The Branch: Named hundreds of years before his birth

We saw how Isaiah began the prophetic theme of The Branch.  A ‘he’ from the fallen dynasty of David, possessing wisdom and power was coming.  Jeremiah followed up by stating that this Branch would be known as Adonai (the Lord) himself.

Zechariah continues The Branch

Zechariah returned after the Babylonian exile to rebuild the Temple
Zechariah returned after the Babylonian exile to rebuild the Temple

Zechariah lived 520 BC, just after the Jewish people returned to Jerusalem from their first exile.  At that time, they were rebuilding their destroyed temple.  The High Priest then was a man named Joshua, and he was re-starting the work of the priests. Zechariah, the prophet, was partnering with his colleague Joshua, the High Priest, (and Zerubbabel the political leader) in leading the Jewish people. Here is what G-d – through Zechariah- said about this Joshua:

‘”Listen O High Priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant the Branch.” …, says the LORD Almighty, “and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day”.’

(Zechariah 3:8-9)

The Branch!  Started by Isaiah 200 years beforehand, continued by Jeremiah 60 years earlier, Zechariah develops ‘The Branch’ further.  The Branch is now also called ‘my servant’ (the Servant of Adonai).  In some way Zechariah’s colleague, the High Priest Joshua in Jerusalem at 520BCE, was symbolic of this coming Branch.  But how? It says that in ‘a single day’ the sins will be removed by the LORD. How would that happen?

The Branch: Uniting Priest & King

To understand we need to know that the roles of Priest and King were strictly separated in the First Temple Period. None of the Davidic Kings could be priests, and the priests could not be kings. The priest’s role was to mediate between G-d and man by offering animal sacrifices to G-d for atonement of sins, and the King’s job was to rule with justice. Both were crucial; both were distinct. This separation of role was cemented in that priests could only be Levites descended from Aaron, while the kings were from David’s line within the tribe of Judah. Yet Zechariah wrote that in the future:

‘The word of the LORD came to me: “…Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest Joshua. Tell him this is what the LORD Almighty says, ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the LORD… and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two’’

(Zechariah 6:9-13)

Here, against all previous rules, the high priest Joshua in 520 BCE was to put on the kingly crown symbolically as the Branch. (Remember that Joshua was ‘symbolic of things to come’). Joshua the High Priest, in putting on the kingly crown, foresaw a future uniting of King and Priest into one person – a priest on the King’s throne.  Furthermore, Zechariah prophesied that ‘Joshua’ was the name of the Branch. What did that mean?

The name ‘Joshua’ is the name ‘Jesus’

To understand we need to review the history of the Tanakh’s translation. The original Hebrew Tanakh was translated into Greek in 250 BCE by Jewish rabbis and is today known as the Septuagint or LXX.  Still widely used, we saw how ‘Christ’ was first used in the LXX and we now follow that same analysis through the Masoretic Hebrew and the Greek Septuagint for ‘Joshua’

Hebrew & Greek roots of 'Joshua' and 'Jesus' in the Bible
Hebrew & Greek roots of ‘Joshua’ and ‘Jesus’ in the Bible. Both come from the Hebrew name יְהוֹשֻׁ֣עַ

You can see that Joshua is an English transliteration of the original Hebrew name ‘Yhowshuwa’ (יְהוֹשֻׁ֣עַ).  Quadrant #1 shows the Hebrew ‘Joshua’ (יְהוֹשֻׁ֣עַ) as it was first written.  It is transliterated to ‘Joshua’ in English (#1=> #3). ‘Yhowshuwa’ (יְהוֹשֻׁ֣עַ) in Hebrew is the same as Joshua in English.  

יְהוֹשֻׁ֥עַ = Joshua (= Branch) in Hebrew-English Interlinear Masoretic Text

When the LXX was translated Hebrew to Greek in 250 BCE (יְהוֹשֻׁ֣עַ) was transliterated to Iesous (#1 => #2). ‘Yhowshuwa’ (יְהוֹשֻׁ֣עַ) in Hebrew is the same as Iesous (Ἰησοῦ) in Greek.

