Who Is Jesus? Revised
Known by what he did and said
Like many of the individuals that you know, Jesus was primarily known by what he did and said among his contemporaries. That is the context, along with Jewish history and traditions, for the various titles, such as “Christ” and “Messiah” and “Lord”, that were attached to him.
Yet, you may ask, “Who is Jesus?”
Often what he did and what he said raised questions with those who observed him and listened to his teachings. There was no simple or clear understanding of his identity and how he should be regarded inspite of his impressive actions and teachings. Many of his contemporaries wondered, as you may be wondering, “who is this man Jesus?”.
The world-wide expression of the Christian religion is the result of the work and teachings of Jesus’ most devoted followers. Although they have been telling his story and sharing their perceptions of him with others throughout the world since the early decades of the first century A.D., many people throughout the world, including perhaps you and many of your friends, may still have some difficult questions regarding the identity of this man whom history knows as Jesus.
Jesus was a human man
In order to understand the identity and nature of Jesus one must first acknowledge that he was a human being. Although Jesus was miraculously conceived by “The Holy Spirit” in the womb of Mary (Luke 1:35), a young Jewish “virgin” (Luke 1:27), he was born from her body as a human flesh and blood infant according to a normal process of “water and blood” human deliveries. This means that from the beginning of God’s physical incarnation into humanity Jesus was the unique combination of God’s Spirit and human flesh in his physical body. (The Nicene Creed states that Jesus was “of one essence with the Father” yet he “became man”.)
Paul declares that “the first man Adam became a living being” with a “natural body” through God’s creative action of breathing the “breath of life” into the formed “dust” (Genesis 2:7) of the “earth”, but “the last Adam”, who is Jesus, “became a life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:44-47) because of his origin in “heaven”. As Paul says, “The first man was from the earth…, the second man is from heaven”.
But the blessing of Jesus’ “life-giving spirit“ was not initially present in Jesus’ “flesh and blood” humanity, because Jesus, although he came from God in heaven, prior to his natural birth from his earthly mother, Mary, had “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant”. (Philippians 2:7) So he was “born in the likeness of men…being found in human form, he humbled himself”. (Philippians 2:8) The writer of Hebrews indicates that the “founder” of God’s saved “sons” had to be made “perfect through suffering” by the divine creator “for whom and by whom all things exist” (Hebrews 2:10), so that “he had to be made like his brothers (human beings) in every respect”. (Hebrews 2:17) So although he was “a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered”; and, as he was “being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation…”. (Hebrews 5:8- 9) This means that Jesus was not automatically qualified to be the “Savior” of God’s created rebellious children just by virtue of his physical presence among them in this world. The writers of this statement on “The Humanity of Christ” indicate that Jesus “grew in his capacity to obey as he endured suffering”.1
On an annual trip to Jerusalem for “the feast of Passover” with his mother Mary and Joseph at the age of “twelve”, he decided to stay “behind” in Jerusalem by himself after they had left with a “group” of fellow travelers. They didn’t realize that he wasn’t in the “group” until they had made a day’s journey”. When they returned to Jerusalem, they found Jesus in the temple engaged in a discussion with “the teachers”. They scolded him for the “distress” that he had caused them, but he asked them why they didn’t know that “I must be in my Father’s house?” Although they didn’t understand what he meant by his remark, he returned with them to Nazareth and was submissive to them” as a young son in their family, and he “increased in wisdom and stature” as he continued to grow up. (See Luke 2:41-52 for the account of this episode)
There is no inspired record that Jesus ever performed any miracles or demonstrated any unusual attributes as he was growing up prior to the years of his public ministry. He apparently remained with his family in Nazareth, where he apparently became responsible for Joseph’'s business as a carpenter after he had died. Since his family was from the tribe of Judah and not the tribe of Levi, he was not expected to become a priest in the temple, and he wasn’t in any group to become a rabbi.
When Jesus was thirty years old, he left his home in Nazareth and went to the “region around the Jordan” (Luke 3:3) where he submitted to the cleansing baptism of John in the Jordan River. At that event, as Jesus “was praying”, John testified that “the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove, and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’” (Luke 3:21-22, see also John 1:29-34 which records John’s testimony that Jesus was the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”.)
