Introduction to The Life of Christ

from a Jewish Perspective

To my faithful wife Beth. I wanted to marry someone who loved the Lord and His Word,
someone who would be my partner in life and in ministry. God gave me the best of both.
We’re in this together, we are a team; I couldn’t love you more.

The Use of the New International Version

Because I am writing this commentary on the Life of Christ from a Jewish perspective, I will be using the New International Version unless otherwise indicated. There will be times when I substitute Hebrew for English names using the Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) by David Stern. But generally I will be using the NIV translation for the Jewish perspective.

The use of ADONAI

Long before Yeshua’s day, the word ADONAI had, out of respect, been substituted in speaking and in reading aloud for God’s personal name, the four Hebrew letters yud-heh-vav-heh, variously written in English as YHVH. The Talmud (Pesachim 50a) made it a requirement not to pronounce Tetragrammation, meaning the four-letter name of God, and this remains the rule in most modern Jewish settings. In deference to this tradition, which is unnecessary but harmless, I will be using ADONAI where YHVH is meant.1 In ancient times when the scribes were translating the Hebrew Scriptures, they revered the name of YHVH so much that they would use a quill to make one stroke of the name and then throw it away. Then they would make another stroke and throw that quill away until the name was completed. His name became so sacred to them that they started to substitute the phrase the Name, instead of writing or pronouncing His Name. Over centuries of doing this, the actual letters and pronunciation of His Name were lost. The closest we can come is YHVH, with no syllables. The pronunciation has been totally lost. Therefore, the name Yahweh is only a guess of what the original name sounded like. Both ADONAI and Ha’Shem are substitute names for YHVH. ADONAI is more of an affectionate name like daddy, while Ha’Shem is a more formal name like sir.

The use of TaNaKh

The Hebrew word TaNaKh is an acronym, based on the letters T (for "Torah"), N (for "Neviim," or the Prophets), and K (for "Ketuvim," or the Sacred Writings). It is the collection of the teachings of God to human beings in document form. The term “Old Covenant” implies that it is no longer valid, or at the very least outdated. Something old, to be either ignored or discarded. But Jesus Himself said: Don’t think I have come to abolish the Torah and the Prophets, I have not come to abolish but to complete (Matthew 5:17 CJB). I will be using the Hebrew acronym TaNaKh instead of the phrase the Old Testament, throughout this devotional commentary.

The Use of the phrase, “the righteous of the TaNaKh,” rather than using Old Testament saints

Messianic synagogues, and the Jewish messianic community in general, never use the phrase Old Testament saints. From a Jewish perspective, they prefer to use the phrase, “righteous of the TaNaKh.” Therefore, I will be using “the righteous of the TaNaKh,” rather than Old Testament saints throughout this devotional commentary.

The Use of Disciple and Apostle

Luke indicates that Jesus chose twelve from among His disciples, and that these He named apostles. Consequently, I will be using the word disciples as a general term for those who were committed to following their Master to learn from Him. And I will be using the word apostles for the Twelve whom Messiah invested His time and sent out with His delegated authority. Obviously, Yeshua chose twelve special disciples to be His apostles. I will also be using the Hebrew word talmid (singular) or talmidim (plural), which means student or learner, to refer to His Twelve apostles. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, they carried on His ministry after He had ascended back to the Father in heaven.

The Historical Context of Jesus’ Teaching

It is crucial to the understanding of Yeshua’s teaching that you immerse yourself in the first-century Judaism of which He was a part. There are two concepts that lay at the heart of understanding the Life of Christ. The first concept is the Kingdom of God, and is absolutely essential to the whole of Jesus’ teaching and ministry. It answers the question, “Why did He come?” The second concept is the Oral Law. I dare say you cannot understand the interaction between Yeshua and the religious leaders of His day unless you understand the Oral Law (see Ei – The Oral Law). It answers the question, “Why was He rejected?”

Introduction to the Individual Gospels

It is profitable to view the Gospels from both a harmonistic and individual point of view. Each Gospel was written and intended to be read as an independent work. Each is a separate and distinct witness to the life of Christ. When there is a need, I will be pointing out different themes and points of view of each individual author under the inspiration of the Ruach HaKodesh. The more you thoroughly understand each individual Gospel the more profitable the study of the life of Messiah.

