Who is Jesus? The answer to this question has occupied academics for centuries, as historian and author John Dickson asserts:
It is a conceit of every age to suppose that it has discovered the most important questions—and answers. The quest for the historical Jesus really began as soon as he left the scene in AD 30. Even the author of one of the four New Testament Gospels shows an interest in searching out the facts rather than opinions about the man from Nazareth.
Whether we believe Jesus of Nazareth is an historical figure may depend entirely upon our own pre-existing bias towards the concepts conveyed by His name. Despite the sceptics, there is very sound evidence to support the claim that Jesus was indeed a real person who lived in the Middle East 2000 years ago. Dickson suggests Luke, the physician and gospel writer was:
….. someone committed to weighing earlier sources, gathering (eyewitness) testimony, researching thoroughly and then providing an orderly account of the most reliable data.
In his orderly account (Luke 1:3) of the life and work of Jesus, Luke records Jesus posing this very question to His disciples. Luke writes:
He was praying alone, only the disciples were with Him, and He asked them, “Who do the multitudes say that I am?” They answered, “John the Baptist, but others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the old prophets has risen again.” And He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.” (Luke 9:18-20)
I believe we must each ask ourselves this question: Who is Jesus? Or perhaps we should consider just what His life and claims about Himself have to do with us today? Like many other people, my interest in Jesus had waxed and waned throughout my life, but eventually I decided to pursue an answer to this question.
As a child I was sent to Sunday School, where I heard many stories from The Bible. Some of them were about the Baby Jesus, who, I was informed, was born a long time ago and a long way away. This baby grew up and became an Important Person, but He was killed by some soldiers, who nailed Him to a cross. Amazingly, He came back to life and spent some time with His disciples, before He rose up into the clouds and went back to heaven to be with God.
Growing up in an agnostic household, we didn’t talk about this story at home. My parents didn’t attend church but my sisters and I went to Sunday School, while Mum and Dad read the Sunday papers. Church was just something some people did, but it didn’t have any significant impact on our home life. Although I loved to read Bible stories in the books I won at Sunday School, I didn’t take them too seriously. In my mind they were similar to the classical myths I read in our Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopedia, or the stories I devoured in my Fairy Tale collections and my book of Aesop’s Fables. I stopped going to Sunday School when I was about 11 and I don’t remember anyone talking about religion in our home after that.
Teenagers in the 50s and 60s were born not long after WWII and most of us hoped to live in a world that was free from the widespread violence and aggression our parents and grandparents had seen. Perhaps we thought the two horrific world wars that tore apart the very fabric of society in the first half of the century, were products of old thinking. As the past traditions had not prevented such human carnage, we were reaching for new ways. While the post war world began reconstruction, many people began to reconstruct their concepts of reality and a more progressive concept of Jesus began to emerge.
In my late teens I started to think about this person Jesus again and it was then that I came across the Theosophists’ concept of Maitreya, who was, they claimed:
….. an advanced spiritual entity and high-ranking member of a hidden Spiritual Hierarchy, the so-called Masters of the Ancient Wisdom. According to Theosophical doctrine, one of the Hierarchy’s functions is to oversee the evolution of humankind; in accord with this function the Maitreya is said to hold the so-called Office of the World Teacher. Theosophical texts posit that the purpose of this Office is to facilitate the transfer of knowledge about the true constitution and workings of Existence to humankind. Humanity is thereby assisted on its presumed cyclical, but ever progressive, evolutionary path. Reputedly, one way the knowledge transfer is accomplished is by Maitreya occasionally manifesting or incarnating in the physical realm; the manifested entity then assumes the role of World Teacher of Humankind.
Jesus as an incarnation of Maitreya seemed more appropriate for the end of the 20th century, particularly if humanity had evolved to a higher level of awareness and we were now ready for the masters to transfer information suitable to this higher plane. I found this teaching much more palatable than the ideas I remembered from the “religious” people who went to church.
From my perspective, church people appeared narrow minded and seemed to have little imagination; I perceived them as people who had simply swallowed ideas that had been passed down to them from repressive leaders, who used religion as a means of maintaining control of the masses.
This new version of Jesus was far more in line with psychedelic thinking. This Jesus had come to Earth to teach humanity a different way to the one the established church presented. Through New Age teachings I thought I could find a way to higher consciousness and enlightenment by emulating Jesus’ lifestyle and teachings. I decided Jesus was one of a number of examples we could model our own lives after, if we seek world peace and enlightenment.
It was during this time that I embarked on a quest for Truth. I had a rudimentary understand of truth being relative, and I toyed with this idea. However, I was beginning to encounter a range of “cosmic” teachings about higher consciousness and I felt it would be interesting to explore some of these ideas, which were becoming more prominent in the youth culture through the hippie movement and people like Timothy Leary. Perhaps there really was such a thing as Truth.
