October 5, 2015

Judaism is Not Christianity II: Jesus the Rabbi?

As I’ve already alluded to in the previous post concerning the fact that Judaism is not Christianity, the main difference between the Jew and Christian is quite simple.

Jesus was the expected Jewish Messiah.

The Jews do not believe this but Christians do. This is where my focus will remain because it is the most important issue at hand for salvation of all men. The centrality of Jesus...right in the middle of the Jewish/Hebrew Bible and in the center of Christian Scripture also. The difference is an issue of recognizing the facts or seeing the reality in facts already given. So it is with the subtlest irony that I use the story of Nicodemus and Jesus to make a point because Nicodemus had all the facts given to him by Jesus but still didn't fully understand. This would be the same story for most of the Jews to this day. Here in this most current post I will address the issue of whether or not Jesus was a Rabbi.

Scripture refers to Jesus as Rabbi in a multiple places. He was referred to as Rabbi by His peers like Nicodemus. We see in the evening meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus that Jesus accepted this title also.

John 3:1-3 ~ Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council.  He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

Jesus was a rabbi (teacher) but He also happened to be a unique rabbi. He was One that was capable of opening the eyes of the blind, healing the cripples and sick and invariably, he could raise the dead…including Himself. This was no ordinary rabbi. The Apostles viewed Jesus as a Rabbi. They also viewed Him as Messiah. Jesus wasn’t just a rabbi/teacher He was divine. He is also called Messiah by Peter. Again, Jesus accepts this title without any rebuke of Peter.

Mark 8:27-30 ~ Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

Jesus was what amounted to a rabbi when he attended the Synagogue as evidence by His reading of the scroll of Isaiah in Luke 4.

Luke 4:14-21~ “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.  He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

So was Jesus a Rabbi in the sense of being a teacher of the Mosaic Law? I would have to say yes. The biblical evidence all seems to affirm this. But as we will read later in Hebrews, Jesus was a Rabbi of supernatural origins with a supernatural mission. That too is affirmed by Scripture. Was Jesus a Rabbi in the traditional Jewish sense? Was He an academic scholarly type? Did He study the additional Oral Laws around God’s true law that essentially put a fence around God’s Law so people couldn’t even approach the law (except Pharisees and Sadducees)? No. We see that He is essentially viewed as a country bumpkin even by his peers right in Nazareth. I mean, what happened after He read the scroll of Isaiah in Luke 4?

Luke 4:22 ~ All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.  “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

Jesus’ peers were in disbelief. They were amazed by what He had said acting in the capacity of Rabbi yet they could not see or understand the source of the power and authority in His words. They too understood him to be an apt and agile teacher/rabbi but couldn’t understand how an unschooled non-scholarly country bumpkin had become so profound and erudite. It totally baffled them. Had they considered is divine nature, they would've understood.

So, was Jesus a teacher? Yes. Was Jesus an expounder and supporter of the Jewish Oral Law? No. Jesus was more interested in getting people to understand the principles and ideas behind the existing Old Testament Mosaic Laws than obeying legalistic rules that did not get to the heart of God’s Law. That is why we would often hear Jesus say, “You’ve heard it said, but I say to you…”

On the flip side we need to also realize that Jesus is not a Reverend either. A Shepherd? Yes. He said he was the Good Shepherd. A Minister of God’s word. Yes, he ministered or attendant to the spiritual needs of His people? Yes. A minister as a title of a denomination? No. So in a way Jesus was more a Jewish Rabbi than a Christian Pastor to those He taught during His stay on Earth. That's because those that He taught...if they were not Gentile, they were Jewish...even the Apostles and Disciples. So it it better to understand Jesus in the role of a Rabbi.

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