One of the first things we learn as we begin to know Christ is that we have to unlearn many things. This includes things we have believed about who Jesus is.
In 2005 when I wrote the article “Building… But Not As We’ve Known It“, I looked into the common belief that Jesus was a carpenter and discovered that instead He was a builder who worked with stone. A book I read recently, “The Jesus Discovery” by Dr Adam Bradford, affirmed this and reveals even more misconceptions that can result from our Western mindsets.The author says that the accounts of Jesus’ life (by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) were proving to the people of the day that Jesus was truly the Son of God – they already knew who Jesus was as a man. We, on the other hand, are in the opposite position: we know Jesus as the Son of God, but have largely lost sight of Jesus as the Son of Man….
“The Son of Man” was Christ’s favourite term for Himself, it’s recorded 80 times. This suggests it was important to Him that He came from man, as well as from God – He was not only the Creator, but also the Creation! If it were us, I’m sure we would choose to call ourselves “the Son of God” instead of “the Son of Man”, and yet Jesus honoured His creation by preferring this title. He was fully a man, and yet a man full of the Spirit of God. We tend to think of Him only in terms of His divinity, but there is value in knowing Him in His humanity also.
For years now I have longed to know and see Jesus Christ as He really is; not as the church thinks He is, not as many Christians think He is, not as I think He is, but as He REALLY is. I’m not writing this article to tell you all I have seen of Him – I still see so little – instead I’m writing to encourage you to see and know Him even more truly yourself, even if that means challenging Who you thought He was. We often need to be challenged in order to be changed.
Hundreds of years of accumulated myths, traditions and mistranslations have very effectively brainwashed us into believing things about this Man that simply aren’t true. We need Him to come into each of our temples and overturn the tables of lies and misconceptions, to drive out all that is wrong, and reveal what is true.
One of these misconceptions is that Jesus was an uneducated man. To the contrary, He is likely to have been one of the most educated Rabbis of the day. If Jesus was not educated and trained as a Rabbi, He would not have had either the ability to read or permission to read from the sacred scrolls in the synagogue (Luke 4), or teach every day in the temple in Jerusalem (Luke 19:47). It would not have been allowed. He would have been arrested by the temple guards. Nor would the religious leaders have called Jesus “Rabbi” if Jesus wasn’t in fact a Rabbi.
In John 3 we see one of the religious leaders, Nicodemus, saying to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God….” Two different words were used: “Rabbi” and “teacher” (didaskalos). “Rabbi” doesn’t simply mean “teacher”; the Greek word “didaskalos” means “teacher”. Every single translation of the Bible calls Jesus a Rabbi in this verse; it is there in plain sight and the term was used of Him fourteen times.
In Jewish culture the term “Rabbi” was, and still is, a title given after completing extensive rabbinic study over the course of many years. Rabbis in those days were not priests, they were interpreters and expounders of the Scriptures in addition to having a full-time occupation to support themselves. They would typically work for a third of the day, and then study. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia a Rabbi is a “Hebrew term used as a title for those who are distinguished for learning, who are the authoritative teachers of the Law, and who are the appointed spiritual heads of the community.”
So, why does it matter whether Jesus was educated as a Rabbi? Here is why it matters to me:
1. I want to know who Jesus really is, and I want to know Him as the Son of Man, as well as knowing Him as the Son of God.
2. This challenges those who believe that Jesus didn’t study the Scriptures and use that as a reason for minimising our need for the Scriptures today. Not only did Jesus know the Scriptures (and very thoroughly) but He had at least the five books of Moses memorised, as all Jewish boys did. Education was important to the Jewish people of the time and so were the Scriptures. From the ages of 5-10 all Jewish boys memorised the Torah at the synagogue, as many still do today. From ages 10-12 they learned the Mishnah (the oral law), and after that the Talmud. The rabbinic Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) says: “At five years of age, one is ready for the study of the Written Torah, at ten years of age for the study of the Oral Torah [Mishnah], at thirteen for bar mitzvah, fifteen for the study of Talmud…” (Avot 5:22). This was an integral part of the culture that Jesus grew up in – they were very religious people.
3. Understanding the requirements of Jewish and rabbinic education explains what Jesus was doing between the ages of 12-30. There is no mention of His education in the Bible, probably because everybody in that time period knew exactly what He would have been doing until He was 30: that was the official age when Rabbis began to gather disciples, just as Jesus did. When the accounts of His life were written many years later, they probably thought it superfluous to detail the training they all knew Jesus had; it would have seemed like a waste of precious writing materials and time. And after His seeming blasphemy and betrayal of them, the Rabbis would have been sure to omit any record of Him ever having been a Rabbi.
