Christian Origins/Current Faith

Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, USA

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Scripture quotations come from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved

 

     Scripture quotations link to 

                                         

Hebrew:
ישוע הנצרתי
Yeshua haNotzri
Greek: 
Ἰησοῦς ὁ Ναζωραῖος
Iēsous ho Nazōraios

Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus of Nazareth was born c. 6–4 BC (3758–3755 in the Hebrew calendar) in the Roman province of Judea. His mother, Mary, was a young woman of whom the angel Gabriel visited to announce Jesus' virgin birth and the arrival of a new Messiah. His adoptive father, Joseph, was an artisan (Greek: tekton; G5045), perhaps a carpenter. Mary and Joseph were probably between the ages of fifteen to twenty-five when Jesus was born. The scriptures list four brothers—James, Joseph, Simon, and Jude (Matt. 13:55-56; Mark 6:3)—along with some unnamed sisters. Jesus' brothers each doubted his Messianic identity before the resurrection (John 7:3-5). However, they all believed once they saw Jesus alongside the other apostles following the resurrection (Acts 1:14). James went on to serve as the leader of the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:13-21; 21:17-18) and wrote a letter that mirrored Jesus' own teaching (James 1:1). Jude also wrote an epistle, identifying himself as the "brother of James" (Jude 1:1). In his letter to the Galatians, Paul of Tarsus called James "the Lord's brother" (Gal. 1:18-19).

 

In the gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke, his genealogy featured ancestry on both paternal and maternal sides linking to David, the renowned king of Israel (Matt. 1; Luke 2). This bloodline proved that Jesus was the legitimate heir to Israel's ancient monarchy, which was a problem for the ruling client king, Herod (73 BC–AD 4)—who, although was Jewish—was appointed by the Romans and had no royal lineage of his own. Because of this perceived threat, Herod told his soldiers to murder every boy who was two years-old or younger (Matt. 2:16-18). Matthew contrasted the illegitimate rule of not only Herod with Jesus, but also Caesar Augustus (36 BC–AD 14). Whereas Augustus fortified the Roman Empire through a brutal military campaign known as the "Roman Peace" (Latin: Pax Romana), Jesus came to bring God's kingdom through peaceful means—ironically, in the form of an infant. 

Jesus the Jew

The demonym "Jew" refers equally to the religion of Judaism, the ethnic tribe of Judah, and the political boundaries of Judea. In short, this means that a Jewish person has both a religious and ethnic heritage starting in the eastern Mediterranean. Jesus himself was from Judah (Matt. 1:2-3), the leader of Israel's twelve tribes, whom the scriptures assign the Messiah (Matt. 2:6; Heb. 7:14; 8:8; Rev. 5:5). In the introduction of his account, Matthew summarized Jesus' ancestry, saying,

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations (Matt. 1:17).

 

The record of Jesus' heritage is impressive as it goes all the way back to the beginning of the Jewish people, starting with God's covenant with Abraham. Matthew highlighted the number fourteen because this was the mathematical value of David's name in Hebrew: 4 + 6 + 4 (ד‎ ו‎ ד‎) = 14.

Luke was the only evangelist out of the four (e.g., Matthew, Mark, and John) to mention Jesus' childhood. However, this was merely one event, when Jesus was twelve years-old and stayed at the temple for three days without the knowledge of his parents. During this time, Jesus sat down with the teachers of Israel, both asking them questions and offering sound responses (Luke 2:41-51). In context, each Jewish boy was expected by their families to learn about the scriptures between ages five and twelve. When they were finished learning, the family celebrated their status as a "son of the commandment" (Hebrew: bar mitzvahH1274, H4687) and their transition from childhood to adulthood. Part of this education was the memorization of a passage. Unlike the other Jewish boys, Jesus could interpret the text instead of merely recalling the words.

Before Jesus started his ministry, Satan tempted him three times in the desert over the span of forty days (Luke 4:1-13). These temptations alluded to the same ones the ancient Israelites failed in. However, Jesus overcame these trials: 1) He was satisfied with God's sustenance for him, unlike the Israelites who complained about eating manna instead of meat, 2) Jesus declined the prospects of fame, fortune, and money in leading a revolt against the Roman Empire and becoming its Caesar (e.g., Simon bar Kochba). The Israelites were treacherous in their yearning for Egyptian wealth instead of being content with God's blessing (Exod. 16:3), 3) In his third temptation, Satan asked Jesus to test God by throwing himself from the steepest pinnacle of the temple. However, the theme here is not suicide, but the sin of testing God (Deut. 6:16). The faithless Israelites tested God's patience when they quarreled with Moses until he demanded for God to provide water (Exod. 17:1-3). They did not believe God would take care of them. Satan was right about God sending his angels, but he distorted the context of Ps. 91:11. When Jesus made the right decision to obey God, the angels did come to serve him. In summary, Luke intended to show Jesus as the true Israel who obeys God, as opposed to the Israelites who broke their covenant with him. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christ the King​