The Gospel According to Matthew

1. The Author of Matthew: Matthew was a Jewish talmidim of Jesus who once earned a living as a tax collector, an official of the Roman government. Moved by the Holy Spirit, he wrote a biography of Yeshua from a Hebrew perspective, emphasizing the regal rights of Jesus as the long awaited Meshiach and legitimate King of Isra’el.2 Early believers uniformly attributed this Gospel to Matthew, and no tradition to the contrary every emerged. This book was known early and accepted quickly. It his Ecclesiastical History (AD 323), Eusebius quoted a statement by Papias (AD 140) that Mattityahu wrote Yeshua’s sayings in Aramaic; however, no Aramaic Gospel of Matthew has ever been found. Some believe that Matthew wrote an abbreviated version of Jesus’ sayings in Aramaic before writing his Gospel in Greek for a larger audience.

2. The Date of Matthew: According to the writings of early believers, Mattityahu was the most widely and frequently used of any of the Gospels. This is why it is arranged first. But like all the Gospels, Matthew is not easy to date and suggestions have ranged from AD 40 to 140. The two expressions to this day (Mattityahu 27:8) and to this very day (Matthew 28:15) indicate that a substantial period of time has passed since the events described in the book, but they also point to a date prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Yeshua’s answers to the apostle three questions in Matthew Chapters 24 and 25 also anticipates this event. The strong Jewish flavor of this Gospel is another argument for a date prior to AD 70. Since a majority of Mark’s Gospel is found in Matthew it seems likely that Mattityahu depended on Mark’s Gospel as a source. Therefore, the date of Mark would determine the earliest date for Matthew. The likely date for this book being written is around AD 65. It may have been written in Palestine or in Syrian Antioch.

3. The Audience of Matthew: Matthew is a Gospel written by a Jew to Jews about a Jew. Thus, it has long been recognized as the “Jewish Gospel.” Because the Church was first comprised of Jewish believers (Acts 2:1-47), Matthew’s Gospel became very popular and is probably the reason it is listed first among the Gospels. Mattityahu is the writer, his countrymen are the readers, and Yeshua ha-Meshiach is the subject. Matthew wrote, “This is King Messiah - worship Him.”

4. The Christ of Matthew: Matthew presents Jesus as Israel’s promised King Messiah (1:23, 2:2 and 6, 3:17, 4:15-17, 21:5 and 9, 22:44-45, 26:64, 27:11 and 27-27). The phrase the kingdom of heaven appears thirty-two times in Matthew like nowhere else in the New Covenant. To show that Yeshua fulfills the qualifications for the Messiah, Matthew uses more quotations and illustrations (almost 130) from the TaNaKh than any other book. Often used in this Gospel is the revealing phrase: So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet, which appears nine times in Matthew and not once in the other Gospels. Jesus is the climax of the prophets (12:39-40, 13:13-15 and 35, 17:5-13). And the messianic term Son (meaning descendent) of David occurs nine times in Mattityahu, but only six times in all of the other Gospels.

5. The Purpose of Matthew: Matthew’s purpose is to present Yeshua as the King of the Jews, the long-awaited Meshiach. Through a carefully selected series of quotations from the TaNaKh, Mattityahu documents Yeshua’s claim to be the Messiah. His genealogy, baptism, messages, and miracles all point to the same inescapable conclusion: Jesus is King Messiah. Even in His death, seeming defeat is turned to victory by the resurrection, and the message is the same, King Messiah lives.

