Many people these days are putting their faith in false or imaginary Christs who cannot save them. Can we uncover the real Jesus?
I have never forgotten the unusual conversation that I once had with a hitchhiker. We had not traveled very long together when I realized my rider was in some kind of a cult. He said that he would “come to power” in about 10 years and would end up being responsible for annihilating thousands, maybe millions of people. He went on and on, both amusing me and perturbing me. Finally, I turned to him and said, “So, who are you, anyway?” He looked me in the eye, paused, then said, “I am he, the 3rd Son of the Father, the Prince of Peace!”
Though this man probably hasn’t gained much of a following, the Bible does predict that in the last days, false Christs and false prophets will come and deceive many. Many people these days are putting their faith in false or imaginary Christs who cannot save them. You might meet two of these false Christs—introduced to you by the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
If a Mormon ever knocks on your door, he will bring a Jesus who is the spirit-brother of Lucifer. This Jesus is one of the billions of spirit-babies that our “Heavenly Father” and our “Heavenly Mother” brought into this universe. According to some Mormon leaders, when Jesus lived on earth he had several wives, one of whom was Mary Magdalene, but this is not official doctrine. After his death and resurrection, he came to America to preach to the Indians.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses will tell you that Jesus is Michael the Archangel, the first created being, who became a man and died on a stake instead of a cross. He was raised as a spirit-creature, becoming Michael the Archangel again, while his body was dissolved into gases.
I’m sure you recognize that these cultists have a Jesus different from the Jesus of the Bible, but can you describe the true, biblical Jesus? Many Americans cannot. One survey showed that though 80% of Americans would call Jesus the Son of God, only 40% believed that He was God—and only 40% believed He was sinless. This shows that millions of people have a mental concept of a false Christ: one who cannot save them.
It is important for all Christians to be certain that our beliefs about Jesus accurately reflect biblical truth so that we are not deceived—and so that we can introduce Him to others. So, what do we believe concerning Jesus? Our basic beliefs about Jesus could be divided into three categories, connected to three special days that we celebrate.
When I was very young, I was puzzled by a Christmas song that I heard several times on the radio. One phrase was sung over and over: “The birds and Mary had a baby boy. The birds and Mary had a baby boy. . . .” At least, that’s what I thought the song said. Actually, the words were “The virgin Mary had a baby boy.”
God’s nature and human nature had come together in the person of Jesus.
Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus to a virgin mother,1 for Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit.2 Though Jesus was human because He was born of a woman, He was also God Himself, the Creator of the world He entered. This is amazing but true: while Jesus was a baby, His mother Mary held and rocked the One who had created her.
God’s nature and human nature had come together in the person of Jesus. This is called the incarnation, which means God taking on human flesh, becoming a man.
Even Jesus’s name helps us understand who He is and why He became incarnate. The name Jesus means “The Lord saves.” He was given that name because He would “save His people from their sins.”3 Jesus was the only One who could be our Savior because He is the only person in the universe who is both fully man and fully God.
It is not hard to recognize the Jesus of the New Testament as truly human. He was conceived in a mother’s womb, grew up, learned, and developed as a man.4 He got tired, slept, was tempted, and did about everything else that a human would do—except sin. He even died. He truly identified with the human race by becoming one of us.5
If Jesus were not a man, He could not have suffered and died. If Jesus were not man, His righteous life could not take the place of our sinful life; He could not have been our substitute. If He were not a man, Jesus would not qualify to be our priest who provided an eternal salvation.6 The humanity of Jesus is an essential part of the gospel.7
The Jesus of the Bible is not simply a human, however. He is also the one infinite (limitless) God of the universe. Jesus makes this claim Himself. He said, “I and my Father are one.”8 When He said this, the Jews started to pick up stones to stone him because they understood Him to be saying that He was equal to God. Did Jesus tell them, “No, you misunderstood Me. I am not really God!”? No, Jesus accepted their interpretation of His words as accurate. He did indeed teach that He was equal to God the Father.
When Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am,”9 He was claiming to be the God of Israel, the self-existent God of the universe, who called Himself “I Am” in Exodus 3:14.10 The Jews tried to stone Him for this claim as well.11
When Jesus forgave the sins of the paralytic, He healed the man to prove that He had “power on earth to forgive sins.”14 One action was proof of the other, making it clear that Jesus had not performed the miracle of healing simply as a prophet anointed by God. Jesus had the divine authority to both forgive and heal.
He also raised Lazarus from the dead after saying, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.”15 This was another divine action accompanied by a divine claim. Only God can rightfully claim to be the “Resurrection” because it is only the power of God that can raise anyone from the dead. Jesus claimed to be this “Life-giver” and then gave Lazarus life, showing that He was who He claimed to be.16
When Jesus performed His miracles, He “manifested His glory,”17 the “glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”18 These miracles were demonstrations of God the Son’s glorious power, proving He was divine.
According to the Apostles John and Paul, Jesus created everything and holds everything together.19 Surely this could not be said of anyone but God.
If Jesus were not God, then His sacrificial death would not be of infinite value—enough for the forgiveness of the sins of the world. If He were not God, He would not have the power to save us. But because He is God, He is the way, the truth, and the life.
If we fail to see Jesus as God, we will not honor Him as God, which is something Jesus says we must do. He said that “all should honor the Son, just as they honor the Father.”20 We can’t be saved if we don’t honor both the Father and the Son as God.
Christianity is based not only on the teachings and actions of Jesus, but on the unique person of Jesus. He is not just the teacher of the message of salvation. He is Himself the Savior, and only He—the God-man—could be our Savior.
