SECTION 1 - INTRODUCTION
The Jewishness of Jesus
A Contextual Study of Jesus’ Background and the Hebrew Scriptures
The Following Video Library is Presented by author Bob C. Ross to Accompany Your Study. Content and Voice by Bob C. Ross. Video Production by Dr. Gary Crossland.
Overview Video – “The Land”
A satellite view of the LAnd of Israel and Middle East
Note: Viewing the following video will explain why this course, your personal relationship with Israel, and understanding our Jewish Jesus is so important.
Recalling Our Roots
I saw my great-grandfather in western Kentucky at a family reunion when I was about four years old. He had a long white beard and he was very thin. I remember thinking, “He sure is old”. I convinced myself across the years that he was a fine person. I was not allowed to attend his funeral, as I was deemed too young to do so, and I just never heard any more about him.
Can you recall the name of your great-grandparents? What do you know about them? Do you know their names? Do you know where they lived or anything about their lives? Do you know anything about their relationship with God? Did they influence their world, or the community where they lived?
I haven’t lost any sleep over not knowing more about my great-grandparents, or for that matter, my other blood relatives. Some folks spend years researching their family tree, until they find out that their great grandpa was a horse thief who got himself hanged. Researching my blood ancestors just hasn’t been important to me. I’ve chosen to spend my time in other ways.
What About Your Spiritual Roots?
Can you recall your spiritual ancestors? Who lead you to a personal relationship with Jesus? Did someone disciple you in your spiritual walk? Who was that person? What do you know about them? A harder question might be, “Who led that person to Jesus?” Few Christians can answer that last question.
Now let’s go back – way back. Let’s leapfrog across the years of history into the Hebrew Scriptures, which most Christians call the Old Testament. Which spiritual ancestors come to mind?
Consider – Adam, Job, Noah, Enoch, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Rahab, Samuel, Ruth, Saul, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Nehemiah, Ezra, Amos, Joel and Ezekiel. What an incredible list!
Add to these your spiritual ancestors from the New Testament: Matthew, Mary, Joseph, Mary Magdalene, Luke, Peter, Andrew, John, Paul, John Mark, Barnabas, Timothy and Titus . . . and we could go on. What do you know about these godly men and women? We could spend hours discussing any one of them. These spiritual ancestors are our true ancestors. You may have “met” them in your home, in a Bible study class, in a sermon or private discussion. You may have encountered these ancestors in sermons, Bible studies or in your personal devotional times.
These men and women of faith are part of the spiritual heritage of both Jews and Christians. Genuine Christians have become partakers in the heritage of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Promises). Paul tells us that we have been “grafted into the rich root of Israel”. Paul discusses Jewish and Christian relationships with God, and our relationship with each other in Romans 9:1-11. He concludes this classic instruction by insisting that Gentiles, who have come to God by “faith in Christ” are “grafted in”, and “have become partakers with them [Israel] of the rich root of the olive tree” (Rom. 11:17).
The homeland of these spiritual ancestors of our faith was Israel. Thus, today, Israel is the spiritual homeland of both Jews and Christians alike. The more we learn about the Land of Israel, the more we will love the Land and our God who prepared it. Any serious study of Yeshua/Jesus must begin with these spiritual ancestors in the Land God promised to them, deeded to them, and granted to them by conquest.
Following Israel’s conquest of the Canaanites, they dwelt in God’s Land for 1,380 years. To properly understand the context out of which Jesus’ life and ministry developed, we must begin with the study of Israel and her people.
The Necessity of Context
The Bible is all about God—what He promised, what He did, and what He will do. Like reading any good book, the Bible must be read and studied in context. Similarly, the only way we can ever understand His Son Jesus is to study Him against the backdrop of His historical and cultural setting. To read any book and ignore the influences that shaped the author’s life, mindset and motivations seems ridiculous. But when one ignores context, any study of God’s Word becomes futile.
