The Greatest Man of All Time
WHOM would you pick as the greatest man who ever lived? Noah, who survived the Flood and became forefather to everyone now alive? (Genesis 7:1, 21, 22; 9:18, 19) Nebuchadnezzar, the ancient world ruler and builder of the splendid city that he called Babylon the Great? (Daniel 4:28-30) Perhaps Alexander the Great, noted even in Bible prophecy for his exploits? (Daniel 8:5-8, 21-22) Or what about Julius Caesar, the famous Roman ruler?
Within 45 years of the death of the Caesar just mentioned, a child named Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Did he become the greatest man of all time? About a hundred years ago, the reference work The Historians’ History of the World observed: “The historical result of [Jesus’] activities was more momentous, even from a strictly secular standpoint, than the deeds of any other character of history. A new era, recognised by the chief civilisations of the world, dates from his birth.”
To this day, interest in Jesus Christ remains intense. A few years ago, the prominent U.S. newsmagazines Time, Newsweek, and U.S.News and World Report all featured cover stories about him at the same time. And, if anything, such interest in Jesus seems to have increased. “His spirit is alive in movies, music and fashion,” noted the Toronto Star newspaper in 2004. “He has made it into our pantheon of heroes.”
Strangely, however, in the not-too-distant past, some argued that Jesus never existed. Bruno Bauer (1809-82) was a prominent teacher who made such a claim. One of his students was Karl Marx. Recently, Robert E. Van Voorst, in his book Jesus Outside the New Testament, wrote: “Marx would incorporate Bauer’s ideas of the mythical origins of Jesus into his ideology, and official Soviet literature and other Communist propaganda later spread this claim.”
Today, though, few deny that Jesus really lived. In fact, there is very little about which there is more agreement than that he was a real and very important person. The heading of a Wall Street Journal editorial in December 2002 stated: “Science Can’t Ignore Jesus.” Its writer concluded: “Most scholars, barring the stray atheist, have already accepted Jesus of Nazareth as a historical person.”
But Jesus was much more than just a historical person. “It would require much exotic calculation,” Time magazine reported, “to deny that the single most powerful figure—not merely in these two millenniums but in all human history—has been Jesus of Nazareth.” It added: “A serious argument can be made that no one else’s life has proved remotely as powerful and enduring as that of Jesus.”
Still, the questions remain: Who really was he? From where did he come? What was his purpose on earth? And why is it so important that we know everything that we can about him?