The Religious Identity of Jesus & His Message

Excerpted & Aggregated from S. McKnight, A. F. Buzzard, & R. Hiers

It was in the 19th century that theology awoke to the recognition that Jesus was a Jew with a Jewish Message for all mankind ("salvation is of the Jews," John 4:22). A book of only 67 pages by a German theologian proved to be a theological bombshell when it pointed to unarguable evidence for Jesus' belief in an objective apocalyptic Messianic Kingdom of the future. Such an idea was revolutionary, since it had been traditional to think of the Kingdom as a religious experience or a moral force working to improve society. The new and shocking understanding that Jesus was in the best Jewish prophetic and apocalyptic tradition forced scholars of the Bible to deal with a difficult situation, not least the possibility of having to admit that the Church had been misreading its own documents and misinterpreting its own founder.

Paradoxically those who saw that Jesus had been the bearer of the news of the coming apocalyptic Kingdom did not suggest that such a Gospel was appropriate for the Church now. Albert Schweitzer, whose independent investigation led him to see that Jesus was not a "liberal" theologian, but a preacher of a future apocalyptic Kingdom, was unable to embrace such a Gospel as the object of faith. Both Weiss and Schweitzer were scholars, as someone has said, who did not belong to their own school of thought. Quite astonishingly, they deemed it "
better to cling to the modernized ethical construction of Jesus' Message — although it rests on a misunderstanding — than try to retain Jesus' antiquated end-times ideas." Avoidance of the awkward Second Temple Jewishness of Jesus' Gospel was achieved by variations of the same "husk and kernel" theory. Jesus must be stripped of His local Jewish garb and made respectable for modern man. Bultmann's theory of "demythologizing" arrives at the same goal by a similar method. What counts for Bultmann is the permanent call to decision in Jesus' Message. For modern christianity the Second Temple Jewish framework can be dispensed with and ignored as the relic of a primitive world view which we have outgrown.

In England C.H. Dodd proposed the extraordinary theory that Jesus spoke only of the presence of the Kingdom and not of any future cataclysmic manifestation by which a new age would be introduced. Dodd was confident, with his theory of "realized eschatology," that the early Church must be blamed for reverting to the old Jewish concept of a future Kingdom and of Jesus as the Messiah destined to "come in the clouds with power and great glory."

It must be said that all attempts to separate Jesus from his Jewish apocalyptic background and teaching are doomed to fail. It would be much more honest if the Church were to say plainly, "We reject Jesus," rather than affirming that we accept him, but only on condition that He gives up his unfortunate Messianic insistence that the Kingdom is going to enter history in the future as a world event for which the Church of every generation is to prepare with solemn urgency. Christianity divorced from its prophetic-apocalyptic framework is a pale reflection of the faith of the Bible, and it seems that the Protestant claim to be following Scripture is an empty boast as long as theology feels free to interpret away whatever is deemed unwanted and unsuitable. As one observer of the Church's method of dealing with the Kingdom of God observes:
Analysis of the precise character of the eschatological beliefs of Jesus and the early communities has been complicated by a high degree of semantic confusion, if not obfuscation...There can be no doubt that Jesus and the evangelists looked for the future actualization of the decisive "last" events: the coming or manifestation of the Son of Man, the judgment of the living and the coming of the Kingdom or the coming age. That this certainty has played but little part in contemporary exegesis and theology can be attributed primarily to the dogmatic or philosophical interests (or aversions) of the "doers" of exegesis and theology. It is only quite recently that these "futuristic" beliefs are coming to be recognized as something other than a primitive Jewish and early Christian absurdity to be disposed of quickly and, if possible quietly.

Little does the average churchgoer know of what has been happening behind the scenes in the halls of theology, in which his leader most probably has received his official training.

A Systematic Avoidance of the Gospel of the Kingdom
Close inspection of the writings of modern theologians uncovers a deep- seated desire on their part to be rid of the uncomfortable Gospel as Jesus proclaimed it. The Jewishness of Jesus' and the Disciples' Message is the obvious cause of offense. Modern man, says one immensely powerful school of thinking, will not tolerate teaching about a divine intervention to change the course of human history. That part of the teaching of the Bible is unfit for audiences in the scientific age. Yet there is much that is good in the Gospel, so the argument runs. We need to present the Message stripped of its regrettable Jewish clothing. To use the technical term, we must "demythologize" it — remove it from its Hebrew framework and place it in the vastly superior atmosphere of contemporary philosophy. In this way it will be palatable.

What needs to be pointed out is that the "it" of the Gospel, after it has been put through the wringer of modern theological theory, is scarcely the Message as Jesus gave it. Nor is Jesus any longer the messenger. He has been superseded though His name remains on the expurgated package thought suitable for contemporary audiences.

