Almost two thousand years ago Jesus asked his disciples who people said he was. The account reads as follows:
In this article, I ask, “Who do world religions say Jesus is?” I think the answers will be interesting and shed light on how we, as Christians, should be answering.
A Brief Summary of six religions
I have selected six religions, ranging from two that are thousands of years old to one less than fifty years old.
It is unknown when Hinduism started, but it dates back to more than 4,000 years. Hindus believe that god, the universe, human beings and everything else are essentially one thing. They regard their plethora of deities as emanations and manifestations representing the many facets of ultimate reality. They regard Jesus as a holy man and wise teacher and number him among their gods.
Jews trace the origin of their religion to Abraham, about 4,000 years ago. Some of their major teachers over the years have mentions in their writing of Jesus of Nazareth. They present him as born to Mary and Joseph, an itinerant teacher with many disciples, and a man who performed miracles and drove out demons. They acknowledge that he and his disciples proclaimed him to be the Jewish Messiah, but they vehemently deny the truth of this claim. They hold that Jesus did not meet the requirements or fulfil the prophecies that would qualify him as Messiah. They deny that he was the Son of God or even a legitimate prophet, for they believed that Malachi was the last of the true prophets. They reject the idea that Jesus is divine and they think the concept of more than one God (a Trinity for instance) is blasphemous.
Muslims trace their religion back to the 7th century Mohammed. They base their doctrine on his writings and respect Jesus as a prophet and wise teacher who worked miracles and healed many. They teach that he indeed ascended into Heaven and will one day return to Earth. However, these beliefs are different from Christian teaching. They hold, for instance, that Allah (God) sent Jesus to guide the descendants of Israel with a new scripture. However, they teach that the original ‘Gospel’ was lost and that the existing documents are much altered and therefore of little current value. They teach that Jesus was but one of several messengers sent by Allah but that Mohammed was the last messenger and therefore superior to all others. They teach that Jesus survived the crucifixion and did not ascend bodily into Heaven. However, when he eventually died, Allah gave him a place of honour and the mission of returning to Earth one day to ultimately validate Islam. They reject that Jesus was God, or Son of God, or a member of a Trinity.
Some Buddhists regard their belief system more as a philosophy than a religion. Gautama Buddha lived and taught in the fifth century and held that Jesus was an enlightened man and wise teacher.
Bahaullah established this religion in the 19th century promoting the essential worth of all religions and the unity of all people. To them, Jesus was a wise teacher with an aspect of divinity in that he was one of several who projected divine attributes into the world.
The New Age movement is made up of several strands of esoteric Gnosticism that emerged into literature and media in the 1960s. Most New-Agers believe that Jesus was an enlightened master who manifested a divine power that is potentially available to all who enter the New Age. New Age adherents, and those like them, have more of an impact and penetrative power in today’s church than the other religions, so I will elaborate a little on their beliefs:
- They respect Jesus as an enlightened soul along with other religious leaders like Buddha, Krishna, and Confucius.
- Although respected, Jesus is not worshipped or regarded as the exclusive Son of God.
- Some accept Jesus’ crucifixion as historical, but not essential to restoring humanity to wholeness.
- They deny his resurrection and ascension.
- They generally spiritualise Jesus’ Second Coming to refer to the evolutionary ascent of an awakened humanity
- They cite the bible as one of ten sources of information about Jesus but regard it as secondary to the other texts.
What they all have in common
If Jesus asked representatives of the six religions listed in this article, “Who do you say I am?” they would unanimously answer, “You are a wise moral teacher who emanates something of the divine into the world”. However, Simon Peter answered very differently because he said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. Several years later, another Jew by the name of Paul developed this statement of Faith, and if I present it in the form of a personal response to Jesus’ question it would be:
“You are the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being (Hebrews 1:3). You are the image of the invisible God for God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in you. You are the Christ and in you, all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form. (Colossians 1:15,19 and 2:8)”
What do Christians say?
So now, if Jesus were to ask YOU who you thought he was, how would you answer? Let’s play this out a little:
Jesus: “Who do you say I am?”
You: “You are the Christ, the Son of God”
Jesus: “Yes, that is what you have been taught, but who do you actually think I am?”
You: “You were a wise teacher, a worker of miracles, the founder of the Christian Church, and you are coming back one day to judge the living and the dead.”
Jesus: “Yes I am, but is that all I am to you?”