It has been said, “A text out of context is a pretext for a proof text.” Many so-called “Bible interpreters” use “proof texting” (intentionally misinterpreting a text so that it supports their theological position). Others interpret Scripture without seriously considering the historical context of the passage. Such an approach can conceal the truth of a passage or change the meaning entirely.
Any Scriptural interpretation removed from its cultural, political or historical context, will be either false and/or misleading. It is impossible to properly understand Jesus if one removes Him from the context of His first century culture and background. In our search for Biblical truth, context is king.
In the first century, all Jewish life was built around the Law (Torah), and the interpretation of the Law. The Hebrew Scriptures were written to a rural, agricultural society that was rooted in family and community. Only by studying the context of the Land and God’s people are we able to accurately interpret Jesus’ actions and teachings.
Jesus was born a Jew. But almost two thousand years of Jewish history preceded His birth. To obtain an accurate understanding of any ancient society takes time, effort and thorough research. Fortunately, the Gospel writers have given us helpful guidance to assist in this task. Any reconstruction of Jesus’ social world must be based on an accurate understanding of the political situation of the day, both secular and religious. One must also understand first century economics, codes of behavior, conventions, religious traditions and more.
Michael van Hoye, an engineer friend and dialogue buddy, shared this insight with me. He said, “To understand the world of Jesus and His significance, without placing His life in the context of His social world, would be impossible. It would be like trying to understand the significance of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency and his speeches without placing them in the context of the Civil War. Similarly, it would be like trying to understand Martin Luther King’s speeches without placing him in the mid-twentieth century struggle over civil rights.” Words, actions and deeds must be viewed through the lens of context.
Our prayer is that these studies will help you to accurately interpret Jesus’ life and ministry. Since God chose to place His Son in the very heart of first century Judaism, the people, their culture and the Land of Israel must always be studied in the framework of the Jewishness of Jesus. We sincerely hope that these studies will help illuminate the four Gospels (and indeed all the Scriptures), giving you new insights and thrilling revelations, as your black-and-white Bible turns to living color.
The Collision of Two Worlds
Jesus’ life and ministry were significantly influenced by two conflicting worlds. On one hand, there was the brutal control of the Roman Empire, while on the other hand, there was first century Judaism. It is well known that these two worlds were totally different and were constantly locked in conflict. As we place our Lord’s life and ministry against this cultural backdrop, we better understand Him, His rabbinical teachings, parabolic stories, worship, relationships, and the Jewish feasts and other practices of His day. We must encounter Jesus in this cultural context in order to accurately interpret His life and teachings.
In these chapters, we will sit at His feet as He teaches in the synagogues. We will walk with Him along the shore of the Sea of Galilee as He disciples the twelve, heals in the villages and confronts the religious authorities. We will come to an understanding of His formal training in yeshiva (Jewish seminary) and follow Him as He teaches in His native language throughout Galilee, Judea and Samaria. Never forget that it was God’s choice to place His Son strategically in the heart of Judaism. Jesus came to reveal the true meaning of the Torah and offer God’s love and salvation to a darkened world.
Beginning at the Beginning
Any serious study of the Scriptures must begin with a proper understanding of God. The best way to know God is to seriously study what He did and said. The natural starting point is Genesis (Barashet in Hebrew, means Beginnings). Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Here we encounter the pre-existent God. In Hebrews 11:3 we are told, “…the worlds were prepared (framed) by the Word of God.” That is, God, the Creator of all, spoke the world into existence.
God’s Divine Drama, the Story of Faith
The Story of Faith (the divine drama of revelation) unfolds upon the historical stage of the ancient world, with Israel front and center. It is God who guides and molds the destinies of men and nations. He led fallen men up from the primitive conditions of countless centuries. Man developed the first urban societies in Mesopotamia and Egypt. From Ur of the Chaldees, God called Abram to walk with Him in holiness. He called Israel to be His own and gave them the Land He promised them. He spoke through His prophets, preparing His chosen people to be “a light to the Gentiles” (Isaiah 9:2). He selected the Land of Israel, which lay between the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt, to be the place on earth where God would glorify Himself to the fullest.