6. The Central Theme of Matthew: Yeshua, the Jewish Meshiach, who is the climax of salvation history, has come.

7. The Key Verses of Matthew: Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied: Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by My Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven (Matthew 16:16-19).3

The Gospel According to Mark

1. The Author of Mark: The second Gospel, like the others, contains no statement of authorship. But the uniform tradition of early believers attributes it to John Mark, John was his Jewish name and Mark was his Latin name (Acts 12:12). Papias, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen are among the Church fathers who affirmed that the author was Mark. He was not one of the Twelve, but the son of a follower named Mary (Acts 12:12), who had a large house that was used as a meeting place for believers in Jerusalem. Peter apparently went to this house often because the servant girl recognized his voice at the gate (Acts 12:13-16). Barnabas was Mark’s cousin (Colossians 4:10), but Peter may have been the person who led him to Christ (Peter called him: my son Mark in First Peter 5:13). It was this close association with Kefa that lent apostolic authority to Mark’s Gospel, since Peter was evidently Mark’s primary source of information. It has been suggested that Mark was referring to himself in his account of a young man, wearing but a linen garment, who was following Jesus (Mark 14:51) in Gethsemane. Since all the apostles had abandoned Yeshua (Mark 14:50), this little incident may have been a firsthand account.

2. The Date of Mark: Most scholars believe that Mark was the first of the four Gospels, but there is uncertainty over its date. Because of the prophecy about the destruction of the Temple (Mark 13:2), it should be dated before AD 70, but early traditions disagree as to whether it was written before or after the martyrdom of Peter in AD 64. Because ninety-three percent of Mark is found in the other Gospels, it seems likely that it was the first Gospel written. The probable date for this book is in the late 50s AD. Early tradition indicates that it originated in Rome.

3. The Audience of Mark: Mark wrote for Gentile readers in general and Roman readers in particular. Some indications of this are that the genealogy of Jesus is not included (meaning little to Gentiles); Aramaic phrases are translated at least five times (3:17; 5:41; 7:34; 14:36; 15:34); Latin equivalents for terms and amounts (Mark 12:42 says copper coins for the Greek two lepta); in the story of the Canaanite woman there is no saying about Jesus’ lost sheep of the house of Isra’el (Mark 7:24-30); and finally, the apostles not forbidden to go on a mission among the Samaritans or Gentiles. Mark wrote, “This is the Servant who served humanity – follow Him.”

4. The Christ of Mark: The shortest and simplest of the four Gospels, Mark gives a crisp and fast-moving look at the life of Christ. With few comments, Mark lets the narrative speak for itself as the Lord is presented as an active, compassionate, and obedient Servant who constantly ministers to the physical and spiritual needs of others. Because this is the story of a Servant, Mark omits Jesus’ ancestry and birth and moves right into His busy public ministry. Mark is primarily concerned with relating the actions of Yeshua without neglecting His teachings. The distinctive word of this book is euthus, translated immediately or straightaway, and it appears more often in this compact Gospel (forty-two times) than in the rest of the New Covenant. Christ is constantly moving toward a goal that is hidden to almost all. Mark clearly shows the power and authority of this unique suffering Servant, identifying Him as no less than the Son of God (Mark 1:1 and 11, 3:11, 5:7, 9:7, 13:32, 14:61, 15:39).

5. The Purpose of Mark: With the action orientation of the Romans, Mark wrote a Gospel that emphasizes the actions of the Messiah. Mark’s Gospel emphasizes the servant nature of Christ; therefore, we can say that to show Christ the Servant (Mark 10:45) is the purpose of this Gospel.

6. The Central Theme of Mark: Yeshua, the Son of God, came to seek, serve and save. He obediently suffered as the Servant of the Lord to pay the ransom price for sins, and as a model of suffering and sacrifice for His disciples to follow.

7. The Key Verses of Mark: Jesus called His apostles together and said: You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave to all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:42-45).4

The Gospel According to Luke

1. The Author of Luke: Luke was a doctor (Colossians 4:14), probably born and raised in Macedonia. He was not a Jew, but a converted Gentile (this would make him the only Gentile contributor to the New Covenant). He does not claim to be an eyewitness of what he wrote in his Gospel, but rather to have thoroughly investigated the events before writing them down. It is generally recognized among biblical scholars today that when Luke wrote his Gospel, he already had the writing of Acts in mind. The two form a two-volume work. It is clear from the beginnings of both Luke and Acts that they were addressed to the same man named Theophilus, meaning lover of God, as a two-volume work. He was probably the patron who sponsored Luke’s writing. The book of Luke is the longest of all the Gospels. Matthew has more chapters, but Luke has more verses and words. And the combined work of Luke and Acts comprises the largest amount of material more than any single human author in the New Covenant, including Rabbi Sha’ul. Acts begins with a summary of Luke and continues the story from where the Gospel of Luke ends. The style and language of both books are quite similar. The Church throughout the ages has attributed this book to Luke.

2. The Date of Luke: The date of the Gospel is closely tied to its companion volume Acts. Since Paul was in prison in Rome at the end of Acts (about AD 62), Luke may have finished Acts before Paul’s release and later martyrdom. This would place Acts around AD 62, and the Gospel of Luke was probably written in the early 60s.5

3. The Audience of Luke: In his two-volume Luke-Acts set, Luke, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, desires to reach the world. He wrote to neither the spiritually privileged Jew nor the politically privileged Roman, but to common Greeks, most of whom had no power, no wealth and no hope. His Gospel is grounded his in Judaism, and even though his message starts in the heart of Judaism, in Tziyon and the Temple, his audience is the whole world. Luke shattered cultural boundaries, ethnic boundaries, and racial boundaries because it includes humanity. He wrote, “This is the only Man among men without sin – emulate Him.”

4. The Christ of Luke: The humanity and compassion of Jesus are repeatedly stressed in Luke’s Gospel. Luke gives the most complete account of Christ’s ancestry, birth and development. He is the ideal Son of Man who identified with the sorrow and plight of sinful mankind in order to carry our sorrows and offer us the priceless gift of salvation. Jesus alone fulfills the Greek ideal of human perfection, and yet, the Savior of all the people of the world.

5. The Purpose of Luke: Luke wanted to create an accurate, chronological and comprehensive account of the unique life of Jesus Christ (Luke 1:3-4) to strengthen the faith of Gentile believers and stimulate saving faith among nonbelievers. Luke also had another purpose, and that was to show that Christ was not only divine, but also human. Luke pictures Christ in all of His humanity by devoting more of his inspired writing to Christ’s feelings and humanity than any other Gospel.

6. The Central Theme of Luke: Luke presents Jesus as the Perfect Man who came to seek and save both Jews and Gentiles alike. It shatters cultural boundaries, ethnic boundaries, and racial boundaries because it cuts across the human condition.

7. The Key Verse of Luke: For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost (Luke 19:10).6

The Gospel According to John

1. The Author of John: The author of apostle Yochanan is the talmidim whom Jesus loved (John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7, 20 and 24). He was prominent in the early Church but is not mentioned by name in this Gospel – which would be natural if he wrote it, but would be hard to explain otherwise. The author knew Jewish life well, as seen from references to popular messianic speculations (for example: John 1:20-21; 7:40-42), to the hostility between Jews and Samaritans (Yochanan 4:9), and to Jewish customs, such as the duty of circumcision on the eighth day taking precedence over the prohibition of working on the Sabbath (John 7:22). He knew the geography of Palestine and particularly the city of Jerusalem, mentioning such incidental details such as Cana, a village not referred to in any earlier writing known to us (2:1, 21:2). The Gospel of John touches on many things that were obviously based on the recollections of an eye witness – such as the house at Bethany being filled with the fragrance of the broken perfume jar (Yochanan 12:3).7 Early Church tradition affirms that it was written by John the apostle. Irenaeus (130-200 AD) wrote, “John, the disciple of the Lord, who leaned on his breast, also published the Gospel while living at Ephesus in Asia.” Irenaeus said that he received this information from Polycarp, a disciple of Yochanan himself. So both the internal and external evidence confirms John the apostle as the human author.

2. The Date of John: Since the eighteenth century, it was common among critical scholars to date Yochanan as being written late in the second century, assuming its high view of Jesus was a late development in the Church. However, the discovery of the John Rylands manuscript (p52, 135 AD), a small papyrus fragment of John, as well as the other discoveries at Qumran (which show the Jewishness of the Gospel) have forced scholars to abandon this late date. Since John’s three epistles and Revelation were written after his Gospel, most scholars today date the Gospel from AD 80 to 90.

3. The Audience of John: John certainly new of the synoptic Gospels and probably taught from them for many years before deciding, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that the biography of Jesus remained incomplete. All believers knew Him as King of the Jews, Yeshua as Servant and Yeshua as the Son of Man, but there remained a need for the theme, Jesus as the Son of God. John wrote his Gospel so that we would know that the Son of Man is God in human flesh – completely human, yet no less God than when in the beginning, He spoke the universe into existence. John wrote, “This is God in human flesh – believe in Him.

4. The Christ of John: This book presents the most powerful case in the entire Bible for the deity and incarnate Son of God. The man they call Jesus (John 9:11) is also Christ, the Son of the Living God (John 6:69 NKJ). The deity of Christ can be seen in His seven I AM statements: I AM the bread of life (Yochanan 6:35), I AM the light of the world (John 8:12, 9:5), I AM the gate (John 10:7 and 9), I AM the Good Shepherd (John 10:11 and 14), I AM the resurrection and the life (John 11:25), I AM the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6) I AM the true vine (Yochanan 15:1-5). The seven signs or miracles: Changing Water to Wine (2:1-12); Healing the Officials Son (John 4:43-53); Healing at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-15); Feeding the 5,000 (Yochanan 6:1-24); Walking on Water (John 6:16-24); the Healing of a Man Born Blind (John 9:1-44); and also Raising Lazarus (Yochanan 11:1-44) point to His divine character. The Word was God (John 1:1), but the Word also became flesh (John 1:14).8

5. The Purpose of John: John’s Gospel contains a clear statement of purpose. Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of His apostles, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name (John 21:30-31). This may indicate that the Gospel’s primary purpose is evangelistic, to bring unbelievers to faith in Christ. On the other hand, the interpretation of the phrase: that you might believe, is disputed. Some early manuscripts view this as in the present subjective, and thus could be translated: that you might continue to believe. Therefore, the purpose could be to assure believers in their faith. These two purposes of evangelism and assurance are not mutually exclusive. Both could be aspects of John’s purpose for writing. The theme of light and darkness is a minor motif in John’s Gospel.

6. The Unique Material and Theological Themes of John: The central theme that John wanted to convey, is that Jesus is the divine Son of God who reveals the Father, providing eternal life to whosoever believes in Him.

a. The Gospel of John is unique among the Gospels. Although it is written in a simple style, and with simple vocabulary, it displays a deeper level of theological meaning and implication behind the words and deeds of Jesus.

b. John omits much material included in the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke). Yochanan provides no genealogy, illustrating the fact that deity has no beginning. John offers no childhood details and retells no parables, perhaps to emphasize His transcendent nature as God. Yochanan bypasses Jesus Christ’s temptation in the wilderness, His transfiguration on the mountain, His commissioning of the apostles after His resurrection, and His ascension from the earth.9 Most of the teaching of Jesus in John is unique. Ninety-two percent of John is unique to his Gospel, with only 8 percent found in the Synoptic Gospels (this is almost exactly opposite of Mark). Five of the seven miracles do not occur in other Gospels. The Sadducees are not mentioned nor is Jesus’ fellowship with sinners and tax collectors. Many events important in the Synoptics are also omitted, including birth stories, genealogies, Jesus’ baptism, the temptation, the transfiguration and the ascension. The key Synoptic phrase, the Kingdom of God, occurs only twice in Yochanan. Evidently John avoided repetition with the Synoptics unless it fulfilled his purpose.

c. Yochanan is the only writer to report Jesus’ extensive Judean ministry. From the Synoptics alone it is impossible to tell how long Messiah’s public ministry lasted. They mention the Passover, but only when Yeshua died. John supplements this material by letting us know that there were four Passovers during Christ’s public ministry; thus, we know it lasted for three-and-a-half years.

d. John repeatedly describes Jesus’ contacts with those around Him, like Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman. When people came in contact with Jesus, they either accepted or rejected His person and His message. But either way, a response was necessary. From these personal interviews, we gain great insight into Yeshua’s identity.

e. Lastly, there is more extended teaching by Jesus about the Ruach HaKodesh in Yochanan’s Gospel than in any other.

7. The Key Verses of John: For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).10

 

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