On that fateful day when Jesus' physical life hung in the balance, the people of Jerusalem had an opportunity to ask for the release of either Jesus or Barabbas, a convicted felon. On the surface, there was an appearance of fairness. Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, was going to let the people of Jerusalem decide who should receive a pardon.
Tragically, both Jesus and the citizens of that ancient city were the victims of an effective and deadly campaign. The religious leaders had skillfully devised their plan to eliminate the one who was exposing their hypocrisy and undermining their privileged position in the minds of the populace. They were angry, and from their perspective they were justified in taking action.
Earlier, one of them had suggested that it might be necessary for one man to die for the good of the nation (John 11:50-51). It sounded so noble and patriotic.
But most of the people had no idea what was really going on and what was coming.
Then, after Jesus' arrest and illegal trial, which they held at night so the populace wouldn't see or hear what transpired, the efforts of the chief priests and elders took on increased intensity. They "persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus" (Matthew 27:20).
At the end of the day, the religious leaders had won. The crowd had been manipulated, and Jesus had been put to death by crucifixion. But eventually, the truth came out.
Today, people know that Jesus of Nazareth was put to death over jealousy and false charges. But what most don't know is that Jesus' human life wasn't the only thing lost. Over time, Jesus was also robbed of His identity. The result is that many now unknowingly worship a counterfeit Jesus and believe an altered gospel.
The same campaign to distort Jesus and His message continues today, and it is quite possible that you—like the citizens of first-century Jerusalem—are also misled by this deception. You need to know the rest of the story!
A total makeover of His identity
Modern identity theft has become a worldwide problem affecting an estimated 3 percent of citizens in the United States every year, plus similarly large numbers of people in other countries. Thieves know no national boundaries.
Today when a thief steals a person's private information, it is quite common for him to use this data to get a driver's license and/or additional documentation with his own picture and address. This gives the thief the appearance of legitimacy for all kinds of additional theft, which can even include taking out loans in the victim's name.
Those who stole Jesus' identity followed a similar process. Over time, Jesus received a total makeover that altered His look, changed His birthday and blurred His cultural background.
Consider Jesus' appearance. When people think of Jesus today, many picture a long-haired, effeminate-looking man walking around with a halo over His head. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. The real Jesus had no halo—these are simply artists' inventions—and He looked like the other Jewish men of the first century.
History tells us that the men at that time had short, cropped hair. The Jews of the first century considered it a shameful practice for a man to have long hair. Reflecting this perspective, Paul reasoned with members of the church in Corinth saying, "Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him?" (1 Corinthians 11:14).
Of course, short hair on men was also quite common in the other leading cultures of the first century. Statues and coins from that time show Greek and Roman men with similar haircuts. The fact that Jesus had short hair like the other Jewish men is what made it possible for Him on two different occasions to disappear into the crowd (Luke 4:28-30; John 8:59).
Even though people were trying to kill Him, Jesus got away because He looked like everyone else. Long hair, a halo around His head or a soft, feminine appearance would have been a dead giveaway.
The Bible tells us that Jesus was known to be a "carpenter" (Mark 6:3), the Greek word tekton here actually meaning a builder or artisan involved in major construction (such as stone masonry), and that He hung out with commercial fishermen. As such, He undoubtedly spent a lot of time in the outdoors and was a man's man. He simply didn't appear as so many artists have mistakenly presented Him.
A new birthday that conflicts with the Bible record
In addition to a new look, Jesus was also given a new birthday. Dec. 25 was selected to match up with the day pagans celebrated as the birthday of the sun god. Religious leaders thought this date would help people leave paganism for Christianity. After the transition, it was assumed that the celebration would be dropped.
Of course, this never occurred. Christmas is now one of the biggest celebrations of the year. To many, celebrating Christmas is now a critically important part of worshipping God. They simply can't imagine a Christian not honoring Jesus' birth.
But the facts show that Jesus couldn't have been born on Dec. 25 because of two key events recorded in Luke 2. First, a Roman census was taking place (verses 1-6), and this would never have been conducted in the winter when it was difficult to travel. Second, the shepherds were in the fields watching their flocks by night at the time of Jesus' birth (verses 7-8). Since December is cold and rainy in Judea, the shepherds wouldn't have wanted to stay with their flocks in the open fields but would likely have kept them in shelters at this time of year.
Scholars who carefully consider all the evidence of Luke's account realize that it is most likely that Jesus was born in the autumn. A careful study of the birth of John the Baptist and the account showing that John was born six months before Christ (Luke 1:26, 36) indicates that Jesus was likely born in September or early October. The popular idea that Jesus was born on Dec. 25 is simply a compromise with paganism, says William Walsh in his book The Story of Santa Klaus.
Jewish lifestyle obscured
The new, revised Jesus known by most today has largely been stripped of His Jewish background and culture. Even though the Bible clearly states, "It is evident that our Lord arose from Judah" (Hebrews 7:14), most claiming to worship Him today are uncomfortable with—if not outright hostile toward—His Jewish background.
Many simply don't realize that Jesus lived a life that included regularly going to the synagogue on Saturday, the weekly Sabbath (Luke 4:16), observing the biblical Holy Days (Leviticus 23; Luke 2:41; Matthew 26:17; John 7:2, 10) and not eating pork or shellfish (Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14).