LXX Greek-English Interlinear of Zechariah 6:11-12: Ιησού=Joshua

When the Greek is translated to English, Iesous is transliterated to ‘Jesus’ (#2 => #3).  Iesous (Ἰησοῦ) in Greek is the same as Jesus in English.

Brit Chadasha Greek-English Interlinear: Ιησού = Jesus

Jesus was called Yhowshuwa (יְהוֹשֻׁ֣עַ) in Hebrew, but in the Greek Brit Chadasha his name was written as ‘Iesous’ – identical to how the Greek Tanakh LXX wrote that name. When the Brit Chadasha is translated from Greek to English (#2 => #3) ‘Iesous’ is transliterated to the familiar ‘Jesus’.  So the name ‘Jesus’ = ‘Joshua’, with ‘Jesus’ going through an intermediate Greek step, and ‘Joshua’ coming directly from the Hebrew.  Both Jesus of Nazareth, and Joshua the High Priest of 520BCE had the same name, יְהוֹשֻׁ֣עַ in their native Hebrew. In Greek, both were called ‘Iesous’

Is Jesus of Nazareth the Branch?

Is this a prediction, made in 520 BCE, that the name of the coming Branch would be, in English terms, ‘Jesus’, pointing directly to Jesus of Nazareth?

Jesus of Nazareth is well-known outside the gospels.  The Jewish Talmud, Josephus and all other historical writers about Jesus, both friendly and hostile, always referred to him as ‘Jesus’ (Iesous) or ‘Christ’, so his name was not invented in the Gospels.  But Zechariah predicted this name 500 years before he lived.

Jesus of Nazareth is ‘from the stump of Jesse’ since Jesse and David were his ancestors. Jesus possessed wisdom and understanding to a degree that sets him apart from others.  His shrewdness, poise and insight portrayed in the Brit Chadasha continue to impress both critics and followers.  His power through miracles in the gospels is undeniable. One may choose not to believe them; but one cannot ignore them.  Jesus fits the quality of possessing exceptional wisdom and power that Isaiah predicted would one day come from this Branch.

Now think of the life of Jesus of Nazareth in the gospels. He claimed to be a king – The King in fact. This is what ‘Christ‘ means.  But what he did while on earth was actually priestly. The priest’s job was to offer acceptable sacrifices to G-d on behalf of the Jewish people.  The death of Jesus in the Brit Chadasha was significant in that, it also, was an offering to God, on our behalf. The sins of the land were thus literally removed ‘in a single day’ as Zechariah had predicted – the day Jesus died and paid for all sins. In his death he fulfilled the requirements as Priest, even while he is mostly known as ‘The Christ’ or The King.  Thus, as Zechariah prophesied, he did bring the two roles together.

But this is the view of Jesus’ death taken in the Brit Chadasha. Does the Tanakh support the same point-of-view?  We explore this by following up on the related theme that Zechariah above equated with the Branch – that of the Servant.

The Sign of the Branch: The Dead Stump reborn – in Messiah

We learned that both the terms ‘Messiah’ and ‘Christ’ originate in the Tanakh and that they are equivalent titles.  The use of this title ’Messiah’ to signify a coming ruler, a ‘Son of God’, in Psalm 2 opened the door for related themes that later books in the Tanakh developed.  Isaiah (750 BCE) initiated this with the Branch of the Lord.

Isaiah and the Branch

Historical TImeline with Isaiah and other writers of Tanakh
Historical TImeline with Isaiah and other writers of Tanakh

Isaiah wrote in the First Temple Period during the Davidic dynasty. In his day (ca 750 BCE) the dynasty and the kingdom was corrupt. Isaiah pleaded that the Kings return back to G-d with the practice and spirit of the Mosaic Law.  But Isaiah knew that Israel would not repent, and so he also prophesied that she would be destroyed and the royal dynasty would end.  Isaiah chapter 3 details this coming judgment.  But then the book changes its tone and foresees:

In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel. (Isaiah 4:2)

He does not give much detail about this coming Branch, but a little further on, he explains what he foresaw with a specific metaphor, or image, of the royal dynasty – picturing it like a great tree. This tree had at its root Jesse, the father of King David. On Jesse the Dynasty was started with David, and from his successor, Solomon, the tree continued to grow and develop.

