There is an ancient story of a sentry standing day after day at his post with no apparent reason for his being there. One day, a passerby asked him why he was standing in that particular place. “I don’t know,” the sentry replied. “I’m just following orders.” The passerby then went to the captain of the guard and asked him why the sentry was posted in that place. “I don’t know,” the captain replied. “We’re just following orders.” This prompted the captain of the guard to pose the question to higher authority. “Why do we post a sentry at that particular spot?” he asked the king. But the king didn’t know. So he summoned his wise men and asked them the question. The answer came back that one hundred years before, the queen had planted a rosebush and had ordered a sentry placed there to protect it. The rosebush had been dead for eighty years, but the sentry still stood guard.
When it comes to “The Jewishness of the Gospel,” this story has its applications. Sadly, only a small minority truly understand the origins and context of authentic biblical faith. Sadder still is the majority’s less than eager willingness to make inquiry. Thus, established norms remain, perpetuating the dissemination of tainted history and mythical theology.
And so we grapple with such dichotomies as grace and law, faith and works, Old Testament and New Testament. We are confronted with giving answer to issues of Replacement Theology, accusations that we are “under the law,” anti-Semitism in the church, and the overall wanton rejection of anything perceived to be Jewish (i.e. the Sabbath and festivals). These represent a brief compilation of the collective problems resultant to forsaking and forgetting one’s point of origin. There has been a noticeable shift from having a “debt of gratitude” to a hands-off attitude.
That this topic is even discussed is evidence of a major paradigm shift. How would first-century Messianic Judaism receive a topic like this? It would be laughable. In all likelihood they would ask, “Are you serious?” Of course the gospel is Jewish, what else can it be? Logically, what would the Gentile world know of a gospel? How could the Gentile world even relate to a personal God who dies for the sins of His people?
The New Covenant, or more appropriately, the Messianic Writings are not a foray into Gentile Christianity. Its subject matter, its content, concepts and context are all richly rooted in Judaism. If there can be a Jewish practice that embraces Yeshua, then it must be demonstrated that Yeshua is not a Gentile. What better a place to start than Matthew 1:1, “The book of the genealogy of Yeshua HaMashiach, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”
With fondness and awe, I treasure the memory of my first endeavor to read the New Covenant. In those early morning hours, in the winter of 1974, as I sat in a state of inebriation, God was setting me on course for a life changing experience.
Matt 1:1 was the “hook” that had drawn me in. Never before was I able to equate Yeshua (Jesus) to anything Jewish.
This opening text of the Messianic Writings establishes a very critical link. The Messianic Writings do not appear out of a vacuum, but are directly traced to the covenants of promise God has made with the Jewish people. Who is David? Who is Abraham? In the Greek world (except for Diaspora Jews) these would be names without content. In the Jewish world, the reference is specific and overflowing with meaning. Woven into this text are the Patriarchal covenants along with the promise of a Davidic Kingdom that would be without end.
Two details become very evident: If Yeshua is not Jewish, He is not the Messiah, and if He is not of Abrahamic and Davidic descent, He is not the Messiah. The full import of the text implies much more:
“In the Jewish world, the reference is specific, overflowing with meaning, and powerful. “The Son David” i.e. ben David, is the e prophesied King and Deliverer of Israel. It means David was his ancestor, not his immediate father, but it means much more than that. In Matthew, it means God’s faithfulness. It means the appointed time. It means God’s ruler upon and over all the earth. The same kind of expansive meaning is contained in “son of Abraham.” It means Abraham was David’s ancestor, not his immediate father, but it means much more than that. God called Abraham apart, that He might create through him a people who would bring the nations of the world back to Him. God created the Jewish people to bring the nations/goyim of the world out of their darkness into God’s light. Messiah, the Son of David, the son of Abraham, is the means through which the Jewish people will fulfill this calling, which brings the fulfillment of God’s purpose in creating Adam and in creating the earth.” (1)
While the Messianic Writings are written in Greek, the content, context and concepts are not. Not a single word of Matthew 1:1 is independent of the prevailing, pre-existing, cultural and spiritual heritage of Israel. This verse is a Hebrew phrase given in a Greek format.
