“Who Are Men Saying That I Am?”

IT IS the Christmas season again. People around the globe choose to celebrate a birthday. Whose birthday? That of the Son of God or simply that of a devout Jew intent on reforming the religion that prevailed in his area in the first century? Was it the birthday of a champion of the poor, a rebel who posed such a threat to the Roman Empire that he was executed, or perhaps a sage who stressed self-knowledge and an inner kingdom of wisdom? You have reason to wonder, ‘Really, who was Jesus Christ?’

Jesus himself was interested in people’s response to that question. “Who are men saying that I am?” he once asked his disciples. (Mark 8:27) Why the question? Many had already stopped following him. Others were apparently confused and disappointed after he had rejected their efforts to make him king. Furthermore, when challenged by his enemies, Jesus did not provide a sign from heaven to prove who he was. So in answering that question, what did his apostles say about his identity? They noted some of the views  prevalent among the people: “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:13, 14) They left unmentioned the many critical epithets then circulating in Palestine about Jesus​—blasphemer, charlatan, false prophet, even madman.

The Many Faces of Jesus

If Jesus posed the same question today, he might even rephrase it: “Who are scholars saying that I am?” Once again, the answers would probably come down to this: There are many different opinions. “Jesus has been a horse that different people have ridden in a lot of different directions,” said David Tracy of the University of Chicago. Over the last century, scholars have employed a complex array of sociological, anthropological, and literary methods as they have attempted to formulate answers to the question of who Jesus really was. In the end, whom do they see behind the face of Jesus?

Some scholars continue to hold that the Jesus of history was an eschatological Jewish prophet calling for repentance. However, they stop short of calling him Son of God, Messiah, and Redeemer. Most question the Biblical account of his heavenly origin and his resurrection. To others, Jesus was just a man who through his exemplary life and teachings inspired several faiths that eventually were enveloped into Christianity. And as noted in Theology Today, still others see Jesus as “a cynic, a wandering sage, or a peasant mystic; a community organizer, a hippie poet jabbing at the establishment, or a street smart provocateur who raps his way through the seething, impoverished, socially volatile villages of backwater Palestine.”

There are also more unusual views. The image of a black Jesus is popping up in rap music, urban art, even dance. * Others speculate that Jesus was actually a woman. In the summer of 1993, visitors to the Orange County Fair in California saw a statue of “Christie,” a nude, female “Christ” on the cross. About the same time in New York, “Christa”​—a crucified female “Jesus”—​was on display. Both statues generated their share of controversy. And in early 1999, shoppers could find a volume “about the love [that] Boy Jesus and his dog, Angel, share with each other.” Their relationship is described as one that is “spiritually moving and shows how boy and dog are prepared to sacrifice their lives for each other.”

Does It Really Matter?

Why should you be interested in who Jesus was and is? For one thing because, to quote Napoleon, “Jesus Christ has influenced and commanded His subjects without His visible bodily presence.” By his dynamic teachings and by the way he lived, Jesus has powerfully affected the lives of billions of people for nearly two thousand years. One writer aptly noted: “All the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever were built, and all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully.”

Moreover, you need to know who Jesus was and is because he will have a direct effect on your future. You have the opportunity to become a subject of an established heavenly government​—the Kingdom of God under Jesus. Our beleaguered planet will be restored to its magnificent biodiversity and ecological balance under Jesus’ direction. Bible prophecy assures us that Jesus’ Kingdom will feed the famished, care for the poor, heal the sick, and bring the dead back to life.

You surely want to know what kind of person heads such a much-needed government. The next article will help you to gain insight into the real Jesus.


^ par. 7 Regarding the physical appearance of Jesus, see the article “What Did Jesus Look Like?,” in the December 8, 1998, issue of Awake!