David’s Royal Dynasty pictured as a Tree from Jesse (father of David)

First a Tree … then a Stump … then a Branch

Isaiah wrote that this ‘tree’ would soon be cut down, reducing it to a stump. Here is how he pictured this ‘tree’, which then he turned into the riddle of a stump and Branch:

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him–the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge.” (Isaiah 11:1-2)

Dynasty pictured as a Stump of Jesse
David’s Dynasty pictured as a Stump of Jesse

The cutting down of this ‘tree’ happened about 150 years after Isaiah, in 586 BCE, when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and dragged its people and king to Babylon (the red period in the timeline above). Jesse was the father of King David, and so was the root of David’s Dynasty. The ‘stump of Jesse’ was therefore a metaphor to the coming shattering of David’s dynasty.

The Branch: A coming ‘him’ from David possessing wisdom

A 'him' pictured as a shoot from the stump
A ‘him’ pictured as a shoot from the dead stump of Jesse

But this prophecy also looked further into the future than just the cutting down of the kings. Isaiah predicted that though the ‘stump’ would look dead (as stumps do), one day in the further future a shoot, known as the Branch, would emerge from that stump, just like shoots can sprout from tree stumps. This Branch is referred to as a ‘him’ so Isaiah is talking about a specific man, coming from the line of David after the dynasty would be cut down. This man would have such qualities of wisdom, power, and knowledge it would be as if the very Spirit of G-d would be resting on him.  This was a prophecy of the coming of the Messiah, using the theme of ‘Branch’.

Jeremiah and The Branch

Jeremiah in Historical Timeline with other writers of Tanakh
Jeremiah in Historical Timeline with other writers of Tanakh

Like a signpost laid down by Isaiah in history, it was only the first in a series of signposts that developed this theme of the coming ‘Branch’.  Jeremiah, living about 150 years after Isaiah, when David’s dynasty was being cut down before his very eyes wrote:

“The days are coming,” says Adonai
when I will raise a righteous Branch for David.
He will reign as king and succeed,
he will do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Y’hudah will be saved,
Isra’el will live in safety,
and the name given to him will be
Adonai Tzidkenu [Adonai our righteousness] (Jeremiah23:5-6)

The Branch: ADONAI our Righteousness

What will this Branch be called? He would be called the ADONAI who will also be ‘our’ (that is – us humans) Righteousness. As we saw with Abraham, the problem for humans is that we are ‘corrupt’, and so we need ‘righteousness’.  In naming the Branch Adonai our Righteousness, Jeremiah hints that people in his future would get needed ‘righteousness’ from the LORD – ADONAI himself.  But how would this be done?  Zechariah provides the answer as he develops this theme of the Coming Branch further, prophesying even the name of the Messiah – which we look at here.

Where does ‘Messiah’ come from?

The anticipation of a coming ruler ‘Messiah’ is central to conventional Jewish thought.  But where does the idea and the term ‘Messiah’ come from?  What is the relationship between ‘Messiah’ and ‘Christ’?  Is ‘Christ’ simply some sort of Christian term or idea?  It turns out that all these words have their origins in the Tanakh and in how it was translated thousands of years ago.  Here we look at where these words come from and what the Tanakh says about Messiah.  But first we survey the Torah on this Coming One.

Messiah in Torah

This Coming One is first introduced in the Torah (though without using the term ‘Messiah’).  In fact, the Messianic promise of a Coming One was first given back in the Garden of Eden.  At this early date, the promise of His victory in conflict is simply outlined.  But later, when the patriarch Jacob blessed his twelve sons before his death he foresaw a coming ruler.  In blessing Judah, Jacob said:

“Judah, your brothers will praise you;
your hand will be on the neck of your enemies;
your father’s sons will bow down to you.
You are a lion’s cub, Judah;
you return from the prey, my son.
Like a lion he crouches and lies down,
like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
10 The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet.
until he to whom it belongs shall come
and the obedience of the nations shall be his.  (Genesis 49:8-10)

Since the other sons of Jacob (i.e. the other Israelite tribes) would ‘bow down’ to Judah, and Judah would have ‘the scepter’ (symbolic of rule), this oracle promised a monarchy coming from the tribe of Judah – which was fulfilled when David came to the throne.  But the prophecy also looked further into the future.  Paradoxically, it predicted that rule would not depart from Judah until a ‘he’ comes – someone who has a right to the “ruler’s staff” (This ‘he’ is called שִׁילֹה literally ‘he whose it is’ or Shiloh). When the ‘he’ who has the right to rule finally comes, then rule will be removed from Judah!  This ‘he’ will also get ‘the obedience of the nations’  (so it is not about David).  Once again, as with G-d’s covenant with Abram, the nations are in sight, foreseeing that the nations will be ‘his’.

