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Who Is Jesus?
by Dr. Linda Smallwood, BBS, M.Min., D.Min.


In This Series
Who Is Jesus?
About Messianic Prophecy | Son of God | Son of Man | The Word | Light of the World
Savior of the World | High Priest | The Great Physician | Other Names of Christ

In This Lesson
The Gospel of Jesus Christ | Who Is Jesus?
Why Did Jesus Come? | He Died. So What? | What Is He Doing Now?


Most people today don't question whether Jesus of Nazareth really existed. It is generally accepted that Jesus was truly a man who lived and ministered in Israel about 2,000 years ago. Most also accept that He died a very painful torturous death on a cross [or an execution stake]. The emotionally-charged debate begins when the subject of Jesus' full identity is discussed. Almost every major religion teaches that Jesus was a prophet or a good teacher or a godly man. But the Bible tells us that Jesus was infinitely more than that.

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes:

    "I am trying here to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him [Jesus Christ]: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. 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 a 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 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 up with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that option open to us. He did not intend to."

The Gospel of Jesus Christ
The Gospel is the "good news" about what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. The term "evangelize" comes from the Greek evangelion or evangel, meaning to "share" or "preach" the good news of Jesus' death and resurrection. The Apostle Paul wrote: "I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you . . . that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." (1 Corinthians 15:1, 3-4 NIV)

The "good news" is the message that Christians proclaim to the world. British pastor and theologian Michael Green wrote in Who Is This Jesus?, "Christians did not go about proclaiming a new religion, new duties, or a new ideology. They proclaim good news . . . about what God has done. The first Christians believed that the life and death and raising to life again of their friend Jesus were the most important things that ever happened and they wanted to tell everybody about them."

The fact that Jesus died for our sins and came back to life again is the basis of the Christian faith. The confidence that Christians have in this fact accounts for the certainty with which we announce and proclaim our faith in what Jesus has done for us. We realize that our eternal salvation is not just a matter of us being satisfied with our religion. Rather, it is knowing that God is satisfied with us because of our faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ.

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Who Is Jesus?

His Person
The Apostle Paul tells us: "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together." (Colossians 1:15-17) In other words, Jesus Christ is the visible, physical revelation or manifestation to humankind of the God whom no man can look upon and live (cf. Exodus 33:20).

Out of His unfathomable love for us, Jesus chose to become like us so we would be able to understand God better and learn His plan of salvation for us. This meant that the eternally-existent Son of God would actually have two natures in one Person: He would be both human and divine. "...concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 1:3-4)

In order to have a human nature, Jesus would have to have a human parent. This was accomplished through a young virgin named Mary. "And the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to 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 1:30-33)

But in order to retain His pre-existent divine nature, God would be the father of Jesus. The Apostle John testified to this when he wrote: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth," (John 1:14) and the Apostle Peter confirmed: "For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.'" (2 Peter 1:17)

His name itself also testifies of His divinity. "She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21) The name "Jesus" [or Y'hoshua or Y'shua in Hebrew] means "the LORD Saves".

The name or designation "Christ" also has a special meaning. It means "the anointed one" or "the Messiah". When the disciples called Jesus "Christ", they were testifying that He was/is the Messiah, the King for whom the Jews were waiting to deliver them. "Simon Peter replied, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.'" (Matthew 16:16) The reason so many didn't recognize Him at that time was because He didn't act like they thought the Messiah should act, He openly rejected or rebuked many of the religious leaders' ceremonial laws that had nothing to do with spiritual purity, and He didn't free them from the tyrannical Roman rule under which they had lived for centuries. [We'll discuss these things in more detail further on in this series of lessons.]

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Why Did Jesus Come?
Jesus did not come to bring us a new religion. He came to give us a relationship with God. Untold millions have experienced the spiritually transforming power of salvation since Jesus' incarnation more than 2000 years ago. By faith, our lives bear witness that He is the Son of God and Savior of the world. We know that He is the total embodiment of God's message to humankind. He confirms this by His own words: "Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works." (John 14:10) Jesus' words about Himself and His work not only validate His existence, but they also guarantee every promise of God.

He Came to Redeem
Jesus actually stated quite plainly what His purpose was in coming into this world: "...the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost." (Luke 19:10 KJV) But to a people who were looking for someone to liberate them from their Roman oppressors and who believed the existing sacrificial system under the Mosaic Law was sufficient to cover their sins, most of them missed the point He was making. They didn't realize their need for a Savior and that the Messiah's mission was to die for them as their perfect Substitution. So, they were deeply offended when He said, "...the Son of Man came . . . to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45)

If you think about it, there is really little difference between the people of that day and this. Many people today want a Jesus who will rescue them from whatever social, financial or physical ill they're facing, but they don't want a suffering Servant who offers to do for them what they can't do for themselves. They don't want the Jesus who came to rescue their eternal souls. And they especially don't want One who asks them to pick up their cross and follow Him! The same thing that offended the people of Jesus' day still offends people today...!

