Who is Jesus?
A simple question, but the answer can be complicated.
Jesus is a great inspiration to many.
His life was fascinating - his message radical.
His birth 2,000 years ago changed the world forever and 2.3 billion people believe Jesus is still alive.
He is a reoccurring theme throughout all of history and still turns lives upside down today.
Do you want to discover more about this intriguing person? Let's keep going.
01 | Where to start?
Jesus is the most divisive, yet significant individual in all history. He’s the most recurring figure in art over the past 2000 years. Hundreds of thousands of books have been written about him. Wars have been fought, laws changed, even our calendar is based around him. This is just scratching the surface; arguably, Jesus is the most influential person that ever lived.
But how do we learn more about him if he lived so long ago? Well the Bible actually tells us lot about Jesus. Who he is and what he did. You might think that using the Bible is not a good enough source because it is the considered a Holy book to Christians. But in fact scientists, historians, scholars, and literary experts all agree that the Bible is incredibly unique and an important piece of history and literature. Whether or not they agree with everything in it, they would not discredit its value.
02 | 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 all though history records Jesus died, he actually rose from the dead and is alive. They believe he lives in heaven with God, his Father. Although he has returned to heaven, his mission continued.
His friends, also called his disciples, went out into the world to tell everyone about his miraculous resurrection that proved he is the Messiah. Most of the disciples were murdered in gruesome ways. Many people opposed their message, particularly political powers, kings, magistrates, and rulers tried to stop the spread of the Christian faith, but all failed. It seems the persecution actually advanced the cause instead of stopping it as they intended. Because of the persistent dedication of Jesus followers there are Churches were founded all over the world.
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 walk away from their faith everyday, 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 rapidly.
03 | The Life of Jesus
So who is this man? Let's take a look at the life of Jesus by going back in time for a moment.
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 appears to her and 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.
So Jesus grows up and is like any typical child, except that we know Jesus never sinned. It is interesting to imagine what it must have been like growing as Jesus did. He experienced all the normal childhood things, yet he was very different from any other child. At what point did Jesus understand just how unique he really was, we don't know. Not much it told to us about Jesus childhood.
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 or disciples. Jesus talks a lot with them about repentance, justice, humility, equality, and forgiveness. Together they travel through Israel. He attracts attention because of the many miracles he does, amazing things like healing sick people, opening the eyes of people born blind and casting out demons. 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.
People have high expectations of Jesus. The Jews at that time were oppressed by the Romans. In their holy books 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 hail him as king when he enters the city. 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 that is he the long awaited savior; they see that he is gaining many followers and they are losing their grip on power. Frequently they challenge him to make dangerous statements, but he always response with incredible wisdom, side stepping the traps they worked so hard to lay. Often he exposes their hearts instead, which only made them more angry.
You see Jesus had a very intentional approach to all his relationships. We read in the book of James in the bible, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble". This is a very important thing to understand about Jesus. He was kind and compassionate to all who were broken, and humble, but was fierce in opposing the proud, those who oppressed others! This is why the religious leaders of his time hated Jesus.
They decide to take a more lethal approach: Jesus must die. On Maundy Thursday, Jesus celebrates the Passover with his friends. Together they eat what has been called at the "Last Supper". Jesus talks at length about what is to come, but his friends do not understand. Later that evening comes the turning point. While walking in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas, a follower 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 try to convince Pontius Pilate (the Roman magistrate in Jerusalem at the time), that Jesus is breaking Jewish laws. Because of Roman law, the Jews themselves are not allowed to kill him. Which is why they bring their case before the Romans. Many people mock Jesus and falsely accuse him, but he doesn't defend himself. He remains silent. He is rejected by all the people who one week before had hailed him as king.
Pilate struggles at first, but as the crowds were so insistent and he fears an all out riot, he concedes to the demands of the people.
Jesus is sentenced to death, but not before he is beaten, whipped and mocked. Jesus is hung on a cruel cross and dies an excruciatingly painful death.
On the Friday that he died Jesus is buried in a rich mans tomb and his friends mourn, totally disillusioned.
Two days after, Sunday morning as the sun is barely rising, Mary Magdalene goes to visit the tomb where Jesus was buried, but to her shock and horror the tomb is empty.
Where is the body of Jesus?
She frantically searches and thinks she sees the gardener. She tells him about the empty tomb, but then he speaks her name and just like that she recognizes him.
It is Jesus! He is alive!
She runs back to her friends, but unsurprisingly they don't believe her at first. 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, Jesus makes it clear what he wants his followers to do once he is gone. But Jesus didn't rise from the dead only to die again later, he is still alive today! It's called the Ascension, Jesus returns to Heaven. People watched as he rises in the air in great splendor and glory and disappears from their sight in the sky. They are in awe, but full of joy too because this time they finally understand what he is doing and where he is going.
Yet his followers are left behind with specific instruction; they have to go to Jerusalem, stay together and pray. Ten days later comes Pentecost. The disciples 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 start churches everywhere.
To this day, these churches tell the same message: Jesus lives.
04 | The Mission of Jesus
What was the mission of Jesus? A message so important he literally gave his life to get his message out. He spoke to many people, from all walks of life. 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 | 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 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.
06 | 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.
Also, our calendar is full of Christian holidays, as you know Christmas and Easter are celebrated in a big way around the world. Both were originally holidays centered on celebrating Jesus' birth and his death and resurrection.
07 | Beyond death
One of the universally true facts of life is that we all die; all living things eventually do. Many people comfort themselves when distressed thinking about death, remembering "Death is just a part of life." But that does not really make anyone feel better, does it? Deep down inside death feels wrong.
That's because we were made for more! You were created not to die, but to live with God forever. Maybe that sounds crazy, or maybe there is something deep in your soul that that resonates with, even if you don't understand it yet.
Christians believe that life goes on, even after we stop breathing. We believe you were born with a body and a 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 is your Lord and Savior, when your heart stops beating you will be then present with God Himself! If you want to become a Christian now, you can! Here.
08 | Don't know how to feel about all of this?
Does all of this confuse you and leave you with more questions then answers? That's okay! Let's face it, Jesus raised a lot of questions. Throughout the centuries there have been so many different views on who Jesus was and what he taught, 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. In the Middle Ages, the church was often a means of keeping people under control.
All that aside, Jesus himself was very intentional about not interfering 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.
10 | So what does this mean for you?
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 to be part of the lives of his children. 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? Considered a wise teacher or moral leader? To be immortalized in paintings or books?
Although he may have been a great source of inspiration, his focus was, is and will always be human beings, you and I! He wants to get to know you personally. Even if you can't make sense of it yet.
Do you want to make a start?