Who is Jesus? A simple question, but the answer can be complicated. What answer would you give? Jesus is a great inspiration to many. His life was colorful - his message radical. His birth 2,000 years ago changed the world forever and 2.3 billion people believe Jesus is still alive. What? How? Because his message runs like a thread through our history and still turns lives upside down. Discover how Jesus runs like a thread through our lives.
01 | The thread - through people's lives
Jesus as a thread
For 2.3 billion people, Jesus is the common thread throughout their lives. He inspires people as to how they live. For many, he is a symbol of freedom; freedom to be who you are. He gives courage to the masses to break away from things that are not good for them. He offers knowledge that they and you are forgiven. Jesus brings these people closer to God and closer to themselves. Christians often talk about a personal relationship with God and with Jesus. Some Christians grow up in a Christian family and are brought up with the faith, but a considerable amount of people come to faith on their own. They discover for themselves who Jesus is and decide to become a Christian. Read why here:
In addition, in the past most people were illiterate. People were used to having the books of the Bible read aloud in the synagogue and later in church, and then discussing them. So what we find in the Bible are actually a kind of summaries, very concise, that give food for thought.
Although most people around the world can now read and write, reading is not a favorite activity for everyone. Are you not really a reader? Then, just like in earlier times, it makes a lot of sense to engage in conversation about it and listen to podcasts about it, for example. Here are some examples:
02 | The common thread - in Christianity
Jesus is the central figure in Christianity. The Christian faith revolves entirely around him. Christians believe that Jesus is the Messiah; he came to bring God and mankind back together. Christians believe that he is alive and that he rose from the dead at Easter. They believe he lives in heaven with God, his Father. Pentecost actually celebrates the birth of the church. He had returned to heaven, but his mission continued unabated. His friends went out into the world to tell everyone that he had come back to life after his crucifixion. Many of them were murdered in gruesome ways. Opponents, other political powers, tried to nip this resurrection story in the bud, but failed big time. Churches were founded all over the world. To this day, Christians tell whoever will listen that Jesus is alive.
Christianity is by far the largest religion in the world, and also the fastest growing. Research by International Bulletin of Missionary Research (IBMR) shows that 1,000 people drop out every day, but in contrast, 83,000 Christians join every day. This amounts to 20 million new Christians each year. In the Western world, the churches may seem to be getting smaller, but the global church is growing enormously.
03 | The thread - through the life of Jesus
Who is this man? Let's take a look at the life of Jesus. What common thread can we discover in the many stories written about him in the Bible? We'll go back in time for a moment.
So what happened 2000 years ago?
Jesus is born in Bethlehem, Israel. His father Joseph is a carpenter and his mother Mary a young girl from Nazareth. Even before they are married, Mary receives a special message; an angel tells her that she will be pregnant with a son. He will be called the Son of God and his name will be Jesus. It is not Joseph, but God Himself who will cause her to conceive. The birth of Jesus is still celebrated extensively every year at Christmas.
He grows up and is always interested in spiritual matters. At twelve, Joseph and Mary even lose him for a few days and he is found to be deep in conversation with all the spiritual leaders in the temple.
It is not until around the age of 30 that we hear more about Jesus again. He gathers a group of friends around him. They are also called followers, disciples or apostles. Jesus talks a lot with them about justice, humility, equality and forgiveness. Together they travel through Israel. He stands out because of the special miracles he does, such as healing sick people. More and more people become interested in Jesus. Wherever he goes, large groups of people gather. Everyone wants to see him, speak to him, touch him. Sometimes he becomes overwhelmed by it and flees away into nature for silence.
People have high expectations of Jesus. The Jews at that time were oppressed by the Romans. In their holy books of the Tenach it is prophesied that a Messiah will come, a savior who will deliver the people. They hope that Jesus is this savior. Jesus also says himself that he is this Messiah. When he visits the capital city of Jerusalem around the age of 33 to celebrate the Feast of Passover, the people are elated. They jubilate and cheer on this Palm Sunday. Yet everything will turn out differently than they hope.
The Jewish leaders of the country don't want anything to do with this Jesus. They don't believe a word of it and what's more; they see that he is gaining many followers and they are losing their grip on power. Very often they challenge him to make dangerous statements, but he always holds up a mirror to them. Then they decide to take a more rigorous approach: Jesus must die. On Maundy Thursday, Jesus celebrates the Passover with his friends. Together they sit at the last supper. Jesus talks at length about what is to come, but his friends do not understand. Later that day comes the turning point. While walking in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas, a friend of Jesus whom the Jewish leaders had bribed with money, leads soldiers to Jesus and he betrays Jesus with a kiss. Jesus is captured and tortured.
The Jewish religious leaders insist to Pontius Pilate that Jesus is breaking Jewish laws. Because of Roman law, the Jews themselves are not allowed to kill him. They bring their case before the Romans. Pilate struggles at first, but on Good Friday he gives in. Jesus is sentenced to death and dies on a cross on Mount Golgotha. The exuberant atmosphere of Palm Sunday is nowhere to be found. He is buried and on Holy Saturday and his friends mourn, totally disillusioned.
The big game changer comes on Easter morning. Mary Magdalene wants to visit the tomb, but to her horror the tomb is empty. Where is the body of Jesus? She looks around and thinks she sees the gardener. She tells him about the empty tomb, but then suddenly she recognizes the man. It is Jesus! He is alive! She runs back to her friends, but they don't believe her at first. But some of them go and see that the tomb where Jesus body lay is empty now. The friends decide to stay together in the city. They keep windows closed and doors locked for fear of the authorities. Then Jesus appears in their midst. They all see and hear him.
More than 500 people say they saw Jesus alive after his death. For forty days he walks around and talks to people about eternal life and forgiveness of sin. Above all, he speaks to them with great courage. With Ascension, Jesus returns to God. His friends are left behind with an instruction; they have to go to Jerusalem, stay together and pray. Ten days later comes Pentecost. The friends are filled with passion and fire. God's spirit stirs them up to tell the whole world that Jesus is alive. They spread throughout the world and founded churches everywhere. To this day, these churches tell the same message: Jesus lives.
04 | The thread - of Jesus' mission
What was the mission of Jesus? He literally gave his life to get his message out. He spoke to many people, from all walks of life. And he addressed large groups of people, but also took the time to eat in people's homes. Why? And what did he speak about? A complete summary is difficult to make. But these three things were at least important to Jesus:
05 | The thread - through the Bible
If you think that Jesus is written about only in the New Testament, you are wrong! People have been writing about Jesus long before he was born. This is what is referred to as prophecies. The Bible is divided into two parts: The Old Testament and the New Testament. The first part is based on the sacred Jewish writings, the Tenach. The second part was written after the coming of Jesus. Eyewitnesses and followers wrote down everything about his actions and life. For Christians, these two testaments are deeply connected. The Old Testament contains many prophecies, predictions, about the coming of the Messiah. A savior who will make the Jews, but also the rest of the world, free. Many of these prophecies came true with Jesus. Details surrounding his birth, death and resurrection were literally predicted.
Even the last book of the Bible, Revelation, contains prophecies about the future in which Jesus plays a major role. He is woven through the Bible like a thread.
The Bible is a fascinating book well worth exploring further. Not only to learn more about Jesus, but also about the creation of the earth, about history and about God. Find out more here.
06 | The thread - through the calendar
Did you know that without Jesus, you would have a completely different birth date? In fact, our era is based on the year of Jesus' birth. The fact that we are now living in the 20th century is because Jesus lived 20 centuries ago. The Christian era is also called Anno Domini. This means Year of the Lord. It marks the first year after His birth and is often used with the abbreviation AD.
In history books you will often find the designations before or after Christ as well. So Jesus has become a kind of benchmark in history. A life before and a life after.
When this era was introduced, however, they made a miscalculation. The calculations were based on the Roman calendar of the time. But in the Bible book of Matthew, he writes that Jesus was born when Herod was king. But Herod died 4 years before the year 0. Our calendar is probably about 6 years behind.
Also, our calendar is full of Christian holidays, of which Christmas and Easter are celebrated in a big way around the world. In the Netherlands you also get time off on Ascension and Pentecost.
07 | The red thread - even beyond death
A ball of red wool is not infinite. Your life will also end sometime. Hopefully you will last for many more years. Of course no one knows how long they have. Christians believe that life goes on, even after our bodies stop breathing. They believe in a separation between body and soul. The body allows us to live and walk around on earth. Our soul seeks connection with others and with God. When we die, the soul continues. If Jesus has been a thread in your life, it will continue after you die. What heaven will look like no one knows, but Christians believe that, because of him, they may be with God forever.
08 | The thread - gets tangled up sometimes too
Does Jesus get you confused sometimes too? Let's face it, Jesus raised a lot of questions. How would Jesus have thought about the role of women, sexuality, and religious freedom? Throughout the centuries there have been so many different views on this and even today Christians differ among themselves. History is marked by schisms within churches. The Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Church have been at odds with each other for centuries, up to and including major wars. You see that religion is often mixed with political power. Think for example of the struggle in Northern Ireland. Protestants originally want to belong to Great Britain, the Catholics to Ireland. In the Middle Ages, the church was often a means of keeping people under control. Jesus himself explicitly did not interfere with the political power play of the time. On the contrary, many people hoped that he would deliver them from Roman oppression. But he never used violence, he opposed it. Listen to this quote from Jesus: "If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, do not defend yourself, but turn the other cheek."
09 | The thread - through art
For many artists, Jesus is a great source of inspiration, not only for the great masters like Rembrandt or Leonardo da Vinci. More recent artists such as Banksy and Salvador Dalí also have him reflected in their art.
The most famous work of art about Jesus is surely 'The Last Supper' by Leonardo da Vinci. He portrays Jesus and his friends on Holy Thursday. The last evening they are together before he is condemned to death.
The old master Rembrandt painted Jesus many times. On the cross, as a portrait or in action. He also worked out parables of Jesus on canvas. Most famous is his depiction of the lost son.
Banksy uses Jesus primarily to hold up a mirror to the world. Perhaps even to confront Christians.
With the artwork 'The Scar of Bethlehem' he gives a glimpse into the birth of Jesus anno 2019. In that year it was placed in the Walled-Off Hotel in Bethlehem, where he was born. All rooms overlook the separation wall between Israel and Palestine.
With the painting 'Consumer Jesus', Banksy mocks the commercialization of Christmas. During the holidays consumerism reaches a peak, according to him, while there should be a focus on Christian values and traditions such as giving to the less fortunate.
Believe it or not, but Salvador Dalí was a religious man. Oftentimes he was confrontational and shocking with his surrealist works of art. Later in life, his belief in Jesus also became a source of inspiration. For example, he painted 'Crucifixion' in a geometric way to show that science and religion can coexist. He also created several watercolors of Biblical scenes.
Jesus can be found in all kinds of art forms. Many artists sing about their relationship with Jesus, Justin Bieber and Dolly Parton for example. More than 360 films have been made about him.
Check out the feature film The Life of Jesus here.
10 | The thread - through your life
Getting to know Jesus is a true journey of discovery. Many Christians will say that this journey will never be finished. He has so many sides to him and he shows so much of God. His ideas were revolutionary not only then, but certainly now as well. He is a great inspiration to many. Christians believe that God loves everyone, including you. They believe that Jesus did not come just for "the happy few," but that God sees all people as his children. He wants nothing more than to be part of the lives of his children. To be the thread of your life. Not to tell you how to live, but to stand beside you. He desires to help in difficult times, to give wise counsel, to give courage to go on and sometimes to correct you when you fly off the handle.
Can you make sense of it all?
Jesus may be a common thread throughout the Bible, the calendar and art, but was that his purpose? To become famous? To be immortalized in a painting or book? None of this existed when he walked the earth. He never read the New Testament! Although he may have been a great source of inspiration and a thread running through history, his focus was, is and will always be the human being. He wants to get to know you and I personally. Even if you can't make sense of it yet, Jesus wants to be the thread that runs through your life. Do you want to make a start?