So far, these hypothetical responses are much like what any religious person would say. However, if Jesus were to ask them “But am I God?” they would all say … “no”. Some religions (and I hope you all know by now that I don’t regard authentic Christianity as religion) regard Jesus as divine, in the same way that all their gods are divine, and as all people are potentially divine, but none believe that Jesus is God and that God is Jesus. This is the great differentiator between religion and true Christianity.
Do YOU believe this? Do you believe what Paul wrote concerning Jesus? Do you believe the accuracy and veracity of what the Gospels record of what Jesus said about himself? He said “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58) The Jews of his day understood that he was calling himself God, the Great I am of Exodus 3:14, because they tried to stone him for blasphemy. In a response to one of his disciples, Jesus said, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)
Most Christians would probably have no problem agreeing with Jesus and Paul’s statements, because this is what we have been taught and what we profess. However, the proof of what we confess is in how we live it out.
Where the rubber hits the road
In South Africa, we have a variation of the saying ‘where the rubber hits the road’ that you have to be born here to appreciate – ‘where the takkie hits the tar’. Both versions mean ‘the moment of truth when we have to give tangible evidence of what we claim’. I guess a biblical version of this is ‘his faith was made complete by what he did’ (James 2:22)
So, what we profess concerning our faith in Jesus is of little worth unless proven by our actions.
- If I profess that Jesus is God, then what he said and did whilst on Earth is of the greatest importance because it is God instructing and demonstrating. So,
- I should try to live out his mandate to love others, to draw others into a relationship with him, and to evidence his ethics and morality in my life.
- I should also live in dependence on the Holy Spirit and be guided and empowered by him.
- I should minister powerfully to those who are sick or oppressed.
- If I profess that Jesus is the divine author and interpreter of scripture, then I should;
- Accept the inspiration and authority of the bible as he did.
- Seek to interpret the scriptures from a Jesus-centered perspective by taking what he said, did and revealed of the nature and character of the Godhead as my hermeneutical starting point and primary tool.
- Build on the fact that, as God, Jesus is the ultimate model for all things that truly matter.
Let’s take the matter one level deeper. If Jesus is not God then how can I be saved, for only God can pay the penalty for my sin of rebellion and only God can give me new spiritual life? Jesus put it this way: “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.” (John 8:23-24)
The primacy of faith in Jesus
In a previous article found HERE I wrote the following:
‘Our churches are, in many cases, filled with members and adherents who are little different to non-Christians in belief and behaviour. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is the failure of preachers and teachers to clearly articulate the fundamental need for spiritual New Birth.
Unless those who profess to be Christians experience the supernatural rebirth of the spirit then the following will most likely be their reality:
- Their salvation testimony will be either that they were born into a Christian family, that they try to live their lives in a Christian way, or that a church incorporated them and taught them how to be good Christians.
- They will be unable to recall a time when they repented of rebellion against God, accepted the deity and exclusive way of salvation in and through Jesus, etc. There will have been no radical and memorable life-changing moment for them, but just gradual conformity to the Christian way.
- Some might recall and rely on a while-all-heads-are-bowed form of altar-call or water baptism, but they will not be able to attest to either the spiritual reality or impact of what happened on that occasion or how their lives changed from that moment.
- They will have no real sense of assurance that they are in a relationship with the Lord Jesus and they will be uncertain of their eternal destiny.
- They will have no experience of supernatural ministry to others. Perhaps they might recall times when they prayed for someone who later got well or was blessed in some other way.
- For them, the bible will be simply a religious history, a rule-book, or a source of promises.
This is not the radical discipleship that Jesus requires and nor is it a satisfying, meaningful, and effective way to live’.
Don’t you just hate moralistic sermons and articles, especially the ones that contain lots of ‘you/we should’ statements? In this article I have only used the ‘I should’ expression because whatever I write to you I must first apply to myself.
We, you and I, are reborn and empowered only by the grace of God. What we say and do cannot earn or attain salvation; only what God does in and through us counts. However, how we live out our professions of faith is the evidence of what God has done in us… or not done in us. If you have any doubt at all about the validity of your faith-relationship with Jesus, then please chat with your pastor or another mature believer. If, after reading this article, you have some nagging doubts or unresolved questions then please also take them up with a church leader or other mature man or woman of the Faith.
Time is short for all of us and it will not be long before we will appear before the one who said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)