Updated: May 24
Christians understand the One true God of the Bible to also be Three in One: Father, Son and Holy Spirit (a.k.a. The Trinity or Triunity). The most commonly used expression to describe Jesus Christ among Christians is as the Son of God and this descriptor fits well into the truth of the Trinity. In the ESV Bible, the expression Son of God is used 25xs. Only four of those times are Jesus referring to Himself as the Son of God and all four of those references are in the Gospel of John. Interestingly, Jesus’ most commonly used expression to refer to Himself was as the Son of Man. He referred to Himself this way 76xs in the Gospels (Matthew-27xs; Mark-13xs; Luke-25xs and John-11xs, ESV). The title Son of Man is most commonly believed to refer to Jesus’ humanity, stressing how He was both fully God and fully man. However, the title Son of Man could also be seen as a reference to the divine figure in Daniel 7:13-14 (ESV):
I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.
That said, Jesus was fully divine and fully human, so let’s turn our attention to who Jesus was as a man.
Jesus was a Jew. Some readers may think, "Of course Jesus was a Jew. Duh, everyone knows that!" I'm not writing only about how Jesus was Jewish. He was, is and is coming back as the Jewish Messiah. This is key part of the Gospel so let's look closer at Jesus as a Jew.
Jesus was the promised Jewish Messiah and a perfectly Torah observant Jewish Rabbi. He was the perfect and spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29, 36). It’s important to understand the concepts of atonement for sin through the blood of an innocent sacrifice (see Leviticus 1-7), and a promised Savior to deal with sin and death (Genesis 3:15), didn’t exist outside of Judaism's Torah (the first five books of the Bible; God's teaching or instruction, commonly translated into English as "Law"). Jesus was without sin, at least in part, because He was perfectly Torah observant. If He wasn’t Torah observant, he wouldn’t be without sin and couldn’t be the Lamb of God. Jesus was the promised Messiah, the suffering servant described in Isaiah 53. The Messiah is the promised King of the Jews. Jesus is the King of the Jews, the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world and who will return to rule and reign as the Lion of Judah. Each of these aspects of who Jesus was are critical parts of His full humanity and are inextricable to His full divinity.
Jesus Christ didn’t come to start a new religion called Christianity. Rather, He came to fulfill (i.e., to bring to more fullness, to complete, to bring to the goal or to correctly interpret) Judaism. The Gospel is a Jewish story. The disciples were Jewish and the great Apostle Paul was a Jewish Pharisee his entire ministry. Remember, the source documents for the Gospel (the Bible) were all written by Jews, in Jewish places about a Jewish King. Some readers may wonder why I emphasize the Jewishness of Jesus? The reason is because I'm convinced over the last 2,000 years, in an attempt to not be like the infamous Judaizers referenced in Galatians 2:14, non-Jewish followers of Jesus (i.e., Gentiles) went to the opposite extreme and radically de-Judaized the faith. Let me try be clear on two issues which likely came to Christian reader's minds: The Judaizers and legalism. First, a Judaizer is someone who believes non-Jews must become Torah observant Jews through physical practices such as circumcision and following dietary laws in order to be saved from sin and death, empowered by the Holy Spirit and gain eternal life. I DO NOT believe this is true. Second, legalism is the idea that by works or obedience to God's Torah, an individual can be forgiven of their sins and earn eternal life. I DO NOT believe this is true either. God has always saved people by His amazing grace! Think about this: God freed Israel (a.k.a., the Hebrews) from slavery in Egypt before giving them Torah at Mount Sinai. God's Torah was given to instruct people how to live in blessed wisdom in covenantal response to God's grace. The Torah is beautiful and has always been in place for life, not salvation (see Psalm 1, 19 and 119). Knowing Jesus was a Jew, let’s look at the Jewishness of His name.
