Who Is Jesus?
Jesus. No individual has had such a profound effect on so many cultures and so many people. Think of our society and how different it would be if Jesus had never lived—our nation was founded on Christian principles by God-fearing men, many holidays honor Jesus, millions of buildings (including most hospitals) have been erected in honor of Jesus, millions of people live the way they live because of Jesus, Yes, our society would be very different if not for a man named Jesus.
Synopsis of Jesus’ Life and Death
Jesus was born in the small Judean village of Bethlehem, located about nine miles south of Jerusalem, to a young couple promised in marriage, Joseph and Mary. In actuality, he was born to Mary, not to Joseph, because Mary was still a virgin and was made pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. They lived in Bethlehem for a year or so, and perhaps they intended to settle in Bethlehem to make a new life for themselves. King Herod, however, believing baby Jesus would be a rival king, tried to kill the child. Joseph and Mary fled Bethlehem and eventually returned to their hometown of Nazareth.
We know little of Jesus’ childhood in Nazareth—only a brief glimpse of a trip He made with His parents to Jerusalem for the Passover when He was twelve years old (Luke 2:41–52). In verses 51–52, Luke says Jesus was obedient to His parents and grew in wisdom, stature, in favor with God, and in favor with man. That is the extent we know of Jesus’ childhood.
At age thirty Jesus began His preaching ministry (Luke 3:23). His ministry can be summarized in three words.
Teaching. Wherever Jesus went, He taught the people concerning the characteristics of His new kingdom and of those who would be citizens of it. Most of His teaching was done in Galilee, but every year Jesus made regular trips to Jerusalem for various festival days, and these trips were spent teaching in and around Jerusalem. Sometimes He taught in synagogues; other times, he taught on hillsides, in houses, along the seashore—wherever people gathered to hear Him. Sometimes Jesus taught in plain, easy to understand language (as in Matthew 5–7); other times He taught in parables, stories designed to convey a spiritual truth (as in Matthew 13 and Luke 15). Sometimes he taught individuals; other times He taught huge crowds of people. Through His teaching, Jesus prepared the hearts of thousands of people to receive the good news of salvation.
Most of Jesus’ teaching was directed to twelve select disciples (meaning “students”), later called apostles (meaning “sent out”). These twelve men, each hand-chosen, followed Jesus wherever He went. Jesus trained these twelve men to carry the good news of salvation to the world after His work was complete. These men had to be so strong in their faith that they would endure anything for Jesus, and these men had to be so committed to their mission that they would give up everything for Jesus.
Miracles. Accompanying Jesus’ teachings were miracles, supernatural acts designed to validate Jesus and His message as divinely-approved. Nicodemus understood the purpose of miracles: “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” (John 3:2). As Jesus authoritatively taught the people, sometimes presenting unfamiliar teachings to the people and sometimes challenging the beliefs and practices of the day, why would anyone believe He was speaking truth? The miracles provided the needed proof.
Jesus worked a large number of miracles—about thirty-five specific miracles of Jesus are recorded in the gospels. In addition, there other general statements like, “Jesus did many miracles in their city,” or “And they brought all of their sick to Jesus and He healed them.” In reality, Jesus must have worked hundreds of miracles.
Even more, His miracles showed that He was God. How? The answer lies, not in the number of miracles Jesus worked, but in the variety of His miracles.
When He healed the sick, He showed power over disease
When He healed the paralyzed, He showed power over nerves.
When He healed the lame, He showed power over body tissue.
When He healed the blind, He showed power over genetics.
When He multiplied loaves and fish, He showed power over quantity.
When He changed water to wine, He showed power over chemistry.
When He caused fish to swim to a net, He showed power over animals.
When He caused a fig tree to wither, He showed power over plants.
When He calmed storms, He showed power over weather.
When He walked on water, He showed power over gravity.
When He cast out demons, He showed power over the spirit world.
When He raised the dead, He showed power to give life.
In Jesus’ variety of miracles, He demonstrated His power over every aspect of our existence. Thus, He did more than just confirm His message: He revealed that He is the Creator (see John 1:1–3). Who else could control all of creation except the one who created and sustains it?
Love. Everything Jesus taught, every miracle He worked, every interaction He had with people was governed by an ulterior motive—love. Jesus loved people. He never got so burdened with His mission or so distracted by His accusers or so discouraged by His suffering that He lost track of the real prize of reaching the hearts of people.
Jesus’ Death, Burial, and Resurrection
Jesus taught, worked miracles, and reached out to people for about three years, during which time He upset many of the religious leaders of the day. Some did not like Jesus’ teachings; some were jealous of His following; some did not like the fact that He did not submit to religious authorities; some feared the inevitable consequences of the people proclaiming Jesus the Messianic King. (The common belief among the Jews was that the Messiah would establish a world kingdom).
When it seemed inevitable that the masses would soon proclaim Jesus as their Messianic King (which would be perceived as a revolt against Rome), the Jewish leaders decided the only way to save the nation from Roman punishment was to get rid of Jesus (John 11:45–53); therefore, a political decision was made to kill Him as soon as possible. During the Passover Feast, they convinced Pilate to crucify him as an enemy of the Roman state. The accounts of the trial and crucifixion can be read in the following chapters: Matthew 26–27, Mark 14–15, Luke 22–23, and John 18–19.
One important fact to remember regarding Jesus death is that no one took His life without His knowledge or against His will. Jesus told His disciples: "For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father." The fact is, Jesus was born to die—His mission was to save the world through an appropriate sacrificial death. Sacrifices are not made by accident or against someone’s will; sacrifices are made willfully and willingly. Jesus laid down His life, having the power at any moment to walk away.
Jesus had predicted His death on several occasions (e.g., Matthew 16:21; John 3:14; Matthew 26:54; Luke 9:22, among others). He also predicted He would rise from the dead (e.g., Mark 9:31; Matthew 12:40; Mark 10:33–34). In keeping with His prediction, three days following Jesus’ death, His tomb was found empty (Matthew 28:1–10). Over a forty day period, Jesus showed Himself alive to many people, on one occasion to over five hundred. He met with His disciples several times and gave them final instructions (Luke 24:34-43; Jn. 20:19-31; Mt. 28:16-20). Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven (Luke 24:44-51; Acts 1:3-8).
Jesus Is God
Jesus is God—that is the essence of His being. The biblical concept of “God” is an eternal, All-Knowing, All-Powerful, Ever-Present, All-Wise, All-Loving, Perfectly holy being who created life and the universe. The scriptures teach that Jesus was, and is, God. Concerning Jesus, John wrote: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made" (John 1:1–4; John is speaking of Jesus as the Word, see v. 14).
Paul taught that Jesus was equal with God before coming to the earth and that He willingly emptied Himself of His glory when He became a man, only later to ascend back into heaven as victor over sin and death (Philippians 2:5–11). The writer of Hebrews also affirms the deity of Jesus and His role in the creation (1:1-3). When Thomas saw Jesus after His resurrection, he addressed Him as “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Paul describes Jesus as “the God over all, forever praised” (Romans 9:5), and says to the Colossians, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9; see also Titus 2:3; 1 John 5:20).
When Jesus came to earth, He left His heavenly home, laid aside His glorious state, took the body of a human, and lived a life as a servant. Perhaps He also limited Himself in other ways. But in all that Jesus did and all that He became, He never ceased to be God.
Jesus Is the Son of God and Son of Man
In respect to His nature, Jesus was both the Son of God and the Son of Man. When “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14) and was given the name Jesus, He became human. He was born to a young woman named Mary (Matthew 1:18; 2:11). In respect to lineage, He was of the tribe of Judah, a lineage that included such great names as David, Solomon, and Hezekiah (Matthew 1:1–16). As a human, Jesus was subject to the will of His parents (Luke 2:51) and “grew in wisdom and stature” (Luke 2:52). He had to breathe, eat, drink, grow, exercise, and learn—just like any other human. He had times of joy, sadness, laughter, and tears—just like any other human. He was subject to temptation, distress, pain, and death—just like any other human. When God “made His dwelling among us,” He became one of us. The phrase “Son of Man” means “human.”
While Jesus was born of a woman (and thus became a son of man), He was begotten by the Holy Spirit (and thus became the Son of God). When Jesus was born to Mary, she was a virgin who was pledged to marry a man named Joseph. Mary’s pregnancy came about through the Holy Spirit, not through any sexual union with Joseph (Matthew 1:18–21, 25). Therefore, Jesus was the son of Mary (a son of man) and the Holy Spirit (the Son of God).
Jesus’ existence did not begin at His birth. He existed before that time, and continues to exist today, as an eternal member of the Godhead. But in the midst of His eternal existence, He took on the form of a man, and in so doing became the Son of God and the Son of Man.
