Jesus has become a popular figure in American culture. Few people in America today could claim that they never have heard of the man named Jesus. Writers write about him, singers sing about him, and many profess to follow him. He even makes appearances on television shows and movies. He serves as the center of the liturgy in just about every Protestant and Catholic church. However, in my own study of the Gospels which document the life and work of Jesus, it appears that the common perception of Jesus is much different than the Jesus described in God's Word. Many churches and denominations that place Jesus as the center in their worship services and life are not worshiping the same Jesus that we discover in the Bible.
Not Merely A Great Moral Teacher
A popular view of Jesus is to regulate Him to a great moral teacher who provides instructions for how man should live his life. While it is true that much wisdom can be gleaned from Jesus' teachings, the Bible goes so much further in its description of him. The Jesus found in the Bible is so much more than merely a "great moral teacher." He is the Messiah, the "Anointed One, the "Son of God." Anyone who reads the Gospels cannot deny this. Matthew opens up his gospel highlighting Jesus' supernatural birth. He indicates that Jesus was the son of Mary but not Joseph by using the feminine singular pronoun, hes (whom in English) (Matthew 1:16). Had he intended to acknowledge Joseph as Jesus' biological father, he would have used a plural pronoun that would possibly be masculine in gender since the rules of Greek grammar demand that a pronoun match the noun it replaces in both gender and number. He explicitly states that it was before they came together that she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18). The angel informed Joseph that the Child who has been conceived in her [Mary] is of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20). Matthew identifies Jesus' birth to be the fulfillment of the prophet in Isaiah of a virgin having a son that would be referred to as Immanuel (Matthew 1:22-23) and that he was not knowing her (a euphemism for sexual intercourse) until after Jesus was born (Matthew 1:25). This was no mere man but the Son of God.
The recurring theme in John's Gospel is that Jesus is God. In his opening prologue, he states that the Word was God (John 1:1). Throughout the book, he emphasizes the many "I Am" statements of Jesus (John 4:26; 6:20, 35, 41, 48, 51; 8:12, 18, 24, 28, 58; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25; 13:19; 14:6; 15:1, 5; 18:5, 6, 8). The phrase ego eimi (I Am in English) spoken often by Jesus was more than just Him describing Himself. In uttering this phrase, He was indicating that He was God, the great I Am Who revealed Himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14. God said to Moses, "I Am Who I Am" ('ehyeh 'eser 'ehyeh); and He said, "Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, 'I Am ('ehyeh) has sent me to you.' " God's name in Hebrew, Yahweh (identified in English translations as LORD), is similar to the verb, hayah (to be), used in this verse. The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, translates 'ehyeh (I Am) as ego eimi. The Jews of Jesus' day certainly understood this connection as they picked up stones to throw at Him for blasphemy after He declared Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am (ego eimi) (John 8:58-59). When the soldiers came to arrest Jesus in the garden, they fall prostrate when He states I am (ego eimi) (John 18:4-6). This falling was a common occurrence in the Old Testament when anyone found himself in the presence of God. John clearly desires for his readers to walk away from reading his gospel with the knowledge that Jesus is God in the flesh. He even stated that this was his purpose for writing about Jesus. but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name (John 20:31). Someone who follows a Jesus who is only a moral teacher does not follow the true Jesus of the Bible Who is the Son of God.
Not A Crusader for Physical Peace
Another popular conception of Jesus is that He is a pacifist that opposes all war. Followers of this Jesus heavily protest any and every war and demand that they all cease. They become militant and "fight" for the end of war at all cost. However, the Jesus of the Bible does not discuss war much at all and in the few times that He does, He gives a neutral judgment of it. He only tells His disciples the reality that there will be wars and rumors of wars before the time of tribulation that is to come (Matthew 24:6). The only instruction that He gave to His disciples pertaining to this truth is to See that you are not frightened, for these things must take place, but that is not yet the end. He also used war as an example for considering the cost of discipleship and the necessity of giving up oneself to follow Christ (Luke 14:31-33). Again, He makes no judgment call pertaining to war at all. Nowhere does Jesus explicitly state or imply that "all war is sin." Had He done so, He would have called His Father a sinner as the Old Testament portrays God as ordaining (Isaiah 10:5-12), commanding (Numbers 31:1-2; 1 Samuel 15:3), and even fighting wars (Joshua 10:10-11; Judges 7:22). Instead, Jesus' focus was on His Kingdom which He introduced during His first advent and which will be a physical reality when He establishes it upon His return. He told Pilate that My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not from here (John 18:36). He instructed His disciples to pray that God's kingdom would come (Matthew 6:10) and for them to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). The focus Jesus had and the focus He commands His followers to have is on the Kingdom of God and not the Kingdom of Man. A follower of the Jesus found in the Bible, while living in the Kingdom of Man, will be focused on spreading the gospel which serves as the means God uses to bring people into the Kingdom of God. Those who are laboring endlessly to transform society and create a peaceful government in Jesus' name have crafted a Jesus who is focused on the Kingdom of Man and not the Kingdom of God as the biblical Jesus.