But even after the Holy Spirit had descended upon Jesus after his baptism, he was still subject to his humanity. Although he was now “full of the Holy Spirit” (John 4:1), the Spirit led him into “the wilderness” where he fasted for forty days in preparation for his ministry and was subjected to the direct temptations of the devil who offered him some easy ways to meet his current need for food and to gain the “kingdoms of the world” and the worldly fame that came with them. (See Luke 4:1-13 for the account of this experience) According to the apostle John, Jesus got weary from walking on his frequent journeys throughout Judah and Galilee (See John 4:6 for one example), and he died on a cross as a human man that was demonstrated by the flow of “blood and water” that came from his side when it was “pierced” by a soldier’s spear. (John 19:34) Jesus was born as a “flesh and blood” human infant, and throughout all of his life, even after being anointed by the Spirit at his baptism, Jesus suffered from some human limitations as he daily learned to say and to do what his “Father” led him to say and to do. (See John 5:19, 30 and 8:28-29, 14:10) The supreme test regarding the relationship between his nature as a human being and his nature as the divine “beloved Son” of God came in the garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives where Jesus engaged in a very intense prayer with his “Father” regarding whether or not the “Father” would remove the “cup”, which was the shame and agony of being crucified, from him, and it was in this prayer that Jesus demonstrated his commitment to obey the “Father” and submit his human body and all of his human emotions to the “will” of his “Father”. (See Matthew 26:39-42 and Luke 22:41-44) Just before he “gave up his spirit” to death on a cross, he declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30). By this statement, Jesus meant that his suffering mission as the human “Lamb of God” who would “take away the sins of the world” by his death was finished. (See also Hebrews 9:11-12, and 25-28)
Some additional basic feature of his identity
Basically there is some agreement that Jesus was a Hebrew teacher/prophet who appeared in ancient Palestine among the Israelites. He was known as coming from the city of Nazareth where he grew up in the family of Mary, his mother, and Joseph, her husband, and their children.
At about the age of 30 Jesus launched his public ministry of preaching and teaching about God, “Jehovah”, as God was named by his Hebrew people. (This was after his baptism by John and his temptations in the wilderness, as noted above.) Although he fulfilled the traditions and expectations associated with Israel’s prophets, he was regarded as being different. He taught with greater “authority” and more wisdom. He performed many amazing miracles. He instantly provided physical healing for some individuals who were blind or lame or otherwise physically handicaped or sick. On two occasions he fed thousands of people with meager supplies of bread and fish. He even raised several individuals from the dead and cast demons out of others.
Powerful, yet he refused to be king
He was regarded by some of his followers as being “anointed” by God, which caused the title of “Christ” to be attached to his name, because it means “anointed”. Since the early kings of the nation of Israel, Saul, David, and Solomon, were regarded as also being “anointed”, Jesus, with his impressive miraculous powers and authoritative aura of teaching was eventually regarded by some as possibly a new king. Many of his followers, including those closest to him, expected him to deliver the people of Israel from their Roman oppressors as David had delivered the people of Israel from their Philistine enemies a thousand years earlier.
Betrayed, tried and condemned
When Jesus refused to use his powers to do this, one of his closest followers, Judas, turned against him. He helped some of Jesus’ severest critics among the religious leaders of the Israelites to get Jesus arrested. These leaders then led many among the crowd of his followers, some of whom were uncertain about his identity and others who were just intimidated by these powerful officials, to secure the judgment of the Roman governor, Pilate, to have Jesus crucified. The charges that they brought against Jesus were for treason and blasphemy because of Jesus’ claims to be a king and to be a divine being who was sent from God. Although Pilate couldn’t find anything worthy of death to hold against Jesus, and he even considered him to be innocent of the charges brought against him, he still had Jesus flogged and crucified to avoid a riot by the stirred-up crowd.
An innocent man is executed
So Jesus, with his back torn open by the soldiers’ scourge, was nailed to a cross by the side of a public road outside of the walls to the ancient city of Jerusalem, crucified with two other condemned men as many other criminals and enemies of Rome had been executed before him. Of course this shocked and frightened his closest followers, known as his disciples, although Jesus had earlier specifically warned them this would happen to him. On the day before his crucifixion, as he shared the Passover supper, a traditional Hebrew annual ceremony, with them, he had illustrated how his body would be broken and his blood shed by breaking bread and pouring out some wine. He explained that this was his sacrifice for sin, but they didn’t understand what he had tried to explain to them or why he had been executed. Although they were not from Jerusalem, they stayed there, hiding in fear from his enemies.
His resurrection surprises everyone
Three days after the crucifixion of Jesus, these disciples and his enemies among the Jewish leaders and the Roman officials were amazed to hear reports of the disappearance of his body from the tomb where it had been placed under Roman guards. The guards were there because Jesus had predicted that he would rise from the dead after three days of being in the tomb, and the priests and the Pharisees didn’t want his disciples to have an opportunity to steal his body. On that day and during the next forty days, these closest disciples, a group of eleven or so men, as well as several women and 500 other followers all saw and experienced in a personal way the presence of Jesus.
