Who was Jesus of Nazareth?
Was he a revolutionary? Was he a prophet? Was he a wise teacher?
How can we know and why does it even matter?
Gabe Bouch, a friend of mine and Lead Pastor of Freedom Church in Philadelphia, highlights the fact that Jesus’ followers certainly believed he was much more than a good rabbi.
See below what John, one of Jesus’ closest associates and followers, wrote about him:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. …
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-5, 14)
Jesus, personified as “the Word,” was not only with God, but “was God” (v. 1) and he “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (v. 14). Bold claim!
Evidence for the Divinity of Jesus
Bouch has written a helpful little booklet which addresses this subject titled, Lordship: Responding to the Good News of Jesus (available online here).
He writes, “It was quite a leap for a Jewish man or woman in the first century to worship a human being as God. Why would the first disciples have come to the conclusion that Jesus is the divine Son of God?”
In response to this important question, Bouch has created a list from the Gospel accounts to address why the earliest disciples were convinced that Jesus was divine:
• Jesus claimed to have divine authority to forgive sins. (Mark 2:1-12)
• Jesus demonstrated authority over evil spirits. (Mark 1:21-28)
• Evil spirits recognized Jesus as the holy one of God. (Mark 1:24)
• Other people successfully invoked Jesus’ name to exorcise evil spirits. (Mark 9:38)
• Jesus demonstrated authority over nature. (Mark 4:35-41)
• Jesus performed miracles of healing and was able to transfer this authority to his disciples. (Matthew 9:35 – 10:1)
• Jesus claimed that the Jewish Scriptures spoke of him and that he was the fulfillment of those Scriptures. (Matthew 5:17-18; Luke 4:16-21; 24:25-27; John 5:39-40)
• Jesus claimed an authority in his teaching equal to (or even greater than) that of the Jewish Scriptures, which Jews considered to be the words of God. (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28, 31-34, 38-39, 43-44; 24:35)
• Jesus claimed that he was the Lord of the Sabbath, the day of the week that was set apart as holy to God. (Matthew 12:1-8)
• Jesus claimed he will be the judge on the final day. (Matthew 7:22-23)
• Jesus claimed that only he truly knew God and that only he could truly make God known to others. (Luke 10:22)
• Jesus accepted worship from his followers. (Matthew 14:22-33)
• Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, and taught that the Messiah was something more than the human descendant of King David, the greatest king of Israel. (Matthew 22:41-46)
• Jesus identified himself with the figure in Daniel 7:13-14 who is served by all peoples and nations. (Mark 14:61-62)
• Jesus spoke of the angels as his angels and the elect people of God as his elect. (Matthew 24:30-31)
• Jesus predicted his own resurrection from the dead. (Mark 8:31-33; 9:30-31; 10:32-34; 14:57-58)
It’s interesting to note that this list includes miracles that Jesus performed, things that others said about Jesus, and things that Jesus said about himself.
Lord, Liar, or Lunatic?
In his classic book, Mere Christianity, 20th century writer and famed Oxford professor, C.S. Lewis, challenged the popular notion that Jesus was a good moral teacher, but nothing more:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say.
A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice.
Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
So, who was Jesus? Recorded in Matthew’s gospel is a conversation between Jesus and his disciples, in which Jesus was discussing his reputation with his disciples, here referring to himself as “the Son of Man” (a messianic term borrowed from Daniel 7:13-14). Jesus asks them, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah” and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets. (Matthew 16:14)
At this point, Jesus asks, “But what about you? … Who do you say that I am?”
What’s Next for You?
Questions about the identity of Jesus are not helpful if relegated to the realm of mere intellectual analysis.
In the end, an answer is needed from every one of us. Some say this, others say that, but what do you say? Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah…” (Matthew 16:16-17)
When Peter responded out of a correct understanding of who Jesus was, Peter received a blessing.
Isn’t that amazing?! This powerfully displays how God meets us in the midst of our doubts, even when are doubts are directed at him!
Jesus is honored and we are blessed when we shift our lives with what is true and real and right. This is the case even when reality is not what we expected!
As the saying goes: Facts are our friends.
How about you? What do you say? Who do you believe Jesus is? Were you aware of the claims that Jesus made about himself?
Have you ever seriously considered that Jesus might be exactly who he claimed to be?
If you aren’t yet sure how you would answer these questions, or if what you read here has grabbed your interest, why not study these things more carefully?
You might consider looking up some of the resources and Biblical texts that I have referenced above and giving them a closer look, and/or join a class or a discussion group at a local church where you can dig deeper into these topics.
If you do believe Jesus was who he claimed to be then choose to trust him and follow him today! Study his teachings carefully and apply them to your life.
Also, find some other Jesus-followers you can learn and grow with.
Following Jesus is better with friends.