Who was Jesus? a Modern Summary of an Ancient Story

Who was Jesus? a Modern Summary of an Ancient Story April 11, 2019

Around this time every year, at least 1 television network will run a special on the person of Jesus. This year, it appears to be the History Channel’s turn with their production, Jesus: His Life – executive produced by Joel Osteen. Doubtless, millions flocked to this special, intrigued by the person of Jesus. This is reasonable; the attention Jesus gathers transcends all generations and cultures. The question, “Who is Jesus and what does he mean for me?” is timeless. No one has had a bigger impact on the world than Him.

Sadly, most documentaries/films fall very short on their presentation of Jesus. It’s usually not a problem of production quality, but of biblical and historical accuracy. Influenced by a theologically liberal or unorthodox bias, they often gloss over critical facets of Jesus’ personhood and gospel – reducing Him to something He is not. What they present is not God; it’s an idol. Although I didn’t watch it, based on what I know of Joel Osteen and his preaching, I suspect this year’s History Channel special to be no better.

Nonetheless, asking yourself “Who is Jesus and what does He mean for me?” remains unequivocally the most significant question you will ever ask. The extraordinary assertions made by Jesus, as written in the bible, about Himself and His kingdom, are so prodigious and formidable they command a thoughtful evaluation from even the most rigid skeptics – certainly a more rigorous evaluation than any secular television program can produce. Either Jesus is who He said He was or He isn’t. While simple in principle, this critical distinction bears the weight of eternal life or death.

I urge you to give sincere thought and consideration as I attempt to briefly answer: “Who is Jesus?” While there’s not enough ink, computer memory, or even time to exhaustively answer that question, Scripture does give us the aptitude to handle it with scoped accuracy. Scoped, that is, to know what Scripture tells us. We can know what has been revealed to us. My hope is that this brief study on Jesus will encourage you to seek Him out as He intended us to know Him – within God’s Word. A film, no matter how well produced, will never match a thorough study in Scripture.

In this article, I will begin by addressing who Jesus was historically. Then, I will discuss the claims that set Him apart from every other figure to ever walk the earth. Whereas some may reduce Jesus to just an interesting historical figure, myth, or good teacher, I contend He is infinitely more than that. Jesus is none other than Holy God.

 

The Historical Account of Jesus

Even the most liberal of theologians will scarcely deny that Jesus was an actual person. He was a living, breathing person who walked, ate, and slept. The rare individual that seriously argues for a fictional/mythical Jesus does so despite heaps of corroborating historical documentation. Aside from the Bible (of which we have ~5, 000 ancient Greek manuscripts and fragments documenting eyewitness accounts), we also have documents from church fathers, Jewish historians, and Roman historians – all confirming Jesus’ real existence. The absurd notion of a fictional Jesus is modern creation put together by liberalism to subdue the holiness of God and heinousness of sin. Such a thing was never a consideration in the ancient world; it was widely believed that Jesus lived and was executed by Rome around 30 A.D.

Having established the reality of the person of Jesus, it’s helpful to also have a basic understanding of Jesus’ culture and religion: Judaism. For anyone unfamiliar with Jesus and His claims, this might seem a bit odd. After all, a follower of Jesus is not a Jew; they’re a Christian. Why would we seek to understand Judaism if we’re ultimately interested in Christianity? Our answer is already there in the phrase “Christian” – root word being “Christ”

It might surprise some that “Christ” is not the last name of Jesus. Developed from the Greek word Christos, meaning “anointed one,” this title was given to Jesus later in life. Those who walked with Jesus recognized His uniqueness. In time, they would realize just how unique He really was! They would understand that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, The Chosen One, the Savior who would deliver God’s people from their sin and pending judgment.

There are literally hundreds of prophetic passages in the Old Testament that speak of a coming Messiah. Incredibly, Jesus, the Christ, fulfills every single one of them! It is truly remarkable when one contemplates the detailed nature of prophecies made hundreds, or thousands, of years before Jesus’ birth

Below are a few examples. In each case, I cite the prophetic Old Testament scripture reference and then underneath the verse(s) in the New Testament that cites its fulfillment in Jesus.