Yeshua’s name is an excellent case in point. His name is not Greek. “Iesous” is a transliteration of the Hebrew “Yeshua” or “Joshua” meaning “God is my salvation.”(2) And “Christos” is not Jesus’ surname, but a title; the “Anointed One.” This too draws its meaning from the Hebrew Scriptures. Logically speaking, what would the Greek world know of a “Messiah?” Further, how could they relate to other Hebrew concepts such as “repentance,” “atonement” or even the love of God? Yes, even (agape) love! If “agape” is truly of Greek origin, then to which god would it refer? Zeus? Bacchus? Artemis? Or Venus? Again, this was not a Greek concept. (3)
The Jewishness of the Gospel is readily observed in the central role of Israel in God’s redemptive purposes. The B’rit Hadashah (New Covenant) is made “with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (Jer. 31:31). There is no prophetic record of God making a covenant with the church. The commonwealth of Israel forms the context of the redemption of all people. Yeshua died and will return as “THE KING OF THE JEWS.” In His resurrection, at the end of the age, He will be seen as “the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the root of David” (Rev. 5:5). His kingdom’s reign will be from the earth’s capital – Jerusalem. The Messiah’s glorious return will be prompted by “all the nations coming against Jerusalem” (Zech. 12:2-4, 14:2-4). In that day He will come against all who have raised their hand against His people. Why would He have an interest in such a small minority? Especially a minority who, (like the Messiah Himself) is despised and rejected by men (Isa. 53:3)? Simply because “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29). The covenants of promise through Abraham and his seed are without contingency, they are unconditional.
After His resurrection, Yeshua appeared to the talmidim (disciples) and continued in teaching them from the Law, the Writings and the Prophets. In these teachings He explained how all the Messianic prophecies were about Him. There are many details worthy of consideration. First, Tanach (Hebrew canon) was the exclusive teaching material for sound doctrine and authority. That being the case, any further revelation had to be measured and weighed in accordance with Tanach. If any writing or prophecy did not line up to Tanach, it was deemed false. Thus, the New Covenant canon had to be in alignment with the Hebrew Scriptures. The Hebrew Scriptures can stand on their own, not so the Messianic Writings. They had to be aligned with what had already been written.
Secondly, the talmidim ask Yeshua, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the Kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Yeshua does not disavow the restoration of the kingdom to Israel. He confirms it. He says, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority.” In other words, the Father has fixed a date for restoration but it is not for you to know. Logically, only something that has already been, can be restored. The Kehillah (assembly of new believers) was something new, born after Shavuot (Pentecost).
The Jewishness of the Gospel is not difficult to prove. Its main characters and authors, when viewed from their Jewish background, shed light not readily seen in the 21st century. Sha’ul (Paul) says it well when he asks: “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:1-2). He expands on this by saying of his own kinsmen that they “are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Messiah.”
David Stern observes: Even if one is to accept the false premise of Replacement Theology that the Jews are no longer God’s people, this would not change the fact that Christianity is Jewish. To try to understand it differently can only distort God’s message. (4)
Lastly, the B’rit Hadashah presents the Gentile world being grafted into a Jewish olive tree. Thus, the admonition – “remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you” (Rom. 11:19). Sha’ul would also adequately describe the condition of the Gentile world before and after Messiah:
“Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh; who are called ‘Uncircumcision’ by what is called the ‘Circumcision’ which is performed in the flesh by human hands – remember that at that time you were separate from Messiah, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Messiah Yeshua you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Messiah.” (Eph. 2:11-13). In this we find fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant. It is through Abraham that “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen.12:3).
The Gospel may be Jewish, but it is all inclusive. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (Jn. 1:12).
Conversion is an issue that periodically makes its way into Messianic Jewish dialogue. I am personally of the conviction that there is no need for conversions. Those who have joined themselves to the L-rd are “grafted into” the commonwealth of Israel. They are “no longer strangers and aliens”, but are “fellow citizens”. They have a heavenly citizenship, a dual-citizenship and have no need of a passport and visa.
It is my fervent prayer and desire to see all come to recognize and embrace the “Jewishness of the Gospel” – “to the Jew first” (Rom. 1:16).
1. Daniel Gruber, Copernicus and the Jews (Elijah Publishing, 2005), 28
2. Vines Expository Dictionary of NT words Vol. II, p.274, par.
3. Vines Expository Dictionary of NT words Vol. III p.20, par.
4. Messianic Manifesto, p.252, par. 4