The word Christian occurs 3 times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26, Acts 26:28 and I Peter 4:16). It comes from the Greek khris-tee-an-os, which in turn comes from khris-tos and means “anointed.” So Khrist-tos, or Christ originally meant the Anointed One and a Khris-tee-an-os or Christian was a follower of Khris-tos or the Anointed One (i.e., Christ). But if this all seems like Greek to you…. think again, because these ideas are Hebraic in origin and NOT Greek!
The origin of these Greek terms is to be found in the Hebrew verb mashach (to rub or smear with oil). Many have lost the original understanding of the term and think of Christ as a title or even a name for Jesus of Nazareth, but according to the original and thoroughly Biblical concept of anointing, there have been many “anointed ones” throughout the ages, each with a special purpose or task. The ancient anointing oil and its application, set an object or person apart (consecrating them) for a special purpose or task. See for instance Exodus 30:22-33. The priests were anointed (Exodus 28:41; 29:7; 40:15 & Psalm 133), as were Israel’s Kings (1 Kings 1:34-39; I Samuel 10:1, 16:13, 24:6). The Patriarchs are referred to as “anointed ones” in Psalm 105:13-15 and even the Gentile Persian King Cyrus is an “anointed one” according to Isaiah 45:1. The Hebrew equivalent to the Greek Christ is Messiah or mashiach in Hebrew (based upon the Hebrew verb mashach). Thus, Biblically speaking, the examples above can technically be called “messiahs.”
Apart from the many “messiahs” of the Hebrew Scriptures, a picture of a future eschatological figure began to emerge from the Hebrew prophets. This coming figure was believed to be “The” Messiah – a son of the famed King David who would usher in a golden age often referred to as the Messianic age. He is sometimes assisted by a priestly figure (see for instance Zechariah 6:9-12). Opinions from antiquity were varied. Would there be one or two messiahs? The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls revealed that these questions were being discussed in the Second Temple period. The Qumran community favored an interpretation and an end time scenario involving two messiahs, one a priest and the other a king.
With this background in mind one can’t avoid noticing that John the Baptist is presented as a descendant of Levi (priest) while Jesus is presented as a descendant of David (King). The fact that their “ministries” overlap is also of interest. According to the New Testament writings however, John and his role would decrease while that of Jesus would increase. The writers of the New Testament, particularly the gospels, are attempting to show and prove from the Hebrew Scriptures that Jesus of Nazareth was the long awaited and prophesied Messiah par excellence – a son of David. Christianity was destined to become a faith with room for only one messiah. The priestly role would be handled nicely by an obscure reference to a “priest after the order of Melchi-tzedek” (Genesis 14 and Psalm 110) eliminating the need for the Levitical messiah. Jesus would declare the search for the messiah as ended from his hometown synagogue appealing to a passage in Isaiah 61 (see Luke 4:16 ff). Those who accepted his claim to the title would have been messianists in that they would have believed that based upon their understanding of the ancient criteria laid out in the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus fit the bill.
The various forms of Christianity today are far removed from the original and thoroughly Jewish faith of the first followers of Jesus of Nazareth. The first followers of Jesus were apparently first called “Christian” at Antioch by others and not by themselves (Acts 11:26). All of the first followers were Jews as was Jesus. In fact, though shocking to some, it is fair to say that Jesus was not a Christian. Christianity at first, was not a separate religion, but was comprised by Jews who believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the prophesied Messiah of the Hebrew Scriptures. From the outset of his ministry, Jesus called for disciples (students) to follow him (see Matthew 4:16 ff). In a sense they were a traveling school, following their teacher or rabbi – a common experience in ancient Judaism. Jesus and his first followers attended services in the synagogue on the Sabbath (Saturday) where they read from the Law and the Prophets (Luke 4:16-22; Acts 13:15). Though largely ignored by those who claim to follow Jesus today, it seems that this was supposed to continue (Acts 15:21 ff). They believed in the eternal validity of the Hebrew Scriptures (Matthew 5:17-21), and used these Scriptures to define every aspect of their faith and practice. It was the only Bible they had. I once read that the two things the New Testament Church did not have when it began were a (1) New Testament and (2) a Church.
For nearly 2,000 years, the followers of Jesus have functioned quite separately from their Hebrew roots. The teachings of Jesus have been interpreted, understood and taught from a Gentile platform, void of proper context.
A growing number of modern Christians however are seeking to understand Jesus and his teachings from a Hebrew perspective. A transformation is underway and the result is a much more Hebrew oriented faith, seemingly more in line with what Jesus and his first followers set out to establish. Most forms of modern Christianity can best be defined as religions “about” Jesus in contrast to the religion “of” Jesus. I propose that one can certainly follow Jesus apart from Christianity (a religion about him) by practicing the faith that he taught through his life and ministry – the religion of Jesus.
According to Matthew, a resurrected Jesus charged his followers with three tasks; (1) To make disciples or students, (2) to immerse them, and (3) Teach these disciples to observe all that he (Jesus) commanded them. Jesus had emphasized doing and keeping the commandments (Matthew 5:17-19). When asked what one must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus said, “Keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:16-17).
I am reminded of the statement in I John 2:6. There we read, “Whoever says he abides in him (Jesus) ought to walk in the same way he (Jesus) walked.” Somehow along the way, points 1 and 3 of the “Great Commission” were forgotten. The great commission became the great omission! Those who seek to follow Jesus ought to walk even as he walked. They ought to learn and live by the teachings of his Bible. They ought to eat the same foods that he ate. They ought to keep the same festivals he kept. They ought to proclaim the coming Kingdom as he did. A Kingdom where God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
If Jesus was not a Christian, but rather a Jew – ought not those who follow him look more “Jewish” than they currently do? As his followers seek to imitate him in their faith, I propose that they will. I further believe that the more they follow him, the less likely they will be to follow modern forms of Christianity. So long as there is a vast difference between forms of faith that talk about Jesus and those that truly seek to follow his teachings, there will be those who claim to follow Jesus but do not call themselves Christian. It is time for those who claim to follow Jesus to “walk even as he walked.”