The historical record is beyond dispute. Jesus did exist. He was a real Jewish man, born to a Jewish mother in Israel in the first century, and he went by the name of Yeshua. He was born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, and was, in many ways, very much a person of his time and place. Throughout history, Jews and non-Jews alike have been gripped by the person of Jesus as recorded in the accounts of four books of the New Testament called “the Gospels.”
An encounter with Yeshua was rarely a casual chat. His words raised deep questions in people’s hearts about God and human life. You couldn’t meet Yeshua and leave unchanged by the encounter. He was a man who had calluses on his hands, a magnificent sense of humor, and compassion for his people, especially the vulnerable, frightened, despairing, and downtrodden. He expressed that compassion in words of truth and acts of healing.
The Jewish leaders of his day acknowledged Jesus as a peer, calling him “Rabbi” (Luke 19:39). The Talmud is full of conversations between the rabbis, much like those Yeshua is recorded as having had with other teachers and scholars in the New Testament. If Yeshua came to earth today, you would probably find him in dialogue with people from every expression of Judaism on the streets, in social media, and in the synagogues. He would teach, he would listen, and he would ask thought-provoking questions.
Listening to some people, you might get the impression that Jesus went around day and night shouting, “I’m God!” to anyone who would listen. Instead, he revealed his identity by doing the loving acts of powerful healing that only God can do, by accomplishing the works of restoration and forgiveness that only God can accomplish, and by showing a mastery over creation that only God can have. When asked directly if he was the Messiah, he not only proclaimed that to be true, but went on to say, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Some have said that Jesus was a good Jew, an observant Jew, or perhaps even a prophet of our people. But the most important thing to consider is, what did Jesus actually say about himself?
In the Tanakh alone there are three references to someone’s death stopping judgment against or serving as atonement for a group of people or the nation. Even some of the rabbis teach that Messiah’s death will serve as atonement for sin. Jesus chose to die an atoning death that would provide reconciliation between humanity and God. Yeshua’s death was not an accident. It was the very purpose and goal of his mission.
Yeshua willingly stood in our place and, by dying, took the penalty which rightfully belongs to each one of us. But he didn’t stay dead. By rising from the grave, he defeated the power of sin and death and enabled us to be reconciled with God. And it is this power – the power of life from the dead – which is available to anyone who believes in him. This power has been changing lives of both Jews and Gentiles since the first century.
Two thousand years ago, many Jewish people believed Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. Today, there are still hundreds of thousands of Jews who agree. We believe we as Jewish people have the right to make up our own minds about Jesus rather than let that decision be made for us by rabbis two thousand years ago.