Who is Jesus and why does he matter?
Updated: Dec 30, 2022
Jesus is perhaps the most well known, and controversial, figure in human history. But who is he? And why does he matter?
A person in history
Jesus of Nazareth was a person who existed in history. Outside of the Bible, there are multiple reliable historical accounts of the life of Jesus. Granted, these are brief, but they confirm nonetheless that Jesus of Nazareth walked the dusty roads of the Middle East some 2,000 years ago. When we add in the Gospel accounts of Jesus from the New Testament in the Bible (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), then we have an even fuller picture of this historical man called “Jesus.”
Born as a baby
The Gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke relate the events of Jesus’ birth. In one sense it was ordinary (taking place in a small rural town). But in another sense it was extraordinary (with visions of angels, a virgin birth, and visitors from afar). Either way, the account of Jesus’ birth means that he was 100% human.
Raised as a Jew
Jesus was raised according to the Jewish customs. He was circumcised and presented at the Temple according to the customs. He went to Synagogue and was taught the Hebrew Scriptures (what Christians now call the Old Testament). He practiced the Jewish religious festivals, such as the Passover (a meal of remembrance for when God acted to rescue the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt). To fully understand Jesus requires us to understand his ancient Jewish context.
The Gospel accounts depict Jesus as a healer. He healed the blind, deaf, mute, lame, and demon oppressed — it’s recorded that he even raised people from the dead! All this sounds completely unbelievable. That is until we get to the next part...
The Son of God
Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be more than human, he claimed to be the very Son of God. Not only was he 100% human, but he was also 100% God! This is how he could do and say what he did. An angel, announcing his birth, declares Jesus is “the Son of the Most High [God].” Later, a voice from the clouds at his baptism declares, “You are my Son, whom I love.” And Jesus himself dares to forgive sin by word alone, something only God can do! In fact, the reason the Jewish leaders of the time handed Jesus over to the Romans to be crucified was because they accused him of blasphemy — calling himself God. It is clearly claimed again and again, by others and by Jesus himself, that he is the very Son of God.
Predicted to die
Jesus’ sentencing to death by Roman crucixion was not totally unexpected — it’s recorded that Jesus predicted his death. For example, three times in the Gospel of Mark (perhaps the oldest account of Jesus’ life), Jesus tells his friends that he will die. But they simply do not understand! So, although difficult to understand at the time, his death was not unexpected.
Crucified by the Romans
Jesus was seen as a political threat to the fragile stability of the region, so was crucified as a rebel and insurrectionist. Crucifixion was a common method used by the Romans to keep their subjects in check. The victim was attached to a cross made from wood, often naked, in a public place such as a busy crossroad. The victims would slowly asphyxiate. Crucifixion was always public, to send a message: “Watch out, or this could happen to you.” It was humiliating, shameful, painful, and brutal. All four gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), as well as other historical documents, report that Jesus was crucified as a criminal.
Raised from the dead
But his crucifixion was not the end of the story. His friends reported seeing him alive! First some women went to this burial place, but found the tomb empty. They told others, who confirmed that the body was gone. Jesus then appeared to his closest followers, and is reported to have appeared to more than 500 people!
Ascended into heaven
If Jesus is resurrected from the dead, why can’t we see him now? We're told that his body has ascended to heaven. Three of the Gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) report Jesus’ ascension. Some skeptics might say, “Well, that’s convenient!” But by ascending, it means Jesus is no longer limited to his human body, which can only be in one place at one time. Rather, he has given us his spirit (his very essence, his breath, his word) which lives inside each of his friends. By ascending, Jesus can be everywhere at once.
So what? Who is Jesus? There are three possible options: (1) Jesus was a fraud (liar), (2) Jesus was deluded and crazy (lunatic), or (3) Jesus was who he said, the Son of God (Lord). It's not possible that Jesus was simply a wise teacher who taught enduring human values — this is not who he claimed to be. He claimed to be God. He claimed to have come to die and rise again to make you and this world right again. So he's either a liar and fraud, deluded, or who he said. Who do you say that he is?
If he is in fact who he says he is, if he is the very Son of God, then this changes everything! If he's God (as I believe he is!), then it means God has come to earth, he has come to heal you, to forgive you, to offer you new life now, and a resurrected body like his forever. There is credible evidence that Jesus is who he says, and that is good news for everyone and for you!