The church today is diametrically different from her humble beginnings almost two thousand years ago. As the Apostles faded from the scene, the center of leadership and authority in the church changed from Jerusalem to Rome and the population became overwhelmingly Gentile. Some of the Church Fathers exhibited anti Semitism in their teachings even though they were biblically sound in other parts of their theology. Origen, for example, commented in the second century, “We may thus assert in utter confidence that the Jews will not return to their earlier situation, for they have committed the most abominable crimes, in forming this conspiracy against the Saviour of the human race” 1 This idea became entrenched in Western theology so that by the sixteenth century, the great reformer Martin Luther wrote, “What then shall we Christians do with this damned, rejected race of Jews? Since they live among us and we know about their lying and blasphemy and cursing, we can not tolerate them if we do not wish to share in their lies, curses, and blasphemy.” 2 Consequently, the Gentile dominated Church has perpetuated this anti Semitic ideology as she has progressed through the ages.
Regardless of the mistakes of her forefathers, the Church should be reminded of the foundation upon which her faith was established and regain her appreciation for her roots. The fact is that Jesus was, and forever will be, a Jewish rabbi. His primary language was Aramaic and not Greek or English. While he walked and taught and shared parables with his disciples, he would have done so in Aramaic, which was the language of the average Palestinian Jew at the time.3 Jesus, like other rabbis of his day would have been familiar with and influenced by the teachings of Hillel the Elder, who died when Jesus was a boy. Scholars have made much of the similarities between Jesus’ teachings and those of Hillel; however, the average Christian is unaware that such a connection exists at all. This apparent correlation to the rabbinic teachings of his day does not diminish his teaching but does serve to remind us that Jesus was a thoroughly Jewish rabbi using the same language and teaching style of his contemporaries, however with one huge distinction; He is the Messiah, the Hope of Israel, the Son of David, the Lion of the tribe of Judah and the Savior of the World. Due to this fact, Jesus’ teachings are unparalleled by anyone else regardless of the similarities that they may share.
Accepting Jesus’ Jewishness can make Gentile believers uncomfortable; however, it is clear throughout Scripture that “salvation is of the Jew first” (Romans 1:16). It has always been God’s intention to use Israel to illustrate to the nations who God is and how to have relationship with him. Through Jesus, a Jew, the revelation of salvation will eternally be illustrated and fulfilled from a Jew to Jews and Gentiles.
I am not a Jew but I am a Gentile believer in Jesus. Understanding the Jewishness of Jesus and the Scriptures, helps me to better understand the Bible and the Messiah that it promises and reveals. In his deity, Jesus is God, but as to his humanity, Jesus was born into a Jewish family, raised by the tradition of the Hebrews and became the greatest Rabbi to ever walk the land of Israel. He called and anointed a group of Jews to go into the world and the Gospel message has penetrated the nations. The message is that the Hope of Israel is also the Hope of the world. The Jewish Messiah, Yeshua [Jesus] is the Messiah of the Nations.
- Leon Poliakov, The History of Anti Semitism: Volume 1 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003)
- Martin H Bertram, On the Jews and Their Lies: Luther’s Works Volume 47 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971)
- Jaroslav Pelikan, Jesus Through the Centuries (New Haven: Yale University, 1985)