He had apparently been resurrected from the dead by God. He was able to pass through locked doors and to appear and disappear from their sight. When he was with them, some of them had the priviledge of physically touching his body. They were able to talk with him, and he even ate with them on several occasions. He was not a ghost, and it was not any hallucinations that they were all experiencing.
Frightened followers become witnesses
Because of their personal experience with the resurrected Jesus and the Spirit of God that he gave to them, these followers believed that he really did come from heaven, the realm of God. They accepted his claim that he willingly died on the Cross to pay God’s price for their sins and the sins of everyone in the world. In faith and trust they surrendered their lives to him to serve as his disciples and witnesses to his loving glory and divine power.
Because of his resurrection from the dead, they believed that he was somehow God in the flesh, and they agreed that he was the “Lord”. Without being able to explain the specific details regarding the relationship between Jesus and God and the Spirit, they nevertheless believed that Jesus was involved in the creation of the universe, that he was the owner and master of everything, and that he would be God’s ultimate judge and ruler over all of the kingdoms of earth and heaven. This would include the realms of all of the living and the dead from all time.
A summary statement regarding Jesus
These basic beliefs of these early disciples have been expressed in various Christian creeds throughout history and covered in thousands of books that have been written about Jesus. I will try to briefly answer this question regarding "Who is Jesus?" with the following brief summary.
- Jesus is the second person in the almighty triune God along with the Father and the Spirit. All things in heaven and in the universe have been created by him and through him and for him. He was sent to earth by God, the Father, to be born as a human being who was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the body of Mary, a young Jewish virgin. He was raised as a normal Hebrew boy in the town of Nazareth, where he worked as a carpenter to care for his family. After he was baptized at the age of thirty by John the Baptist, a contemporary Hebrew prophet, he launched his public ministry to redeem God’s creation, including human rebellious sinners, back to God. Jesus did this as the obedient “Son of God” who lived his life in sinless morality, and after three years of teaching and preparing a selected group of disciples to carry on his ministry, he submitted himself to the Jewish and Roman authorites who had him crucified. Because of his sinless life and his willingness to be crucified as “the Lamb of God”, God raised him from the dead after three days, accepting his sacrifice as “payment” for all of the sins of all human beings. And God has given him authority over everything, including the Church, which is his representative “body” of disciples in the world. Jesus appeared to his disciples, including at least 500 of his followers at one time, over the course of forty days, and then he ascended back into heaven from where he came. Jesus will be coming back to earth to exercise his redeeming authority over all its nations and people and then to reign supreme over “the kingdom of God” forever.
For an excellent biblical summary regarding the identity of Jesus see Paul’s statement regarding him in Colossians 1:15-23.
You can know Jesus
This introduction may not answer all of your questions about Jesus or even many of them. It may not convince you that Jesus is anyone special, but if you really do want to know who Jesus is and get acquainted with him in a personal way, you can do so. He has promised to make himself known to anyone who sincerely seeks to get to know him, who is willing to open his/her mind and heart to his divine glory and the truth of his divine teachings.
An invitation to follow Jesus
I invite you to come and to follow Jesus as many others have done. Read the accounts of his life and teachings in the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the Bible, particularly that of John. Then read the book of Acts, which is Luke’s report regarding the birth of Christianity. It is also in the New Testament portion of the Bible. As you follow Jesus and examine the records of his unique life and pray for his personal revelation to you, you will begin to get to know Jesus. You may even find yourself surrendering to his amazing grace and transforming power, which would be GOOD for you.
The only way to know Jesus, like the only way to really know anyone, is to follow him, to personally examine his life and teachings, his recorded comments, and to spend time with those who seem to know him best. My ministry is to introduce you to Jesus. May God bless you in your search.
If you are wondering why you should consider getting to know Jesus and why he is the only one who can bring you into God’s loving presence, I invite you to consider this statement on the question: “Why Jesus?”.
If you would like to have Jesus give you a fresh start in life, consider this statement on this subject: “The Plan of Salvation”.
If you want a basic summary of “God’s work of redemption” consider this statement.
will be glad to answer any of your questions. Or you will find more specific information about Jesus at another site on the question who is Jesus?. My basic statement about The Trinity on this website might also be helpful. You can find it here: “The Trinity”.
1. The Person of Christ in Biblical Doctrine: An Overview (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway) p. 2517. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.