The later prophetic books in the Tanakh describe this coming one using the title ‘Messiah’ but that word does not appear in all translations.  To understand why, we need to touch on the history of Bible translation.

Translation vs. Transliteration

Known as transliteration, translators sometimes choose to translate by similar sound rather than by meaning. For example, ‘shalom’ is a transliteration from the Hebrew שלום which means ‘peace’. Translators can bring שלום into English as either ‘shalom’ (by transliteration of sound) or ‘peace’ (by translation of meaning).   For the Tanakh, translators had to decide whether words (especially names and titles) should be translated by meaning or through transliteration (by similar sound).  There is no hard rule; sometimes it is better to translate and other times one transliterates.

The Septuagint

The Tanakh was first translated into Greek between 250 – 132 BCE and this translation is known as the Septuagint (or LXX).  The Babylonian Talmud says that 70 rabbis translated this work in Alexandria, Egypt at the request of Ptolemy II.  Thus the Septuagint was an early translation work by Jewish scholars for Greek-speaking Jews of the diaspora and Gentiles who had an interest in the prophetic writings.

Translation & Transliteration in the Septuagint

The figure below shows this translation process and how it impacts modern-day Bibles

The translation flow from original to modern-day Bible
The translation flow from original to modern-day Bible

The original Hebrew Tanakh is shown in quadrant #1 and is available today as the Masoretic Text. The Greek Septuagint is in quadrant #2. The bottom half (#3) shows a modern language Bible (e.g. English). Because the Septuagint was a Hebrew-to-Greek translation the figure displays a blue arrow going from quadrant #1 to #2. For all steps (#1->#2, #1->#3, #2->#3) translators decided on transliteration or translation of names and titles as explained above, illustrated by labeling transliterate and translate around the arrows.

After the Septuagint was completed and used across the Jewish Diaspora in the Greco-Roman world, the Greek Brit Chadasha was written.  This was key in the development of the term ‘Messiah’.  Since the Brit Chadasha was written in Greek and had many quotations from the Tanakh it used the Greek Septuagint, rather than the Masoretic Hebrew, for its source of quotes.  This is illustrated in the next figure.

Brit Chadasha in the historical flow of language and translation
Brit Chadasha in the historical flow of language and translation

Messiah and Christ from the Bible

Now we focus on the word ‘Messiah’, following the historical process explained above.

‘Messiah’ comes from in the Bible
Where does ‘Christ’ and ‘Messiah’ come from in the Bible?

The original Hebrew title in the Tanakh was ‘mashiyach’ (משיח) which is defined as an ‘anointed or consecrated’ person.  Priests and kings in the First Temple Period were anointed (ceremonially rubbed with oil) before they took office, thus they were mashiyach.  But prophecies in the Tanakh predicted a specific mashiyach, anointed by G-d, who was coming. When the Septuagint was developed in 250 BCE, the rabbis chose a Greek word with a similar meaning, Χριστός (sounds like Christos, which came from chrio, which meant to rub ceremonially with oil).  Therefore the rabbis brought the original Hebrew ‘mashiyach’ into the Greek Septuagint through translating the word Christos by its meaning (not transliterated by sound). The Jewish writers of the Brit Chadasha understood Yeshua of Nazareth to be this person prophesied in the Tanakh, but since they wrote in Greek they used the Greek word Christos from the Septuagint, not ‘mashiyach’.