The process by which Jesus' Gospel of the Kingdom was transformed worked liked this: Theologians have argued that the Jewish apocalyptic and national- political elements of Jesus' preaching were merely the Jewish "husk" containing the valuable kernel of abiding truth. Once the husk was removed there remained a timeless Message which can appeal to every generation. In this way the embarrassment of believing in a Messianic Kingdom which never arrived can be smoothed over by turning the Kingdom into the Church and its unobjectionable religious message. For centuries the illusion was maintained. Typical of this point of view are the words of a theologian writing in 1913:
The apocalyptic ideas and beliefs in which the great word of Jesus was embodied are, after all, of transitory significance. Not inaptly it is said of Messianism that it was "the nationalistic and contemporaneous encasement of the life work of Jesus which has been long since riddled and overturned in the process of historical development": Who today regards it as the characteristic mark of Jesus that He claimed to be the Messiah of the Jews?

This immensely influential school of thought succeeded in dumping" the unwanted Jewishness of Jesus, dismissing His messianic Gospel as transitory and obsolete.

The Neglect of the Message
If there is one element of biblical faith which churches often seem to avoid and theologians have obscured, it is the matter of the meaning to be attached to Jesus' favorite term, "the Kingdom of God," which is a thoroughly Hebrew Messianic concept. To interpret any document intelligently one must enter the thought world of those whom one is attempting to understand. If one blunders in the interpretation of key terms and expressions, a disastrous misunderstanding will result. That such a breakdown in the transmission of the original faith, due to a failure to reckon with the Jewishness of Jesus and His Message about the Kingdom, has occurred was noted by an astute scholar of the Church of England. Critical of trends which developed in the Church from the second to the fourth century, he wrote:
The Church as a whole failed to understand the Old Testament and the Greek and Roman mind in turn came to dominate the Church's outlook: From that disaster the Church has never recovered either in doctrine or in practice."

The root of the problem was similarly diagnosed by a Jewish historian, a translator of the New Testament and sympathetic to Christianity:
Christians would gravely delude themselves if they were to imagine that Jews on any major scale could subscribe to the tenets of the Christian religion, which owe so much to the legacy of polytheism. Because Christians have not become Israelites, but have remained essentially Gentiles, their spiritual inclinations are towards doctrines for which they have been prepared by inheritance from the pagan past.6

This tragic departure of the Church from the biblical Message was noted also by an Archbishop of the Anglican Church. He expressed his astonishment that the central, fundamental concept of Jesus' Gospel Message — the Kingdom — had been neglected for most of church history:
Every generation finds something in the Gospel which is of special importance to itself and seems to have been overlooked in the previous age or (sometimes) in all previous ages of the Church. The great discovery of the age in which we live is the immense prominence given in the Gospel to the Kingdom of God. To us it is quite extraordinary that it figures so little in the theology and religious writings of almost the entire period of Christian history. Certainly in the Synoptic Gospels [Matthew, Mark and Luke] it has a prominence that could hardly be increased.

It is almost impossible to exaggerate the significance of this observation of the Archbishop. A glance at the Gospel accounts of Jesus' ministry will reveal to every reader the simple fact that Jesus, the original herald of the Christian Gospel, was a preacher of the Kingdom of God. There can be absolutely no doubt about this: Can anyone question F.C. Grant's assessment of Jesus' purpose?

It may be said that the teaching of Jesus concerning the Kingdom of God represents His whole teaching. It is the main determinative subject of all His discourse. His ethics were ethics of the Kingdom; His theology was theology of the Kingdom; His teaching regarding Himself cannot be understood apart from His interpretation of the Kingdom of God.

It is equally clear that Jesus intended his own Kingdom Message, the Gospel or Good News, to be the chief concern of those who claimed to represent him for the whole period of history until his promised return. Giving his marching orders to early Jerusalem Movement, Jesus commanded His followers to teach everything He had taught to those whom they discipled and initiated into the faith by baptism (Matt. 28:19, 20). Inauthentic parts of the "Great Commission" aside, the task of the faithful, as Jesus saw it, would be to preach "this Gospel about the Kingdom in all the world" (Matt. 24:14).

A sure sign of the continuing presence of Jesus' Message his Fellowship must be a clarion-call proclamation of the Kingdom of God, just as Jesus preached it. To say, as Archbishop Temple does, that the Kingdom of God "has figured so little in the theology and religious writings of almost the entire period of Christian history" is to admit only that the Church has not done what Jesus told it to do. The Church has been sailing under false colors. While it claims the name of Christ, it has not been busy faithfully relaying His saving Gospel Message about the Kingdom to the world. How can it, when it admits to uncertainty about what the Kingdom means? A reappraisal of the Church's task, including the frank admission that its Gospel has lacked an essential Messianic element, seems to be in order.