Though Jesus has all of the nature of God and all of the nature of man, He is not two persons combined. The two natures form one person in Him—in perfect harmony. Jesus is the one God-man, and every action of Jesus has to be understood in light of His full humanity and full deity. The church has always taught that the two natures in Jesus cannot be separated from one another, yet they are not mixed in a way that causes either nature to lose its characteristics.21
It may be helpful to compare the nature of Jesus to the nature of the Holy Scriptures. Like Jesus, the Bible is fully divine and fully human. Being a human book, it has the characteristics of any other human book, except that it is without mistake. Being divine, it consistently exhibits divine characteristics that no other book does.
In the same way, Jesus consistently exhibits both human and divine qualities. The fact that the Bible shows divine characteristics does not make it any less of a human book. Likewise, the fact that Jesus operates in His deity doesn’t make Him any less human. And the fact that Christ operates in His humanity doesn’t make Him any less divine.
Good Friday is the day that Jesus was crucified. On this dreadful and wonderful day, Jesus took our sins to the cross. He died as a sacrifice for our sins so that we can be forgiven.
God’s holiness and justice require that a penalty be paid for our sins. That penalty is death. Until that penalty is paid, God cannot forgive and have a relationship with sinners.22 The Jewish sacrificial system in the Old Testament was merely a picture of what the Messiah would do. “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). As Jews offered animal sacrifices to God, they were saved by faith in the God who would offer up for them the Ultimate Sacrifice in the Person of Christ. They were forgiven on the basis of what Christ would do. The benefits of the atonement23 reached back into history. If God simply forgave sin without the God-man himself taking on the penalty of sin, it would indicate that He is not just and that sin is not a gravely serious offense. But nobody could look at Jesus’ death by crucifixion and say that sin is not serious. His sacrifice provided the basis for our forgiveness.
The justice of God and the seriousness of sin required a greater sacrifice than any created thing could be.24 We have sinned against an infinite God, which brings upon us infinite guilt. That is why only Jesus could be the sacrifice. He was qualified because He is God, and because He was (and is) man. Because He is God, He was sinless and His sacrifice had infinite value. Because He was man, He could represent us and die in our place.
Jesus came to reconcile two separated parties—God and man. As the mediator, Jesus had to represent both parties at the same time. As God, He represented God to man. As man, He represented man to God. By fully representing both sides, Jesus brought man and God together. It’s as though He grasped God’s hand on one side and man’s hand on the other and pulled us back together. He did what each side had to do to bring about reconciliation.
Many people only understand Easter as the time of the Easter bunny. Once a year, this legendary rabbit mysteriously lays brightly-colored eggs, a symbol of springtime and new life. While I don’t honor the Easter bunny or Easter eggs, I am not sure that the association of Easter eggs with Easter is completely artificial, for Easter does have much to say about new life.
Jesus rose from the grave on Easter morning, the third day after He was crucified. He showed that He had power over sin, death, and the devil. He not only took our death, but conquered it with life. Because He was victorious, we can be too!
Jesus once said to the Jews, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Although the Jews thought He was referring to the temple that Herod built, John’s gospel explains that Jesus was actually referring to His body.25
All the gospels record the fact that Jesus’s tomb was empty three days after He was buried in it. The tomb was empty (except for the grave clothes) because the body itself had been raised. Jesus showed Himself to the disciples after His resurrection, saying, “Handle me, and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.”26 He was proving that He had literally, physically risen from the dead.
Jesus’ bodily resurrection demonstrated His total victory over sin and death.27 His resurrection proved that He was who He claimed to be. Thus, it also proved the truth of the gospel. People who deny that Jesus literally, bodily rose from the dead also deny the gospel.28
Jesus’s resurrection gives us the assurance that we will also be raised from the dead. Jesus promised that He would raise the dead, but that would be unbelievable unless He Himself rose.29 We will be raised to have bodies like Jesus’s glorified body.30
The resurrection shows us that the incarnation is permanent. Jesus will always be human as well as divine. God has added human nature to His own nature for eternity, in order to restore His creatures to a love relationship with Himself. Jesus, still the God-man, now intercedes for us with the Father and will someday return to take us to heaven.31
If you accept the truths we just shared about Jesus, but haven’t yet yielded to His rightful claim on your life, I would encourage you to sincerely pray this prayer:
Father, I thank You for loving me enough to send Your Son, Jesus Christ, into the world for my sake. I believe that Jesus is the sinless God-man who died and rose again so I could be forgiven of my sins and restored to a right relationship with You. I am very sorry for all the sins I have committed. I know my sins helped nail Jesus to the cross. So, right now I turn away from everything I know is wrong, and I receive Jesus into my heart and life as my Lord and Savior. Lead me from now on in Your ways. Thank you for forgiving me and giving me eternal life. I love you. Amen.
If you prayed that prayer sincerely, you can know for sure that God has heard and answered. Trust His promises. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world and that He gave his only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Through the apostle John’s first letter, God says, “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:11–13).
I urge you to get a Bible as soon as possible. Each day thoughtfully read at least one chapter. Begin with John, the fourth gospel in the New Testament part of the Bible. After you have read the Bible for a while, spend some time talking to God in prayer. Thank Him for the truth that you learned from His Word, tell Him about your concerns, problems and needs, and ask for His help and direction for your day.
Before this next Sunday, seek a church in your area where this gospel is preached and the Bible is taught as the Word of God. Plan to attend each Sunday to worship God with others, to learn from God’s Word, and to meet other Christians who can encourage you in your faith. Tell the pastor about your new faith in Christ and ask him for help in how you can grow in your new relationship with God.
Also, study the articles in the Get Answers section of this website to learn how to explain and defend your faith to others.