TWO THOUSAND years ago, the Roman Empire was at its height. In a small hill village in the minor province of Galilee lived a carpenter. When he was around 30 years old he set out on a preaching mission which took him around Galilee and the neighbouring provinces. He upset some powerful people, and three and a half years later he was executed. A small and insignificant life by most standards—but as it turned out, Jesus of Nazareth has had a greater impact on the world than probably anyone else in history. Who was he, and why was he so influential? And why is he important for you and me?
The Bible is the account of God’s dealings with humankind, and Jesus made a very bold claim: ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ (John 14:6). Jesus is the central figure in the Bible—that is, both the New Testament which deals with his life and the story of the Christian community in the First Century ad, and also the Old Testament which was written many years before Jesus came into existence, but which anticipates his birth and work in many different ways.
Prophecies of Christ
For example, back in the first book of the Bible God gave the faithful man Abraham a promise: ‘Your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed’ (Genesis 22:17–18), and the New Testament confirms that this was a prophecy of Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:16).
A thousand years later God gave Israel’s King David a promise: ‘When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom’ (2 Samuel 7:12). The angel Gabriel told Mary that this was to be none other than her son, Jesus (Luke 1:32).
The prophet Isaiah spoke of the man who ‘was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed’ (Isaiah 53:5). The Apostle Peter showed that this was again a prophecy of the saving work of Christ (1 Peter 2:22–25). The Law of Moses which God gave to Old Testament Israel revolved around the worship in the Tabernacle, in which priests brought the people’s sacrifices to God. The New Testament’s Letter to the Hebrews is largely concerned with demonstrating how all the details of this worship—the Tabernacle, the priests and the sacrifices themselves—were actually pictures pointing forward to Christ, the ‘great high priest who has passed through the heavens’ (Hebrews 4:14).
The whole of world history was focused on the coming of Jesus Christ: the offspring of Abraham who would bring blessing to all nations; the future king of Israel who will rule the world; the man who gave himself as a sacrifice for our sins; the High Priest who brings his people into God’s presence.
Life Through Him
One of the most succinct summaries of the identity and purpose of Jesus Christ is given by another of his apostles: ‘In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him’ (1 John 4:9).
Think about this. Firstly, the gift of Jesus Christ was a display of God’s love for you and me. We are sinful, dying creatures, but God wants to give us life. He showed us the enormity of our sinfulness, and the enormity of His love for us, by giving His Son to die as a sacrifice to heal the breach between us and bring us back to Him.
Secondly, through Jesus Christ we can live. What does this mean? He lived a perfect spiritual life, which is displayed throughout the Bible, most vividly in the biographical accounts of the four Gospels at the beginning of the New Testament. He showed us what it is to ’live according to the Spirit’ (Romans 8:5).
‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death’ (Romans 8:1–2).
And following from this, it means that if we have been baptised into Christ and are trying in our lives now to live the life of the spirit, we can look forward by the grace of God to overcoming our sinfulness once and for all and living for ever when he returns: ‘We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies’ (v. 23).
The carpenter from Galilee was far more than an interesting historical figure. He is the focus of world history, past, present and future; the living sacrifice by which humankind can achieve reconciliation with God, and the future king of the world. For those who embrace him as their Saviour, he is their master, high priest and king, and their lifelong friend: ‘Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20).