Jesus was a Jew. Why aren’t we Jews? When did Jesus say to his followers: “Leave the Synagogue and start another religion.”? Please don’t quote Matt. 16:18: “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church…etc.” Matthew wrote that 50 years after the death of Jesus, and — based on the historical events — most scholars agree that Jesus could never have said it.
The historical fact is: Jesus left his Jewish followers to his brother James. We know this from Galatians and Acts of the Apostles and from the Gospel of Thomas and the book of Josephus. The “church” James established in Jerusalem (which Peter and John helped him run) was a Jewish sect — integrally connected to the Temple and to the local Synagogues.
From the year 30 CE., to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE., these Jewish followers of Jesus attended Synagogue services every Sabbath, and Temple services on all the High Holy Days. They had circumcision and bar mitzvah and read the Megillah on Purim. The men and boys wore their Kippahs on their heads as a symbol of their submission to Yahweh. The only difference from the other Jews was that they believed Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. These were the original Christians.
What about today’s Christians? Why aren’t we Jews? If we’re followers of a Jewish messiah, why don’t we keep kosher and attend services every Sabbath? Why have we abandoned the religion of our founder?
I think there are two reasons: (just my opinion, remember.)
First: after the murder of James and the destruction of the Temple and the Synagogues in the year 70 C.E., the Jesus/Jewish church had no leadership. They had no place to meet, no place to worship and nobody to bring them together. They ambled about for a few years and finally forgot about Jesus and returned to their former Judaism.
Secondly, and most importantly, Paul was there to take over. And Paul was strictly non-Jewish even though he had been born and raised a Jew. You remember how he had fought with James over circumcision (Gal. 2:7) and how adamantly he rejected other aspects of the Jewish religion. Once James was dead, Paul was the leader. His image of Jesus was not the Jewish Jesus from Galilee, but the son of man from Daniel. Paul had never met Jesus and didn’t need the men who had. Paul had studied his scriptures and he found his messiah, his Christos — in the book of Daniel.
Daniel had spelled it out in his vision: “I see one like the son of man, coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Dan.7:13). Paul had the same vision. He saw his son of man — his Christos —returning to earth in his own life time “with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God.” (1Thes. 4:16). And, like Daniel, whose son of man would “have dominion over every people and nation” Paul’s Christos would return for the Gentiles not just the Jews.
That’s why we’re not Jews. James, the brother of Jesus, said we should be Jews, but James died and his Jewish church died with him. Paul, who never met Jesus, said we shouldn’t be Jews, and Paul lived on and his non-Jewish (eventually anti-Semitic) church spread all over the world.
How do you feel about that? I know most Christians shrug it off as “God’s will” and they feel just fine. They feel we’re not saddled with Jewish rituals and laws and not required to study the Torah and the prophets. Besides, they don’t picture Jesus as a Jew anyway.
But I do. I see this rugged Jewish peasant trudging up and down the dusty hills of Galilee, going from one Synagogue to another preaching the “real Judaism” as he saw it. Not a new religion, but rather the Torah and the prophets in all their beauty and pageantry. I see a totally Jewish Jesus, and frankly, I miss him.