In what follows I am going to side-step debates on the historical Jesus and will take the gospels as they stand (feel free to raise historical issues in comments). I am not doing anything other than offering a few, brief, exploratory reflections.
Jesus and the Restoration of Israel
I suspect that it is only against this background sketched out in posts 1-5 that we can make sense of the story of Jesus. Jesus was the Messiah of Israel, descended from David, and as such he was the one who would restore Israel and enable her to reach out to the nations. The whole mission of Jesus was tied up with these hopes. The Jesus of the gospels seems to be a man on a mission bound up with the eschatological restoration of Israel.
Jesus led an eschatological, Israel-restoration movement. His mission was in the first instance to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matt 15:24). (He told his disciples not to go amongst the Gentiles Matt 10:5. Only later did his mission expand to take in all nations [as per the OT expectations]).
His appointment of 12 disciples (something attested in numerous early sources) certainly suggests the restorationist nature of his agenda. The expectation was that God would restore the twelve tribes ruled by twelve princes. Jesus appointed twelve apostles to "sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matt 19:28; Lk 22:30). The message was clear.
Israel expected a new, post-exilic, kingdom of God age to dawn in which Israel would be restored. Jesus' announcement of the immanent arrival of the kingdom would have been heard in such a context. That is not to say that Jesus did not stretch the kingdom expectations and make them his own (e.g., he certainly seemed to reject zealot models for bringing in the kingdom). The point is that the concept of the kingdom was not an empty category but was bound up with Israel's salvation (and the consequent redemption of all creation).
Israel as a whole - and its leaders in particular - did not embrace Jesus' kingdom message and Jesus warned them over and over again of coming judgement on the nation and its Holy City. (I think that Jesus saw his followes as an advanced guard of the restoration but that full restoration was deferred until after coming judgement. See later post)
I have no doubt that there is a LOT that should be said in qualification of, and in addition to, the above. But I do think it is the case that Jesus' mission was intimately bound up with the redemption of Jerusalem (something that comes out powerfully in Luke 1-2 which frame Jesus' whole life and ministry in terms of this Israel-restorationist agenda).
Jesus and the Torah
A word about Jesus and the Torah is in order (given that all these posts are really a long-winded response to a question from Nathahn about the Law). We need to recall that Jesus and his early followers were all Jews and all lived in Jewish contexts in which circumcision, food laws, holy-days and Sabbaths were not questioned. There were issues about how such commands were to be interpreted and applied but there was no question about whether they should be or not.
Jesus was Torah-obedient. He was circumcised, celebrated Jewish festivals, observed the Sabbath, attended the Synagogue, wore fringes on his garments, approved of tithing, endorsed sacrifice and gifts at the Temple, said grace before meals, and almost certainly maintained Jewish dietry laws, etc.. He may not have interpreted and applied the Torah in exactly the same way as all his contemporaries (as is witnessed by various controversies) but this should not be seen as an attempt to subvert the Torah (there were many disagreements at this time between different Jewish groups on how to interpret and apply the Law).
Jesus did not advocate abandoning the Torah. On the contrary he held the Torah in very high esteem (e.g., Matt 5:17-20; Mk 7:8), told the rich young man that if he kept the Mosaic commands he would have eterenal life (Matt 19:16-22), and condemned those that he felt subverted it (e.g., Mk 7:1-13 par). Jesus followed the Torah and taught his Jewish followers to do so as well.
In the Second Temple period different groups of Jews (Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, etc) took different views on the interpretation of Torah and Jesus' approach to the Law of Moses needs to be situated within such a copntext. Just like these other groups Jesus was concerned with the interpretation of the Torah. Compared to some of them he may sometimes seems rather liberal but this should not lead us to think that he was indifferent to Torah-obedience. The difference lay in his hermeneutics.
Jesus' Torah-hermeneutic prioritized certain parts of the Torah - not all the commands were equally important: some parts dealt with "the weightier matters of the Law" (Matt 23:23). (It should go without saying that Jesus thought that Jews should obey the less weighty matters of the Law also.) He thought that the written Torah took precidence over the oral Toral of the Pharisees (Mk 7:1-13). He took the love commands in Deut 6:5 (love God) and Lev 19:18 (love your neighbour) as the key through which the whole Law could be summed up and interpreted (Matt 22:36-40). He focused on the moral requirements of the Law (but again, we must point out that he did not neglect issues of purity and ceremonial law, Mk 1:44 par; Lk 11:44; Mt 7:6; 23:27). He placed an unusual emphasis on the place of motivation in obedience to the commandments (most famously in the antitheses in the Sermon on the Mount - "You have heard that it was said ... but I say unto you ..."). And so on.
But the point is that Jesus was a Jewish teacher who followed the Law of Moses (even if his hermeneutic made some Jewish leaders feel that he was abandoning Torah-obedience) and taught other Jews to do likewise.
Tomorrow - the cross and resurrection.
- Robin Parry
- Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).