Understanding Jesus

Jesus did not announce, ‘I am God.’  However, he did intrigue people by leading them to the point at which they had no alternative but to consider that he might be.

For Jewish people the thought of a man claiming to be a god was repugnant, so for Jesus’ followers to consider this possibility was extremely unlikely.  But by the time Jesus’ followers came to write about him in the Bible (20 to 60 years later) they were convinced that he alone had crossed the line that separates humans from their Creator.

During the centuries when the Christian faith was new, people were eager to understand what the true nature of Jesus was.  Many views were expressed, including these four.  But over time it was the last one that Christians came to accept as the belief that made best sense of what had happened during the thirty remarkable years of Jesus’ life:

Might Jesus be just a human?

A number of miracle workers at the time of Jesus gained a following, but came to a tragic end and were forgotten. Many today are sceptical that Jesus was God.  There is a widespread belief that his teaching was profoundly good.  But Christians believe that there was more to Jesus that a great teacher.

Might Jesus be born a human, but adopted by God in a unique way?

Many Jews of Jesus’ time identified him as their Messiah.  The Messiah (or Christ) was the leader who the Jews anticipated would overthrow their oppressors.  Some believed that Jesus, like the great figures of Jewish history such as David, was a human who had been chosen and ‘anointed’ by God.  For several centuries there were Christians who were Jewish as well, and they revered Jesus as their Messiah.  But Christians see Jesus as God born as a baby, both human and God in every way, and not just a man who was made specially godly.

Might Jesus be a god sent so that others could become gods as well?

In the Roman culture in which Jesus lived the boundaries between human and divine were not definite (although this was abhorrent to the Jews).  So some ‘gnostic’ groups suggested that Jesus had special wisdom that could unlock the sacred potential of their lives.  Even today some ‘New Age’ groups try to help people ‘get in touch with the god within them.’  But Christians many centuries ago rejected this as an eccentric view.

Might Jesus be fully God and fully human?

It is now mainstream Christian belief that Jesus was both human and God – an unprecedented and unrepeated reality.  This has dominated Christian thought since shortly after Jesus’ life.  Jesus was with God at the very start of all things.  He will be with God at the close of the human era.  For a brief moment in the timescale of the universe Jesus inhabited a human body and lived a human life.  Like any man or woman he was a baby, a child, an adult, and then he died.   However, having the nature of God, death was not the end of him.  Humans who follow him are not changed into gods, but into beings within whom Jesus is alive.

What the Bible says about it

An extract from the Bible:

Jesus, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a human being,
he humbled himself and became obedient to death –
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Where to find it:

Philippians 2:6-11

About these words:

A hymn, written shortly after the death of Jesus.  It describes Jesus as fully human and fully God.  Paul quoted it in one of his letters.

And they said…

H G Wells, novelist, 1866-1946:

I am a historian.  I am not a believer.  But I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very centre of history.  Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.

Clement, one of the first bishops of Rome, about 30-95:

Through Jesus we see, like in a mirror, the spotless and excellent face of God.

C S Lewis, writer and academic, 1898-1963

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the devil of hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse.  You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God.  But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to.