Was Jesus a Jew? Did He follow the Jewish customs and ritual? Did He do away with the Law?
Jesus, Son of David
There is no doubt that Jesus was 100% Jewish. When Matthew wrote his gospel he wrote his gospel specifically to the Jews which was why He gave Jesus’ genealogy in chapter one and actually called this gospel “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt 1:1). It lists the entire family tree of Jesus from Abraham through all of the other Patriarchs, then to David, of whom Jesus is said to be the son of, and concludes with Jesus’ birth. In fact, it even says that “all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations” (Matt 1:17) so how much more specific can Matthew be? There is every reason, including biblical evidence, historical evidence and extra-biblical evidence that Jesus was a Jew of the Jews.
Jesus’ Sabbath Observance
Jesus being a Jew followed the Jewish customs and rituals but not the traditions of the elders and the religious leaders who had added hundreds of other rituals and manmade traditions that were not included in the Old Testament Law. For example they added hundreds of additional requirements to the observance of the Sabbath making it a burden instead of the joy that it was intended to be. For example, when Jesus healed on the Sabbath, the Pharisees “watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent” (Mark 3:2-4). Of course they were silent because He didn’t break the Sabbath, He broke from their own traditions. There is nothing in the Law that says someone couldn’t be healed on the Sabbath! In fact when Jesus healed a woman who had a disabling spirit for years “the ruler of the synagogue [were] indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath [but Jesus] said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day” (Luke 13:14-16).
Don’t miss the fact that Jesus kept the Sabbath too and was in the synagogue on that holy day. The reason that the religious leaders were angered by Jesus healing on the Sabbath was because He was being glorified and giving signs and performing wonders which was to be one of the signs of the Messiah.
Jesus Custom of Visiting the Synagogue
Jesus frequently visited the Synagogue (Mark 3; Luke 13) so He obviously kept the Sabbath and He also attended the Jewish festivals or high days including the Passover (John 2:13, 6:4, 11:55) even from His youth (Luke 2:41-43). Jesus not only regularly attended Synagogue on the Sabbath but He taught there too as Matthew writes “when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching” (Matt 21:23. )
Jesus Observed Old Testament Laws
Jesus had just healed a man of leprosy and in keeping with what the Law required, Jesus “charged him to tell no one, but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them” (Luke 5:14). In fact, Jesus told His disciples and the Jewish people that they were to obey the teachers of the Law (Matt 23:1-3) but they were not to follow their manmade rituals and customs because they put their own traditions above the Law of God. Jesus told them “in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt 15:9; Mark 7:7). Jesus loved to quote Isaiah and in this case He quoted Isaiah 29:13 in the context of their own traditions over what God has written in His Word and said it was “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.”
Jesus Observance of Jewish Laws and Holy Days
Jesus followed the law and so did His parents for after His birth it was “at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised” (Luke 2:21a) and being the first born He was consecrated “And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons” (Luke 2:22-24). Not only this but Jesus kept the Holy Days, as we have already read as He kept the Passover but also the Feast of Tabernacles or Feast of Booths (John 7:2) and “About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching” (John 7:14). He had been observing the Holy Days since He was a child, regularly attending with His parents (Luke 2:41-42) and observed all the Law of Moses.
Did Jesus Do Away with the Law?
Contrary to what most might think Jesus said “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:17-19). What Law did Jesus say would not pass away? The commandments because He didn’t come to abolish them but to fulfill them and Jesus went on to show that even in the kingdom of heaven they would be observed and taught (Matt 5:19). Even after the cross we know this because Paul wrote “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law” (Rom 3:31). Jesus told many that they should observe these commandments (Matt 19:16; Luke 18:18) even though no one is saved by observing them. Jesus said that if we love Him then we should keep His commandments (John 14:15).
Jesus rebuked those who had supplanted the Law with their own traditions giving them a severe tongue lashing as He said “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’s; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)—then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do” (Mark 7:9-13). What they were doing was not taking care of their father and mother’s needs and they justified not providing for their elderly parents by keeping money that they say was dedicated to the temple or to God, thereby breaking the Law of God and the first commandment with a promise, the 5th Commandment which was to honor your father and your mother.
Jesus didn’t do away with the Ten Commandments; He actually took them to new heights (Matt 5:1-12). As for the Old Covenant, Mosaic Law which included circumcision, washings, rituals, and the sacrifices “Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second” (Heb 8:6-7) and “he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Heb 8:13). Romans 2:29 says “a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter” and “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal 3:29). If you have “been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Rom 5:9) but “whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). I pray that is not you.
Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon