Sunday, August 2, 2009

Who was Jesus?

To say there's a lot of interest out there about who Jesus is, would be a colossal understatement. I did a Yahoo! search on "Jesus" just to see what would happen--it came back with 678 million different web pages for me to peruse (over 2/3 of a billion different websites that refer to Jesus!!). If I were to visit 1000 sites a day, it would take me just over 1857-1/2 years to see them all.

And I wonder, if I were to examine them, how many of them agree? Because it seems to me that there are as many opinions out there about Jesus as there are people--everyone's got their own take. Here are some of the answers I found out there:

  • Barbara Thiering, author of the book, Jesus and the Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls, contends that Jesus "was born, according to the modern calendar, in the year 7 BC, in a religious community near the Qumran plateau, 25 km. east of Jerusalem. His mother conceived him while she was engaged to be married, at a time when people in the community she lived in still considered her to he a virgin. As a result, some regarded her son as illegitimate. In later life, he married twice and fathered three children. Emerging as a religious leader, he was arrested for infringing the rules of Judaism. As punishment, he was sentence to death, but survived a bungled execution. His loyal followers helped him to escape and he spent the rest of his life in hiding, meeting with friends and helping his associates to write documents that would spread his ideas. He was 70 when he died, possibly in France."
  • David Bergland, the 1984 candidate for president on the Libertarian ticket, opines: "Jesus was not divine, but was a prophet, a fabulous man who taught morality through parables, and gathered a great following.... he may or may not have been crucified, but his followers went on to build a religion and a church based on his teachings. The basis for this belief is, typically, that millions of people have believed in him for 2,000 years so he must have existed. But being the son of God, the miracles, death and resurrection-that’s just a bit much for anyone with a healthy stripe of skepticism."
  • From a Jewish perspective, the official website of the Jews And Hasidic Gentiles - United To Save America insists, "The man known today as 'Jesus'... became a 'king' (over the Christian church) who changed the original Law, doing away with the Hebrew calendar and the Biblical holidays (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkos the Festival of Tabernacles, Passover, etc.). He disregarded the one, infinite G-d of the Hebrew Bible in favor of a new 'trinity' that included himself. And he repeatedly broke the Law by committing terrible sins, while openly challenging the G-d-given authority of the rabbis of the Sanhedrin.
    Naturally, Jesus did sometimes pretend to respect the Law, but whenever he thought he could get away with it, he turned right around and broke that same Law. In Matthew 5:17-19, he declared that he came to fulfill the Law, and in Matthew 23:1-3 he defended the authority of the rabbis. But the rest of the time, he rebelled against the Law—thus showing that his occasional words of piety were meant only to hide his evil agenda."
But, of course, the divergence of opinion isn't surprising--or at least it shouldn't be. People were divided about Jesus from the very beginning. In Matthew 16:13, he asks his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" and they responded with all sorts of answers that various people had offered up:
  • John The Baptist
  • Elijah
  • Jeremiah
  • One of the prophets
Today, we wonder how people could confuse Jesus with these other personages. But in an age without mass communication and photography, it would be easy for people to confuse Jesus and John the Baptist--they had a similar message and both called the people of Israel to repentance because of "the kingdom of God." When people are going off of second- and third-hand reports, it's natural they might confuse the two.

When people confused Jesus with great Biblical heroes from the past, they were essentially saying that Jesus' ministry reminded them so much of what they had heard about these historical figures, he must be some kind of reincarnation or a second coming of these great men. And in fact the last prophecy in the Old Testament promises, "I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes" (Mal. 4:5). We understand John the Baptist to be the prophet like Elijah who prepared the way for Jesus the Messiah, but the people back then thought perhaps Jesus was that Elijah figure, or some other person from Israel's history.

Nicodemus, in John 3, approached Jesus and told him, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him." What remains implicit is that Nicodemus nevertheless is having trouble figuring out what to make of Jesus' ministry. Jesus routinely criticizes the Pharisees (a group to which Nicodemus belongs) who are simply doing the best they can to obey all the commands and precepts of God flawlessly. What Jesus pointed out is that God was looking for an internal transformation, not external compliance, and most of the Pharisees did not love what God loves. It's a question of identity--would the Messiah really come down on the most religious, most holy, most respected Jewish leaders of the day, and instead hang around with prostitutes and lepers?

In Matthew 13:54-55, we read that the people of his hometown took offense at him and were amazed by his teachings: "Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?" they asked. "Isn't this the carpenter's son? Isn't his mother's name Mary, and aren't his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?" In other words, they asked, "Isn't he just an ordinary person? Where does he get off?" It's a question of identity.

Although characters in the Bible struggled with Jesus' identity, the writers of the New Testament did not. They simply presented Him as the divine Son of God. The Gospels declare that he is who he claims to be. So in the end, the question about Jesus is really a question about scripture--is it reliable? Can it be believed? When the Bible records what Jesus said and did, is it accurate?

We can either accept the Bible as trustworthy, or reject it as fanciful myth-making. But we should have reasons for whatever judgment we make. As we go through our weekly message series series on "The Messiah", I'll be blogging about why I believe the Bible to be trustworthy and true, and why we can believe in Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah, the Alpha and Omega, the Lord Almighty who reigns supreme as God over the universe.

1 comment:

Tanya said...

P.S.: Very interesting. I can see great passion in you on this topic and I am looking forward to reading the blogs that go along with this series. Thanks so much!