Which Jesus?

In “Whose Jesus” AnOldSinner discussed the idea that many people are seeking their personal interpretation of Jesus instead of the Jesus found in the Holy Bible. While the thought of people seeking an image of Jesus meeting their personal expectations may be troublesome, it is not the only matter of concern. Another issue is the question of which Jesus is the focus of one’s belief.

At this point, some readers might be thinking, “Hold on there cowboy! Isn’t that a distinction without a difference?” This writer would argue that is not the case, and there is a good bit of Christian history to back up AnOldSinner’s belief. So, bear with me for a bit longer and see what you think.

The next question one might have concerns the importance of these questions.  Why does it really matter if someone wants to define Jesus in a particular manner, personally or theologically? One answer would be their eternal salvation may depend on it, but a more pragmatic, worldly answer is mutual understanding.  A lot of people believe in Jesus the Christ, or say they do, and it would be nice to know in whom they believe.  It would be especially important to those who follow a particular faith or tradition in which Jesus is an important figure.

It is difficult to know the number of people in the United States who believe in Jesus. A Pew Research survey in 2013 found that 73% of U. S. adults, regardless of religious affiliation, believe Jesus was born of a virgin. That would seem to imply a lot of people believe in Jesus to some degree.

Unfortunately, when one tries to go beyond that particular belief, the statistics become less clear. In some cases, international statistics are used in an attempt to answer this and similar questions, with nebulous results.  Whatever, the number or the method used to derive it, the results fall prey to the title of this piece.

Here is the problem. If one went to well-known leaders of every major faith or religious group in the United States and asked if that particular faith or tradition believed in Jesus, many would say yes. Of course, one would expect that of some groups such as Baptists, Methodists, Catholics and other easily recognized Christian faiths. Yet, one could be a bit surprised to find that some who follow different traditions answered the question the same way. An acquaintance of this writer experienced such a surprise recently.

One day the acquaintance asked a neighbor about her faith.  The neighbor was Muslim, and the acquaintance was to some degree a seeker.  The Muslim neighbor was happy to answer questions, including one about Jesus.

She said, “Yes. We do believe in Jesus. He was a great man, but we’ve gone beyond him.”  This writer’s acquaintance was surprised by the answer, but she let the matter drop.  She did not think to ask exactly what Muslim’s believed about Jesus.

The truth is that followers of many belief systems beyond mainstream Christianity will claim to believe in Jesus. In the example above, the neighbor was being truthful. The Islamic faith does teach its followers to believe in Jesus. That is, they are to believe in a prophet named Jesus whose life was similar to the life recorded in the Bible. It is what they do not believe that is important.

Muslims do not believe Jesus was the son of God. Additionally, they do not believe he was crucified and resurrected on the third day. Instead, they believe he was raised up to heaven by God. God then made another man to have the appearance of Jesus. It was that man who was crucified. Of course, this means they do not believe Jesus was sent to earth to be sacrificed for man’s sins.1

Islam is not the only faith to have a view of Jesus that is not considered biblical by many Christians, especially evangelical Christians. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are another example. They believe Jesus was created by God, and is a distinct and separate person. They believe Jesus was God’s first creation, and it was through Jesus God created everything else.  Jesus, in their view, is subordinate to God, but superior to humankind and the rest of creation.  They do believe Jesus died for man’s sins, but it appears they do not believe in the physical resurrection.2

There are, or have been, other faiths or traditions that do not believe in Jesus the same way the Lutherans, Orthodox and other more traditional Christian faiths see Him. Over the centuries, some have believed the idea of a man who was human and divine was impossible. Accordingly, they have a complicated view of a human body occupied by a divine spirit. Of course, there are those who believe Jesus was real, but the miracles, including the resurrection were myths fabricated after his death to build up the early church. In fact, it is likely anything one can imagine about the identity, nature or actions of Jesus has been claimed by some group as its vision of Jesus.

What does all this mean? It may mean nothing. Yet, it may mean the difference between someone finding salvation or someone else being led astray. Before you ask someone if they believe in Jesus, or before you answer someone asking you, it might be a good idea to understand what your, or the other person’s, answer really means.

This writer has known and worked with some wonderful people of various denominations or traditions over the years. I wish I had known to ask them questions that would have helped me understand which Jesus they followed.

__________________________________________________

  1. This information comes from https://www.islam-guide.com/ch3-10.htm , and this writer’s studies of the matter.
  2. https://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/faq/believe-in-jesus/

 

© S. E. Jackson – 2016

 

 

 

About S. E. Jackson

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