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Was Jesus a Torah observant Jew or the founder of a new religion?
by Robert Randle
5/04/2010 / Devotionals
The way Jesus is depicted in the many forms of iconographic Art; one would think His birthplace was in Europe instead of in the Middle East. Although Christianity has to acknowledge that He was Jewish, still it seems that His teachings are distilled through a subjective Greek philosophical mindset rather than a more pragmatic, objective Hebrew one. In spite of the many attempts to pry Jesus away from His own "Jewishness," it just cannot be done, and so the million dollar question is: "Did Jesus really start another religion and jettison the ancient faith traditions of His own people?"
It may come as a surprise to some, but Jesus did indeed start to do something quite extraordinary and revolutionary, but not in the way that most people think or have been taught. Jesus came to turn the Jewish people's heart back toward God and His Torah because the rabbis, priests, Sadducees, and Pharisees had not instructed the people in the right path. In His many confrontations with the religious teachers of His day, Jesus condemned them as being hypocrites for not keeping God's commandments. Only Jesus' followers would be the "true" worshippers of the Father (Cp. John 4: 23-24).
Malachi 4: 4-6
"Remember the Law [Torah] of Moses, My servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, with statutes and judgments. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse."
Some of the things that Jesus denounced were the way the religious leaders gave alms to be seen as outwardly pious (Cp. Matthew 6: 1-2); the way they prayed to be seen in the public (Cp. Matthew 6: 5-6); fasting in such a way as to draw attention to yourself (Cp. Matthew 6: 16-18), among other things. It was said of Jesus: And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes (Cp. Matthew 7: 28-29).
When Jesus chose the "Twelve" He told them to go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and to preach to them about the kingdom of heaven (Cp. Matthew 10: 14). This restorative divine government was for the Jews, initially, and afterward, would encompass the Gentiles, who would be grafted into the spiritual stock of Israel (Cp. Romans 11: 1a, 2a, 11-12, 16-17, 24). In all the parables and illustrations that Jesus used in His teaching, the main focus was on Jews and their religious leaders' relationship to God and His Torah.
On a particular instance, the scribes and Pharisees wanted to know why Jesus' disciples transgressed the tradition of the elders, to which Jesus replied, "Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?" (Cp. Matthew 15: 1-3). He also told the scribes and Pharisees: "Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it." Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parable, they perceived that He was speaking of them. (Cp. Matthew 21: 43, 45).
This passage may lead some to think that God has abandoned the Jewish people or the children of Israel in favor of the Gentile Christian Church, but those who do need to read Isaiah 54: 7-8, which says: "For a mere moment I have forsaken you, but with great mercies I will gather you. With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you." Says the LORD, your Redeemer.
Romans 11: 1a, 2a, 11-12
I say then, has God cast away His people [the Jews or Israelites]? Certainly not! God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. I say then, have they stumbled that they [Israel] should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles.
Jeremiah 31: 31, 33a
"Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD.
NOTE: When Jesus celebrated the Jewish Passover Seder (meal) with His fellow Jewish followers on the night before the betrayal and subsequent Crucifixion the following day (Cp. Matthew 26: 26-28), He inaugurated that which had been prophesied beforehand what God promised to the children of Israel.
It must be remembered that Judaism had many different rabbinical schools and teachers, and doubtless a few extremely pious and ascetic separatist sects like the Essenes; or even Jewish mystics. It seems likely, that instead of Jesus starting a new, universal religion, He wanted to restore the original purity of the Jewish religion that became corrupted through the people living in Babylon, Assyria, Egypt, as well as the ideological framework and influence of the Graeco-Roman culture in the Mesopotamian basin and elsewhere. In giving the "Great Commission" Jesus did not say to start something "New," but rather to make disciples of all nations and teach them to observe all things that He commanded His earliest followers (Cp. Matthew 28: 18-20).
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