4. This also explains why the religious leaders were so upset with Jesus and wanted to crucify Him. He had seemingly turned His back on them and on all His religious training. As a previously highly respected teacher of the Law, Jesus was claiming that He Himself was greater than the Law, greater than the temple, claiming that God was His Father. Not only that, but He had the audacity to teach others this “heresy” in the temple where He was legitimately allowed to teach! They would have been furious; not only because He claimed that God was His Father or because He broke their laws, but because He spoke against them and their religion, and they felt helpless to stop Him. They would have felt that He had betrayed them.
5. Knowing that Jesus was a Rabbi confirmed for me what I’ve written elsewhere; that He repented from missing the mark with their religion and left it to do what His Father wanted. This was the point when the “trouble” began, both with His spiritual enemy and His earthly religious enemies as I’ve written elsewhere:
Many Christians talk about “accepting Jesus” when in fact they haven’t accepted Jesus, but instead have accepted a religious construct. Others claim to have accepted Jesus, but have often accepted a self-made god; a “Jesus” who is made in the person’s own image, according to what they like and don’t like. And He is not recognisable as the Jesus of the Bible. “You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed.” (2 Cor. 11:4).Jesus said difficult, offensive, even harsh things to others, including His disciples. That challenges what many believe about Jesus today. He called Peter “satan” His enemy, telling him that he was offensive and that he didn’t know God (Matt. 16:23). He told His disciples that they had very little faith and trust (Matt. 8:26; 14:31; 16:8) and said to them, “Don’t you see or understand yet? Have your hearts been made like stone? You have eyes – don’t you see? You have ears – don’t you hear? And don’t you remember?” (Mark 8:17,18). To two of His disciples He said: “How foolish you are! You’re so slow to believe everything the prophets said!” (Luke 24:25).
Jesus offended many people, even His own followers (John 6:60-61). As Scripture says, “I am placing a Rock in Zion that people trip over, a large Rock that people find offensive” (Isaiah 8:14). Both Paul and Peter used that Scripture in reference to Christ (Rom. 9:33, 1 Pet. 2:8). We need to be careful that we aren’t offended or tripped up by Jesus today, just because He may not fit our ideals of what we think He should be like. He didn’t fit the ideals of what many of the Jews were looking for in a Messiah either – He was rejected and not accepted by most – the real Jesus was deemed unacceptable, and this is still the case with many today.
The Jewish leaders who studied the Scriptures and knew them best of all didn’t have the Holy Spirit – they relied on themselves and their own understanding and so they didn’t recognise Jesus. We, on the other hand, are in the opposite position: many of us today know the Holy Spirit, but do not know the Scriptures and so we may not recognise the real Jesus either! He still asks, “Aren’t you deceived for this reason, because you don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God?” (Mark 12:24). He didn’t say, “Aren’t you deceived because you don’t know the Holy Spirit?” but “because you don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God!”
I don’t idolise the Bible, but I do recognise it as one of the ways that God speaks to us and through which Jesus is revealed. It used to be a dead book to me, but when I was brought to Life in Christ, this book also became alive. I began to see and hear Christ through it like no other book. The book hadn’t been the problem, it was the reader (me) that was the problem! I needed to have my eyes opened to see. You can’t read a book if you are blind. I needed the veil that was covering the eyes of my understanding removed (Eph. 1:17-21) and then I could see and recognise Christ and His Life in the words.
Jesus Himself said that the Scriptures speak of Him (John 5:39). Whereas many of the early believers (particularly the females) would have been illiterate, they still would have had a comprehensive knowledge of the Scriptures – they heard them every Sabbath and feast day and had many of them memorised. We, today, have no excuse like illiteracy for not knowing the Scriptures, and it is very clear from what people today say of Jesus that many do not know either Him or the Scriptures….
The early believers needed a strong emphasis on the Holy Spirit because He had just been given, and they were used to relying on their own knowledge of the Scriptures and the Rabbi’s interpretations instead of on the Holy Spirit. We, on the other hand, while maintaining our vital dependence on the Holy Spirit and knowing Him as our Teacher, have often not known, disdained, treated as unnecessary, and even brought into disrepute the very Scriptures that speak of the Jesus we claim to know and love!
Even though Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit, and was the Word of God Himself, He still read, honoured and quoted from the Scriptures, and by “Scriptures” I mean the Tanakh, what we call the Old Testament. Jesus never once showed disrespect for the Scriptures. Please hear what He said: “Don’t ever think that I came to set aside Moses’ Teachings or the Prophets. I didn’t come to set them aside but to make them come true. I can guarantee this truth: Until the earth and the heavens disappear, neither a period nor a comma will disappear from the Scriptures before everything has come true.” (Matt. 5:17,18).