I started reading books I bought at The Theosophical Society bookshop. The writers of these tomes presented Jesus as a very different person to the one I’d learned about at Sunday School. One of the books I purchased was The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ, by Levi Dowling. This Jesus was portrayed as a well travelled sage, and from Dowling’s book I learned that:
By making himself, through desire, effort, ability and prayer, a fit vessel, Jesus enabled The Christ to dwell within him. Christ is therefore used as a term for the seemingly perfect human being that Jesus exemplified, a human being that has been “Christened” (anointed) and therefore made holy.
This idea struck a cord with me. I had discovered the concept of Christ Consciousness and read about the Cosmic Christ, who, along with other enlightened sages, would help guide humanity on its journey of spiritual evolution. I also discovered the concept of the ascended master. The followers of this idea believe ascended masters are:
….. individuals who have lived in physical bodies, acquired the Wisdom and Mastery needed to become Immortal and Free of the cycles of “re-embodiment” and karma, and have attained their “Ascension”. … According to the Ascended Master Teachings, gaining “mastery over matter planes” means learning to consciously use 100% of one’s Creative Power of thought, feeling, and spoken word to create greater perfection, joy, and love in the world, as opposed to using thoughts, feelings, and words to create greater limitations, bondage, and chaos in one’s own experience and in the world at large through carelessness and lack of awareness of the extent of one’s influence in the world.
In the course of my quest I left my job and went to live on a commune in the hinterland behind Cairns, far north Queensland. This property was owned by a fellow called Jan Daube, who had come to Australia from Germany, with the express purpose of setting up a community for people to come under the spiritual guidance of his Master. According to Jan, his Master had ascended from a community in Spain in the middle ages, and she was drawing people to the Cairns commune to learn from her through Jan.
We were to learn about living in such a way that we would elevate our cosmic vibrations, enabling us to more easily communicate with higher forms of consciousness. These were the gods of the universe, who would be our guides as we moved into the Aquarian Age. We lived on a strict gar shu vegan diet, which meant we avoided animal products that would lower our vibrations and anything that grew under the ground, away from the purifying rays of the sun. I spent many months learning from Jan about the Master’s teachings.
Towards the end of my time in this community I came to the conclusion that, rather than following Jan’s Master, I would adopt Jesus as my Ascended Master. Jesus became my guru and I began to speak with him throughout the day. My life took on a completely new shape. Where there had been a sense of emptiness and a longing for love and a place in the world, I found peace.
Jesus became my friend and companion and when I moved from the commune back to Sydney I decided to seek out other like minded people. However, most of my friends were into Indian gurus, they saw Jesus as western and not at all exotic, and of course, he represented the western culture against which they were rebelling. I didn’t mind, Jesus had brought something into my life nothing else had ever achieved.
Although I still believed in conservation and a counter culture philosophy, I found the whole hippie lifestyle very disappointing. People continued to be people, and many used and abused those around them, while chanting peace and love. I decided I needed to get out of the hustle and bustle of Sydney so I found a little shack I could live in and moved back to the country to pursue my “spiritual” studies through meditation and the library of books I had collected relating to spiritual growth. I still saw Jesus as one of the ascended masters, he was one of many who could help people on their way to self-actualisation and enlightenment, but he was my Master.
During hunts through second hand bookshops I discovered Brother Lawrence’s book The Practice of the Presence of God and also Thomas a Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ. Then one day I found a book called The New Life by Andrew Murray. With the help of this battered old volume I began to read the little Bible I had carried with me through years of hitch-hiking up and down the east coast of Australia. It had been a present from my parents for my 10th birthday, but I never actually read it, I just liked the way it looked and felt. It was beautifully bound and it had rice paper pages with gold edging. What I discovered was that the words inside The Bible were more beautiful than I’d ever imagined.
In The Bible I read:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him; and without Him not a thing was brought into being that has been created. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men; and the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can not overtake it. (John 1:1-5)
The Bible was telling me that my Master, Jesus, was actually the Creator of all that existed on both the physical and spiritual planes – He brought all things into being. He was also the Light carrier, who was far more powerful than any dark force. I also read:
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is begotten of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. Herein was the love of God manifested in us, that God hath sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. (1 John 4:7-9)
I had traveled thousands of miles wearing plastic sandals with Peace painted on the back of one and Love on the back of the other, but I had now found both at the feet of Jesus. He became not only my Master, guru and friend, but also my Lord. I began to understand that He is unique. He is not an ascended master, He is the only begotten Son of God and the only person who has ever been raised from the dead with an immortal body. The uniqueness of Jesus began to unfold before me as I read The Bible. I also read:
I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life: no one comes to the Father, but by me. If you know me, you know my Father also: from now on you know Him, and have seen Him. (John 14:6-7)
This is a momentous claim. Jesus is asserting He is totally unique, He is the only Way for us to know the omnipotent, omniscient God who created all things through Him. This God, who has revealed Himself through The Bible, His Son and the Holy Spirit, calls Himself our Father, and Jesus is the human embodiment of the Father. He is indeed God incarnate.