For modern-language Bibles (like English), the Tanakh was translated directly from Hebrew (#1 to #3).  Some translators chose to translate by meaning into variations of Anointed/Anointed One, and others transliterated by sound to Messiah.  So we can interchange Anointed with Messiah since they both come from the same Hebrew word ‘mashiyach’ (משיח) – one by transliteration and the other by meaning.  Similarly, Christos came via translation from the same Hebrew word ‘Mashiyach’ (#1 to #2).  This was then transliterated by similar sound from Greek to modern languages like English to make the term ‘Christ’ (#2 to #3).  So ‘Christ’ is a very specific title rooted in the Hebrew Tanakh, derived first by translation from Hebrew to Greek, and then by transliteration from Greek to modern languages.  It is the same as Messiah.

To summarize,

‘Christ’=’Messiah’=’Anointed One’=משיח

which was a specific prophetic title in the Tanakh.

Messiah in Psalms

Now we are ready to see where ‘Messiah’ comes in the Tanakh.  Psalm 2, penned by King David about 1000 B.C.E., introduces Messiah in this way:

The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us break their chains
and throw off their shackles.” (Psalm 2:2-3)

We can interchange this ‘Anointed’ with ‘Messiah’, or ‘Christ’.  What can we learn about this Messiah?  The Psalm continues.

The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
the Lord scoffs at them.
He rebukes them in his anger
and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
“I have installed my king
on Zion, my holy mountain.”

I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:

He said to me, “You are my son;
today I have become your father.
Ask me,
and I will make the nations your inheritance,
the ends of the earth your possession.
You will break them with a rod of iron;
you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

10 Therefore, you kings, be wise;
be warned, you rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear
and celebrate his rule with trembling.
12 Kiss his son, or he will be angry
and your way will lead to your destruction,
for his wrath can flare up in a moment.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2: 4-12)

We see here that Adonai calls the Anointed/Messiah ‘my son’.  G-d identifies His Messiah as ‘His son’.  This is therefore where the term ‘Son of God’ originates and is thus another equivalent term for ‘Messiah’.

Jews have historically been known to be waiting for their Messiah (or Christ). Why?  Because the Tanakh prophesied that He would come.

The Messiah anticipated in 1st Century

Herod the Great and Messiah

Below is the reaction of Herod the Great (4 BCE) when the Magi from the East came looking for the Messiah, part of the Nativity story. Notice, ‘the’ precedes Messiah.

When King Herod heard of this he became very agitated, and so did everyone else in Yerushalayim.

He called together all the head cohanim and Torah-teachers of the people and asked them, “Where will the Messiah be born?”  (Matthew 2:3-4)

The idea of ‘the Messiah’ was accepted between Herod and his religious advisors –and is used here without referring specifically to Yeshua. Why? Because Jews had been reading Psalm 2 for hundreds of years before Herod the Great was born.

Messiah and Son of God.

At his trial, Yeshua is brought before the High Priest who asks him:

The cohen hagadol said to him, “I put you under oath! By the living God, tell us if you are the Mashiach, the Son of God!” (Matthew 26:63)

We see by how the question is phrased that the Jewish High Priest effortlessly inferred ‘Son of God’ from Messiah.  Where did he get the idea that ‘Son of God’ is an extension of Messiah?  From Psalm 2.

Messiah in Tanakh: Specified like a lock-n-key system

The fact that the Tanakh explicitly predicts a coming Messiah makes it stand unique across the vast sea of literature that has been produced through history. It is like a lock.  Locks are designed in a certain shape so that only a specific ‘key’ that matches the lock can unlock it. In this way the Tanakh is a ‘lock’ with specifications that become more and more precise through the prophetic passages.  (Already we have seen some in Abraham’s sacrifice, Adam’s beginning, and Moses’ Passover).  This raises a very Jewish question: Is Yeshua the matching ‘key’ that unlocks the Tanakh?  We continue to explore this question later, but for now reflect on the paradox of the prophecy that Jacob gave to Judah.  Judah continued in self-rule (albeit under Roman supervision) in the land of Israel until shortly after the coming of Yeshua.  Forty years later the Roman legions destroyed Jerusalem and sent the Jews into worldwide exile – destined to live under the rule of other nations as Moses had foreseen.  All this while ‘the nations’ orbited into Yeshua’s teaching as per Jacob’s oracle.  A two-sided, synchronized fit between the ‘lock’ of that short prophecy and the ‘key’ of Yeshua.  Perhaps the question is worth looking into.