It is a very simple matter to document the absence of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God from the Church's preaching. Listen, for example, to the call of evangelists today to potential converts. Is the phrase "Gospel of the Kingdom" the main subject of the appeal for men and women to become Christians? Do pulpits the length and breadth of the land resound with clear expositions of what Jesus meant by the Kingdom?

Apparently this is not the case. In his book Church Growth and the Whole Gospel the noted American church planter, Peter Wagner, agrees with G.E. Ladd that "modern scholarship is quite unanimous in the opinion that the Kingdom of God was the central message of Jesus." Wagner then reflects:
If this is true, and I know of no reason to dispute it, I cannot help wondering out loud why I haven't heard more about the Kingdom of God in the thirty years I have been a Christian. I certainly have read about it enough in the Bible. Matthew mentions the Kingdom 52 times, Mark 19 times, Luke 44 times and John 4. But I honestly cannot remember any pastor whose ministry I have been under actually preaching a sermon on the Kingdom of God. As I rummage through my own sermon barrel, I now realize that I myself have never preached a sermon on it. Where has the Kingdom been?9

In an article entitled "Preaching the Kingdom of God" the British expositor, Dr. I. Howard Marshall of the University of Aberdeen, says:
During the past sixteen years I can recollect only two occasions on which I have heard sermons specifically devoted to the theme of the Kingdom of God...I find this silence rather surprising because it is universally agreed by New Testament scholars that the central theme of the teaching of Jesus was the Kingdom of God...Clearly, then, one would expect the modern preacher who is trying to bring the message of Jesus to his congregation would have much to say about this subject. In fact my experience has been the opposite, and I have rarely heard about it.

From a Roman Catholic writer comes the extraordinary admission that what he had learned in seminary did not include an explanation of Jesus' Message about the Kingdom:
As a teacher of New Testament literature..., it early became obvious to me that the central theme of the preaching of the historical Jesus of Nazareth was the near approach of the Kingdom of God. Yet, to my amazement, this theme played hardly any role in the systematic theology I been taught in the seminary. Upon further investigation I realized that this theme had in many ways been largely ignored in the theology and spirituality and liturgy of the Church in the past two thousand years, and when not ignored, often distorted beyond recognition. How could this be?

A further striking example reinforces our contention that for modern preachers the Gospel of the Kingdom of God does not have anything like the comprehensive significance it had for Jesus and the whole New Testament Church. While Jesus concentrated single-mindedly on the propagation of a Gospel about the Kingdom, modern preachers seem to steer clear of the phrase "Gospel of the Kingdom." In an editorial in the journal Missiology Arthur F. Glasser writes:
Let me ask: When is the last time you heard a sermon on the Kingdom of God? Frankly, I'd be hard put to recall ever having heard a solid exposition of this theme. How do we square this silence with the widely accepted fact that the Kingdom of God dominated our Lord's thought and ministry? My experience is not uncommon. I've checked this out with my colleagues. Of course, they readily agree they've often heard sermons on bits and pieces of Jesus' parables. But as for a solid sermon on the nature of the Kingdom of God as Jesus taught it — upon reflection, they too began to express surprise that it is the rare pastor who tackles the subject.

One needs no special theological training to conclude that something is drastically askew, when leading exponents of the faith in our day confess that Jesus' Message is unfamiliar to them. At the level of popular evangelism it is evident that the critical Kingdom element is missing from presentations of the saving Message. Billy Graham defines the Gospel by dividing it into two main components. The first element is the death of Jesus, which is half the Gospel. The other half, he says, is the resurrection of Jesus. But this definition omits the basis of the Gospel Message. Jesus announced the Kingdom of God as the heart of the Gospel long before He said a word about His death and resurrection. Luke reports that the disciples went out proclaiming the Gospel even before they had any knowledge of the death and resurrection of Jesus (Luke 18:31-34). It follows, therefore, that there is more to the Gospel than the death and resurrection of Christ, essential as these things are.

Michael Green, an expert on evangelism, poses the question raised by the obvious difference between what we call evangelism and how Jesus defined it. At the Lausanne International Conference on World Evangelism in 1974, he asked: "
How much have you heard here about the Kingdom of God? Not much. It is not our language. But it was Jesus' prime concern." How can it be that our language as 20th-century Christians is not the language of Jesus Himself? The situation demands an explanation. It should alert us to the fact that all is not well with our version of the Christian faith. We are not preaching the Gospel as Jesus and His Apostles preached it, as long as we omit mention of the substance of His entire Message, the Good News of the Kingdom.

Other scholars warn us that the all-embracing expression Kingdom of God, which is the axis around which everything Jesus taught revolves, is strange to churchgoers. Noting that Jesus opened His ministry by alerting the public to the approaching advent of the Kingdom without an explanatory comment about the meaning of the Kingdom, Hugh Anderson observes:
For Jesus' first hearers, as presumably for Mark's readers, [Kingdom of God] was not the empty or nebulous term it often is today. The concept had a long history and an extensive background in the Old Testament, extra-canonical works of the intertestamental period, and in the rabbinical literature.

