In 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 a victim of 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 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. December 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 December 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 December 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 rose from the grave on Saturday around sunset).
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.
To learn more about the real Jesus of Nazareth, how His message has been distorted and how He wants you to live, see the full version of this article in our sister magazine, The Good News. We also suggest that you request our free booklet Jesus Christ: The Real Story.
Are you going to follow a cleverly designed myth—a fictional character without a biblical basis—or the real Jesus Christ? Choose the real, authentic Jesus for a better life now and in the future. VT