Some claim He is only a myth, while others say He was merely a man. But who was the real Jesus Christ? And what does His life and message mean today?
Confusion about Jesus abounds! Some believe He was merely an influential preacher in the first century. A few claim that He never existed and is only a myth! But who was the real Jesus Christ? Have you ever looked at what the Bible actually says about Jesus? What was He doing when He was on planet Earth—and what is He doing now for you, and for your future?
It has become fashionable among some on the Internet to claim that Jesus Christ did not exist. However, even the vast majority of skeptics admit that the facts say otherwise. In his book Did Jesus Exist?, scholar Bart Ehrman—who himself is not a believer in Christianity—explains the state of modern research on the matter: “The reality is that whatever else you may think about Jesus, he certainly did exist…. [T]he view that Jesus existed is held by virtually every expert on the planet” (p. 4).
But while atheistic scholars generally admit that the man Jesus did live during the first century, had a ministry in the Roman province of Judea, preached a controversial message, and was killed for doing so, that doesn’t answer the question of who He was.
Who was the real Jesus Christ? Was He just another itinerant preacher around whom some legends developed? Or was He the Son of God, who came preaching a message that very few today understand? Even if you think you believe in Jesus, the answer may surprise you!
About one-third of Earth’s inhabitants call themselves Christian. But even among them, relatively few really know what Jesus taught, or what the Bible reveals about the true Jesus Christ. He Himself said there would be many imitators—He called them “false christs” (Matthew 24:24). The Apostle Paul warned against “another Jesus whom we have not preached… a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel” (2 Corinthians 11:4). Do you know the true Messiah—the real Jesus Christ?
What does the Bible reveal? Was Jesus just a teacher? Or was He that and more? In John 4, Jesus was speaking to a woman at Jacob’s well near the city of Sychar in Samaria. This woman became convinced that He was the promised Messiah—the Christ. She told the whole community about this man who, she said, “told me all that I ever did” (v. 39). As a result, many other Samaritans came to hear Jesus speak, and they persuaded Him to stay for two days. What was their impression of Jesus? “And many more believed because of His own word. Then they said to the woman, ‘Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world’” (John 4:41–42).
The name Jesus signifies “Savior.” Was Jesus the Savior of the world? One should rather ask: “Is He the Savior of the world?” The proofs of fulfilled prophecy, historical accuracy, the preservation of the text and the revelation of life’s mysteries and meaning all support the truth that He is! But how did He become so? He was Immanuel, “God with us”—God in the flesh! Where did He come from? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:1–3).
This Word of whom the Apostle John spoke was the One who became Jesus Christ in the flesh, the Son of God (v. 14). He sacrificed His life to pay for the sins of the world, as only He could do. He was pictured as the sacrificial lamb. Notice how John the Baptist testified of Him: “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’” (John 1:29). He was betrayed for 30 pieces of silver, as prophesied (Zechariah 11:12–13). Having entered Jerusalem on a donkey, He would be like a smitten shepherd (Zechariah 9:9; 13:7).
Altogether, there more than 100 prophecies in the Old Testament foretelling the coming of the Messiah. Some cynics say that somehow Jesus “arranged” His ministry to fulfill those prophecies, or say that the New Testament writers invented the gospel narratives that demonstrate their fulfillment. But did hundreds of Jesus’ own contemporaries—who lived at the time Paul was writing his letters and who knew firsthand many of those who had witnessed the events being described (1 Corinthians 15:6)—allow themselves to be martyred for a fiction? Yes, there are always skeptics—like those today who doubt firsthand accounts of wartime atrocities in World War II, Kampuchea, Iraq and other places—but Paul and the other writers of Scripture were writing to their contemporaries, at a time when thousands were willing to die under persecution for their beliefs, because of what they had seen and heard for themselves!
Yes, you can believe in the words of Scripture! But it is shocking to realize how many preachers will tell you to believe—but never tell you to repent. Yet Jesus Himself told us all to repent! Our Savior commands every human being on earth to repent and believe. Does God really demand action from those who believe? The Apostle Peter said that He does. What did Peter say on the day of Pentecost, addressing thousands in his inspired sermon on the day the New Testament Church began? He said: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission [forgiveness] of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Thousands who heard him were convicted of their sins and were baptized on that day, receiving the promised gift of the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps you feel the pain of guilt and sin. There is a way to turn your life around. Jesus, the Lamb of God, took upon Himself your sins. But in order to be reconciled to God, you must believe—and respond to—the true Gospel. As Jesus proclaimed: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
When I was about twelve years old, I questioned the teachings I heard in church. I began to wonder if Jesus even exists. So, I thought, “Well, I will just read what these biographers Matthew, Mark, Luke and John said about Him.”
Even as a twelve-year-old, I was amazed by what I found, particularly when I started reading the “Sermon on the Mount.” For example, Jesus said, “But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Matthew 5:39). I thought to myself, “His teachings are revolutionary!” And in my own limited way, I changed my approach to life, though I would not be called to real repentance until many years later.