The God of the Scriptures (in what is called the Old Testament) is the same God as today. Jesus and His Father are One. God didn’t suddenly change – what did change was the agreement (contract) that He had made, because it was fulfilled and completed with the Man Jesus. Every legal requirement of the original agreement was fulfilled and satisfied in God’s Man and so a new contract was introduced. While the standards and requirements of God had not changed, He introduced a new Way of meeting those requirements: through this Man… Christ Jesus. Through trusting this Man, all of mankind can now know God. He introduced a new law, a new covenant, a new contract. This new law is called the law of liberty, but it is still a contract that can be broken from our end.
In any contract or agreement, there are two parties and both are responsible. In this New Covenant/Contract we are responsible for our side of the agreement; not as a matter of works that we must do out of duty, but as a matter of sheer faithfulness, obedience and love! God doesn’t tell us to do something unless it is important: “God has commanded all men to repent (Acts 17:30). It is a work which only they can do. It is morally impossible for one person to repent for another. Even Christ could not do this. He could die for us, but He cannot do our repenting for us.” (A. W. Tozer, “Paths to Power”).
There are many statements in the Bible that begin with the conditional particle “IF…” meaning that we are responsible to do something. Jesus said, “If you remain in these words of Mine you are really My disciples then you will know the Truth and the Truth will set you free… If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit… If you keep My commands, you will remain in My love… If you really know Me, you will know My Father as well…” (John 8:31; 15:5,10; 14:7).
If you know Him, you will know His Father as well…
Accepting the Father of Jesus
So who is God? Due to what we have believed, some of us need to discover His love, mercy, and kindness, while others of us need to learn His holiness, justice, and truth. His love and mercy are far bigger than we can imagine, and so are His justice and holiness. How many of us are learning to know and love Him for who He really is? How many love Him because He is holy? How many love Him because He is our judge? How many read the Scriptures to see Him as He really is?
Apart from the Holy Spirit revealing Him, God is Unknowable! To know He exists at all requires a step of faith. When Moses asked God who he should say had sent him, God said, “I Am Who I Am. Say this to the people of Israel: I Am has sent me to you.” That doesn’t make much sense in English. The Hebrew word “Hayah” that has been translated as “I Am” in Ex. 3:14, isn’t translated as “I am” anywhere else so I thought it warranted looking into and discovered that it could equally be interpreted as: “I exist!”
A lot of people wonder if God really does exist, and here He says to tell the people: “I exist, so I exist”! Yah-weh means “He exists” as opposed to “Ha-yah” meaning “I exist”. It seems odd that the translators, who would have known what Yah-weh meant, didn’t then translate Ha-yah as “I exist”.
Part of the romance of loving God is knowing how absolutely beyond us He is – that His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts – and discovering Him as He actually is. I want to learn who He really is, not so that I accumulate mere head knowledge, but so I can love and know Him more truly in my heart. “The Greeks learned in order to comprehend. The Hebrews learned in order to revere. The modern man learns in order to use.” (Abraham Heschel). We can never fully comprehend God, nor should we try to use God for our own ends and shape Him to fit our ideas; instead, as we learn Who He really is, our love and reverence for Him increases.
We delight in God’s love for us, it makes us feel good, but when it comes to us loving God, rather than accepting Him and loving God as the Scriptures reveal Him to be even if we don’t understand Him, instead many reject Him and make a god after their own image: one they can easily understand, love, and worship. If you love going to church, then your “God” does too. Whatever you love, your “God” loves too (very conveniently!).
The reverse is also true: what you don’t like, you believe that God doesn’t like too. If you don’t like being accountable or responsible, then your “God” doesn’t hold you to account. If you don’t like to feel convicted, then “God” doesn’t ever show you what is wrong in your life, you’re perfectly acceptable no matter what you do or say. If you don’t like what you read in the Bible, then “God” doesn’t like it either; instead you tell yourself that the book is an idol, not inspired by God, and must be avoided. And once you no longer accept that the Scriptures are important, then everything is judged by what YOU believe to be right instead. You set yourself up as judge and king in place of God (Judges 21:25). Instead of searching the Scriptures to see if what you hear is true (Acts 17:11), you search yourself to see whether you like what you hear or not, and reject or accept on that basis.
Once people begin to go down this track of creating and worshiping their own god, they become very difficult to reach – they love their own god too much and will reject anything that does not sound like what they (ie their god!) would say or approve of. If you point out this deception, you may be judged as being unloving (even though real Love always points out where we have missed the mark); called judgmental (even though real Love judges and discriminates between what is good and bad); and accused of being condemning (even though real Love does condemn whatever will kill its relationship).
The seduction, the deception, and the bondage, are diabolical and very real. “I implore you… to keep a watchful eye on those who cause trouble and make difficulties among you, in plain opposition to the teaching you have been given, and steer clear of them. Such men do not really serve our Lord Jesus Christ at all but are utterly self-centred. Yet with their plausible and attractive arguments they deceive those who are too simple-hearted to see through them.” (Rom. 16:17,18).
