There are different ways to conceptualize Jesus as a Rabbi in time and the intimate connection between his religion, Judaism, and Christianity. God, Jesus, and truth are multifaceted and too enormously important to stuff into one box of singular meaning. For me, linking Jewish history, certain passages of Isaiah, and Jesus’ definitive understanding of his mission after his wilderness experience offer important insight into his model and teachings for his followers or anyone else interested in a meaningful life.
In a historic nutshell, after the Hebrews settled in the promised land as Israelites, they first had three kings (Saul, David, and Solomon) before splitting into the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah, each with a succession of different kings. The Assyrians destroyed Israel around 722 BCE. The Babylonians later destroyed Judah and carried many Jews into a 50 year exile before the Persians freed them to return home.
In the part of Isaiah originating during the exile (chapters 40 – 55), God through the prophet designated Israel (i.e., the Jews) his “servant” (e.g., Isa. 41:8, aka “suffering servant”). God also unequivocally called Cyrus the Persian, the powerful Gentile military leader who did not know God, his “messiah” (Isa. 45:1, aka “anointed one”). God said of his servant, Israel: “I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations” and be “a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness” (Isa. 42:1B and 6B – 7, emphasis added). These are examples of Biblical “justice,” which essentially means prioritizing and actively caring for the poor and disadvantaged. In between these verses, the prophet emphasizes that God’s servant “will faithfully bring forth justice” and “[establish] justice in the earth….” (vv. 3B – 4A).
Moving ahead 500 + years, Jesus struggled in the wilderness with his vocation. He probably reflected on his prayerful sense at baptism of being God’s “son, the beloved” (Lk. 3:22), and rejected temptations to exercise power and flaunt miracles (Lk. 4:1 – 13). Subsequently, Jesus emerged with clarity in the synagogue at Nazareth, quoting from the post-exilic part of Isaiah (chapters 56 – 66): “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to let the oppressed go free….” (Lk. 4:18, see Isa. 61:1 – 2 and 58:6 – 10).
Jesus blended God’s calling of the Jews returning from exile to exercise justice with his peaceful and caring messianic understanding to actualize God’s priority of justice for all. As his followers, this is our mission as well.