Who Was Jesus

The fundamental question isn’t: why did God kill Jesus? The fundamental question is: who was Jesus?


People discussed and debated who was Jesus during his life, and people continue to ask the question today: who was Jesus? It’s really pretty remarkable that people are still asking that question today if you think about it. Jesus didn’t write anything. He didn’t create a lasting work of art. He didn’t conquer anyone.

Yet, people are still talking about Jesus today. Jesus is worshiped by some as God. He is revered my every major religion as a prophet or wise, spiritual man. He is even respected by the irreligious as a moral and good man. Though he didn’t pen a single word as far as we know, more books have been written about him than any man who lived.

So, it makes sense to ask: who was Jesus? It’s not an irrelevant question, even today, so many years after is life and very public and widely attested death.

The Internet skeptics who question whether the man, Jesus, ever lived are simply living in denial. Not even most atheists doubt that the man known as Jesus of Nazareth, the man who was crucified on a cross, was an actual man who lived in the first century. A more serious and compelling question is: who was Jesus?

So, let me get right to the point. The following statement from Paul, the once hater and persecutor of Christians who became a follower, highlights why this question is still relevant today:

“For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. …. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.” Romans 3:25-26

How we respond to this statement is a litmus test of sorts. It raises the ultimate question – who was Jesus – in a way that gets right to the heart of the matter. We can’t read that statement, if we truly understand it, without worshiping and loving such a God or recoiling in horror, indignation and revulsion.

One of the most biting critiques of the Bible and the story of Jesus is that God killed him. God demanded a sacrifice, and Jesus was it. If God is God, He orchestrated the death of Jesus to sate His own demands for justice, homage and retribution.

People like Richard Dawkins make this accusation of “the Christian God”. They say that even if God exists, they would never follow such a vindictive, spiteful God like that.

Lay aside the propriety of created beings standing in moral judgment of the Creator of the universe. If the Creator of the universe was a spiteful, vindictive mean-spirited Being, what could we do about it? And what would our moral indignation have to do with anything?

But of course, the Richard Dawkins types don’t believe in God. What they do believe is at the heart of this blog piece. They believe that Jesus was a just a man. He wasn’t divine. He was no different than you and me.

If Jesus was just a man, the Christian view that Jesus was sacrificed and killed to satisfy God’s sense of justice – or vindictiveness, or spite or evil desire to inflict pain – is something that seems despicably bad. As moral beings, we can see that such a thing would be wrong. It’s twisted. We know better. It doesn’t feel right.

But the fundamental question isn’t: why did God kill Jesus (or have him killed)? The fundamental question is: who was Jesus? We have to answer this question before we can make any sense of the latter question.

Continue reading “Who Was Jesus”

Is Jesus God? Part 1

Is Jesus God? What did he actually say about himself? And what did the people closest to him say?


Over 800 churches in the Chicago area are working through a series of big questions together all at the same time. (See exploreGod) The big question two weeks ago, for instance, was: Why Does God Allow Pain and Suffering? I have addressed the problem of pain before. Not that I have addressed the issue once and for all. I certainly haven’t. Gaining knowledge and understanding is an ongoing process. In that vein, I tackle the question for this week: Is Jesus God?

Not that I (nor anyone) can prove Jesus is God. I don’t suggest that I can, and it isn’t my goal to offer that proof here. Rather, I intend to go through the exercise of following the claims that Jesus and others made about who Jesus was. After all, why would it even be a question whether Jesus is God if neither Jesus nor any of his close associates made that claim?

Before launching into a review of what Jesus and others said about his deity, we should note what he didn’t say. To be perfectly frank, Jesus didn’t not say, “I am God in the flesh” in those exact words or other words directly and expressly making such a claim.

At the same time, Jesus never said, “I am not God”. He never says, “Don’t worship me.”

Jesus is known for the questions he asked. Perhaps, the most significant question he asked is this: “Who do you say that I am?” This series of blog posts is an introduction to that question by looking, first, at the claims Jesus made about himself and then looking at what others said about him.

Continue reading “Is Jesus God? Part 1”

Is Jesus God? Part 2

Recounting what Jesus said about himself, what do you think? Was Jesus claiming to be God?


Over 800 churches in the Chicago area are taking on seven big questions in a series of discussions over the course of seven weeks. (See exploreGod) The big question this week – Is Jesus God? – is the subject of this piece. I introduced the question in a preliminary blog post (Is Jesus God? Part 1). I will get into the specifics of what Jesus said about himself in this piece followed by what others in his time said about him. (Is Jesus God? Part 3)

There are people who say that Jesus didn’t, in fact, claim to be God. One friend of mine, asked recently, “Jesus was a Jew, right? Didn’t he preach Judaism?” He was suggesting that people took what Jesus said out of context and ran with it, creating a new religion that Jesus didn’t even intend.

I believe my friend is partially right – that Jesus was a Jew, and he came first to the Jews, but that wasn’t his end goal. (See John 1:11-12; John 10:16; see also Got Questions) If we understand the sweep of the Bible, Old Testament through the New Testament, we see that the Jews and Judaism were the platform and the stage on which God could engage with His creation and demonstrate to the world who He is, but the climactic event in that drama was the life, death and resurrection of Jesus for the salvation of all the world.