The Messiah would be the Son of God (Psalms 2:7)

  • “He [Jesus] will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David” (Luke 1:32)
  • “And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)

The Messiah would be a descendant of Abraham (Genesis 17:7), Isaac (Genesis 21:12), and David (Psalms 132:11; Jeremiah 23:5)

  • “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.”  (Galatians 3:16)
  • “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’” (Hebrews 11:17-18)
  • “Concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, 6 including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.” (Romans 1:3-6)

The Messiah would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14) in Bethlehem of Judea (Micah 5:2)

  •  “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).” (Matthew 1:22-23)
  •  “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.” (Luke 2:4-5)

In yet another prophecy fulfilled by Christ, many of the Jewish leaders are blind to the fact that Jesus is the promised Messiah. These Jewish religious leaders (called Pharisees) hate Jesus because He teaches a fuller expression of God’s Law. He preaches a need for an inward heart transformation – something the Law was unable to do. Much to the hatred of the Pharisees, Jesus also speaks with the authority of God, performs miracles, and forgives sins. The opposition schemes to stop Jesus. Yet, in all of this, Jesus remains sinless; He upholds God’s Law perfectly.

Using one of Jesus’ followers (Judas) to betray Him, the Pharisees turn Jesus over to the Roman authorities for judgment and execution. The plan to capture and execute Him are also prophesied of in the Old Testament (Isaiah 53:3, Psalm 41:9, Zechariah 11:12, Isaiah 53:7, Psalm 22:7-8, Psalm 22-17-18). After being tortured, mocked, beaten, and stabbed, Jesus dies of asphyxiation during His crucifixion. In this cataclysmic, world-changing event, Jesus bears the punishment of sin for His people.

In other words, Jesus – The long-promised Messiah – becomes a propitiation for God’s holy wrath towards sin. Every ounce of stored-up holy rage and judgment from a people, who continually rebel against a perfect God and holy Law, is poured out on Jesus. For those with faith in Christ and His claims, He becomes their Substitute; He takes their rightful place on the cross. The innocent, holy, spotless Lamb is offered up as a sacrifice for the filthy, wretched sinner. It’s important to point out that Jesus extends the offer of forgiveness outside of Israel. It is for all who will receive it.

Unacceptably, many documentaries and films will end about here, however, the impact and work of Jesus does not.

 

The Radical Claims of Jesus

After Jesus’ death on the cross, He was moved to a tomb. On the 3rd day, He rose from the dead. The resurrection is the single greatest moment in the history of the universe. More than that, it is the lynchpin of Christianity. Without it, the hope of the Christian is all but empty. The importance of this miracle cannot be overstated. Yes, it’s hard to believe. Yes, its doubted by many. But it is absolutely true! It is the distinguishing factor in understanding who Jesus really is. The resurrection of Christ is unique to Christianity and sets it apart from every other religion.

At this point, it’s worth adding that Jesus even predicted this. Consider Matthew 17:22-23, which reads, “Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is about the delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day.’”

Admittedly, the resurrection is hard to comprehend. It defies everything we know to be true about life and death. Dead people stay dead. Yet, we have reliable, historical documents that say otherwise with Christ’s resurrection. In addition to the eyewitness accounts of the Bible, history also tells us that Jesus’ Apostles continued in ministry for the rest of their lives. It is believed that all of them, except one were executed for their faith. They proclaimed the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus until their last breath.

The infallibility and record found within God’s word ought to be enough for us to believe the account of the resurrection. Yet, the life and death of the apostles are also compelling. If the entire account were a hoax, why would eleven men cling to such things until their death? Indeed, it was the primary cause of their death! Like Jesus, they were persecuted, beaten, tortured, etc. Had any of them been willing to admit that Jesus and His resurrection was just a myth, their life would be spared. But this didn’t happen. These men saw the resurrected Jesus and had their minds opened to see how He fulfilled the Scriptures. They knew that every word Jesus spoke to them was 100% true, and death was preferable over denying their Jesus who bought them with His blood.