Jesus' audience knew what he meant by the Kingdom of God for the simple reason that they knew the Hebrew Bible, which was replete with glorious promises of peace and prosperity on earth to be enjoyed by those counted worthy to find a place in the Kingdom of the Anointed Son of God. To Jesus' contemporaries the Kingdom of God was about as well known as the Statue of Liberty, the Declaration of Independence or the Tower of London. One can imagine how confusing things would be if Americans and Englishmen today were unable to define clearly what is meant by these terms. What if the Second World War was a nebulous idea in the minds of historians or Buckingham Palace a strange term to Londoners? When an idea is deeply rooted in the national identity of a people, it does not have to be defined every time it is mentioned. Such was the case with the Kingdom of God. God's Kingdom meant a new era of world government on earth destined to appear with the arrival in power of the promised King of the line of David, the Anointed Agent of the One God.

A perceptive theologian, conscious of the need to define basic Christian ideas within the framework provided by their original environment, has this to say about the Kingdom of God in Jesus' teaching:
The Kingdom of God was basically a political idea — but political in the ancient religious sense, according to which "politics" was part of religion and expressed practically the doctrine of God's rule in the world...It meant the world empire of God...It was this idea which Jesus made His own, the vehicle of all his teaching...which he identified with the purpose of God in his own time, and adopted as the clue to his own prophetic or messianic mission: He was — or was to be — God's agent in the final establishment (or reestablishment) of the divine Reign in this world...The Kingdom of God, in the New Testament period, was still the old prophetic dream of the complete and perfect realization, here upon earth, of the sole sovereignty of the one and only God.

Essay excerpted from:
Buzzard, Anthony F.,
Our Fathers Who Aren't in Heaven - The Forgotten Christianity of Jesus, the Jew. Atlanta Bible College, 2006
Johannes Weiss,
Jesus Proclamation of the Kingdom of God, ed. and trans. Hiers and Holland, Philadelphia:Fortress Press, 1971.
Christian Dogmatics, ed. Carl Braeton and Robert Jenson, Philadelphia:Fortress Press, 1984, Vol. I p. 484
Hiers, Richard
The Historical Jesus and the Kingdom of God. University of Florida Press 1973
H.L. Jackson, The Eschatology of Jesus, Macmillan and Co. Ltd., 1913, pp. 343, 344.
H.L. Goudge, "The Calling of the Jews,"
Essays on Judaism and Christianity cited by H.J. Schonfield, The Politics of God, Hutchinson, 1970, p. 98.
H.L. Sconfield,
The Politics of God, p.98.
William Temple, Personal Religion and the Life of Fellowship, Longmans, Green and Co. Ltd., 1926, p. 69
“The Gospel of the Kingdom,” Biblical World 50 (1917) pp.121-191
Church Growth and the Whole Gospel: A Biblical Mandate, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1982, p. 2
The Expository Times
(89) Oct. 1977, p. 13
B.T. Viviano,
The Kingdom of God in History, Michael Glazier, 1988, p.9.
Arthur F. Glasser,
Missiology April 1980, p. 13
Roy Gustafson, “
What is the Gospel?” Billy Graham Association
Tom Sine,
The Mustard Seed Conspiracy, Waco: Word Books, 1981, pp. 102, 103.
The New Century Bible Commentary, Gospel of Mark, Eeerdmans, 1984, p. 83-84
F.C. Grant, Ancient Judaism and the New Testament, New York: Macmillan, 1959, pp. 114-119
--all rights reserved to the respective authors

Excerpted & Aggregated from C. Evans, D. Flusser, K. Huat Tan, et al.

Jesus' underlying aim was based on the faith-awareness he had of his God-ordained calling. He believed himself called, by God, to evoke the traditions which promised God's return to Zion, and the important traditions which spoke of a human figure sharing the divine throne; to enact those traditions in his own journey to Jerusalem, his messianic act in the Temple, and his death at the hands of the Romans (in the hope of subsequent vindication); and thereby embodying God's return. His intentions, putting those aims into practice, involved the detail of the journey, of his arrival in Jerusalem and action in the Temple, of the Last Supper, of his agonizing wait in the garden, and of his refusal to offer any defense of himself before the authorities. He carried out those intentions, believing that he was thereby accomplishing those aims.

Jesus' beliefs, therefore, remained those of a first-century Jew, committed to the coming kingdom of Israel's God. He did not waver in his loyalty to Jewish doctrine. But his beliefs were those of a first-century Jew who believed that the kingdom was coming in and through his own work. His loyalty to Israel's cherished beliefs therefore took the form of critique and renovation from within; of challenge to traditions and institutions whose true purpose, he believed (like prophets long before, and radicals in his own day), had been grievously corrupted and distorted; and of new proposals which, though without precedent, were never mere innovation. They always claimed the high ground: fulfillment, completion, consummation....

