Why think that (2) … Jesus claimed to be something special

As discussed in the previous post, Jesus is mentioned here and there by some non-Christians, like the Jewish historian Josephus and the Roman historian Tacitus. But our main source of information is that provided by the early Christians themselves. This evidence comes in two main types. There are the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John), which are conventionally dated from around 70 AD but may well be earlier. Then there are letters that early Christians sent to individuals or churches. There are a number of these in the Bible, many of which were probably written before the gospels. Taken together these provide us with a lot of information about Jesus and who he claimed to be.

First page of the Gospel of Mark, by Sargis Pi...

Gospel sources – First page of the Gospel of Mark, by Sargis Pitsak, a Medieval Armenian scribe and miniaturist (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We should comment at this point about the way we’re using these sources. Though they come from the Bible, they are also historical sources and we’re going to treat them in that way. So at this point we’re not too bothered about whether every last detail of the gospels is correct or not. Nor need we be concerned about whether these documents also contain messages from God. We can leave such issues till later. For now we can just look these documents for what they are – ancient documents, which contain information about Jesus, written by people who were in a position to know. So what do these sources say about who Jesus claimed to be?

Well, the most obvious one is that Jesus was called “Christ” (or more properly, the Christ) – that’s where the name “Christians” come from. “Christ” is the Greek word meaning “anointed” , equivalent of the Hebrew word “Messiah”. The concept of being “anointed” refers to the ceremony by which someone was made king in ancient Israel. (There is a good example of this in the Old Testament when David is anointed as king – see 1 Samuel 16). By the time of Jesus the kingdom of Israel had long since been destroyed and the Jews were essentially living under Roman rule. But the Old Testament prophets had predicted that the royal line of the ancient kings of Israel would be restored and that there would be a king again. Many Jews living at the time of Jesus expected the Messiah to be someone who would lead them to overthrow the Romans so they could be an independent nation again. What is interesting about Jesus is that, though he claimed to be the Messiah – the promised king, he did not attempt to lead an armed rebellion against Rome. So whilst Jesus was claiming to be a king, he was not the king they were expecting.

The most common phrase Jesus used to describe himself as “Son of Man”. That may sound like an odd way to describe yourself, and it was even at the time. In the language of the day – Aramaic – the expression “son of man” was used to refer to humanity in general. But that’s not the way Jesus uses it. He doesn’t describe himself as a son of man but as the Son of Man. So what was he getting at? The Old Testament prophet Daniel presents a picture of human history, where nations are represented by vicious beasts (Daniel 7). But this succession of beast-nations does not last forever. At the end of the vision, a court is held with God seated as judge. Power and authority is taken away from the beasts and given to a new character who is described as “one like the son of man”. This character receives a kingdom from God that will last forever. So when Jesus describes himself as the Son of Man, he is claiming to be the future king, the one who will receive a kingdom from God. But not a kingdom like the human kingdoms that preceded it. Instead this is good kingdom that will last forever.

Jesus is often described as being the Son of God. And frequently Jesus presents himself as having a unique father-son relationship with God. He is not saying that he is a child of God in the sense that all God’s creatures are his children. He is claiming that he has a relationship with God that is entirely unique. The gospels include the stories about Jesus’ birth, whereby his mother, Mary, becomes pregnant despite being a virgin. According to the gospels Jesus had no biological father (though no doubt Joseph cared for Jesus as his own son). So in a very real sense God was Jesus’ father. But being the Son of God is not just about parentage. Jesus claimed to have a very special relationship with God. The gospel writers describe Jesus has having special power to perform miracles, special wisdom to teach people God’s ways and special authority to forgive sins. Jesus was not simply claiming to be a prophet or holy man, but God’s special representative on earth.

Lastly, Jesus took the remarkable step of claiming that he was going to die. And not in battle, or by murder, but that he was going to die to free people from sin. He says:

The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45)

Westvorhalle der Stiftsbasilika St. Vitus, Ell...

The King of the Jews (INRI) Nailed to death – Westvorhalle der Stiftsbasilika St. Vitus, Ellwangen (Jagst) Kreuzaltar, Hans und Matthäus Schamm (Ottobeuren) zugeschrieben, um 1610; detail: Christushaupt und INRI (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And the early Christians reflecting on the death of Jesus also recognised it as a special death. A preacher named Paul wrote to a church explaining the things he had learnt from talking to those who knew Jesus. He writes:

What I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3)

Now Jesus did die. He was executed. He was nailed to a cross by Roman soldiers and died gasping for air. He died the death of a criminal. He should have been forgotten by history. But his followers understood his death differently. This was not the last disgrace of a failed prophet. This was the turning point of history. When God’s representative on earth made the ultimate sacrifice to so that people could be forgiven for the things they’d done wrong and start a new life.

