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What Do You Know about the Authentic Jesus of Nazareth?


Maybe you’ve heard this description somewhere: He was born in poverty, lived only thirty-three years, spent most of His life in obscurity, never wrote a book, never had any position in public life, was crucified with two thieves—and yet two thousand years later, millions still follow Him. It’s certainly not the whole story of Jesus Christ, but it is a helpful, thought-provoking summary of His legacy. Whether we’re convinced in our faith or questioning in our agnosticism, there’s no escaping the fact that Jesus of Nazareth has left an indelible mark on human history. All of us must reckon with the question of His identity.

Rumors, conversations, and confusion surrounding Jesus’ identity are nothing new. Many were trying to sort out who He was during His earthly ministry. At one point, Jesus asked the twelve disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matt. 16:13). To this they replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” When Jesus asked them in response, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (vv. 14–16)

The variety of responses received then are more than matched today. Consider, for example, Gandhi’s view: he maintained that “the soul of religions is one, but is encased in a multitude of forms.”1 Certainly this position isn’t tenable for the Christian, for we serve the God who claimed, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Tragically, though, many professing Christians would either respond to Gandhi’s sentiment with ambivalence or, in the spirit of inclusivity, embrace it outright. But we must be clear: we cannot be orthodox in our faith while holding to an unbiblical view of Christ.

As we build the case for the authentic Jesus, there are four factors we ought to consider: His humanity, His deity, His unity, and His authority.

Jesus Is a Man

The authentic Jesus, first of all, is a human Jesus. Irrespective of His supernatural conception, Jesus’ birth itself was, in fact, normal. He entered life as an infant who learned how to walk and speak. Joseph and Mary would have trained Him in the details of His daily routine. (See Luke 2:52.) The philosopher Søren Kierkegaard said of Jesus, “His life ran, like ours, ‘from womb to tomb.’”2

That Jesus was human is evident in both His human experience and His human emotion.

His Human Experience

We can piece together a very human Christ from the Gospel records. In the account of the woman at the well, for example, we find Jesus “wearied … from his journey,” bidding His disciples to go on while He rested (John 4:6). He also experienced real hunger (Matt. 21:18) and thirst (John 19:28). Incidentally, this is in part why the Pharisees were annoyed with Jesus: because in His hunger and thirst, He would even dine with sinners (Luke 5:29–30).

We cannot be orthodox in our faith while holding to an unbiblical view of Christ.

Further, Jesus knew human pain. In Mark 14, which records the scene in the garden of Gethsemane, we’re told that Jesus was “greatly distressed and troubled,” and His soul was “very sorrowful, even to death” (14:33–34).

Still other examples of Jesus’ human experiences include His customary Sabbath observance (Luke 4:16) and His being tempted (Heb. 4:15). Such experiences underscore the fact that portraying Christ as anything less than fully man is simply unfaithful to what is recorded about Him. Any attempt to show that Jesus is God by diminishing His humanity is to introduce an unauthentic Jesus.

His Human Emotion

In addition to human experiences, Jesus also felt the full gamut of human emotions. He knew what it was to be joyful. Speaking to His disciples about the realities of their salvation in Him, Luke records in his Gospel that Jesus “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit” and began to pray (10:21). In other words, in His humanity, He experienced a very natural, yet also supernatural, joy.

On the other hand, Jesus endured great sorrow. He loved, and He lost those He loved (John 11:5). Matthew paints a vivid picture for us also of our Lord’s compassion: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (9:36). Humanity’s lostness weighed heavily on Christ’s heart.

Jesus was not some unfeeling creature, an alien from another place. He cannot be thought of in those terms. He was able to sit and empathize with men and women in their thirst, hunger, joy, sorrow, love, and pain. As Isaiah prophesied, He was a man “acquainted with grief” (53:3).