Hebrew is the language of the Jewish people, and Yeshua is His name in Hebrew while Jesus is His name in Greek. Names are extremely significant in the Hebrew Bible, what Christians commonly refer to as the Old Testament (OT). In Hebrew, names are often used as word puns or plays related to their meaning. For example (look at the similarities in Hebrew which reads right to left):
Adam; adam אָדָם = adamah אֲדָמָה which means earth, ground or husband. Genesis 2:7 shows the word play in describing that Adam (man) was made out of dust of the ground.
Isaac; יִצְחָק = tsachaq צָחַק which means to laugh outright. The word play can be seen in Sarah’s response in Genesis 21:6 after Isaac was born.
These two examples barely scratch the surface when it comes to Hebrew word play and names in the Bible's OT. Now some might be thinking: Wait a minute, the New Testament (NT) was written in Greek so isn’t it better to call Him by his Greek name Jesus? Personally, I don’t think so.
First, we have evidence Hebrew was a spoken language in the 1st Century and at least Matthew’s Gospel was likely originally written in Hebrew. Acts 21:40 indicates the Apostle Paul spoke Hebrew. Additionally, when Paul was telling of his encounter with Jesus before King Agrippa, Paul specifically states that Jesus spoke to him in Hebrew (Acts 26:12-18). Extra-biblically, Papias, an early Church Father, wrote around 100AD/CE that Matthew composed his history in the Hebrew dialect, and everyone translated it as he was able. What about Aramaic? My understanding is the Aramaic language is a dialect of Hebrew.
Second, Jesus walked the earth some 2,000 years ago. The letter “J” and the sound the letter makes in the English alphabet are only around 400-500 years old (developed sometime in the 1600s). So, the written name Jesus and its pronunciation are roughly only 400 years old.
Third, in English and Greek, there is no word pun or play in Matthew 1:21, "She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” However, in a Hebrew version of the Gospel of Matthew, the word play is evident, "And she shall give birth to a son and you shall call his name Yeshua ישֵׁוּעַ for he will save (yoshia; yasha יָשַׁע) my people from their iniquities." This word pun is completely lost in English and Greek. In English, the second half of the verse explains nothing about the name. Why not name him “George?” The English way of saying Jesus in Greek is Ἰησοῦς Iesous. In Greek, the name Iesous has nothing to do with the word σώζω sozo which means “save.” Please understand, I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with using the name Jesus because God looks at the heart. Still, if you have a foreign name, or maybe a last name like mine that is difficult to spell and pronounce, what do you usually do when someone misspells or mispronounces your name? You show them how it’s spelled and tell them how it’s pronounced! Put all of this together, and it simply seems better to me to call Him Yeshua because salvation IS His name. Let’s now turn our attention to the word Christ by first learning more about the word Christian.
The word Christian is only used three times in the Bible (Acts 11:26, 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). The Greek word in both verses is:
Χριστιανός - Christianos - a follower of Christ. In Greek, this Christianos comes from:
Χριστός - Christos - anointed; the Messiah; a description of Yeshua. In Greek, Christos comes from:
χρίω - chrio - through the idea of contact; to smear or rub with oil, i.e., (by implication) to consecrate to an office or religious service: Anoint.
Just in the Greek, we see that to be a Christian carries with it some very actionable ideas (i.e., follow, contact, smear, consecrate and anoint). Remember, in the NT documents, we are reading Hebraic words, thoughts and ideas translated into Greek. Here’s the Hebraic connection:
Christ is the Greek way of saying Messiah in Hebrew
Messiah = Mashiach/Mashiyach
mashiyach - מָשׁיִחַ - anointed; usually a consecrated person (as a king, priest, or saint). Comes from the primitive root word:
mashach - מָשַׁח - to rub (like smearing) with oil, i.e. to anoint
Yeshua ha Mashiach = Jesus Christ = the Anointed One = the Messiah. To be a Christian is to be anointed (i.e., having direct contact) with the Holy Spirit, set apart for a life of actionable service (i.e., works) for God towards others while living in loving obedience to God’s commands (i.e., Torah). Yeshua's full divinity and full humanity, from the meaning of His name to what it means to be a Christian, are all rooted in Biblical Judaism. You can have Judaism without Christianity, but you cannot have Christianity without Judaism.