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Was Jesus a Torah Jew?
Jesus' Passover, part 1
by Tom Wise
The consideration of Jesus Christ as a Torah Jew is not, for us, a new venture, but this article is a focused analysis on certain actions and words of Christ, in context.
This article breaks down the “Last Supper” from a Hebraic mindset. Specifically, we ask three questions. First, did Jesus follow Torah when participating in this Passover meal? Second, what aspects of the Seder (order of the meal) are apparent in Christ’s final Passover? Third, what are the meanings of Christ’s pronouncements in relation to Passover?
2. PRELIMINARY REQUIREMENTS.
(a) Torah requires that men who eat the Passover meal (that is, the sacrificial lamb) be of a certain nearness to God, and circumcised (Exodus 12:43-51).
Jesus was circumcised (Luke 2:21, 39), and we believe that every one of His apostles was a circumcised Jew as well. We believe this because (a) Christ would not break the least commandment nor teach such a thing (Matthew 5:19), and (b) if He had broken the commandment concerning Passover, Judas Iscariot would have reported this, so that the Pharisees would not have needed to call false witnesses (Matthew 26:59-60). We will hereafter call these “the two foundations.”
No stranger (non-Jew) may eat of the Passover unless he sojourns with the Jew and all his males are circumcised. In such a way, the stranger becomes as one born in the land, that is, the same as a Jew whose ancestor emerged from Egypt (Exodus 12:49). This and this alone gives a non-Jew the Torah right to partake of the Passover lamb.
When a stranger becomes as a Jew, there is one law and one manner for both as it concerns Passover (Numbers 15:16). This is a type of conversion. Torah does not necessarily prescribe a method of full conversion from Gentile to Jew, but Isaiah (60:5) tells us four things that a Jew must believe so that that the Gentiles will (according to prophecy) convert en masse: (1) “see” – that is, see the error of pagan ways, (2) “flow together” – that is, be as one people, and this means as one in Torah, (3) one’s heart should “fear” – that is, be afraid to be enmeshed in pagan ways, for once the truth is known it cannot be rejected without grave consequences here and hereafter, and (4) one’s heart should “be enlarged” – that is, be open to all the possibilities of the one God and His one Law, Torah, as God commanded all of His people to obey. When the Jews are thus, the “abundance of the sea” (the great populace of the Gentiles) shall be converted to the one God of the Jews. In the same manner, if a Gentile desires to be a Jew, the converted Gentile should adhere to those four elements. Such a Gentile is then not only a Jew but also a true Christian, for the purpose of Christ for Gentiles was to open the door for them to become Torah Jews.
The conversion is from non-Jew to Jew and not vice versa. Gentiles are expected to give everything they own in order to be saved by God. Notice that the Egyptians gave the Hebrews all their possessions, even their clothing, to have the right to sojourn out of Egypt with them, even without a known destination, and that a “mixed multitude” came forth (Exodus 12:35-38) from that land (Rashi tells us this consisted of various nationalities converted to Hebraic thought, which at that time consisted of little else but faith in the power of the one God over all other gods, and His mighty wrath). No Jew should ever believe that conversion is from Jew to non-Jew.
In a way, Paul agrees with this when he says there is “neither Jew nor Greek... for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). How are they one? Simply, they believe the same thing. The question is, Should this equality be that the Jews believe as Greeks or that the Greeks believe as the Jews? By every measure, it is the latter. However, what if we said that both Jew and Greek are “one” because they believe the same thing, but something which is different from what each knew beforehand? What new thing should they believe? It is certainly true that the conversion of the Greek to Christ takes the Greek from polytheism, atheism, or some other paganism to monotheism and a lifestyle based on Torah. However, it is not true that the conversion of a Jew to Christ involves that same thing unless the Jew is alienated from his Torah responsibility, either by external forces, such as poor leadership, or by internal forces, such as apathy or secularism. Such a poor spiritual state makes the Jew a “lost sheep.” Thus, the mission of Christ to the “lost sheep” is different as it pertains to Jews and Greeks, for the Jew must return to God while the Greek must begin with God.
In Romans, Paul makes these things clear, for (1) “the gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (1:16) – and this makes clear that there is a difference between Jew and Greek, the Jew having the primary purpose for Christ (Matthew 10:5); (2) that the advantage in being a Jew and the profit in circumcision is “much every way; chiefly because that unto them were committed the oracles of God” (Romans 3:1-2) – and this shows another primacy of being a Jew, for the oracles are the lawgivers and the prophets who are, if not Jews themselves, sent to the Jews; and (3) that God is first of all God to the Jews but also (that is, secondarily) God to the Gentiles, the only difference being that Paul believes “uncircumcision by faith” to be as powerful as “circumcision by faith” (3:29-30), but in no case does Paul say that the law of God is invalidated, only established for each (3:31).
But if anyone says that the law for Christians is the “law of love,” I must presume they mean “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and might” (Deut. 6:5) and “to love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:17-18). These are not new propositions, but Old Testament, in fact, Torah, the source which Christ quoted so often that we must say He was one of its major representatives, if not the “Word (Torah) made flesh” itself. And to interpret these commandments, one must consult Torah, for any other compilation of rules by which one chooses to live (or fulfill the “law of love”) is man-made and therefore neither of God nor Christ.
(b) Torah requires that the Passover be eaten in one house (Exodus 12:46).
Jesus commanded His apostles to find them a particular house (Matthew 26:18, Mark 14:13-15, Luke 22:10-12 – note that John deals not with these preliminaries but skips to the meal itself).
Now, whether a “man bearing a pitcher of water” was a traditional method of helping wayfaring Jews find a suitable place to hold a Passover, we know not, but it is given that Christ knew such a man would be at the ready. It might be argued that Christ used supernatural powers to foresee His Passover setting (“a large upper room furnished and prepared”), but this is conjecture.
(c) Torah requires that the Passover be eaten in a house free of leaven (Exodus 12:15, Deut. 16:4).
In Mark, Jesus commanded His apostles to find them a room which was “prepared” (14:15). In Luke, Jesus commanded His apostles to “there make ready” (22:12). It is unlikely that what was prepared or made ready means anything other than a leaven-free environment.
Paul makes the association that leaven is something to purge because Christ is “our Passover” and thus “ye are unleavened” (1 Corinthians 5:7). This is also Paul’s way of legitimizing Torah commandments (not that Torah requires Paul’s stamp of approval). That Paul analogizes Christ to the Passover lamb (which causes the destroyer to pass over those houses which doors bear its blood) rather than the Yom Kippur scapegoat (which takes away the sins of Israel) is pertinent, for we know that the blood of the Passover lamb is not the redeemer, but God alone is the Savior (Isaiah 43:11). In the same manner as the Passover lamb, the brazen serpent was not the redeemer but saved many of Israel from certain death (Numbers 21:9), and Christ makes Himself to be that type of object (John 3:14-15). Thus, the connection of Christ to the Passover lamb is reasonable but Christ as a vicarious sacrifice (as the Yom Kippur scapegoat) is not.
Copyright 2004-2017 Tom Wise. All Rights Reserved.