The way to do so is to examine how the prophets of Nevi’im and Ketuvim (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, Daniel etc.) specified the details forming the ‘lock’ for the Messiah.  These specifications have implications for us living 2500+ years later.  We take that up next.

Passover, Jesus – and Jewishness questions

The Times of Israel published an intriguing article describing how Christians are beginning to celebrate Passover – complete with the traditional Seder meal.  The article states that the largest Seder gatherings (with over 600 together) are being celebrated by Christians along with Jews, a trend that has been developing “within the past 20 or 30 years”.  To my mind this raises some worthwhile questions:

Why are Christians celebrating Passover?

According to the article, these are Passover celebrations “in which Jesus Christ stars as the paschal lamb”.  But why would Jesus Christ be celebrated as the paschal lamb?  If we look into the gospels (the eyewitness accounts written by the Jewish followers of Jesus) we learn when Jesus was arrested, brought to trial and put to death.

“Then the Jews led Jesus … to the palace of the Roman governor [Pilate]… to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover” … [Pilate] said [to Jewish leaders] “…But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”   (John 18:28, 39-40)

This all happened on Passover Day.  In fact, the well-known ‘Last Supper’ of Jesus was his Seder meal celebrated with his disciples – also on Passover since Passover began at sundown on Thursday evening.  With Jesus’ Last Seder, arrest, trial, and execution all occurring on Passover there is a direct historical link between Jesus and Passover.

Moses, Passover & Jesus

But when one looks back at the account of the first Passover, in the Torah, when Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt, then this link takes on special meaning.  The complete Torah account is here, but when G-d, Blessed be He, explained to Moses how Passover (Pesach) would unfold it states:

For that night, I will pass through the land of Egypt and kill all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both men and animals; and I will execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt; I am Adonai. 13 The blood will serve you as a sign marking the houses where you are; when I see the blood, I will pass over you — when I strike the land of Egypt, the death blow will not strike you. (Exodus 12:12-13)

The blood of the Paschal lambs was a sign to the people, not to G-d.  Though G-d would look for the blood, and when He saw it Death would pass over (Pesach), the blood was a sign to ‘serve you’ – the people, and by extension to us who read the account in the Torah.  But in what way was the blood a sign to the people? Think what signs do by considering these signs.

Signs are pointer in our minds to get us to think about what the sign points to
Signs are pointer in our minds to get us to think about what the sign points to

When we see the ‘skull and crossbones’ sign it makes us think of death and danger. The sign of the ‘Golden Arches’ makes us think about McDonalds. The ‘√’ on Nadal’s bandana is the sign for Nike. Nike wants us to think of them when we see this on Nadal. Signs are made to direct our thinking not to the sign itself but to what it points to.  In that first Passover, death hung over every household in Egypt.  Over every Hebrew house as well as all Egyptian houses.  But the blood of the Passover lamb, painted on the doorposts, would cause death to pass over.  Death today also hangs over every household – Jewish as well as Gentile – since we are all destined to die.

In the eye of his first followers, Jesus’ death was seen as a triumph.  As one stated

For the Messiah’s love has hold of us, because we are convinced that one man died on behalf of all mankind (which implies that all mankind was already dead),  (2 Corinthians 5: 14)

In the same way that the Passover lamb died on behalf of any Hebrew who put its blood on his doorway, Jesus was understood to have died on our behalf.  Thus, not only is there a direct link by calendar date between Passover and Jesus, but the meaning of the respective deaths were the same.  For this reason one of the titles given to Jesus by his contemporaries was:

The next day John (i.e. John the Baptist) saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world… ’”. (John 1:29)

Jesus was designated as the pashal lamb of G-d. So it makes sense that Christians see the Jewish roots of their faith and want to participate in the celebration of Passover.

Why is Easter on a slightly different date than Passover?

Jesus died on Passover.  Easter is the Christian celebration of the death of Jesus, with Good Friday remembering his death and Easter Sunday recalling his resurrection.  In that case should not Easter and Passover occur on the same day?  At first they were celebrated on the same day.  But In 325 CE the Christian Council of Nicaea established that Easter would be held on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after equinox on March 21.  This changed how Easter was calculated, moving it off from the Passover date.  Easter and Passover now are usually very close in the calendar, usually just a few days apart.