There is only one claim that might be more radical than Jesus rising from the dead. It is that Jesus also claimed to be Holy God. Consider some words from Jesus Himself. In John 10:30, He states that “I and the Father are one.” This statement drew considerable anger from many of the Jews, as just a few verses later we read they tried to stone Him – in their eyes this was blasphemy. Elsewhere in the book of John, Jesus declares that “…before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58). Here, Jesus is basically quoting God in the Old Testament when God declares Himself to be “I AM” (Exodus 3:14).

I can think of nothing more radical than claiming to be God. Yet, this is what Jesus claimed and demonstrated. He was God. Correction – He is God. He is very much alive.

History has shown that there is no figure more polarizing than Jesus. He is either who He says He is – God, who resurrected from the dead – or He was completely insane. A great trick of Satan is to try and peg Jesus into some middle ground. Here, He may not be God but He is a great moral teacher, a leader, an interesting figure of history, and even a voice of sound morality; He’s admirable and respectable. He is tolerable for an unbelieving world.

The main problem with some middle-ground makeups of Jesus is that it doesn’t fit the bible or historical record of Him. The claims of Jesus are of such magnitude they demand binary evaluation. He is either God or He isn’t. He either rose from the dead, or He didn’t. To take no position (or even a relaxed one) on the radical claims of Jesus is to deny Him.

 

Jesus, The Only Hope for Sinners

The truth about Jesus is that He is the eternal, holy, and magnificent God. He existed in eternity past, before the world ever was. In Him, creation was made. He is perfectly holy, supremely righteous, and wholly just. Being just, he must also deal with sin and evil appropriately. When sin entered our world through Adam, all men fell and death reigned. As the book of Romans says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (v. 3:23) and “The wages of sin is death” (v. 6:23). Every member of the human race is fatally flawed and stained with sin. Because of this, we’re born evil and we choose evil. We rage war against the laws and morality of God. We lie, we lust, we steal, we hate, we murder, we blaspheme, we make idols, and we deny the very God who made us. All of us are deserving of judgment and eternal death for our sins.

Yet, from the beginning, God had a rescue plan. He made a promise to redeem His people from the guilt, shame, and judgment of their sins. Prophecies were made about a Messiah and in a mystery that was hidden for ages, God revealed that He is Messiah. Truly – Jesus is the Christ.

For sinners, such as you and me, the person and story of Jesus offers eternal hope. Born of a virgin and fulfilling every prophecy made about the coming Messiah, Jesus came to bring forgiveness, life, and hope. God took the form of man, lived a perfect life, and fulfilled the law completely. He was captured, beaten, tortured, denied and executed by those He came to save. In doing so, He bore the stored wrath of Holy God. He became the substitute and took the punishment His people deserve; the innocent died for the ungodly. After this, He rose from the dead and established His church.

In receiving Jesus as your Lord and Savior, and committing your life to His example and commands, your sins are forgiven. The blood spilled on the cross covers your sins and the judgment you deserve is transferred to Him. Instead of wrath, you receive life. This is the same gospel that has been preached for 2,000 years by men willing to die horrible deaths for their faith.

For those in Christ, we are credited, or imputed, with the righteousness of Jesus. Meaning, in the eyes of God, we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ. His perfect, sinless life is given to us and our sinful one is given to Him on the cross. Then, like Jesus, we are resurrected and made new. The effects of our sinful natures linger and will ultimately kill us in this life; however, our souls are set free and now eternal. Our souls enter the joy of the Lord for all eternity where we will receive perfect, new bodies.

For anyone willing to deny the radical claims and life of Jesus, they store up wrath for the day of judgment. A day will come when every person will face a holy God and give an account for the sins they have committed. This will include every lustful thought, every moment of hatred, and every blasphemous word. Even those things done in secret will be brought into the light. Without Christ, no man will be able to stand.

My friend, today you are faced with a binary decision. You can choose to believe and trust that Jesus is everything He said He was, or He wasn’t. In denying Him, you remain under the wrath of God and judgment waits for you. Receive Him today! Trust Him! Believe upon Him! The Bible tells that “All who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” There is no sin or evil you’ve committed which grace can not cover. Forgiveness is available to all who seek it.

Seek Him while He still may be found.

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