The King’s Brothers
Any would-be king of Israel must himself be an Israelite. Notice how the Bible words this requirement: “One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you” (Deuteronomy 17:15).
Instead of saying that the king should be one of the “children of Israel,” it calls him a “brother.” This places the emphasis not on his origins, but his continued inclusion within his people.
The chapter tells us more about the king of Israel. However, instead of telling us about his supreme authority and royal prerogatives as we might expect, the Bible sternly warns that the king of Israel must not be so different from his fellow Jews.
The Messiah is the ultimate King of Israel. This has powerful implications considering the passage above. If Jesus is our Messiah King, he must not simply have Jewish ancestry; the Jewish people must be his brothers.
Ironically, our adoration of Jesus prevents us from wanting to group him with others, as if doing so will reduce his greatness. We are used to seeing him in his divinity; it’s uncomfortable to acknowledge him also as a human, a Jew, a prophet, a teacher, and a rabbi—all titles that the New Testament readily applies to him.
But if Jesus is the Messiah, we should expect to see remarkable family resemblances to other Jewish people, his brothers.
Do you want to know Jesus better? Meeting a person’s family is a great way to get to know him. You’ll notice traits that they share, as well as what truly sets him apart.
Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai
For now, let me introduce just one rabbi from around the time of Jesus. His name might sound foreign, but if Yochanan ben Zakkai had appeared in the New Testament, we would know him as “John, son of Zacchaeus.”
Yochanan was a teacher with five primary disciples, although often he taught to large crowds in the shadow of the Temple. Yochanan was known for always being the first to greet another person, even Gentiles. He also had some unpleasant exchanges with Sadducees.
Ecclesiastes 9:8 says, “Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.” Yochanan told his disciples a parable based on this verse to explain why you must not delay repentance but should always be prepared to meet God:
This can be compared to a king who invited his servants to a banquet but did not tell them when it would be. The wise ones adorned themselves and sat at the entrance of the palace. They reasoned, “The palace lacks nothing needed for the banquet. It could occur at any time.” The foolish ones kept working on other things. They reasoned, “What banquet doesn’t require time to prepare?”
Suddenly the king summoned his servants. The wise ones entered the palace beautifully adorned, but the foolish entered the palace dirty. The king happily greeted the wise ones but angrily greeted the foolish. He said, “Let the ones who adorned themselves for the banquet sit, eat, and drink. Let the ones who did not adorn themselves stand and watch.”
When the Temple was destroyed, he comforted his disciples by quoting Hosea 6:6: “I have desired kindness and not sacrifice.”
Our Rabbi: Jesus
We are devoted disciples of Jesus of Nazareth. As his disciples, it’s our goal to know him and his Torah as well as we can. If you want to get to know someone, you should see them when they’re with their family! This is why it is so helpful to see parallels between ancient rabbis and the teachings of Jesus.
Surely, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai and Jesus would have significant differences of opinion. However, differences of opinion are common among rabbis and in Jewish thought. Disparaging or insulting other rabbis do not prove your devotion to Jesus, just like hating your in-laws does not prove your love for your spouse. We can simply appreciate the ancient sages for who they are: fallible, yet wise and God-fearing men.
It’s easy to see similarities between Jesus and many of the ancient sages, each in different ways. Many sages taught about love and repentance. Some rabbis experienced miracles, cast out demons, and even exhibited a degree of prophetic insight. Quite a few teachers, like Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, taught in parables. Other righteous Jewish men and women were tortured to death by Romans, paying the ultimate price for their faith and loyalty to God.
These family resemblances should not be a surprise. After all, Jesus comes from an illustrious family! The similarity between Yeshua and his “brothers” affirms his claim to be the Messiah.
Yet despite all their family resemblances, Jesus, our Rabbi, is undeniably unique. Although his vocabulary and his means of communication are the same as other rabbis, he was the only one in his time to proclaim the nearness of the kingdom of heaven so vividly. He was the only one who cast a clear vision of the upcoming exile, its causes, and its solutions. Significantly, our rabbi rose from the dead, paving the way for all of us to attain the resurrection when he returns. We can confidently say that he is not just our rabbi. He is our King Messiah.
If you want to study deeper into Jesus’ life from a Jewish perspective, I encourage you to join the study track, Jesus, My Rabbi, coming to Torah Club this fall.
First Fruits of Zion