So that’s what Jesus claimed about who he was and what he would achieve. But is it true? Was Jesus a future king? Was Jesus God’s representative on earth? And did Jesus’ death provide a way for us to change our relationship with God? Well there is one more thing that the early Christians claimed about Jesus: that he rose from the dead – that he stopped being dead and came alive again. And if that is true then we’re no longer dealing with the claims of a human man but with a moment when God intervened in history to change the world.

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 Preceding: Why think that (1) … Jesus existed?

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  • Sunday (August 24): “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (shechina.wordpress.com)
    At an opportune time Jesus tested his disciples with a crucial question: “Who do the people say that I am and who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:13). Jesus was widely recognized in Israel as a mighty man of God, even being compared with the greatest of the prophets, John the Baptist, Elijah, and Jeremiah. Peter, always quick to respond, exclaimed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God.
  • Jesus is the Messiah (darnellbarkman.wordpress.com)
    ‘Christ’ in early Christianity was a title, and only gradually became an alternative proper name for Jesus. In practice ‘Messiah’ is mostly restricted to the notion, which took various forms in ancient Judaism, of the coming King who would be David’s true heir, through whom YAHWEH [The Creator God’s proper name] would rescue Israel from pagan enemies.
  • Christianity Fast Facts (wdsu.com)
    Followers of the Christian religion base their beliefs on the life, teachings, and death of Jesus Christ.Christians believe in one God that created heaven, earth, and the universe.
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    On the third day after his crucifixion, Jesus Christ arose from the dead.
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    The first Christians were Jews who came to believe Jesus was the Messiah. Gentiles (non-Jews) also made up a large majority of its followers, as is the case today.
  • Secular Israel vs Biblical Israel: Are they the Same? (endtimesprophecyreport.wordpress.com)
    With the Gaza War resuming in earnest, now seems to be the time for a few observations about the secular state of Israel, biblical Israel, Jews, the synagogue of Satan and the deliberate Corporate (and other) Media smokescreens which obscure these subjects.
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    Of course, the largest mistake–and there are quite a few in the linked piece, which is relatively short–is that one cannot separate the Jews as a people from the actions taken by the leadership of the secular state of Israel.  But we know that is a lie.
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    We’re commanded to warn about deception; that deception includes the secular, man-created state of Israel which is NOT biblical Israel. There are observant Jews in Israel.  They are often the victims of violence. God promises He will save His remnant–and He will.  However, make no mistake: secular Israel is not biblical Israel.  Those who confuse the two will reap the unfortunate harvest of deception.  The Christian ignores Jesus’ clear warnings in Revelation 2:9 and 3:9 at his own risk.
  • Matthew 1-7 (apologistmike.wordpress.com)
    The gospel of Matthew was written by an eyewitness to the ministry of Jesus. He was Jewish, which accounts for his emphasis on the Jewish scriptures in the work, and he was a tax collector for the Roman government. This would have enabled him to write effectively. Many early fathers such as Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian and Origen recognized Matthew as the author of the gospel.
  • FFOZ TV Review: Messiah (mymorningmeditations.com)
    The term Christ is one of the most important terms in all of Scripture and yet is seldom fully understood by followers of Jesus. In episode two we will explore the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures and learn about the Jewish people’s expectation of the coming messiah. We will study the Hebrew Scriptures and learn that they speak of a coming anointed one, a king who will come to redeem mankind, defeat Israel’s enemies, and set up his kingdom.
  • Simple Truth: Jesus is not the Messiah (leavingjesus.wordpress.com)
    “Christ” is the Greek word for “Messiah”
    “Messiah” is the transliteration of a Hebrew word that means “anointed”
  • “The Christ is the Son of David” (worryisuseless.wordpress.com)
    Why did Jesus question the Jews on the claim that their Messiah or Christ would be the son of David? After all the New Testament makes clear that Jesus himself is a direct descendant from the line of David’s throne (Romans 1:3, 2 Timothy 2:8, Matthew 1:1-17, Luke 3:23-38). Jesus posed the question to make his hearers understand that the Messiah is more than the son of David. Jesus makes his point in dramatic fashion by quoting from one of David’s prophetic psalms, Psalm 110: The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I put your enemies under your feet. How can the son be the lord of his father?
  • Michele Bachmann Waiting to be Annointed Messiah (politicususa.com)
    What’s in a messiah, you ask? Like many terms it is problematic. Contrary to what many people may think, despite the origins of our word messianism is not unique to Judaism. In fact, in historical terms we can’t even speak of “Judaism” singular because there were in fact many Judaisms with different ways of life and different worldviews.[1] So not only is there not one Jewish idea (or Christian idea) of what a messiah is but not all ideas of messiahs are Jewish (or Christian).

 

3 thoughts on “Why think that (2) … Jesus claimed to be something special

  1. Pingback: Why think that (3) … Jesus rose from the dead | Stepping Toes

  2. Pingback: I can’t believe that … (3) miracles can happen | Stepping Toes

  3. Pingback: A season for truth and peace | Belgian Ecclesia Brussel – Leuven

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