Who is Jesus?
Have you ever asked yourself this question? It’s an important question and one for which we need to have an answer. The problem is that ever since Jesus drew breath on this earth, people have been coming up with a few right and a lot of very wrong answers. Herod Antipas said he was John the Baptist raised to life (Mark 6:16), the multitudes thought he was the prophet Elijah, or Jeremiah, or some other prophet (Mark 6:15; Matthew 16:14). Only a few understood and confessed he was the Son of God (Matthew 16:16).
Not much has changed in the two millennia since. The majority of people still have an inaccurate view of Jesus. Some have studied long and hard to come to their conclusion of the nature of Christ. Others only know him as the guy who shows up on images of wooden crosses and who loves the whole world.
Regardless of the amount of knowledge we have of Christ, it’s easy to fall into the pitfall of having a self-imposed view of Jesus. We gravitate toward the perspective of Christ that fits inside our lifestyle. We want the Jesus of absolute acceptance and zero conviction. We want the Jesus who doesn’t rock our world or ask too much of us.
Or we succumb to the culturally-created view of Jesus. We look at how movies or TV shows portray Jesus or media such as the recent He Gets Us campaign. We pull our image of Christ from necklaces and mugs with crosses and Christian catchphrases. Or we listen to popular celebrities or pastors.
It’s easy to have a one-dimensional, inaccurate view of Jesus, one warped by sin and our own blinded eyes. Jesus’s own family said he was out of his mind (Mark 3:21), his hometown friends thought he was just an offensive carpenter (Mark 6:3), and the Pharisees claimed he was a blasphemer (Mark 2:7). If Jesus had been an average man, these conclusions would have been spot on. Forgiving sins, healing diseases, and casting out demons is more than a little crazy, offensive, and blasphemous for an ordinary person. Their assessment wasn’t wrong—but their understanding of Jesus was.
It’s easy to have a one-dimensional, inaccurate view of Jesus, one warped by sin and our own blinded eyes
Because Jesus, unlike every other human who has ever lived and will ever live, was not just an ordinary man.
Jesus is an undeniably powerful figure in history. But he’s a problematic figure. If Jesus is who he claims to be—the Messiah, the Son of God, one with the Father (Matthew 16:13–20; John 10:24–38)—all humanity has a natural obligation to him. We are commanded to pour out our lives at his feet in worship and follow and obey him (Matthew 16:24-27). But that’s uncomfortable. Instead, we reason our way out of what he says and scrounge up another perspective of Christ. Our sinful flesh chafes against submission to him, so we distort him to justify our rebellion. Every claim people make about Christ that denies or discredits his deity is an attempt to rationalize the extraordinary, to fit what cannot be explained by anything other than divinity into the box of our human comprehension and sinful ambition. We try to make Jesus just like us.
Trying to figure out Jesus on our own doesn’t work. Our self-imposed views aren’t true. Our culturally created views are faulty. What we need is a biblically informed view of Jesus.
More Than a Historical Celebrity
The majority of Americans believe Jesus was a real person. But, according to a Barna study, only 48 percent of millennials believe in his deity. Where does that leave the remaining 52 percent?
Let’s address a few of the commonly professed views of Christ and unpack the biblical counterpart.
The Religious Leader
35 percent of millennials believe Jesus was “only a religious and spiritual leader.” This popularly held view both denies Christ’s deity and appeals to the often-held view of “all roads lead to God” and “all religions are basically the same.” Every religion has their leader or spokesperson. Islam follows the prophet Muhammad. Buddhists consider Buddha, their founder, to be an extraordinary being, but not God. Surely Jesus is the same—merely the religious leader of Christianity, right?
Scripture says otherwise, affirming both the divine nature of Jesus and the exclusivity of his claims. There can only be one God, one ruler of the world. Any other god has to be a counterfeit in rebellion against the one true God. With the sharp distinctions between the myriad of religions in the world, it’s clear they are not all worshiping the same God—which means only one religion will rise up as true and every other will fall down as false. 1 Timothy 2:5 affirms this: “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.”
Scripture says otherwise, affirming both the divine nature of Jesus and the exclusivity of his claims
Jesus himself makes powerfully exclusive claims, saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Far from a religious leader among many, Jesus shows us that he is the only way to the one true God—and is in fact God himself.
The Good Teacher
Similar to the claim of Jesus as a religious leader, many assert that Jesus was just a really good teacher, a moral guy with a lot of good things to say.
This label was applied to Jesus even during his earthly ministry. In Luke’s Gospel, a young man asks Jesus, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Christ’s reply gets to the heart of the matter: “Why do you call me good? No one is good but One, that is, God” (Luke 18:18–19). Jesus wasn’t saying, “I’m not good, because only God is good.” Instead he was challenging the young man’s assessment: “Do you understand what you mean by calling me good?” As Charles Spurgeon commented on this passage, “The argument is clear: either Jesus was good, or he ought not to have called him good; but as there is none good but God, Jesus who is good must be God.”
All throughout the Gospels, Christ makes it clear that his teaching is not simply a bunch of good, moral ideas—but words of absolute truth spoken from the mouth of God. He told his disciples to abide in his words (John 15:7; John 8:31) and that by doing so, they would “know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). He also said that his “doctrine is not mine, but his who sent Me” (John 7:16). As Simon Peter proclaimed, “You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
The Nice Guy Who Loves Everyone
We often dilute the image of Jesus to a one-dimensional “nice guy” who never rocked the boat, always strove for peace, and indiscriminately accepted everyone.