Not Tolerant and Accepting
Many people view Jesus as being tolerant of any lifestyle and accepting of any path one may take. This conception of Jesus pictures a man holding his arms wide open to welcome any and everyone. The only problem he ever has is with those who are not as tolerant and accepting as he is. These are the ones who are classified as "judgmental." However, such a Jesus cannot be found anywhere in the Gospels. The Jesus described in the Gospel accounts did not tolerate sin but called for everyone to repent of their sin. According to Mark, the first statement that Jesus made in the beginning of His official ministry was The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15). Even with the woman caught in adultery, Jesus did not forget about her sin. He did not condemn her for her sin but certainly did not condone it either. Instead, He commanded her to Go. From now on sin no more (John 8:11). Jesus also was not tolerant with the self-righteousness and hypocrisy of the Pharisees but constantly pointed it out about them (Matthew 6:5; 23:1-33; Luke 5:29-32; 12:1; 15:1-32; 16:14-15; 18:9-14). This was a group He did not welcome with open arms but instead chastised.
The Jesus found in Scripture is nowhere near as accepting as the more popular Jesus heard around every street corner. He did not accept half-hearted allegiance but demanded that those who would follow Him must deny himself, and take up his cross (Matthew 16:24). He did not accept the rich young man who inquired about how to acquire eternal life because the man would not let go of the wealth that he so tightly held to and worshiped (Matthew 19:16-22/Mark 10:17-22/Luke 18:18-23). Jesus certainly did not accept the practice of the money changers in the Temple when He drove them out with a whip (Matthew 21:12-13/Mark 11:15-17/Luke 19:45/John 2:13-17)! He also did not accept any other avenue to get to God but stated that I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6). In the original Greek, each of these nouns (way, truth, and life) have a definite article which makes it clear that Jesus claims that He is the "one" or "only" way, the "one" or "only" truth, and the "one" or "only" life instead of "a" way, "a" truth, and "a" life which would communicate one of many. This means that the Jesus of the Bible does not accept the Buddha, Muhammad, Krishna, or one's own righteousness as means to get to God the Father. He is the sole and only way to God.
Not Solely Concerned About Man's Physical Well-Being
Yet another Jesus has as his primary concern the feeding and taking care of the poor. This Jesus instructs his follows to take care of the physical needs of the less fortunate of the world and may not even mention their spiritual condition at all. He mostly talks about the necessity of "making a difference" in the world. While the Jesus revealed in the Bible does care about the poor and calls His followers to do the same (Matthew 19:21; 25:31-45), His primary concern is with their spiritual plight. In His discussion with the woman at the well, Jesus looked past her physical need for literal water and instead told her of her need for the living water that only He could give. Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:13-14). Even after meeting the physical need of the 5,000 around the Sea of Galilee with the miraculous multiplication of bread, Jesus later instructs them to not seek Him for more physical sustenance but instead to look to Him for the spiritual bread that will never wear out. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you (John 6:27).
The Jesus of the Bible's mission was to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10) and not to meet one's physical needs. Throughout the Gospels we find a seeking Savior who confronts sinners about their sins and calls them to believe and follow Him instead of a social worker going around feeding and clothing the poor. In fact, the salvation of sinners is His namesake. Jesus' name in Aramaic, Yeshua, literally means Yahweh saves or Yahweh is salvation. The angel who appeared to Joseph in a dream concerning Jesus' birth explicitly states salvation as the reason for this name to be given to the baby. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). Following a Jesus whose primary concern is anything other than the salvation of lost souls is following a different Jesus than the One presented in the Bible.
The One True Jesus
Only one Jesus saves. He must be recognized as the Son of God who gave His life as a substitute for the sins of those who would believe in Him as described in Scripture. Salvation is only found in the Jesus portrayed in the Bible. Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am (ego eimi), you will die in your sins (John 8:24). Any other conception of Jesus is a false one and while he may bring comfort to those who follow him, he does not have the power to save them from God's wrath that is upon them due to their sins (John 3:36; Romans 1:18).
Many may talk about Jesus and even worship him, but the real question is, which Jesus?
Soli Deo Gloria