The return of God to Zion, and the Temple-theology which it brings into focus, are the deepest keys and clues to Jesus' messianology. Forget the "titles" of Jesus, at least for a moment; forget the pseudo-orthodox attempts to make Jesus conscious of being the second person of the Trinity; forget the arid reductionism that attempts to convert the Jewish Messiah into the universal christ. Focus, instead, on a young Jewish prophet publicly ordained by God Himself, telling a story about God returning to Zion as judge and redeemer, and then embodying it by riding into the city in tears, symbolizing the Temple's destruction and celebrating the final exodus. Jesus was conscious of a vocation: a divine calling, given to him by the one he knew as "Father", to enact in himself what, in Israel's scriptures, God had promised to accomplish all by himself. He would be the pillar of cloud and fire for the people of the new exodus. He would embody in himself the returning and redeeming action of the covenant God.

  • Jesus was concerned for the fulfillment of the restorative promises of God to Israel, and the constitution of a restored relationship between God and his Chosen People.
  • The aim of Jesus was to live according to the will of God, of which the Law with the Prophets formed the chief revelation. His viewpoint was ordinary Judaism, he behaved as a pious Jew of Galilee would have been expected.
  • The mission of Jesus was a proclamation of the coming of God’s kingly rule, a regathering or reconstituting of the tribes of Israel at the End-of-the-Age. Jesus addressed his proclamation to Israel in its promised land.
  • Jesus understood his main task was to be the center of the movement which was a revival. This revival was the realization of the Kingdom of God among mankind on earth.
  • Jesus’ mission was to initiate a straightforward challenge: Be better than than the Pharisees. Outdo them in righteousness. Live the Covenant with God to the fullest, following the Law carefully, paying attention not only to the required conduct but also the corresponding right attitude. Plan for the kingdom of God.
  • Jesus took his literal message of the imminence of the end of the Current Age, to Jews who were not faithful. Jesus taught that the 'lost' Jews should return to God's true way. Jesus described Jews who had fallen away from God and did not observe the Mosaic Law as they should as "sinners" and "Lost Sheep”.
  • Jesus believed his teachings were a prophetic intensification of Jewish tradition and Mosaic Law. Jesus also taught detailed ethical instructions that were an intensification of certain aspects of the Mosaic Law. These certain intensifications were especially relevant for returning sinners.
  • Jesus’ mission was directed to all Israel both geographically and socially, it covered all regions and included all classes of Jews. It went beyond the borders of geographical Israel to Jews of the neighboring countries, and was addressed to notorious ‘sinners’, whom the national elite had ostracized and excommunicated.
  • Jesus went to Jerusalem to bring his ministry and God's restorative program to a climax. Jesus believed that Israel was still, to some extent, in a state of exile and therefore full restoration was still pending.
  • Jesus understood that God was seeking to gather Jerusalem. Hence, the restoration of Jerusalem to be the city of God's kingship was the goal of Jesus.
  • The sayings traditions confirm that Zion was like a magnet to Jesus and a countervailing charge of his ministry. It was understood by Jesus to be the city of God's kingship and he sought the restoration of it to that kingship.
  • Jesus is the only known Jew of ancient times to have taught that not only was the world at the threshold of the End-of-the-Age but also that the New Age of salvation had begun.
  • Jesus believed in an intermediary period between the historical past and the End-of-the-Age. Jesus is also the only known Jew to have identified the kingdom of God with that intermediary period.
  • For Jesus the Kingdom of God was both present and future. Jesus believed there were already individuals living in the manifested kingdom, because the ministry of John the Baptist was when the kingdom began breaking through.
  • Jesus' mission was Israel-centric, but he espoused a view of restoration that was indebted to certain strands of Israel's sacred traditions where the gentiles are implicit beneficiaries of Israel's salvation. Jesus conceived of the restoration of Israel as resulting in the salvation of the gentiles from their heathen beliefs. Since this restoration was already being partially realized in Jesus' ministry, it was becoming possible for gentiles to begin sharing in Israel's salvation in the present, by aligning themselves with the ways commanded by God.
  • Jesus understood himself and his followers to be the new vanguard of the restored Israel, who would appropriate for themselves the role of Israel and the temple, in being a light to the corrupted world. Thus, a gentile mission has its germinal roots in the aims and intentions of Jesus and was developed, reconfigured, and reappropriated in a transformed situation by adherents of the early Christian movement.
  • Jesus saw his death as not only his: it was a completely representative death. Jesus understood his death was going to be substitutionary and protecting. In stating that the bread represented his body and the wine represented his blood of the covenant, Jesus was teaching that his very existence was comprised of obeying God’s Word, obeying Torah completely, and following the covenantal agreement between Israel and God.
  • Jesus understood that his death could be relatable as the symbolic Passover victim whose blood would protect his followers from the imminent judgement of God against Israel, Jerusalem, the world, and its corrupt leadership. He was showing his followers that following his teachings of the Way of God: returning to Torah, returning to God, and turning back from sin against God would usher them into the restored kingdom.
  • In his absence Jesus provided the disciples to continue with his mission. They too were to live according to the will of God, of which the Law with the Prophets formed the chief revelation. They were to continue with his teachings, they could refill their own ranks (of twelve) but were unauthorized to create new apostles nor change the message and teachings of Jesus.
  • Jesus’ understanding of his substitutionary and protecting death, and the participation of his followers in that substitutionary death, protects them from the Day of God, the Wrath of God. As the avenging angel of the Passover in Egypt “passed over” the first-born children whose fathers had smeared the lamb’s blood on the door, so the Father of Jesus would “pass over” those followers who had “ingested” the protecting “blood” of the symbolically sacrificed “lamb”.