Jesus Is the Christ, the Messiah
The word “Christ” describes His relationship with past covenants. From the time Adam and Eve fell victim to Satan in the Garden of Eden, God began to prepare His creation for a deliverer. After the incident in the garden, God promised that one of Eve’s descendants would “crush the head” of Satan (Gen. 3:15). Later, God promised Abraham that through one of his descendants all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:3; 22:18; see also Acts 3:25–26; Gal. 3:16). Before Moses died, he prophesied that God would someday raise up another prophet like himself, namely one who would bring a new covenant confirmed by miracles (Deut. 18:15; see also Acts 3:17-26; 17:37). God promised David that one of his descendants would reign over a kingdom that would be unending (1 Samuel 16). Thus, from the beginning, God conveyed to humanity hope for a Savior.
The prophets expanded on the Messianic theme, taking it to new heights and adding colorful detail.
The Messiah would be born of a virgin
(Isaiah 7:14; see Matthew 1:22–23).
The Messiah would be born in Bethlehem
(Micah 5:2; see Matthew 2:1–6).
The Messiah would be resurrected after three days
(Psalm 16:8–10; 30:3, see Matthew 28:1–7).
The soldiers at Jesus’ cross would gamble for His clothing
(Psalm 22:18; see John 19:23–24).
The Messiah’s bones would not be broken
(Psalm 34:20; see John 19:33–36).
Isaiah prophesied the Messiah's character, suffering, and death
This is but a small sampling of the more than three hundred Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah, all of which Jesus fulfilled. These passages offer evidence for the inspiration of the scriptures and demonstrate that Jesus’ ministry, from beginning to end, was a part of God’s plan to provide salvation for His creation.
Jesus Is Our Lord
The word “Jesus” is a proper name given to Him by Joseph and Mary in accordance with God’s instruction. The word “Christ” (or “Messiah”) describes Jesus’ relationship to the old covenants—He was the Messiah who came to fulfill all the promises and prophecies of the past. And the word “Lord” describes the Christian’s relationship to Jesus—He is our Master; we belong to Him, we are His subjects. By claiming Jesus as our Lord, we acknowledge that Jesus is in a position of authority. He gives the commands, and we follow them. It is important that we understand and accept this relationship. Jesus said that even some religious people would fail to reach heaven because of a refusal to submit to Him in obedience.
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:21–23). On another occasion He asked the rhetorical question, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).
Jesus is rightfully our Lord because He is God (John 1:1–2), because He created us (Colossians 1:18; Hebrews 1:1–2), and because He redeemed us from sin by His death (Romans 4:7–9). Jesus is called “Lord” nearly 700 times in the New Testament, far more than any other title. He now reigns in heaven (Philippians 2:9–11) and will someday return to receive into eternal life all those who have chosen to be His subjects.
Jesus Is Our Savior
Jesus, the Savior of the world, is the heart of the Scriptures. He was a teacher, a leader, a philanthropist, a moralist, and much more; but primarily, He was Savior and Redeemer. The word “savior,” meaning one who saves, describes His mission. Jesus summed up His mission in these words: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). Again, in John 12:46: "I did not come to judge the world but to save the world" (see also John 3:16–17).
Jesus is the world’s Savior because He offers to the world salvation from sin and its eternal punishment. When He died on the cross, Jesus suffered the penalty for sin in our stead, and thus satisfied the righteous demands of heaven. Jesus turned the shame of the cross into a glorious victory for humanity. Paul wrote, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
From the beginning, Jesus was God, the Word. He was born on earth to a young virgin named Mary by means of the Holy Spirit; thus, He became both the Son of God and the Son of Man. Joseph and Mary named the baby “Jesus” (m. “savior”) according with God’s instruction. At age thirty, Jesus began His public ministry, traveling the countryside, teaching and working miracles to confirm His message, always demonstrating love for the people. After three years, He died on the cross, fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah (or Christ) and satisfying the righteous demands of heaven. In so doing, He became our Savior. Having risen from the dead, He now resides in heaven where He reigns as our Lord and King.
Christianity is about Jesus. Everything we believe and everything we do is because of who Jesus is and what Jesus did. We learn from Him, we obey Him, and we seek to emulate Him.
From beginning to end, in all its various phases and aspects and elements, the Christian faith and life is determined by the person and work of Jesus Christ. It owes its life and character at every point to Him. Its convictions are convictions about Him. Its hopes are hopes which He has inspired and which it is for Him to fulfill. Its ideals are born of His teaching and His life. Its strength is the strength of His spirit (James Denney, Jesus and the Gospel, p. 1).