Who Was Jesus?

Jesus was a pretty amazing person. So amazing in fact, that most people are willing to quote Him – whether they believe in Him or not – if they feel like he might support their point of view. Why else would it matter so much to everyone if Jesus supposedly never said anything about homosexuality? Why does everyone always seem to state that Jesus said not to judge? Every religion and every new age guru wants to take a little bit of Jesus for themselves.

So who was Jesus? Was He just a good moral teacher? Was He a pluralist? Did He just walk around hugging everyone, and smiling and saying “everybody love everybody?” Or was He something more?

Jesus was many things, but there were definitely some things He was not. Let’s consider those first.

  1. Jesus was not a tolerant person.

No, Jesus was not tolerant – at least not by today’s confused definition of tolerance – where every view is equally valid as long as it is politically correct. If this seems odd to anyone, they simply have not read the primary source historical documents – also called the Gospels – about the life of Jesus. His level of intolerance for those who disregarded or disobeyed God was unprecedented. In fact, a large portion of His public ministry was spent railing against religious teachers and demanding an extremely high standard of moral purity from those who desired to follow Him. For example, by placing some of Jesus’ speeches against the Pharisees in their historical context, what He is saying is truly shocking. He calls them, “white-washed tombs, hypocrites, a brood of vipers, and sons of hell” (Matthew 23:13-34), just to give a few examples! To attack the ruling authorities with that kind of language is something few will do even in our liberally minded society. Jesus was, however, tolerant in the true sense of the word. He treated all people as equal; just not all views as equal.

  1. Jesus was not a pluralist.

There is definitely a push today in our culture to try to make religious claims into “true for you” claims. Thus it is often stated, even by many Christians, that Jesus is the way to God “for me.” This a view called pluralism, in which it is asserted that all religions are paths to God. However, Jesus himself did not allow for such a conclusion based on what He taught; which is really what matters. What did He say? Well here are a few examples:

John 14:6 – Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me” emphasis added).

John 8:24 – “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins(emphasis added).

John 3:16-18 – “For God so loved the world, that He gave His [e]only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God(emphasis added). 

Matthew 7:13-14 – “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (emphasis added). 

Matthew 7:21-23 21 Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness’” (emphasis added). 

The New Testament is filled with these kinds of statements of Jesus. Jesus claimed to be the only way, and that those who differed with him were wrong. We can debate whether or not Christianity is true, but make no mistake – Jesus certainly claimed it was true for everyone. He was no pluralist.

  1. Jesus was not just a good moral teacher

The best way to assess this aspect of Jesus’ identity is by using the late C.S Lewis’s famous trilemma. He argued that Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord. This argument was meant to deal specifically with those who tried to claim Jesus was a good moral teacher, but certainly not God.

Here is how it works:

  1. Jesus claimed in many ways, and at many times to be God (Mark 2, Mark 14:62, John 8:24, John 8:58, John 17:5, John 9:35-39).
  2. If He was not God, He either knew that He wasn’t, or He didn’t know.
  3. If He didn’t know He was not God, but claimed to be – He would be a lunatic.
  4. If He DID know He was not God, but claimed to be – He was a liar.

The logic is pretty simple really. If Jesus was lying, then He is not a good moral teacher at all. He is a liar and has no business teaching anyone about morals. If Jesus was crazy, well then He is still not a good moral teacher. After all, I am sure most mental hospitals have at least a few guys who claim to be God, and I don’t see anyone running to them for tips on how to live a moral life! In reality the only way Jesus could be a good moral teacher, is if He REALLY WAS GOD. There doesn’t seem to be any other option.

Who was Jesus then?

Jesus was exactly who He claimed to be. He was the Messiah (Mark 14:62, John 4:25-26). The Word become flesh (John 1:14). The incarnate Son of God, who came to suffer the punishment that we all deserved. He embodied God’s will and God’s Law (Matthew 5:17). He held the Old Testament in the highest regard, which is why He quoted from it so extensively (Matthew 4:1-11). He was not soft on sin in any way, because He understood the cost of sin better than anyone ever could. In other words, He was very judgmental (Matthew 18:15-20, John 12:48, John 3:36, John 7:24).

He was also the truest embodiment of love the world has ever known. Not because He affirmed every desire that every person had. Not because he told people what they wanted to hear. Rather, it was for just the opposite reason. He treated people as though they had intrinsic value. That they were worth saving and worthy of being loved. He reached out to the low, the outcast, the poor, the rejected, the prostitutes, the adulterers, and thieves. But he didn’t let them stay there. He told them they needed to change (John 5:14, John 8:10-11). That they needed to leave their lives of sin, deny themselves and their desires, take up their crosses, and follow Him (Luke 9:23). He told people what they needed to hear, but not always what they wanted to hear (Mark 10:21-22). That is what it means to truly love people. That is why He changed the world, and is still so relevant today.

Jesus was not politically correct, or “tolerant”, or a pluralist, or just a good moral teacher. If we want to know who Jesus really was, we need to stop listening to the news, the DaVinci Code, Newsweek or the blind assertions of Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra. Instead, it only makes sense to open the pages of the New Testament and study Him for ourselves. The Jesus people find in the Bible will undoubtedly challenge all who encounter Him to view the world, and themselves, in a completely different way.

 

All scripture references are from the New American Standard Bible

 

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