Evans, Craig A.
The Historical Jesus: Jesus’ mission, death, and Resurrection. London New York: Routledge, 2004.
Flusser, David.
The Sage from Galilee : Rediscovering Jesus' genius. Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 2007.
Huat Tan, Kim.
The Zion traditions and the aims of Jesus. Cambridge England New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Wilson, Barrie.
How Jesus became Christian. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2009.
Casey, Maurice.
From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God. Westminster John Knox, 1992.
Meier, John P. “Jesus, the Twelve, and the Restoration of Israel” in
Restoration: Old Testament, Jewish, and Christian Perspectives. Leiden:Brill, 2001.

Excerpted & Aggregated from C. Evans, M. Casey, J. Meier, & B. Wilson

All the basic aspects of Jesus' life and teachings should be perceived to embody Judaism and epitomize Judaism as a religion fully and completely. Jesus' life and teachings form a resurgence of aspects which, John the Baptist apart, had not been prominent in the immediately preceding period. The center of the ministry was the prophetic call to Jewish sinners to return to the God and Torah. This was also central to Jewish religion. God had made his covenant with the whole of the people of Israel and this is written within the Law (Ex 19:3-8; Deut 6:1-9). Jewish tradition also records the rebelliousness of Israel, both in the wilderness and later (Ex 32; Neh 9:16, 26; Ps 78). Against that rebellious background, the prophets constantly called upon her to return (Hos 14:2-3; Is 49:5; Jer 3:12-14, 22-3) and at the time of Jesus, these many declarations were part of the sacred text. Jesus' ministry embodied and recreated these declarations and the centrality of God drove the resurgence.

We can see all of this both in imagery and in practical action of Jesus' ministry and teachings. The fatherhood and kingship of God are Jewish images from the beginning. God was always conventionally thought of as king in ancient Judaism, and this is the proper background for Jesus' use of the term "kingdom", or "kingship". It is the recreation of an ancient Jewish idea, embodied in incidents such as Mark 10.13-31, and in exorcisms interpreted as at Matthew 12:28/Lk 11:20. His preaching that the kingdom was at hand recreated the prophetic promise that God would deliver his people (Is 1 l.10; 40.1; Am 9:11-15; Jer 31:31-34). The description of God as Father is an Old Testament image, one which was taken up in the intertestamental period. This means that Jesus' preaching of the fatherhood of God recreated and intensified existing tradition.

At a more practical level, Jesus' healing ministry embodied the power of God in action, as in the mighty acts of Jewish history and in stories such as the healings performed by Elisha (cf 2 Kings 2.19-25; 4-7). His concern for the poor also took up the prophetic tradition (Am 2.6-7; Is 1.16; 61.1; Jer 22.16; Ezek 22:29; also e.g. Ps 9.18; 1QH V, 22). The same goes for the whole of his ethical teaching, which may be seen as the amplification and expansion of an ethical tradition centered in the Levitical command to love one's neighbor as oneself (Lev 19:18). Nowhere is this clearer than in his amplification of the theme of forgiveness, in which the return of Israel to God was mirrored in private life by the forgiveness to be shown to those who do us wrong.

Thus the whole of Jesus' ministry could be perceived as the embodiment of Judaism as it should be. This is evident also in some of the reactions of the disciples. The inner group accepted Jesus' call to leave their everyday lives and follow him. This entailed harsh conditions of existence, and we must infer their acceptance of the promise of the community itself, and of eschatological triumph, as a reward for their participation in the community now. At this level, we should not be contemptuous of unfulfilled promises to die with Jesus (Mk 10:38-9; 14:29-31). No one gives such an undertaking without a very high level of commitment, and shock at Jesus' fate will have led to mutual support, not to abandonment of the Jesus movement. During the ministry, the apostles also went out on missions two by two, preaching to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and healing the sick (Mk 3:14-15; 6:7-13; Mt 10; Lk 9:1-6; 10:1-20). They thus carried Jesus' embodiment of Judaism into their own lives, and they transmitted it to others. They too might be perceived to have embodied Judaism as it should be. Positive reactions to Jesus' teaching and healing ministry are important here too, for they show acceptance of him among Jews who did not necessarily belong to the movement (Mk 1:27-8, 32-3; 2:12; 3:20).

