THOUSANDS OF CHRISTIAN missionaries are working tirelessly and spending billions of dollars across the world to convert people to one form or another of Christianity in the name of saving their souls from Hell-fire. It is said that there are 2.18 billion Christians around the world, a third of the global population. That means that the other two-thirds are non-Christians. They may be Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists or of numerous other groups.
These missionaries are active in targeting this vast population of non-Christians. If we are not Christian, we may find ourselves their target for conversion to Christianity. In fact, there is open missionary activity everywhere except in Saudi Arabia. Yet, Jesus himself set the precedent, as we shall see in a later installment, for his closest followers to preach his message to his own Jewish people in and around the land centering in Jerusalem, and extending to the Jewish Diaspora throughout the world—but not extending to all the peoples of the world.
Exploring the Question in Context
The first and foremost goal of Christian missionaries is to make people –Jews and non-Jews alike—believers in their version of Jesus the Messiah, whom they agree was a righteous and devoted Jew. However, what they may not have taken seriously is that throughout his mission Jesus preached Jewish ideology and teaching to Jews alone, and he even was taken from this world under the pretext that he was aspiring to be a “Jewish [political] king.”
According to the consistent Biblical record where it narrates the story of Jesus (i.e., in the Gospel books), Jesus asserted that his ministry was for Jews—not for any individual or group of non-Jews—and that these non-Jews (‘Gentiles’) were not being addressed by his ministry. (We examine these texts in a later installment.) In the context of modern Christian practice to the contrary, it is to be noted with surprise that Jesus firmly branded non-Jewish people as “dogs” and “swine.” And readers of the Gospel books of the New Testament are informed by the words of Jesus that even half-Jews (Samaritans) who would try to be followers of Jesus should not be given any consideration in the hereafter for having lived in accord with Jesus’ teaching. Even the possibility of paradise might be out-of-the-question for them, one could wonder.
Furthermore, the other Abrahamic faiths—Islam and Judaism—oppose the Christians’ concept that Jesus was sent to all people. Among the major faiths of the world only Islam clearly recognizes Jesus as a Jewish prophet, first and last. Islam affirms that Jesus came as a corrector of Jewish alteration and/or misconstrual of Moses’ Law—intentional or otherwise—and a corrector of the mismanaged teaching of all the Hebrew prophets. Judaism has always believed that the Messiah’s job is strictly a Jewish matter and that his struggle is to be conducted against the Gentiles to bring in a Messianic age.
Accordingly, a categorical question is raised: Is it true that no non-Jew was ever invited by Jesus to become his follower? Put in more modern parlance: Does a non-Jew have the possibility of converting into ‘Christianity,’—or more precisely, into the faith of Jesus? And will such a convert be blessed through his association with Jesus—or has the Christian been duped into accepting a false orientation to God by those who–intentionally or otherwise—distort Jesus’ teaching?
Now we turn to the question at issue and we focus on the biblical narrations regarding how Jesus was born and grew up: as a Jew, that is, as a member of the Bani Israel ethnic group—which we refer to throughout this article, admittedly anachronistically, as ‘Jewish.” Jesus searched out only other Jews, he conducted his ministry ousting non-Jewish people from among his hearers, and then he disappeared from the world as a Jew.
It will be observed that there is not a single directive on the lips of Jesus calling for Gentiles to become either his followers, or to become ‘Christians,’ to use a post-Jesus concept. It will be clarified that the verses being used in favor of non-Jewish people being called to become Christians are baseless, misinterpreted, distorted—intentionally or otherwise—and actually counter to the teaching of Jesus as preserved in the New Testament accounts regarding Jesus (that is, in the narrations of its ‘Gospel’ books).
Jewish Origin and Upbringing
Born a Jew, Destined to be a Jewish Leader
The biblical genealogy of Jesus, from Abraham to David, from David to Joseph (Gospel of Matthew 1:1-17) and also back to Adam (Gospel of Luke 3:23-38)–or alternatively, Jesus’ genealogy through the priestly family of Aaron [Moses’ brother], down to his mother Mary (Gospel of Luke 1:5, 8, 26)—unequivocally identifies him as strictly and 100% a Jew by birth. His uncle Zechariah who was a priest in the Jerusalem Temple and his auntie Elizabeth were also Torah-observant Jews (Gospel of Luke 1:5-6, 36, 40). His mother Mary was a devoted and blessed Jew, to whom God’s angel, Gabriel, came to give the news of her coming pregnancy by unique means (Gospel of Luke 1:26-38).