Jesus was the greatest model of love and grace this world has ever seen. But he was also the greatest picture of true justice and righteous judgment. Both came together perfectly in the cross as he cried out “Father, forgive them” as his own blood was shed for the forgiveness of sinners (Luke 23:34). He welcomed little children to come to him (Matthew 19:14), touched the diseased and forgave the adulterer (Mark 1:41; John 8:1-12), but he also called out the religious Pharisees as “whitewashed tombs” (Matthew 23:27), made a radical demands of his followers (Luke 9:23–27, 57–62), and with a whip in hand, purified his Father’s house (John 2:14–16).
Both came together perfectly in the cross as he cried out “Father, forgive them”
These attributes and actions, however, are not in conflict. Because Jesus was not just a “nice guy,” but our Holy God in human flesh. He understood the full depravity of the human heart and the pervasive, destructive power of sin. As a holy God whose nature is so diametrically opposed to both, he must loath and oppose something so terrible. Yet he is also perfectly good. His holiness is not cruel, but loving. That love and goodness drove him to the cross, his holy blood shed for the unholy. Every attribute of love, goodness, justice, righteousness, and judgment are perfectly balanced within his nature.
His love was not a feel-good message, but a radical call to repentance and a changed life. Christ’s greatest goal wasn’t to make us feel good about ourselves or validate our emotions and experiences, but to show us the depth of our sinfulness, our desperate need for his salvation, and to provide the atonement we could never achieve on our own. Christ doesn’t conform to us—we conform to him.
The Miracle Worker
Jesus’s miracles were popular during his life and they still are today. Droves of people followed him in the hopes of being healed or receiving some free bread and we’re still fascinated by these stories. After all, no one before or since Christ has been able to do everything he did.
However, many fall prey to the same misconception of Christ had by those individuals who ran after him hoping to be healed. We boil down Christ’s miracles to fascinating displays of power, almost like a magic trick master. We assume he performed them merely to meet the people’s needs and show the explosive power he held, like a show-off with a moral bent. While the Gospels repeatedly tell us Jesus performed miracles out of deep compassion, that’s not where it ends. Every miracle he accomplished displayed his ultimate power as God and showed he was God’s Anointed, the promised Messiah.
Why did Jesus heal the sick and raise the dead? To display that he was the one who held the power to undo the curse set upon the world after Adam and Eve’s sin. Disease came with the onset of sin and only the one who can conquer sin can fully conquer disease and death.
Why did Jesus cast out demons? To show the world and Satan in no uncertain terms that he was the true King and every power of darkness must bow to him and will one day be bound by him. He is the promised Seed who will crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15).
He was the true King and every power of darkness must bow to him
Why did Jesus feed the multitudes, walk on water, and calm storms? Go back to the Old Testament—do you see similarities? Who else fed a wilderness of people with bread from Heaven? Who else defied the natural elements of water, wind, and waves by parting seas and rivers? Only Yahweh, our God. His Son displayed the same power over all creation, showing that nothing on earth is past his reach.
Jesus is more than a miracle worker or magic trick master—he is the Sovereign Lord of all.
The Helpless Victim
Have you ever felt sorry for Jesus? Looked upon images of crucifixes with bloodstains and nails, read of his agony in the garden of Gethsemane, and pitied him for the suffering he endured? While we should understand the reality of Christ’s sufferings and it should stir up many thoughts, the assumption of Christ as a helpless victim should not be among them. Often, that’s how we view his death, almost echoing the onlookers and thief beside him who mocked and said, “Let him save himself” (Luke 23:35). Surely as powerful as Jesus was, he didn’t have to be humiliated, beaten, and killed in such a degrading way. Did Christ become helpless and powerless?
A weak, powerless Christ is not the Christ we see in Scripture. Instead, we hear him say to Pilate, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11) and declaring that with a single prayer to his Father, he could have an army of angels twelve legions large, but that “all this was done so that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled” (Matthew 26:56).
All the suffering, every event that took place, was the fulfillment of God’s glorious plan of redemption
Christ was not a powerless victim because he was living out the pre-ordained plan—a plan designed by him and the Father before the beginning of the world that this is how he would glorify himself. He would create a people for himself and save them to himself, by giving up himself. Christ was perfectly submitted to the plan and will of his Father. Even in the agony of Gethsemane as he considered the weight of sin about to be laid upon him, he still prayed, “Not my will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). All the suffering, every event that took place, was the fulfillment of God’s glorious plan of redemption. Christ didn’t try to save himself because as he told Pilate, his kingdom “is not of this world” (John 18:36). His is the Kingdom of Heaven and by his death and resurrection, God raised him “above all principality and power and might and dominion and every name that is named…and put all things under his feet” (Ephesians 1:20–22).
Jesus is not the helpless victim, but the triumphant King and victorious Savior of our souls.
More Than We Can Imagine
In the last two millennia, people have gotten a lot of things wrong about Christ. But we can also be sure that no one has completely figured him out. He’s far greater than we can imagine, more wonderful than we can fathom. We can search the Scriptures for the rest of our lives and still uncover new dimensions of the beauty, power, and love of Jesus. One day, we’ll spend all eternity worshiping him, the mighty Lamb of God (Revelation 22:3–5).
He is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), the Lamb that was slain (Revelation 5:6–14), and the Lion of Judah (Revelation 5:5). He is the promised Messiah (Isaiah 9:6), the good Shepherd (John 10:11), and our glorious Redeemer.
He is, as John said, the Word who was in the beginning with God and the one who made all things (John 1:1–3). All things were made through him, for him, and by him (Colossians 1:16). The contrast is amazing, isn’t it? Jesus is far more than a historical celebrity. He is, in fact, the very creator of history.
Sara Starkey is the Editor-in-Chief of theRebelution.com and the author of Stand Up, Stand Strong: A Call to Bold Faith in a Confused Culture. Connect with her on her website SaraBarratt.com.