A second outstanding quality on this trajectory was the difference between Jesus' ministry and the conventions of orthodox Judaism. This further explains the appeal of Jesus' ministry to many Jews. Non-observance of the Law is a possible permanent deficit in Jewish life, and the more orthodox the perspective, the more prevalent this feature appears. At the time of Jesus, the (modern) orthodox views of Judaism were alien to most Jewish people. If returning to the Way of God meant keeping oneself in a permanent state of absolute purity, or learning all the traditions of the Pharisaic elders, many inhabitants of Galilean villages had no hope of returning to the Way of God. Jesus offered people the spiritual center of Judaism instead. Like the whole prophetic tradition, his adherents would keep the sabbath, the general written regulations of Torah, and circumcise their sons, but the center of life would be love of God and His people, not the detailed regulations of extreme orthodox purity. In practice, this meant that returning to the Way of God was feasible for all who were willing to cleave themselves to God's Covenant.

It follows that conflict with the scribes and Pharisees was highly functional issue for the Jesus movement situated in Jerusalem. When Jesus' adherents heard him attack scribes and Pharisees for their purity laws, they knew that the non-biblical regulations of an elite group had prevented them from returning to the Way of God, and that Jesus' rejection of those regulations now enabled them to return to the Way. When he defended his right to heal on the sabbath, he defended the demonstration of God's power against those who sought to restrict it by means of a non-biblical regulation, and he used arguments drawn from central Jewish experience and tradition. His defense of poor disciples plucking grain on the sabbath, against Pharisees who did not mind them being hungry (Mk 2:23-28), embodied his concern for others and the prophetic tradition of the defense of the oppressed. Parables such as that of the good Samaritan did the same. Scribes from Jerusalem who alleged that he cast out demons by means of Beelzebub, could only confirm that the perception of Judaism in terms of the traditions of the elders in Jerusalem was a gross distortion of the real Judaism which was always present in word and action before people's eyes.

Thus the social bonding of the Jesus movement was extremely tight. It was bound together by the identity of Judaism itself, and it embodied the Jewish identity of the disciples. What, then, were the specific identity factors of the Jesus movement? It existed at this stage wholly within Judaism - what marked it off from the rest of Judaism? There is only one answer to that question - Jesus himself. This is expressed in a few of the sayings attributed to him: "He who is not for me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters" (Mt 12:30/Lk 11:23). The central importance of Jesus was. implicit in the significance of his death, and it could be pushed home with eschatological vindication (Lk 12:8-9/Mt 10:32-3, Mk 8:38). Jesus' position in the movement was more central than the implication of individual sayings. He led the movement and taught his followers. He was himself the visible embodiment of Jewish identity, and the source of the recreation of the Jewish identity of his disciples. Consequently, the disciples could not abandon Jesus' view of Judaism when he was put to death. It was not just a question of the abandonment of the Jesus movement itself, though its social bonding was tight enough to make that in itself improbable. The nature of Jesus' message as the embodiment of Judaism means that the disciples could not abandon his message without abandoning Judaism, thereby abandoning God and themselves.

This was the cultural setting for the development of christology after Jesus' death. His execution, so far from being a disadvantage to it, was a catalyst, in the first place because it required interpretation. Jesus had already supplied some interpretation of it in terms of relating his death as ultimate obedience to the Way of God, with God's vindication of him by means of resurrection, and this gave the disciples a key to interpret his fate. The only feasible alternative interpretation of his death in that culture was that he had been completely condemned by God as well as by the Sanhedrin, and since he embodied the identity of Judaism itself, that view was not a live option for his disciples. The only live option was therefore further development. From some perspectives, Jesus' death was more extreme than the crucifixion of 800 Pharisees by Alexander Jannaeus (88 BC). This event is none the less relevant because it did not provoke the reaction that these men were accursed of God. That was the fate of most people who were hung on a tree, because that was the fate in store for an apostate (Dt 21:23; 11Q Temple 64:6-13). When 800 Pharisees were crucified, their fate was so obviously unjust that they were to be avenged (Josephus
Ant.). The Maccabean martyrs are more clearly relevant, because of the reactions to their unjust deaths, albeit not by crucifixion. Their death was interpreted as an atoning sacrifice by which Israel was delivered, and some faithful Jews believed that they had been vindicated by being taken immediately to eternal life. Jesus' crucifixion was even more fertile than the fate of the Maccabean martyrs, for he was not only innocent from the disciples' perspective he was also the embodiment of Judaism itself. This guaranteed more dramatic interpretation of his role than is found in any of the other cases.