Until that time I had perceived God as an impersonal force; in a sense I saw Him as the collective consciousness of all lifeforms in the universe – He was therefore nothing more than a product of evolution, just as all living things were. We were a great cosmic accident that was unfolding and becoming. Now I discovered we were no accident. There was a God who was immortal, eternal and infinite and He had a very specific message for the people He had created in His own image. He said:
Truly, truly, I tell you, We speak about the things we know, and bear witness of that which we have seen; and you don’t believe our witness. If I tell you about earthly things and you refuse to believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? And no one has ascended into heaven, but He that descended out of heaven, the Son of man, who is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whoever believes may have eternal life in Him. For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:11-16)
I came to understand that the real Jesus is the Jesus revealed in the pages of His Bible, the written Word of God. The only way to know this Jesus, who is the only begotten Son of God, is through the teachings in His Word that are opened to His followers by His Holy Spirit. This Jesus came to Earth from heaven and went back to heaven, and He said quite clearly that He was the only one to do so. He assured His followers that those who believe in Him and His teachings will be given eternal life.
It took me some time to come to terms with just a few of the ideas I found Jesus preached through the pages of His Word. It became evident that His teachings were not only multifaceted, they were multilayered. I had started with the concept that God is Love and moved on to the uniqueness of Jesus and His claim to be the only Way. I did not begin to explore the concept of sin for a number of years after I started to follow Jesus, but when I did it enabled me to more fully understand why He went to the cross. From the book of Hebrews I read:
…..He has once for all, at the close of the ages, appeared to abolish sin by His sacrifice. And just as it is appointed for all people to die once, and after that face the judgment, even so it is that Christ, having been offered once to take upon Himself the burden of the sins of many – once for all – will appear a second time, not to carry any burden of sin nor to deal with sin, but to bring to full salvation those who are eagerly waiting for Him. (Heb 9:26-28)
There was so much to unpack in this passage. This teaching dealt the final blow to my ideas on reincarnation. If I was to follow the teachings of the biblical Jesus I must accept that people will die only once, and then face judgment. I was not a continually reborn person, I was uniquely me and the choices I make in this life will influence my eternal destiny.
This meant the Hindu understanding of karma was also out. We will not work our way to enlightenment by improving our behaviour over successive rebirths. We will indeed reap what we sow, but this law of consequences is something that tends to bear fruit in this present life. Although the life to come is also dependent on our deeds, the judgment that we must each face (Mat 12:36) is more dependent on whether we are prepared to accept our Creator’s Way.
As I read The Imitation of Christ, I realised that there is not a single person in the world who could stand up to the standards God has set for the holiness people need to possess to be part of His eternal family. Indeed Paul told the Romans that everyone has sinned (Rom 3:23). I had been deceived into thinking I could make the grade. I had believed that if I was prepared to give up the worldly things (thoughts, deeds and possessions) that held me back from enlightenment, I could ascend to the next plane of existence.
Instead, I came to understand that Jesus is the only person who has ever lived a sinless life. God intends to dwell in the midst of sinless, eternal people, but to achieve this end He has allowed His perfect creation to be corrupted for a short time before He destroys it and remakes the heavens and Earth to be a home for people who have accepted the righteousness of the Jesus of The Bible (Rev 21:1-5). It will be His righteousness that makes us able to eternally coexist with the Holy Eternal Father.
The issue of sin began to make its way into my thoughts. The word sacrifice was something I had not really contemplated. I finally saw my own selfishness for what it was. I wanted enlightenment simply for my own peace and fulfillment. Despite this, the Father was offering me a place in His eternal kingdom through His Son. The wondrous truth is that Jesus is going to abolish sin. My sins, and the sins of every person who has ever lived, will be dealt with, and then abolished (John 1:29). This will be done with complete and perfect justice. Selfishness, greed, jealousy, envy, hate, malice, lust, hypocrisy, deceptiveness and all the other negative human traits that plague us will be gone.