Because of this change in the dating of Easter, Christians largely forgot the Jewish Passover roots of Easter.  As one of those interviewed for the Times of Israel article said, “A lot of times, Gentile Christians are willfully ignorant, sometimes even surprised by the connections between Judaism and Christianity”.  Learning about and celebrating Passover serves to inform Christians about Jewish roots to their faith. The flip-side is also true – with the Christian camouflage that has increasingly been painted on Jesus, Jews have not been able to see him as Jewish.  His Jewishness has been hidden from them.

Is Jesus a legitimate Jewish pursuit?  

There is wide diversity in what it means to be a Jew.  A Jew can be secular, orthodox, ultra-orthodox, reformed, conservative, and even an atheist.  One can be a Zionist Jew – but one can also be anti-Zionist and still be a Jew.  Most Jews are heterosexual but there are LBGT Jews.  Some are observant, others not, and still others only partially so.  Whatever categories one uses to classify people: whether language, clothing, religion, country of residence, wealth, education, skin color, political views or sexual orientation – Jews will fill in all the categories – and still be considered a Jew.  Wrong perhaps, misguided even, but nonetheless accepted as part of that broad family of Abraham.

The Times of Israel Passover article showed that this Jewish diversity now extends so far as to also include the ‘Messianic Jew’.  These are Jews who believe that Jesus (Yeshua as they call him) is the Messiah promised in the Tanakh.  For centuries this has been considered self-contradictory.  If one was a Jew he/she did not think about Jesus, let alone believe in him, or if one believed in him one could not be a Jew.  But it was decisions made long ago, like detaching Easter from Passover, creating medieval ghettos and pogroms in Europe, to the later anti-semitism in the Christian West, that diverted attention away from crucial historical facts:

  • Jesus of Nazareth, arguably the most influential person to have lived on this planet, was a circumcised, practicing Jew descended from Abraham, fully learned in the Torah.
  • His immediate followers were also all observant Jews, adhering to the Torah.
  • All the books of the New Testament were written by Jews (with the possible exception of Luke)

At the close of the 2nd Temple Period and even up to the time of the Bar Kokhba (135 CE) rebellion it was a very Jewish preoccupation to discuss, debate and argue over whether Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah or not.  The Roman Historian Suetonius describes the effect this debate had in Rome.

“As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [Emperor Claudius] expelled them from Rome”  (Life of Claudius xxv 4)

In other words, Jews in the city of Rome were discussing and debating about Chrestus (i.e. Jesus Christ) so intensely that the Roman Emperor Claudius was irritated and expelled all of them (Messianic or not) from Rome (in 49 CE).

Notice how the Jewish Historian Flavius Josephus (writing about 90 CE) writes about James, the brother of Jesus of Nazareth and the first leader of Jesus’ Jewish followers in Jerusalem, (who also wrote the book of James in the New Testament)

Ananus took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper and very insolent; he was also of the sect of Sadduccees, who were very rigid in judging offenders … assembled the Sanhedrin of the judges and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called the Christ, whose name was James, and some others, … formed an accusation against them … and delivered them to be stoned.  But as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done, they also sent to the King (Agrippa) desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more   Antiquities of the Jews,  Book XX, Chapter IX, 1

You can see how the debate went back and forth amongst the Jews concerning James, the brother of Jesus.  No matter what ‘side’ of the debate they were on it was obviously a very Jewish concern.  Josephus even writes directly about Jesus, and in a way that indicates he personally was moved back and forth in this debate

At this time there was a wise man … Jesus. … good, and … virtuous. Many people among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned Him to be crucified and to die.  But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that He had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that He was alive. .. Accordingly, He was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have reported wonders.  And the tribe of the Christians, so named after him, has not disappeared to this day…   ANTIQUITIES Book XVIII, III, 3

Whether Jesus was the Messiah or not, the arguments for and against, can be taken up later.  As both Jews and Christians are re-learning the ancient Jewish roots of Easter and the link between Passover and Jesus, it suffices to remind us that this is an authentic Jewish question, not to be relegated simply for Christian Gentiles to discuss.  Passover itself shouts to the Jewishness in the puzzle of this man Jesus of Nazareth.