Jesus' execution was the last teachable act of his First Century Jewish Ministry to the Jews of Israel. Jesus saw his death as not only his: it was a completely representative death. Jesus understood his death was going to be substitutionary and protecting. In stating that the bread represented his body and the wine represented his blood of the covenant, Jesus was teaching that his very existence was comprised of obeying God’s Word, obeying Torah completely, and following the covenantal agreement between Israel and God. Jesus understood that his death could be relatable as the symbolic Passover victim whose blood would protect his followers from the imminent judgement of God against Israel, Jerusalem, the world, and its corrupt leadership. He was showing his followers that following his teachings of the Way of God: returning to Torah, returning to God, and turning back from sin against God would usher them into the restored kingdom. Jesus’ understanding of his substitutionary and protecting death, and the participation of his followers in that substitutionary death, protects them from the Day of God, the Wrath of God. As the avenging angel of the Passover in Egypt “passed over” the first-born children whose fathers had smeared the lamb’s blood on the door, so the Father of Jesus would “pass over” those followers who had “ingested” the protecting “blood” of the symbolically sacrificed “lamb”.

Jesus’ ministry was more than just a ministry about his death, his God-given earthly purpose wasn’t only a “mission to die”. Jesus understood he had a temporary presence on earth, he understood the religious and political climate of the 1st century, and he knew what his ministry would result in. Because Jesus was ordained and adopted as the Son of God he knew his death was part of God’s providential plan in history. Jesus also most certainly thought of his death as that of a prophet. Finally, Jesus believed he would be vindicated and therefore challenged those who would return to Torah and God’s covenant with Israel to continue to follow his teachings and minister to those who had fallen away from Torah and Israel, and do so in the face of opposition from authorities.

Essay excerpted from:
Evans, Craig A.
The Historical Jesus: Jesus’ mission, death, and Resurrection. London New York: Routledge, 2004.
Wilson, Barrie.
How Jesus became Christian. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2009.
Casey, Maurice.
From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God. Westminster John Knox, 1992.
-All rights reserved to the respective authors

Jesus' Use of the Old Testament
What is meant by Jesus and his use of the Old Testament is what Jesus defined the teachings and actions of his mission against and upon. An explanation of Jesus' "typological usage" is an event, a series of circumstances, or an aspect of the life of an individual, which finds a parallel and a deeper realization in the life or event of another person. In other words, it can be something that Jesus symbolically referenced and applied to something similar in his life, but with divine support, specifically from the written Word of God.

Therefore, Jesus' symbolic usage is cemented in and draws from a wide range of past events, circumstances, and lives in the Old Testament. Neither Jesus nor the Gospel writers ever declare that he or his actions are an exact physical copy or manifestation of an Old Testament figure or event, he and his actions are portrayed as symbolic representations (i.e. he is
like the sacrificial lamb). Thus, Jesus uses persons in the Old Testament as types of himself (David, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jonah) or as types of John the Baptist (Elijah). He also refers to Old Testament institutions as types of himself and his work (the priesthood and the covenant). He sees in the past experiences of Israel, and the prophets, parallels and allusions of his own experiences.

Jesus is in line with the Old Testament, the Second Temple interpretations and understandings of the Old Testament scriptures, and the covenant God had made with Israel. Jesus never steps outside of or supersedes the context of 1st century Judaism. In the face of accusations of being a revolutionary, and setting himself up against God and his people, Jesus claimed, by means of his symbolic typological usage, a continuity between God's working in the Old Testament and his own ministry. He was simply working out patterns already seen; for instance because in the Old Testament God worked through prophets, priests, and kings, then Jesus could point to all three as aspects of himself and his ministry.

Examples of Symbolic Old Testament Typologies or Allusions of Jesus
Jesus is saw himself as symbolically similar to the following Old Testament figures. He did not see himself as these figures, that would make no sense exegetically either then or now. However, Jesus aligned himself with and utilized the following figures:
  • David - Mark 2:25-26; Matt 12:3-4; Luke 6:3-4
  • Isaiah - Mark 4:10-13; Matt 13:13-16; Luke 8:10
  • the Priesthood - Matt 12:5-6
  • Elisha - Mark 6:35; Matt 14:15; Lk 9:12
  • Elijah & Elisha - Luke 4:25-27

Jesus performs Torah, in concordance with God's covenant, in such a complete way that he uses his physical body & blood as a symbolic allusions to being Torah. In his divine interpretation Torah permeates even his physical being. But like the rest of Jesus' typologies he doesn't mean he is an actual literal physical manifestation of a Torah scroll.