Jesus was a Jewish man who was raised in a Jewish culture, reared by exceptionally devout Jewish parents, and lived according to the Jewish laws. He was circumcised on the eighth day of his life and was dedicated to the Lord. As he grew up, he regularly attended the synagogue on the Sabbath, participated in every biblical feast, studied and memorized the scriptures, learned a trade from his father, and started his rabbinic ministry at age thirty—all of this according to Jewish customs at the time (i). At the age of thirty, he selected twelve Jewish men to forsake everything, learn his teachings, and carry on his mission. Consequently, prior to Jesus's death, most of his followers were Jews who professed faith in Jesus as Messiah but still kept the festivals, worshiped in the temple, and observed the Sabbath.
If we look at Christianity today and compare it to how it began, we might notice that the "Jewishness" of both its founder and its original followers has been lost.
Recovering the Jewishness of Jesus brings familiar passages to life by viewing them through a Middle Eastern lens. For example, you may have heard that at the beginning of the book of Acts the disciples were huddled in a room fearfully waiting for the filling of the Holy Spirit. But a careful reading of the text proves that this teaching is inaccurate—they were hardly in hiding, and they had already received the Holy Spirit. "After worshiping Him," Luke writes, "they returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they were continually in the temple praising God" (Luke 24:52–53 CSB).
This doesn't sound like fearful disciples huddling in terror. The disciples had no reason to fear, for the first filling of the Holy Spirit they had received came in John 20 when Jesus breathed the Spirit into his followers: "After saying this, he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." (20:22–23 CSB). Acts 2 is not the first time the disciples received the Holy Spirit, nor were they huddled together in one room. Very few upper rooms in Israel are large enough to accommodate 120 people (ii).
So what is the most likely explanation? When the disciples received the Holy Spirit as "tongues of fire" in Acts 2, they were in a house, but probably not the same upper room they had previously met in for Passover. The temple is commonly referred to in scripture as the "house of God," (iii) and the rushing wind accompanied with tongues of fire most likely appeared in front of thousands of worshipers in the temple complex, the same area where the early believers would worship for years to come.
This also makes sense of why 3,000 people responded to the message Peter preached on Pentecost. According to Acts 2:46–47 (CSB), "Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved." The disciples were openly praising their savior, and they came to lead a movement that would reverberate through history.
Insights like this deepen our faith when we place Jesus back in his original context. As pastors and church leaders, understanding the Jewishness of Jesus will help not only deepen our faith, but the faith of the people we shepherd. The more we know Jesus, the more we love him, the more love him, the more we obey his words. It's my prayer that believers everywhere begin to see Jesus in a fresh light, knowing him more, loving him more, and living in obedience to his commands.
This is an excerpt from "The Forgotten Jesus" by Robby Gallaty. You can pick up a copy here.
i. Pirkei Avot 5:22 [Online]http://www.sefaria.org/Pirkei_Avot.5?lang=en (accessed August 25, 2016). Pirkei Avot is translated in English as the Chapters of the Fathers. This collection of maxims and ethical teachings comprise a chapter of the Mishnah. The verse reads as follows:
"He [Yehudah ben Teima] used to say: Five years [is the age] for [the study of] Scripture, Ten [is the age] for [the study of] Mishnah, Thirteen [is the age] for [observing] commandments, Fifteen [is the age] for [the study of] Talmud, Eighteen [is the age] for the [wedding] canopy, Twenty [is the age] for pursuit, Thirty [is the age] for [full] strength, Forty [is the age] for understanding, Fifty [is the age] for [giving] counsel, Sixty [is the age] for mature age, Seventy [is the age] for a hoary head, Eighty [is the age] for [superadded] strength, Ninety [is the age] for [a] bending [stature], One hundred, is [the age at which one is] as if dead, passed away, and ceased from the world."
ii. Acts 1:15 reveals that there were around 120 disciples during that time.
iii. Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg, Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 116.