Those who know of Jesus' lifestyle commonly think that He deemed it too harsh and demanding and that He lived by it in place of us so no one would ever have to follow its requirements again. But Jesus never indicated that He was now rejecting the culture in which He had lived or that He wanted His followers to reject the biblical instruction regarding these practices.
After Jesus' death, His disciples continued to follow His lifestyle, and they taught new believers to do the same. Paul said, "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1). When Paul traveled, he continued to worship God on Saturdays (Acts 13:5, 14; 16:13; 17:2; 18:4), just as Jesus had done.
When the gentiles (non-Israelites) of the city of Antioch wanted to hear Paul's words, they assembled with the Jews the next Sabbath (Acts 13:42-44). Instead of accepting the clear biblical record, many have embraced the false argument that Paul taught the gentiles to meet on Sunday instead of Saturday. It's commonly assumed that the day of worship was changed to honor the day of Jesus' resurrection (another falsehood since Jesus was resurrected on Saturday evening around sunset).
The hostility toward God's seventh-day Sabbath was clearly evident in the Roman Catholic Church's decision several centuries later to establish Sunday as the weekly day of worship. In explanation of the change, church leaders plainly said they wanted to separate the church from anything Jewish. They declared as anathema (separated or cut off from the church) anyone who "Judaized" by observing the seventh-day Sabbath.
In addition to observing the Sabbath, Jesus also observed the biblical Holy Days. He undoubtedly accompanied His parents "every year" to Jerusalem to observe "the Feast of the Passover" (Luke 2:41), and He continued to observe the biblical days of worship throughout His ministry (Matthew 26:17-19; Luke 22:14-15). Jesus' followers observed these same "feasts of the Lord" (Leviticus 23:4) and taught believers to do the same.
Toward the end of the first century, Jesus' disciple John wrote, "He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked" (1 John 2:6). So he, too, taught believers to live their lives as Jesus had done. How ironic it is that anyone actually following Jesus' lifestyle today is thought to be unchristian. Such thinking simply reflects the profound success of those who designed today's counterfeit Jesus.
The misguided teaching of today that advises people to reject Jesus' example is most often justified by a faulty assumption that Paul changed the gospel—the message of Jesus—because of direct teaching from Jesus mentioned in the book of Galatians. But while it is certainly true that Paul received direct training from our Lord, that training did not change the gospel message.
As Paul outlined what he taught to the Corinthians, he clearly said that his teaching was the same as that of the other apostles. His exact words, "Therefore, whether it was I or they [the other apostles], so we preach and so you believed" (1 Corinthians 15:11), show that he was not a maverick with a different gospel.
A perverted message about grace
While changing Jesus' appearance and cultural background has led to much confusion, the mistaken teaching regarding His expectations of those who follow Him has been the most damaging result of His stolen identity.
Instead of living in accordance with God's laws about such things as the Sabbath, Holy Days and food laws, people are mistakenly told that anyone who follows Jesus' example today is rejecting God's grace and practicing legalism—that is, trying to earn his salvation by works.
While the Bible clearly teaches that salvation is by grace through faith rather than works (Ephesians 2:8-9), it is also clear that "we are...created in Christ Jesus for good works" (verse 10). Indeed, it will be "those who do His commandments" who will be granted access to the tree of life representing eternal life (Revelation 22:14).
Christ's own words also show that there is no conflict between grace and obedience. Jesus emphatically stated: "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" (Matthew 7:21-23).
Jesus still expects us to obey His commandments. Simply put, a genuine relationship with Christ will always result in a changed life.
On another occasion Jesus said, "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15). But rather than follow Jesus' teaching, false ministers in the first century began telling others that it was no longer necessary to obey God's laws. Their teaching was a perversion of God's grace. They falsely said that God's grace covered everything and that He expected nothing in return.
This misguided teaching offered all benefits and no expectations. Jude described these false teachers as ones "who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness [license to sin] and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ" (Jude 4, New American Standard Bible). Sadly, this mistaken message still poses as Christianity today.
When we fully comprehend Jude's observation, we note that God's wonderful gift of grace had been cheapened and besmirched by misguided teaching saying that it was okay to sin. The result of this sordid process was that God and the real Lord Jesus Christ were denied. The same result continues today when people blindly accept a counterfeit Jesus and fraudulent grace.
Recovering from the damage
If you've been a victim of this bogus, inaccurate, counterfeit message of Christ, you can recover. To any who will repent—truly feel sorrow for his or her disobedience and change to a life of obedience—God is quick to show mercy and "abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 55:7).
Jesus truly wants to have a relationship with you (2 Peter 3:9), but it must be on His terms. If it isn't, you're just kidding yourself and wallowing in deception. It isn't comfortable to change when we find we are in error, yet we have no choice but to change if we want to receive eternal life. As Jude noted, we must "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered" (Jude 3).
In one of His final prayers to the Father prior to His crucifixion, Jesus noted that "this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John 17:3). In order to truly live forever, we have to know the real Jesus and do what He says.
The fact that you have read this far indicates that you're serious about your relationship with God and could benefit from a better understanding of the real Jesus and His authentic teaching. Now that you know that much of what you've been told about Jesus is false, we recommend that you read our free booklet Jesus Christ: The Real Story.
Don't miss out on this authentic information that offers priceless, life-changing benefits! Don't follow a cleverly designed myth—a fictional character without a biblical basis. Be one who understands Jesus' true identity and responds to His calling. If you do, your life now and in the future will never be the same! GN