Docetism: A Deficient View

Despite the straightforward teaching concerning Christ’s humanity, deficient views of His nature abound. Among the earliest of unorthodox teachings was Docetism. Its name comes from the Greek word dokeō, “to appear.” Based on the Gnostic worldview that matter is evil and spirit is good, Docetism taught that God could never have taken on a real human body. Whatever the incarnation was, Docetism maintained, it was merely appearances. Jesus wasn’t a real human being. He looked like one, He sounded like one, but according to the Docetists, He wasn’t one.

Responding to this claim in his first-century context, John made this statement regarding Jesus’ true humanity:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1–4)

Jesus was, in fact, a real human being.

Jesus Is God

Having established the fact that Jesus was a real man who lived within the context of history, we must at the same time go on to affirm His deity. After all, it’s only in light of Jesus’ divinity that we can understand His humanity.

C. S. Lewis famously defended Christ’s deity with this argument:

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. … Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something else. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.3

Jesus’ deity a matter not of triviality but of reality. The great, staggering truth of Christianity is that Christ, the God-man, was nurtured in a womb—that He who had always existed became part of God’s space-time economy. Jesus, while true man, is also true God.

Did Jesus Claim to Be God?

A popular counterargument to Christ’s divinity goes something like this: “I’ve read the New Testament, and I’ve never found a place where Jesus says that He is God.” True: nowhere in the New Testament does Jesus say the words, “I am God.” However, Jesus claimed deity in other ways, in terms that were crystal clear in His first-century Jewish context.

We could look to John 5, where we’re provided with this crucial point: “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (v. 18). Why did the Jews want Jesus dead? Because He claimed equality with the eternal God. Or we might consider Jesus’ seven “I am” statements throughout John’s Gospel, in which He used vivid Old Testament language to identify Himself as Israel’s living God. (See Ex. 3:14.)

Importantly, the New Testament writers affirm Jesus’ claims. Paul calls Jesus the “God over all” (Rom. 9:5), the “great God and Savior” (Titus 2:13), and “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). Peter, too, uses the title “God and Savior” for Jesus (2 Peter 1:1). And John preserves Thomas’s post-resurrection confession: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

Three Facts Concerning Jesus’ Deity

In addition to His claims, we may also consider the facts with which the Scriptures confront us. It’s at this point that many theologians deviate from the biblical teaching. In an effort to make Christianity more palatable to people, they reject the inherent supernatural facts of Christ’s ministry. “No virgin birth, no miracles, no resurrection,” they say. But believers must reject such notions, trusting that the God of the universe is not bound by what is normal for the rest of His creation.

First, He is the Jesus of the virgin birth. Matthew records the event, noting that “before [Mary and Joseph] came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit” (1:18). And Luke documents Mary’s response to the angelic announcement: “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Answer: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you” (Luke 1:34–35). Here the veil of mystery is pulled across this tremendous truth. The authentic Jesus is born of a virgin, supernaturally revealing His divine nature.

Secondly, He is the Jesus of the miracles. The biblical record shows Jesus to be the God-man, who, in His humanity, fell asleep in the boat’s stern, yet, in His deity, with a word commanded the storm to cease, and it ceased (Mark 4:35–41). In His humanity, He felt compassion toward those who mourned, yet in His deity, with a word He commanded the dead to come back to life, and they did (Mark 5:41; Luke 7:14; John 11:43). Through Him, the Incarnate Word, “All things were made” (John 1:3), and a seemingly limitless number of signs and wonders were performed (John 21:25).

And finally, we must consider the fact that He is the Jesus of the resurrection. Upon this event hinges the whole quest concerning the authentic Christ. “If Christ has not been raised,” Paul asserts, then “your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). Think about it: without the resurrection, there would have been no Christian community to uphold and proclaim the Gospel for the last two thousand years. Indeed, the New Testament explanation of Christ’s resurrection is far easier to sustain than those of deviant skepticism. Jesus was raised from the dead, fully God and fully man.

