Who was Jesus? Few will dispute that a man named Jesus lived 2,000 years ago and that He was a great teacher who impacted the world from His time forward.
He made a claim that was breathtaking in its audacity—that He was the very Son of God. For much of His lifetime He commanded only a small following, people who believed that claim and considered Him their promised Deliverer and King. Many others later came to believe that He was the Son of God as a result of the testimony of those followers.
Yet during His time the religious authorities rejected Him as the Son of God. Many of His statements were so contrary to their teachings and traditions that they opposed Him and eventually succeeded in having Him put to death.
Likewise, the local Roman authorities also saw Him as a threat and became complicit in His execution, being the ones who actually carried it out. The religions of His day opposed the growth of His teachings and used unlawful and violent means to try to destroy the Church He founded. The government of Rome also came to vigorously persecute the followers of this Jewish teacher from Galilee.
Controversy about Jesus continues
Today Jesus remains a controversial figure. The record of Jesus’ life as recorded in the Gospel accounts has come into question in many ways. For example, the Gospel writers presented the miracles of Jesus as supernatural. Today, however, many rationalize them away as a normal function of nature misunderstood at the time, or they simply dismiss them altogether as fables.
Yet another and more modern reconstruction of the true Jesus appears in books and movies about His life. For example, most people have come to accept a popular likeness of Jesus far different from the way He really looked 2,000 years ago. These portrayals give an inaccurate picture of Christ’s humanity. Such movies as The Last Temptation of Christ and the stage play Jesus Christ Superstar, along with countless television productions, have left a lasting impression on our minds and in the process distorted, as we will see, the true historical Jesus.
Of course, one can easily point to variations in the beliefs and practices of those who’ve claimed to be Jesus’ followers down through the centuries and rightfully ask the questions, “Who is the real Jesus, anyway? And why should I want to follow Him?”
Certainly if you take His statements as recorded by His first-century disciples literally, and then you consider all that has happened since, you may well perceive that most of those who have professed to follow Jesus over the centuries actually haven’t—and the same is true today.
Yet you might conclude that this is only to be expected—that Jesus taught nice but impractical ideas, things that can’t really work in the real world. Then again, perhaps the old saying, “the trouble with Christianity is that it has never been tried,” has a lot of truth to it. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Jesus I like, but I don’t know about His followers.”
Discovering the real Jesus
What is the real story? Can the true picture of Jesus emerge after 2,000 years of differing views? Who should we believe as we try to find it?
To know the real Jesus would include the fact that what He really taught, and what He really did, is essential for eternal life. Praying to His Father, Jesus said, “This is eternal life: to know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3 John 17:3And this is life eternal, that they might know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
American King James Version×, Revised English Bible, emphasis added throughout).
Did Jesus do what the records show? Was He—is He—really who He claimed to be? Can it be proved historically? Or are we left to simply accept it on blind faith?
And then perhaps the most important question: Does it really matter?
Let’s put it this way: If the story of Jesus is a myth, if the reported events of His life along with His claims and teachings are the fabrication of a small group of conspirators, then it certainly doesn’t matter. We are then left to devise the meaning of human life from our own imaginations.
But if Jesus Christ is who He says He was—the Son of God who came to earth to live as a human being, who died at the hands of fellow human beings and who was raised from the dead three days and three nights later—then that changes everything.
For this one single event—God living and dying as a man—then becomes the most amazing event in the entire history of humanity.
It puts all of us in a situation that requires our full attention—because it leaves us ultimately accountable for how we choose to respond.
Can we know? This booklet seeks to address and answer the major questions that intelligent, reasoning people naturally ask in trying to understand Jesus Christ—the real story.