To some, Jesus was a prophet, to others the Messiah or Christ, to still others, God. Whatever we make of Jesus, it is clear that he has a tremendous influence on culture and society worldwide. We simply cannot dismiss this man if we want to understand the world we live in. More importantly, we cannot dismiss Jesus if we want to have peace with God, or at least is what Jesus himself told us and what Christians have claimed for 2000 years.
Jesus is the Messiah
By Christians, Muslims, and others, Jesus is known as the “Christ” or Messiah, which are the Greek (χρίστος), Hebrew (משׁיח), and Arabic (مسيح) terms for the same thing, an anointed king. To understand what it means for Jesus to be the Messiah, we need to think a little bit about the Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh or Old Testament.
At the very beginning of the Old Testament, we are confronted by a problem. God created a good world, but those he created specially to rule that good world turned away from him. Instead, they followed their own wisdom, disobeying his commands. Because of their sin, the whole creation came under a curse: there was now pain, sadness, death, and violence. However, God promised that a day would come when Satan, the Serpent who had deceived Eve, would be crushed (Gen 3:15). Throughout the book of Genesis and the whole Torah, we are shown that this son or “offspring” would be a child of Abraham, specifically a descendent of Judah, and that he would be a king over God’s kingdom (Gen 17:6; Gen 49:10; Num 24:17). The kingdom of this son would bring blessing to the entire world (Gen 18:18). When God made the descendants of Abraham’s grandson Jacob into a nation, Israel, he promised that he would one day give them a king (Deut 17:14-20). However, before God could give them a king, they demanded a king of their own choosing, Saul. Saul did not follow God nor lead the nation into God’s blessing. However, after Saul came David, a sinful man who nevertheless loved God. God promised David that despite his sins, one of David’s sons would rule forever on God’s own throne; David’s son would be like a son to God (2 Sam 7:17, see 2 Sam 7:12-16).
The rest of the Hebrew Bible shows that none of David’s children were the promised Messiah. However, they also point to a future, greater son of David who would rule over God’s kingdom on earth. In the Psalms, we are told that this king will be both a king and priest, as David was supposed to be. We are also shown that this son of David will also be greater than David (Psalm 110:1-7). We are given small but vital details concerning the identity of this Messiah: he will come from Bethlehem (Micah 5:1), he will be born of a virgin (Isa 7:14), and he will save his people from their sins (Isa 53:11-12). Though highly favoured by God, this son of David will be servant-king; he will die a terrible death at the hands of his own people (Isa 53:1-12), and he will be buried in the tomb of a rich man (Isa 53:9).
Jesus Is Far Greater than David
Most shocking of all, we are told that the Messiah, Jesus the Christ, is the one God of Israel—the true and living God, Yahweh (יהוה). The child born of the virgin, is Immanuel, God with us (Isa 7:14). The Messiah, Immanuel, will share in the suffering of his people (Isa 8:5-10), but he will protect those who are his and stand with them (Isa 8:16-18). Notice here how it is Yahweh himself who will stand with his people and wait for Yahweh to come and accomplish salvation (Isa 8:11, 18). Yes, this child will come to save his people (Isa 9:2-5), and he will be called the Everlasting Father and Mighty God, the Prince of Peace (Isa 9:6; Psalm 45:6-9). The Mighty God will rule forever on the throne of his father David (Isa 9:7). He is identified as the “Arm of Yahweh,” God’s very power in action (Isa 53:1, 51:9).
Jesus in the New Testament
“That’s what the Old Testament says,” you may be thinking, “but would Jesus really have claimed such things about himself?” When we turn to the New Testament, Jesus and his followers who wrote the good news of his life—the four Gospels—all testify to these same things: Jesus is God with us, God himself come to save his people from their sins and rule forever over all the nations.
The Gospel of Matthew opens by telling us that Jesus is a son of David (Matt 1:1). Mark tells us that Jesus is Yahweh himself (Mark 1:1-2, Isa 40:3). John says that Jesus was the very word of creation by which God made all things in heaven and on earth (John 1:1-5, 1:14-18). The good news is that Jesus has made God known (John 1:18); he has defeated the darkness (John 1:5); he has initiated God’s kingdom on earth (Mark 1:15). Jesus is God’s own Son (Luke 1:32), ruling forever on David’s throne (Luke 1:32-33). He would save his people from their sins (Matt 1:20-25). Even the demons testify that Jesus was God himself, though they did so with fear and trembling in defeat (Matt 8:29; Mark 1:24; 5:7; see James 2:19).
What did Jesus claim? He claimed the authority to forgive sins (Matt 9:1-7), to deliver commandments with the same authority Yahweh had when he gave commandments to Israel at Mount Sinai (Matt 5:17-48). He taught with unparalleled authority (Matt 7:28-29). He called God his father (Matt 10:32-33; 11:25-30; 15:30, etc.). He identified himself with God and called on those who would seek to live perfectly to follow him as they would follow God according to the first four commandments of the Ten Commandments (Matt 19:16-22; Mark 10:17-30; Luke 18:18-30; cf. Exod 20:1-11). He claimed to be greater than David, pointing the religious leaders of his day to Psalm 110. He also identified himself with Yahweh, as pre-existing the creation and living long before Abraham was born (John 8:48-59; see John 10:30, 12:36-43).
Coming as a man, born of Mary and adopted by Joseph, Jesus came to save his people. He did so by fulfilling all righteousness—doing everything the Law commanded (Matt 3:15, Isa 53:9)—and so earning all of God’s blessings (see Lev 18:5). More importantly, he did so by dying on the Cross and rising again. Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus told his disciples that he must die, as the Scriptures had prophesied (e.g. Matt 16:21-28; Mark 8:31, Luke 9:22-27, 17:25; see Isa 53). If any turns from their sins, if they repent, and trust in Jesus Christ, they will be saved. They will be forgiven of their sins, die to the power of sin, and receive the blessings of eternal life (Mark 1:15; John 3:15-21; John 4:13-14; Rom 5:1-11, 6:1-14; Gal 3:1-29; James 2:14-26). All must believe that Jesus Christ died and was raised to life for our sins and must confess that he is Lord over all, God over all, blessed forever, amen (Rom 10:9, 9:5).
All four gospels testify that Jesus was killed by the Roman authority at the request of the Jews. Not only was he crucified (Matt 27:24-56; Mark 15:6-41; Luke 23:18-49; John 19:16-37), but he was first beaten (Luke 22:63-65), and he was stabbed on the cross to confirm he was truly dead (John 19:31-37). Once dead, he was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (Matt 27:57-61; John 19:38). Three days later, he rose again and appeared for 40 days to hundreds of witnesses before being visible carried up to heaven, where he is now seated, ruling all things until his return (1 Cor 15:1-11; Act 1:1-11; Heb 1:4).
The end of this creation will come when Jesus returns and makes all things new, living forever with his people in a new creation.