I finally realised that I needed Jesus as my Saviour and Redeemer and the gracious provision the Father has made is that every person who repents of their sin and accepts Jesus’ sacrifice on their behalf, can be freed from the penalty of that sin. This is because God has declared that the death of His one and only Son is the sacrifice He demanded from the very foundations of the world (Mat 13:35; 25:34; Eph 1:4; Heb 4:3; Rev 13:8). As Peter put it:
God chose Him as your ransom long before the world began, but He has now revealed Him to you in these last days. Through Christ you have come to trust in God. And you have placed your faith and hope in God because He raised Christ from the dead and gave Him great glory. You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart. (1 Peter 1:20-22)
After coming to an understanding of the world’s problem with sin, I also came to realise that Jesus is not the person we want Him to be, He is not an aesthetic, mystic, philosopher, sage, ascended master or great teacher, He is the man revealed in the pages of The Bible, the Saviour of the world. Any other man is not the Lord Jesus Christ of The Bible, and therefore is not God’s only begotten Son, who came into the world to deal with sin. I had followed the Cosmic Christ, the Mystic Christ and the Aquarian Christ, but the Christ revealed in The Bible is God’s only Son, He does not need repackaging for the modern world.
I was now a member of the Body of Christ, the church, the universal body of believers, and I had learned that we can look to God’s inerrant Word and know that the words in The Bible can be taken at face value. If this were not the case there would be no way to know who Jesus is and what He believed and taught. There would be no way to be a Christian. Jesus came to Earth from heaven and was born into history. He had painstakingly prepared a nation into which He would be born and He then thoroughly prepared His apostles to write the New Testament books of The Bible.
Jesus wisely and meticulously provided The Bible so that all Christians throughout history can come to the same set of core beliefs. One need only examine the writing of Christian authors from the beginning of the Church Age to find their work reflects the same core beliefs followers of Jesus hold today. This is because they also recognised The Bible as the final authority for their doctrine. The real Jesus is the Jesus of The Bible and it is He who offers each and every person the gift of eternal life. This Jesus is not bound by denominations or traditions, He is the living embodiment of the invisible God. As Paul told the Colossians:
…The Father has given us a part in the heritage of the saints in light; He has made us free from the power of evil and given us a place in the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have our salvation and the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is the image of the unseen God, He existed before anything was created and through Him all things were made, in heaven and on Earth – things seen and things unseen, authorities, lords, rulers, and powers – all things were made by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things have their being. And He is the head of the body, the church: the starting point of all things, the first to rise from the dead; so that in all things He might have the chief place. For God was pleased to be in Him in full measure. (Col 1:12-19)
An important piece of the picture that just wouldn’t fit was finally highlighted for me when I read passages like:
For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God. (1 Peter 1:23)
This led me to re-examine the concept of an immortal soul, which I had accepted as truth and simply carried over into my Christian walk from eastern mysticism. After reading The Bible for more than thirty years I finally decided to go against a teaching that had been introduced into Christian tradition in the 2nd century. It gradually became clear to me that The Bible does not teach that we have immortal souls or spirits. God warned Adam and Eve they would die if they chose to reject His clear guidance. He calls this rebellion against His rightful authority sin, and He told Adam and Eve that the penalty for this sin would be death (Gen 2:16-17). Satan lied to Adam and Eve and assured them death would not be the outcome of their disobedience (Gen 3:4). It was! Death entered God’s perfect creation and people, plants and animals began to die.
From the very beginning of its pages The Bible teaches that immortality is no longer part of the human condition; we must each make a choice to give our lives into the hands of the immortal Father, through His Son, to be given the gift of eternal life. If we choose to reject this gift, then Jesus has warned us, we will perish (John 3:16).
Jesus, God’s only Son, accepted the role He must play in the Father’s rescue plan for humanity. From before He created the universe God had determined He would redeem those who were prepared to accept His Truth: He would give them the gift of eternal life. Jesus was, “In the beginning”, and as John explains, He is with God, and He is God. (John 1:1) It is only through Jesus that God is able to transform mortal humans into eternal beings and make us able to join Him in His eternal kingdom.
Surprisingly, Jesus made a bit of an impact on the youth culture when He became a Superstar, and Webber and Rice’s musical came to Australia in 1972. This didn’t have a noticeable impact on my hippie friends at the time, as the Jesus Movement was only just beginning in Australia and the distorted theology in the show was far from biblical. But eventually a number of people from the hippie scene started to look into Jesus and by the late 70s there were hundreds of Jesus Freaks in Australia who had discovered who Jesus is.
The musical has recently made a comeback but the real Jesus has always been here, reaching out to us through His Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life and if He is not already, He can be your Lord, Saviour and Redeemer. But we must each listen to the teachings He has provided through His Word so that we can hear what it is He wants to say to our hearts. Why not find out for yourself the answer to the question, Who is Jesus?