Many have experiences like mine. Author Bruce Barton was “turned off” by the false Jesus presented in a Sunday School class. In his classic book The Man Nobody Knows, he wrote:
The little boy [Barton, writing about himself] looked up at the picture which hung on the Sunday-school wall. It showed a pale young man with flabby forearms and a sad expression. The young man had red whiskers. Then the little boy looked across to the other wall. There was Daniel, good old Daniel, standing off the lions. The little boy liked Daniel. He liked David, too, with the trusty sling that landed a stone square on the forehead of Goliath. And Moses, with his rod and his big brass snake. They were winners—those three.… But Jesus! Jesus was the “lamb of God.” The little boy did not know what that meant, but it sounded like Mary’s little lamb. Something for girls—sissified. Jesus was also “meek and lowly,” a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” He went around for three years telling people not to do things (pp. i–ii).
Like Barton, I once had a false concept of the real Jesus. Perhaps you have, too. But if you will read the Bible for yourself, you may be surprised to discover that many of the popular images, concepts and teachings often presented as “Christianity” are quite different from the truths found in Scripture.
Barton came to see a contradiction between Jesus’ preaching and the world’s false image of Him. Barton wrote of his re-discovery of the biblical Jesus Christ:
The more sermons he [Barton] heard and the more books he read the more mystified he became. One day he decided to wipe his mind clean of books and sermons. He said, “I will read what the men who knew Jesus personally said about him. I will read about him as though he were a new historical character, about whom I had never heard anything at all.” The man was amazed. A physical weakling! Where did they get that idea? Jesus pushed a plane and swung an adze; he was a successful carpenter. He slept outdoors and spent his days walking around his favorite lake. His muscles were so strong that when he drove the money-changers out, nobody dared to oppose him! A kill-joy! He was the most popular dinner guest in Jerusalem! The criticism which proper people made was that he spent too much time with publicans and sinners… and enjoyed society too much. They called him a “wine bibber and a gluttonous man”…. When the man finished his reading he exclaimed, “This is a man nobody knows” (pp. iii–iv).
But how can we come to know the true Jesus? Surprisingly, some of the most common religious traditions can be deceiving—even about something as basic as His birth. Why was Jesus born? Notice what the angel told Mary before His birth: “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31–33).
Jesus’ message was about the Kingdom of God on earth! He will return as King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 17:14; 19:16). He will sit upon the throne of David, and rule over all the nations. As Isaiah wrote: “Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:7). That is great news, and we all need to pray, as Jesus taught us: “Your Kingdom come!”
When was Jesus born? Was He born in December on Christmas Day? It may be surprising to some, but we can be sure that He was not. Notice the setting and the time of year when the angel announced Jesus’ birth to the shepherds: “Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night” (Luke 2:8). Most Bible scholars plainly admit that shepherds were not in the field in December. The cold, rainy season began long before December 25. Jesus was probably born in late September or early October, as most reputable Bible commentaries acknowledge.
Why do we so often accept traditions and teachings without checking up on them? Some of our concepts and ideas disagree with the Bible! Jesus never observed His birthday, and neither did the Apostles! As the Encyclopaedia Britannica entry on “Christmas” states in its 15th edition, “According to a Roman almanac, the Christian festival of Christmas was celebrated in Rome by AD 336.” Notice also the following in its entry on “Christianity”: “The Fathers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Epiphanius, contended that Christmas was a copy of a pagan celebration.”
When you read the book of Acts, you see that the Apostolic Church of the first century—the New Testament Church—never observed Christmas or the birth of Christ. The true Apostolic Church of the first century observed the biblical festivals: the New Testament Passover, Days of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles and the Last Great Day. Scripture records plainly that Jesus Christ observed the Last Great Day of the Feast. The Apostle John referred to this Holy Day when he wrote: “On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37–38).
Is traditional Christianity following in Jesus’ steps, as the Apostle Peter tells us to do (1 Peter 2:21)? Is it observing the weekly Sabbath—the seventh day of the week—as Jesus did? Christ stated that He, “the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28). As we know from Genesis 2:3, God sanctified the seventh day at creation. And for whom was the Sabbath made? Jesus stated: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). The Sabbath was made for all humanity as a day of rest, and as a memorial of God’s great creation. Remember, God created all things, including the Sabbath day, through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 3:9).
The Jewish historian Josephus referred to Jesus’ brother, the Apostle James, who wrote the New Testament book of James. In the first century AD, Josephus wrote the following: “Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned” (Antiquities of the Jews, Bk. 20, chap. 9, sec. 1).
Yes, there is historic evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ. Amazingly, some will accept the testimony of a historian like Josephus, yet ignore the eyewitness testimony of Jesus’ contemporaries. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all wrote and testified about the life, miracles and teachings of our Savior. The Apostle John wrote that he and the other Apostles had not only heard Jesus, but had seen Him and touched Him (1 John 1:1–2). After His resurrection, Jesus told doubting Thomas to put his hand into the spear wound that killed Him. He commanded: “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing” (John 20:27). What was Thomas’ response? “And Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” (v. 28).
Jesus Christ died and was resurrected. He is alive today. If He were not, we would still be in our sins and our faith would be futile (1 Corinthians 15:16–17). But, as Paul explains, there is good news! “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead” (vv. 20–21).
So who was Jesus? The more important question is—who is Jesus? He is our living Savior! He is our great High Priest, as the Apostle Paul explains (Hebrews 3:1; 4:14). He is at the right hand of God in heaven, where He “makes intercession for us” (Romans 8:34). He will soon come back to planet Earth as King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16), to establish the Kingdom of God right here, to bring world peace! Will you be ready for His return? Will you accept His sacrifice, repent and live a life of obedience to Him? Thank God that the Bible reveals the real Jesus Christ—the living, loving Savior of the world!