Yeshua’s “Jewish” Identity?

The modern trend, both Christian and Jewish, of focusing on the national ethnicity of Jesus only distracts from his true identity

| Topics: Jesus, Yeshua
Does emphasizing the Jewish ethnicity of the man Jesus truly serve His divine mission and nature?
Does emphasizing the Jewish ethnicity of the man Jesus truly serve His divine mission and nature? Photo: Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90

‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?’ (John 4:9)


Messiah’s ‘Jewishness’

After the demonic extermination of six million Jews at the hands of the Nazis during the Shoah (Holocaust) in the Second World War, and following the re-birth of the Israeli Jewish State in 1948, many scholars began to view more favorably the Jews, Jewry and Jewishness. In line with this post-Shoah trend, also a ‘New Quest’ for Jesus the Jew has been expanded. Both Jewish and Christian intellectuals increasingly argue that “Jesus is not a non-Jew”.

Academics and others repeatedly make efforts to prove that anthropologically the Messiah is and must be Jewish. One statement had encapsulated this notion as follows: ‘Jesus of Nazareth lived and died as a believing Jew.’

Theologians and historians, mainly in the West, have spotlighted the historical Jesus/Yeshua and His ethnic Jewishness. Among them one finds David Flusser, Geza Vermes, Paula Fredriksen and Amy Jill-Levine. In other words, it has become fashionable to deal with ‘the Jew Jesus.’

At the same time, increasing numbers of researchers highlight Yeshua’s Jewishness in order to contrast Him with the Nazi propaganda about a ‘blond-haired Aryan Jesus.’ Others, when they point to ‘Jesus the Jew’ aim to disprove another ludicrous claim that ‘Jesus was a Palestinian,’ as it is still propagated by numerous Arab Christians.


The ‘Israeli Jewish’ Messiah

Certain Israeli Messianic pastors also employ humanistic cognomens in their teachings in order to emphasize Yeshua’s Jewishness. For example, one such designation is Sabra (Tzabar in Hebrew), meaning a native born in the Land of Israel. Another appellation attached to Yeshua is a Sephardi Jew, presented with dark skin and black hair who does not look like a pale-skinned Ashkenazi (European) Jew.

Others even portray Yeshua dressed with tzitzit, the fringes in a Jewish man’s garment (Numbers 15:38-9). Within this imagery, 2,000 years ago Messiah Yeshua had a dark beard which was then common, precisely as this is still practiced today. Observant Jewish men keep the biblical commandment “You shall not shave around the sides of your head, nor shall you disfigure the edges of your beard” (Leviticus 19:27). Today such an external Jewish appearance is typically associated with rabbinical authorities that observe both the commandments of the Torah (Pentateuch) and the Halakha, the rules and traditions of the Hebrew sages.


Messiah Yeshua in the Gospels

The crux of the issue regarding Messiah Yeshua’s identity is not His Jewishness or His outwardly religious appearance. The ongoing modern discussions about ‘Jesus the Jew’ actually bypass the central stumbling block. In fact, the constant emphasis on Messiah Yeshua’s Jewishness often eclipses His divine personality.

The challenging answer to the contemporary question about Messiah’s identity was already given two millennia ago, when for example, the evangelist Mark opened his redemptive narrative by declaring: ‘This is the beginning of the gospel of Messiah Yeshua, the Son of God’ (Mark 1:1).

While Yeshua and His 12 disciples visited the region of Caesarea Philippi at the feet of the Golan Heights, He asked them how did people identify Him. In their reply, the disciples mentioned several options: “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Then Yeshua approached the 12 and asked them: “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter (Kepha) answered: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16: 13-16).

Simon Peter’s poignant response was neither rejected nor invalidated. On the contrary. Without any delay, Yeshua commended Peter for his utterance by saying: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” Namely, Peter’s short statement that Yeshua is none other than the divine Son of God became the ultimate answer to the question about Messiah’s inherent identity.

Thus, Peter’s Christological declaration was authoritatively approved and confirmed, without any corrections or additions.

Indeed, it is also crystal clear that according to the first Gospel, Messiah Yeshua had come primarily “to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). He had miraculously appeared among the Jewish people and was the promised ‘Glory of Israel’ (Luke 2:32).

Yet 2,000 years ago it was concealed that Joseph was not His father, while Mary’s pregnancy was fully providential (Matthew 1:20). Namely Yeshua descended from heaven and His true Father was/is our Father in Heaven (John 6:38-42).


The Son of God in the Book of Revelation

The exclusive divine identity of the Lord Yeshua is particularly revealed through the Book of Revelation. In this apocalypse the reader can visualize the omnipotent and omniscient Son of God. He testifies that He is ‘the first and the last, who is, who was, and who is to come, YHWH Sabaoth’ (Rev. 1:8). There He also declares that in His hands He holds the keys of Sheol (Hades) and death (Rev. 1:18). In other words, the heavenly Father gave to His Son Yeshua ‘all power/dominion in heaven and on earth’ (Matt. 28:18). Jewishness has nothing to do with that.

Another example is when the Lord Yeshua addresses the congregation in Thyatira where He immediately presents Himself as ‘the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze’ (Rev. 2:18). His throne is closest to the throne of His Father in Heaven (Rev. 3:21). Out of His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations (Rev. 19:15), and He is the bright Morning Star (Rev. 22:16). Obviously, such characteristics do not reflect the image of an ordinary Jew or Israelite.


In summary

The non-stop discussions about the Jewishness of Messiah Yeshua blur the issue of His divine identity. When ‘Jesus the Jew’ is highlighted, the center of gravity is distanced from the unique message of Him being the Holy Son of God. Dealing with His ‘ethnic/national Jewishness’ diverts the discourse into a secondary level which aims to avoid angering those who doubt His divinity.

Frequently, His divinity is compromised with His ‘Jewish’ historicity.

Today, precisely as it was two millennia ago, the prime issue of the Christological debate is Yeshua’s divine identity. In the late Second Temple period the infuriated priests and elders in Jerusalem justified Yeshua’s crucifixion because “He made himself the Son of God” (John 19:7). This Christology – or Yeshualogy – is still the primary stumbling block for many, even after 2,000 years. This matter cannot be overlooked by emphasizing Yeshua’s Jewishness.

The heart and soul of the issue is about Yeshua being the holy Son of God the one who is no less than the Creator of the world (Col. 1:15-16; Rev. 4:11)!

The first-century Jewish leaders passionately argued that Yeshua’s teaching about Himself as the Son of God was blasphemous (Matt 26: 63-66). The same is still argued today.

However, soon after the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord Yeshua the apostle Thomas referred to Messiah’s divinity when he stated with much awe: ‘My Lord and my God’ (John 20:28). This pronouncement too was not repudiated.

Therefore, Yeshua is the supreme and divine *King* of the Jews.


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