Jesus Is One with the Father and Spirit

The fact of Christ’s true humanity and deity raises a question: How do these two natures coexist in one person?

As it turns out, the question of the unity of Christ’s person was a key one in the first few centuries of the church. As people wrestled with the fact of Christ’s humanity and deity, a particular view arose that had great sway among early Christians: Arianism. Named after the Alexandrian presbyter Arius (AD 256–336), Arianism taught that God the Son was a created being. “There was a time when the Son was not,” Arius would say. Sure, Arius held Christ to be the most exalted of all creatures, but ultimately, that’s all He was: an exalted creature.

While Arius was in the realm of innovation, seeking to make sense of Christ’s unity, there arose another man in the realm of proclamation: Athanasius (296–373). An opponent to Arius, he contended earnestly for the authentic Jesus. He pointed the church back to the Scriptures, urging them to look to the apostolic teaching and Old Testament prophecies concerning Christ. Athanasius was a hero of the faith.

Against Arianism, Athanasius realized that anything less than a fully divine Savior would be insufficient to meet man’s need. He therefore tenaciously affirmed that Christ is homoousios, i.e., “of one substance with the Father.”4 From Athanasius’s stance came the conclusion to this chapter in church history. At the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the church established a fixed point of biblical truth on the matter. Focusing on the unity of Jesus, the church together confessed that His two natures exist “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.”5

In these complex truths we locate the authentic, biblical Jesus. It’s important for Christians to realize that, as Paul says to Timothy, “great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness” (1 Tim. 3:16). While we will never on this side of eternity fully unscramble the great imponderables of our faith, we can allow these profound truths to produce in us humble faith and adoring worship.

Jesus Has “All Authority”

Having considered the authentic Christ in terms of His humanity, deity, and unity, we can now consider His authority, out of which two realities arise.

First is the finality of Christian revelation. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways,” writes the author of Hebrews, “God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (1:1–2). Jesus, in other words, is the apex of God’s revelation. Without Him, we’re left groping in the darkness of unenlightened reason. Any quest after Christianity which makes Jesus less than the authentic Christ of Scripture is destined to failure.

Anything less than a fully divine Savior is insufficient to meet man’s need.

Considering His authority also means we must confront the validity of Christian redemption. That is, if Jesus Christ is not God, then the redemption He offers is powerless to forgive and save. It is God that we have wronged, and it is only God who can redeem sinful man. Thus, while never relinquishing His divine nature, God became a man to effect redemption for us. Our salvation is legitimate because Jesus is the God-man. His status as God’s Son means that He alone has the final authority to speak on matters of life and death.

A Matter of Faith

All of us live in the arena of faith—and whether we are devout Christians, scientific rationalists, or followers of some other philosophy, our destiny rests in our beliefs about Jesus. We must recognize that when a person professes faith in Christ, his worldview moves from the realm of personal opinion to the sure conviction that Jesus’ claims are true—that He is the only solid rock on which we can lay our faith’s foundation.

Jesus’ credentials are there for us clearly to behold. Will we rest our faith on the personal opinion that none of His claims are true? Or will we believe in Him and have eternal life (John 3:15)? Scripture commends to all of us the only one who holds the answer to the deep searchings of our human existence. He is the Christ, the Son of the living God, human and divine, unified and in authority over all. May we know and worship Him as He truly is.

This article was adapted from the sermon “The Authentic Jesus” by Alistair Begg. Subscribe to get weekly blog updates.


The Basics of the Christian Faith


  1. Mahatma Gandhi, “God Is One,” Young India 6, no. 39 (September 25, 1924): 318.↩︎

  2. Bruce Milne, Know the Truth: A Handbook of Christian Belief (Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1982), 125. Milne credits the phrase “womb to tomb” to Kierkegaard.↩︎

  3. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1952), 56.↩︎

  4. The Nicene Creed.↩︎

  5. The Chalcedonian Definition.↩︎


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