Of course, Christians believe Jesus was God in the flesh, but, I am getting ahead of myself. The only goal of this piece is to explore the what Jesus claimed about himself, and what other people in his time claimed about him?

Continue reading “Is Jesus God? Part 2”

Is Jesus God? Part 3

What did the people closest to Jesus and those who were opposed to him think that Jesus was saying about himself?


Jesus said to his followers, in no uncertain terms, “You shall worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” (Luke 4:8, quoting Moses Deut. 6:13) Why, then, do Christians have this notion that Jesus was God?

That is the question being addressed in this blog series. The question was introduced in the first piece: Is Jesus God? Part 1. The question is being posed as part of a series of questions, that is being discussed among over 800 churches presently in the Chicago area. (See exploreGod) In the second blog post, Is Jesus God? Part 2, I covered the things Jesus said about himself.

In this third installment on that question, I will review what others said about Jesus in his time, both those who followed him and those who opposed him. The statement Jesus made about worshiping and serving only God is important to consider in light of the claims Jesus made about himself as well as the way other people reacted to Jesus.

Surely Jesus would not deign to suggest that he was God after making such a statement, right? How could his followers be confused about his deity? (If, indeed, there was any confusion.) What did others say about him? And how did they relate to him?

Continue reading “Is Jesus God? Part 3”

Who Was Jesus?


Who was Jesus? A friend recently asked, “Jesus was a Jew preaching Judaism. Right?” He explained his thought that the people who came after Jesus created a new religion using him as the central figure in spite of who he really was – just a Jewish man preaching Judaism.

This is a popular Internet characterization of Christianity. I am not a scholar on the subject, but I did minor in religion in college. I took all the courses for a religion major, including the thesis course, and I even did the research and wrote the thesis. I would have had a religion major if I had turned in my thesis. I didn’t do it because I didn’t need the major. I took the classes because I was interested in them. I didn’t hand in the thesis paper because I didn’t feel good about it.

A religion major at a small liberal arts school meant majoring in “religion” generally. There were no flavors available for particular study. We looked at all religions, though we focused most heavily on Judaism and Christianity. That is because there was one “Christian” professor and one “Jewish” professor.

The Christian professor took the position that “all roads lead to the top of the same mountain”. Of the Christian road, he was very fond of Liberation Theology that took the position that the God has been changing, progressing and more or less learning to be God throughout time. Liberation Theology was born in South America among the people who were oppressed by the corrupt government and military forces in the 1970’s, and the Catholic priests who espoused this theology believed in taking arms in counter-insurgence against the oppressive political and military regimes.

My “Christian” experience included some very progressive literature. We were encouraged to sit in on lectures given by people like Hare Krishnas and a European Muslim – both lectures that I attended, among others. The Jewish professor was very much the modern, reformed variety – not conservative or Hasidic. This was my introduction to religion and to the Bible.

I did read the Bible from cover to cover in college, not only as an academic exercise as part of my course of study, but because I was drawn to it. In the midst of the all-roads-lead-to-the-same-mountaintop atmosphere in which I studied, I began to be taken by Jesus, who said, “I am the way, and the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by me.” (John 14:6) This is because Jesus stood head and shoulders above all the other religious personalities that I read about. There was something transcendentally different about him.

As I have been thinking about the (largely rhetorical) question my friend posed about Jesus, I think of the sweep of the Bible – Old Testament to New Testament, beginning to end. Having been intimate with it for well over 30 years, having read it many times over, and recounting my own journey of discovery, I feel compelled to tackle the question, but the scope of the answer is daunting.

Continue reading “Who Was Jesus?”

The Jesus We Meet in the Gospels

 (c) Can Stock Photo
(c) Can Stock Photo

I didn’t want to read the NY Times article, What Religion Would Jesus Belong To, by Nicholas Kristof.[1] Just as I suspected, the article lacked a deep understanding of Christianity. It lumps Christianity together with other religions of the world in a pluralistic mush. I don’t know the depth of the author’s understanding of Christianity, but it didn’t show in the article (though he claims a conservative Christian background).

Still, the article makes a good point… and I shouldn’t be so reluctant to admit it.

American churches don’t reflect “the Jesus we meet in the Gospels”. Never mind that the author’s proof is another NY Times article complaining of the Christians of the Republican Party.[2] The author seems to equate Jesus with the current political and moral landscape, as if Jesus would condone it, as if the modern American church is the exact representation of Jesus. If the modern American church doesn’t accurately reflect the Jesus we meet in the Gospels, it isn’t a reflection on Jesus; it’s a reflection on the modern American church. Continue reading “The Jesus We Meet in the Gospels”

Jesus Is

Jesus st sunset


I have heard it said that Jesus never actually called Himself God. Even if the Gospels recorded those exact words in Jesus’s mouth, I believe many would find ways of discounting what He said. It was no different in Jesus’s day.

Jesus did not say, “I am God” in those exact words, but what he did say could not have been misunderstood by his audience. Jesus made many statements, but one in particular strikes me as the most significant. Before I get to that one statement, a little background is helpful. Continue reading “Jesus Is”