Not only is knowing the Father of Jesus vital, so is knowing the Spirit of the Man…
Accepting the Spirit of Jesus
There is also only one root word in the Greek that is translated in our Bibles as the words “judge, discern, discriminate” – they all mean the same thing in the Greek. Real Love, the Love of God, discriminates and judges against all that will separate us from Him and calls us out of ourselves and into Himself. This means changing our minds (repenting) and leaving a lot of things that we may not want to leave! It means a change of heart: wanting what He wants instead of what I want.
In the New Testament the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Holiness, the Spirit of Glory, the Spirit of Faith, the Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation, the Spirit of Truth (5 times) and the Spirit of Grace (once).
The one time He is referred to as the Spirit of Grace is: “Anyone who violates the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severe punishment do you think that person deserves who tramples on God’s Son, treats as common the blood of the covenant by which it was sanctified, and insults the Spirit of grace? For we know the one who said, ‘Vengeance belongs to Me, I will pay them back,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.'” (Heb. 10:28-30).
Now that doesn’t sound much like what is believed and taught about either the Spirit of Grace or Jesus today. So does the Bible need to be adjusted to fit our concepts of Jesus, or is it us who need to be adjusted?
What many believe to be grace, is often not the Grace that is described in the Bible.
Grace is precious and of infinite value, but so is Truth. The two must go together. The Spirit of Jesus is full of Grace and Truth (John 1:14,17). Everybody loves Grace, but Truth may not be as popular as Grace, perhaps because Truth is often corrective; it exposes lies.
We mustn’t naively think we can have grace without truth and assume that “grace” will “cover” our sinful choices and selfish decisions. That is not “walking in the Spirit” or being governed by the Spirit; that is being governed and controlled by Self. This journey out of religion is not meant to be a journey into Self, but out of Self and into Christ. “Since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb. 12:28).
We are all responsible and accountable for our choices and actions, and for what we accept or reject. That is very clear, not only in our lives, but in the Scriptures also. King David still lost a son as a consequence of his sin, even after he had repented. And the result of Abraham’s impatience in not waiting for Isaac was not without very serious consequences; we still live with the descendants of Ishmael and the resulting religion of Islam today.
I know that some may judge, reject and condemn what I write here simply because it may not line up with what they like, or personally think is right, or what they are comfortable with. But feeling uncomfortable can lead to conviction, and conviction can lead to conversion: converting us to God’s ways and thoughts instead of our own. God shows us His Standard so we can see where we have missed the mark, we then rightly feel convicted, and this enables us to make a choice: either to humble ourselves, see where we are wrong, change our mind, be adjusted, agree with what God says and live in Truth, OR… we reject the thought that we may be wrong, reject what God reveals to be true about us, and we choose to deceive ourselves and live a lie. It is our choice.
There is no point in thinking that Jesus is in agreement with all our thoughts of Him and His Father and His Spirit; it is us that have to be in agreement with all of HIS thoughts, not the other way around! “The purpose of revelation is not to SUBSTANTIATE your illusions, but to ELIMINATE them. Do not seek confirmation from God as to your thoughts and your perception of things, but seek instead to be disillusioned; seek to be rid of all your illusions about God, all your misperceptions and misconceptions about Who He is and what He is doing.” (Chip Brogden).
God and His character aren’t going to change; it is we who must change. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to believe things about God that aren’t true! I need my mind changed and renewed so that my thoughts and ways are adjusted to come into alignment with His thoughts and ways. We each need Christ to be revealed to us.
Jesus still asks, “Who do you say I am?” (Matt. 16:15). We desperately need Him to show us who He is because we can’t see Him or know who He is according to what we think or what somebody else says – nobody else can see Him or know Him for you. And we can’t see Him unless our blind eyes are healed. Another question Jesus still asks is, “What do you want Me to do for you?” And our response and experience can be that of the blind men in Matthew 20: “‘Lord,’ they said to Him, ‘open our eyes!’ Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they could see, and they followed Him.”
Each of us need this “Emmaus Road” experience, “Jesus explained to them what was said about Himself in all the Scriptures, beginning with the books of Moses and the writings of all the prophets… He sat down to eat with them, took the bread, and said the blessing; then He broke the bread and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognised Him…”
Jesus hadn’t changed – He was still exactly Who He has always been. The Scriptures hadn’t changed – they were still exactly as they had been. It was THEM that had changed! Are we willing to be changed? Are we willing to admit we are wrong, change our mind, and be adjusted according to the Light?
We desperately need to be changed and have our eyes opened to see. Then we will also be able to say to each other, “Wasn’t it like a fire burning in us when He talked to us… and explained the Scriptures to us?” We, today, can have this same experience: having our eyes opened to know and see the real Jesus, being changed, having Him explain the Scriptures like a fire burning in us, with the same result that we too tell others what we have seen, “Jesus is alive!”