jesus interprets Torah, debating the Pharisees. Jesus criticises the Temple, thereby taking his stand against the institutionalised power of the priests. Jesus recruits a tax collector and a Zealot to his band of followers, but then steps back from direct political action and says, `put away your sword'. Jesus talks about repentance, and the need to live a holy, moral life in preparation for the coming kingdom, in a manner quite similar to the language found in the Dead Sea Scrolls." Jesus of Nazareth is unique.

An Australian New Testament scholar simply and adequately indicates the differences in His teaching. Bishop Paul Barnett says "Jesus, knew his teachings to be distinctive, to be new. Jesus was questioned why his disciples did not fast, whereas the Pharisees did fast. In response he told two parables-the Unshrunk Patch and the New Wine (Mark 2:21-22). The coat and the wineskins are `old,' outmoded; they represent Judaism. The patch and the wine are `unshrunk' and `new' respectively and they stand for Jesus' teaching. Jesus' teaching is different in kind to the existing teachings of Judaism. They cannot be merely added to Judaism for they will destroy it just as a piece of unshrunk cloth will destroy the coat on to which it is patched and new wine will destroy the old wineskins into which it is poured. In other words, Judaism and Jesus will not mix; they are different not similar. History has proved Jesus' words correct; Christianity was to `tear away' from Judaism."

Not only was His life and teachings unique, but so was His death and resurrection. The Jesus of History enables us to know the Christ of Faith. The point of contact lies in our understanding of His death and resurrection for each person. Paul said (Gal 2:20) "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." Profound as that may be, it is the core of what Jesus Christ means to the believer and why He is unique and how He can be found. Because of our faith in Jesus Christ, He actually comes within us and lives within. No argument makes the difference but personal experience does. A Christian can say: "Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

The teachings of Jesus are only one side of His uniqueness. The other side is that by His death and resurrection He brought us into a new relationship with God. He established a New Covenant or agreement whereby our faith can save us. The Jews had the Old Covenant with God established by Moses on Mt Sinai and kept by obedience to the Law, recorded in the Old Testament. But Jesus established a New Covenant with God for all people, established by His death upon the Cross on Mt Calvary, entered by our faith in Him and recorded in the New Testament.

Through our faith in Him our sins are removed and we are given the gift of eternal life. No other can do this. Jesus is unique. When you commit your life to Him you start in history, discover His face in the crowd and trust Him as Lord and Saviour. Trusting Jesus allows you to live with Him within you.

Gordon Moyes

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