In the same way that Jesus revealed his humanity in the context of Judaism, he also showed his divinity. When Moses asked for the divine name at the beginning of the Israelites' exodus, God told him, "I AM WHO I AM" (Exod. 3:14). This is the tetragrammaton, a Greek word describing the four Hebrew consonants יהוה that spell out the phrase Yahweh (YHWH; H3068). This context is important to know when reading the seven "I am" statements of Jesus in the gospel according to John:

 

1.  I  am the bread of life (6:35-51).

2.  I am the light of the world (8:12; 9:5).

3.  I am the gate for the sheep (10:7-9).

4.  I am the good shepherd (10:11-14).

5.  I am the resurrection and the life (11:25).

6.  I am the way, the truth, and the life (14:6).

7.  I am the true vine (15:1).

Each statement refers to God's character. Jesus is the bread of life in the same way the Father gave manna—the bread of angels—to the Israelites (Ps. 78:25). He offers light to the world just as God preserved the oil for the Temple's menorah after the desecration of  Antiochus IV (175–163 BC), a Greek king of Syria who tried to enforce Hellenization onto the Jewish people  (1 Macc. 4:36-50). The festival of Chanukah (i.e., "Dedication") celebrates the successful Maccabean revolt, which stopped Antiochus from building a graven image of himself and conducting pagan sacrifice. As the good shepherd, Jesus contrasted himself with Judea's religious leaders who sold out their people to the Romans to gain money and privilege, much like the Hellenistic Jews who allied themselves with Antiochus against their fellow Jews. Both the Hellenists and the Sanhedrin each were, "The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them." Jesus is not only the gate, the security for God's people, but also our salvation because he laid down his life for us so that we may live (John 10:7-18). This is the reason the early Christians described their movement as "the Way" (Acts 9:2; 19:9; 23; 22:4; 24:14; 22), from Jesus' claim to be "the way, the truth, and the life." This means his disciples must abide in his life-giving sustenance, which is the Word of God. 

 

The most important "I am" statement from Jesus, however, was this: "Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58). Compared to the main seven, this one was overtly blasphemous in the minds of the Judean religious leaders. While the other "I am" statements were more implicit, this claim to not only be older than Abraham (John 8:53-57), but also the direct use of God's name was unheard of. Even Jews today refuse to spell out any form of it. Instead, they use alternative spellings such as "L-rd" or "G-d." Not even the Jewish leaders who anticipated the Messiah could not fathom this man using the divine name. Coincidentally, the original Aramaic variation of Jesus—Yeshua (i.e., "God saves")—features an abbreviated version of Yahweh. This is also true of various names, words, and places (e.g., Elijah, hallelujah, Messiah, Judah). In response, the religious leaders picked up stones to kill Jesus for his apparent blasphemy. This was the only time that Jesus made an obvious claim to divinity, which he probably intended to set off the chain of events leading to his crucifixion. 

The focus of Jesus' earthly ministry was the inauguration of God's kingdom. This makes him a king, which is why Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect of Judea, ironically had the title "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" nailed above Jesus' head on the cross (Matt. 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38; John 19:19). However, the kingdom of heaven is not of this world, but from the will of God. Just as the "church" (Greek: ekklēsia; G1577) is a group of people united in Christ, the kingdom features the subjects who recognize God's authority. Simon Peter, in his Pentecost sermon, informed his Jewish compatriots that Jesus had not only ascended to heaven, but also sits at God's right hand (Acts 2:14-36). David foresaw this when he wrote, "The Lord says to my lord, 'Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies your footstool'" (
Ps. 110:1; Acts 2:34-35).

Prayer

Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the universe, for in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility. Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

 

Bibliography

Bailey, Kenneth E. Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009.

Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Hymnal Corp., 1979. https://www.bookofcommonprayer.net/collects/contemporary#saints.

Mikołajczyk, James. Jesus the Jew, Christ the King: Exploring the Hypostatic Union between the Historical Jesus and the Christ of Faith.                        Bloomington, IN: WestBow, 2016.

Perowne, Stewart Henry. "Herod—King of Judaea." Encyclopædia Britannica. London: Britannica, 2020.                                                                    https://www.britannica.com/biography/Herod-king-of-Judaea.

Sanders, E. P. and Jaroslav Pelikan. "Jesus of Nazareth." Encyclopædia Britannica. London: Britannica, 2020.                                                              https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jesus.

Shukla, Gaurav, Kathleen Kuiper, and Marco Sampaolo, eds. "Pax Romana." Encyclopædia Britannica. London: Britannica,                                    2020. https://www.britannica.com/event/Pax-Romana.

Strauss, Mark L. Four Portraits, One Jesus: A Survey of Jesus and the Gospels. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007.

Strong, James. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: Updated and Expanded Edition. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007.

Volkmann, Hans. "Antiochus IV Epiphanes." Encyclopædia Britannica. London: Britannica, 2020.                                                                                https://www.britannica.com/biography/Antiochus-IV-Epiphanes.

Wright, N. T. How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels. San Francisco: HarperOne, 2012.

⸻. Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters. San Francisco: HarperOne, 2011.

Photography

Perez, Sheila. LumoProject.com. Pompano Beach, FL: Lumo, 2020. https://lumoproject.com.

Wilson, Tom, and Paul Carter. FreeBibleImages.org. Farnham, United Kingdom: Goznet, 2020. http://www.freebibleimages.org.