Gabriel announced to Mary the conception and approaching birth of her son Jesus, his special mission and authority saying, “The Lord God will make him a king, as his ancestor David was, and he will be the king of the descendants of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”(Gospel of Luke 1:32-33). After becoming pregnant, Jesus’ mother grasped the reality of the prophecy and informed her cousin Elizabeth: “He [=God] has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors” (Gospel of Luke 1:54-55).
Having seen ‘the Star of Bethlehem’ or ‘the Christmas Star,’ as tradition calls it, during the days of Jesus’ birth, Magi  from the east understood that ‘the king of the Jews’ had been born. So they arrived at Jerusalem to do him homage. This prediction on the basis of Jewish tradition rang so true and credible that King Herod of Judea feared its truth, ordering his men to slay all the boys who were in Bethlehem, and in all its bordering areas, from two years of age and down (Gospel of Matthew 2:1-16).
After his birth, Jesus was circumcised on the eight day, following Jewish tradition (Gospel of Luke 2:21), and later he was ‘presented to the Lord’ in the Jerusalem Temple (Gospel of Luke 2:22). In keeping with Jewish religion, a sacrifice was offered for him—a pair of doves and two young pigeons (Gospel of Luke 2:23).
Sent Specifically for Deliverance of the Jews
At that time there was a righteous and devoted [Jewish] man named Simon who had been driven by the Holy Spirit to mark the child Jesus as ‘the Lord’s Messiah,’ the one who would free Israel from their domination by outside forces (Gospel of Luke 2:25-32).
Another [Jewish] prophetic figure, an 84-year old named Anna foretold him as a sign of ‘the redemption of Jerusalem’ (Gospel of Luke 2:36-38).
Learned and Taught as a Jew
At the age of twelve, Jesus stayed three days in Jerusalem to learn from the Temple teachers. His passion for listening to and questing after the Hebrew scripture marked him as a learned Jewish child prodigy (Gospel of Luke 2:46-47).
Later, when Jesus had begun his ministry, he used to go to Jerusalem and assert his reform message during Jewish festivals: Passover Festival (Gospel of John 2:13), Festival of Shelters/Succoth (Gospel of John 7:2, 10), Dedication of the Temple/ Hannukah (Gospel of John 10:22).
Ministry Launched as a Jewish Prophet
Recognized by Jewish Prophets and Jewish Common People
The ministry of Jesus began at about 30 years of age, according to scholarly calculation. He was baptized by the Jewish prophet John the Baptist (Gospel of Matthew 3:13-16, Gospel of Mark 1:9). Later, as confirmed through his own disciples, John the Baptist asserted that Jesus was the person who had been promised and predicted in Jewish scriptures (Gospel of Luke 7:18-28).
During the “Transfiguration” experience of Jesus (Gospel of Mark 9:4), the Jewish prophets Moses and Elijah appeared and conversed with him in a vision, witnessed by three of Jesus’ own disciples, and at that time a voice from a cloud testified to him as a “beloved son—listen to him!” (Gospel of Luke 9:28-36; Gospel of Matthew 17:5).
The Jewish people of Jesus` era thought of him as nothing other than a Jewish prophet like Elisha, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the other prophets (Gospel of Luke 7:19, 24:19; Gospel of Matthew 16:14; Gospel of Mark 8:28).
At the very beginning of Jesus’ teaching ministry Nathanael called him “Rabbi,” further injecting identification of him as the [expected] “king of Israel” (Gospel of John 1:49). A Pharisee named Nicodemus, who was a member of the Jewish ruling council, also judged him to be “a teacher come from God,” in other words, a prophet (Gospel of John 3:2). A Samaritan woman also recognized him as a Jewish prophet (Gospel of John 4:9, 19).
Regularly Attended [Jewish] Synagogue
Jesus used to go to synagogue on the [Jewish] Sabbath day; he used to read and teach the Jewish books, delivering sermons there (Gospel of Mark 1:21; Gospel of Matthew 13:54). When questioned in Jerusalem by the [Jewish] High Priest regarding his following among the Jewish common people, Jesus answered:
I always taught in synagogues or at the Temple, where all the Jews come together. I have never said anything in secret (Gospel of John 18:20).
At the synagogue in Nazareth where he had been brought up, he stood up and read from the book of the [Jewish] prophet Isaiah; he announced himself a person sent by God, saying that the promise of those verses in that book was being fulfilled in him that day (Gospel of Luke 4:16-21). Also, in support of his claim to be their prophet, he used to present examples of other Jewish prophets like Elijah and Elisha (Gospel of Luke 4:24-27). When the Jewish authorities demanded from him a miraculous sign to prove his prophetic authority, he assured them that they would get only [another enactment of] the sign of Jonah, another prophet known in the Jewish scriptures (Gospel of Matthew 12:38-40, 16:4).
To be continued, inshâ’Allah, in Part 2…