The word "redeem" comes from the Latin emo meaning "buy" and is defined as "to buy back", "pay off", or "recover by a stipulated payment". The Bible is clear that the payment for sin is death. Remember Adam and Eve? What did God tell them the result would be for their disobedience? Death (see Genesis 2:17). And since God cannot contradict His own promise of judgment against sin, then . . . where there is sin, someone has to die (see Ezekiel 18:4, 20). Therefore, the "stipulated payment" for sin is death.

To simplify the definition, we can say that "redeem" means "to set free", "rescue" or "save". For centuries God permitted an animal to be sacrificed as a substitute for mankind's sins; but this was by no means a permanent solution. Rather, it was to make us aware of how grievous our sin is to God and to point us to the need for a Savior. So when the time was fulfilled for God to make the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf, He sent His Son to die in the sinner's place.

Yet, even for the Son of God, this would be no easy feat. As the pre-existent, eternally-existent Son of God, He would exchange the splendor of Heaven for a stable and life in a low-class Jewish family. He would trade His creative magnificence for the blisters and calluses of a carpenter. He would close His ears to the unceasing worship of the angels to hear instead the taunts and jeers of His contemptuous enemies. He would throw off His regal robes to be beaten and then "dressed" by Roman guards. He would give up the glory that had been His for eternity past to wear a crown of thorns. He would exchange His golden royal throne for a splintered wooden cross, and He would lay aside His golden scepter for three nails...

And yet, as bad as all of that was, none of it — the dread of it, the humiliation of it, the physical pain of it — none of it compared to that which He feared most and which caused Him the most pain — being cut off, totally separated from His Father! He'd never known a moment when He and His Father were not in total communion, when His Father didn't delight in Him...

But out of His abounding love for us, He endured this most heart-wrenching, unspeakable and inconceivable emotional and spiritual pain so that we would never have to be separated from God, so we would never have to taste death. Jesus became sin for us!

"He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness..." (1 Peter 2:24a)

2 Corinthians 5:21—

" were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ..." (1 Peter 1:18-19)

That was His purpose in coming to this earth. That was the message He tried so many different times to explain to His disciples. And that is His message to us today. He came to "seek and to save that which was lost," and "to give His life a ransom for many."

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." (John 3:16-18)

Before Calvary, the message is confusing. After Calvary and the Resurrection, the message is clear. If there is any confusion, it isn't in Jesus Christ, His mission, or His message; rather, it's in how we live it and proclaim it!

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He Died. So What?

The Tomb Is Empty!
The faithful followers of many religions have built shrines at the tombs of their founders and leaders. Inside are the revered bones and ashes of their dead patriarchs. But the tomb in which Jesus was buried following His crucifixion is empty! He was seen many times by hundreds of people after His resurrection. The theories abound as to the location of Jesus' body or that of the crucified imposter [as Islam claims]. Unbelievers and scoffers have had 2000 years to produce a body, any body. And yet . . . they've produced nothing.

There is more eyewitness testimony to Jesus' physical death and bodily resurrection than is usually present in a court trial; and yet, people through the ages have stubbornly clung to their unbelief rather than embrace the only One who has ever defeated death. "...that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles." (1 Corinthians 15:4-7)

Jesus' bodily resurrection is yet one more evidence that points to His being the Son of God. "...and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 1:4) [See "Who Is Jesus: The LORD" for further study of Jesus' deity.]

He Ascended to Heaven
This is yet another fact defended by hundreds of eyewitnesses and which has not been disproved after 20 centuries. After showing Himself alive, teaching, and encouraging several hundred people, He physically ascended into heaven. This, also, was no secret because He did it while they were watching! "Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven." (Luke 24:50-51)

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What Is Jesus Doing Now?
The Bible says that after He ascended back to Heaven from whence He had descended, He took His rightful place at the right hand of His Father where He intercedes for us.

Hebrews 8:1—

"...if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." (I John 2:1)

"...he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them." (Hebrews 7:25)

This is more than just "good news". This is great news! This is extraordinary news! This is news worthy of shouting from the rooftops! After paying that so-costly price to redeem us from the power of sin and the penalty of death, after rising from the grave and ascending back to His Father, He has not forgotten us. He is actively engaged in everything that concerns us — in our problems and challenges, in our victories, in our weaknesses, in our jobs and families and schools, in our rising in the morning and lying down at night — He stands at the ready to hear us call out His name and give Him an opportunity to help us.

This has been only an introduction to the lessons on who Jesus is. It's not intended to answer all of your questions, but to whet your appetite to sit at His feet and learn more about our great God and Savior in the lessons that follow. Will we answer all of your questions in this series? No. No one can. Even the Bible does not answer all of our questions. It tells us all we need to know, but it doesn't tell us all there is to know.

Thankfully, you don't have to take this journey alone. You not only have us to walk beside you as you go through these lessons, but more importantly, you have the Holy Spirit whom Jesus promised would be there every step of the way to teach and to guide you.

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Dr. Linda SmallwoodQuestions/Comments?
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