I’ve been a Christian for nearly all of my life. I was raised in church and quite literally cut my teeth on a pew. So for many years, I never questioned my decision to follow Jesus. I was completely immersed in Christianity; I never knew anything else.
But a time came when I learned about other religions and had to work out why I had chosen Christ. Today, I’m going to share my discoveries on the matter. Now, if you were to google “what’s different about Jesus,” you’d find several articles referencing Jesus’ divinity and resurrection in the scriptures–which is all well and good, but it lacks a certain…compulsion. I’ll be taking a more practical approach.
1. He was unique and compelling.
Throughout history, individuals have tried to claim they are a messiah. Such lunatic elements existed even in Jesus’ day. Usually, such people receive only a passing glance and are soon consigned to the dust of history. But not Jesus. Why?
The scriptures say that Jesus taught with authority–the kind of authority that even the religious leaders of his day couldn’t refute. But it was more than that. In his book Christianity, historian Diarmaid MacCullouch says this:
To a surprising degree, the Synoptic Gospels reveal distinctive quirks of speech in Jesus’ sayings which suggest an individual voice. [...] There is nothing like the parables in the writings of Jewish spiritual leaders (rabbis) before Jesus used them; interestingly, they emerge as a literary form in later Judaism only after Jesus’ death. [...] The sense that all the rules have changed is to be found in many of the sayings attributed to Jesus. [...] There is nothing gentle, meek or mild about the driving force behind these stabbing inversions of normal expectations. They form a code of life which is a chorus of love directed to the loveless or unlovable, of painful honesty expressing itself with embarrassing directness, of joyful rejection of any counsel suggesting careful self-regard or prudence (pg. 85, 87, 88).
Not only was Jesus a real person, he was one who couldn’t be ignored, silenced or forgotten. He preached a unique message that has stood the test of time–in spite of the controversy surrounding his claims of divinity.
2. His disciples gave their lives to spread his message.
How many disciples of David Koresh can you name? How about Charlie Manson? Jim Jones? Now, try to see how many disciples of other mainstream religious founders you can think of. I’ll be impressed if it’s more than two. Not only is Jesus remembered and revered throughout the world, so are his disciples–both male and female. The Catholic Church was established on the supposed tomb of the Apostle Peter. In the countries where the first disciples preached, they are hailed as patron saints. And all but one of the Twelve was horrifically martyred for spreading the gospel. Some people claim the stories about Jesus’ miracles are myths, but his message and personage had to be pretty darn compelling to convince so many to lay down their lives (and livelihoods) for the faith.
3. He is viewed as a person of significance by every major religion.
You won’t find Gautama Siddhartha mentioned in the Bible, but you’ll definitely find Jesus in many mainstream religions–even those of the Far East. He’s known as a bodhisatva or “little Buddha” among Buddhists. He is a holy prophet according to the Muslim Quran. He’s considered a manifestation of God by those of the Baha’i faith. In Hinduism, he is a god. Mormons, like Christians, teach that Jesus is God’s son and the savior of mankind. The Jews reject any notion of Jesus’ divinity, but still acknowledge him as an influential, if controversial, teacher and healer. Many atheists even regard Jesus and his teachings with respect. No other historical figure has had such an impact on the world.
4. Jesus’ life, death, and ministry fulfilled dozens of ancient prophecies.
Jesus the Messiah didn’t just appear out of the blue one day. His coming was foretold for hundreds of years previous by several Old Testament prophets. Many of these prophecies can be found in the Psalms, Deuteronomy, Daniel, Isaiah, and Zechariah. The prophecies include statements such as the following:
He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces, he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:3-6) [700 years before Christ].
[H]e protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken (Psalm 34:20) [1,000 years before Christ].
My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment (Psalm 22:15-18).
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:31-34) [600 years before Christ].
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, thy King cometh unto thee! He is just and having salvation, lowly, and riding upon an ass and upon a colt, the foal of an ass (Zechariah 9:9) [500 years before Christ].
This is quite literally the tip of a proverbial iceberg. Scholars estimate that Jesus’ coming fulfilled over 300 OT prophecies. Now, some skeptics have tried to throw doubt on this aspect of Jesus, claiming that his disciples could have lied about him or manipulated events so that it would appear he fulfilled these prophecies. That might have been feasible in a few instances, but not for so many. For starters, Jesus and his disciples didn’t have any control over how Jesus was killed. What did Jesus do, walk up to the Roman centurions and say, “Hey, when you guys kill me, could you whip me skinless, put nails through my hands and feet, and then gamble for my clothes?” I don’t think so. And what about the events surrounding his birth? How could anyone have possibly arranged that stuff?
By the most conservative estimates, the probability of one person fulfilling just 48 prophesies is 10^157–a number with 157 zeros. That’s the kind of probability that’s hard to ignore. And no other person in history can make such a claim.
5. No one can find fault with him.
We read in the scriptures about Christ’s impeachable reputation, but that reputation has stood the test of time. While other religious founders have led armies into battle, incited riots, self-aggrandized or engaged in questionable practices, Jesus has never been found guilty of such things. No one has even tried to accuse him of misogyny, material greed, murder, adultery or child abuse. His teachings remain above reproach as well. The worst I’ve heard said about Jesus is that (1) he might have been occasionally rude to his mother, (2) his teachings are anti-life because they promote maintaining faith over personal safety, and (3) he might not have been divine like he claimed. Gandhi, the Dali Lama, the Prophet Muhammad, Joseph Smith, Billy Graham and the Catholic Pope all agree that Jesus is a person worthy of admiring and emulating. How astonishing is that! These guys probably couldn’t agree on the weather if they had the same zip code.
6. He rejected political power and titles.
Unlike many other religious leaders, Jesus didn’t preach his message in an effort to build an earthly kingdom for himself. Instead, Jesus spoke of a spiritual kingdom, the Kingdom of God, which he was already destined to rule. Whenever the Pharisees asked Jesus his feelings concerning paying taxes to Caesar, Jesus upheld Caesar’s rule. Jesus didn’t try to lead mobs into the palace to overthrow the Roman governors or into the temples to overthrow the religious leaders. He didn’t stage sit-ins or hunger strikes to protest oppressive laws. He didn’t demand that people give him money or keep him in luxury. He simply taught with authority. And when those who saw him as a threat struck out at him with violence, he did not strike back. Jesus’ teachings transcended, and continues to transcend, worldly notions of power and privilege.
7. He laid down his life to redeem his followers’ souls.
Usually, when other prophets or religious founders have died, their deaths have been attributed to conflict, old age, assassination by their detractors, or some other accident. Not so with Jesus. Jesus told his disciples far in advance that he would die. He told them of how he would be arrested and “lifted up” in death for all to see. But his death wouldn’t simply be a martyrdom for his gospel; it would provide divine redemption for their souls, cleansing the sins of all who believe in him. So when the centurions came to arrest Jesus, he went with them quietly. He even rebuked one of his disciples for trying to stop the arrest.
Jesus could have escaped, but he didn’t. He could have played the victim card, saying “Look how persecuted I am!” and “You guys owe me later!”, but he didn’t. He gave his life out of love to provide for our spiritual salvation. No other well-known religious figure has made such a claim about his or her death, before or since.
8. His tomb is empty.
It is customary in other religions to honor the remains of their prophets and founders. Muhammad’s are located in Medina, Saudia Arabia. Joseph Smith’s tomb can be found in Nauvoo, Illinois. Bahá’u'lláh is interred in a shrine near Israel. A piece of Buddha’s tooth can be seen at a temple in Sri Lanka. Moses’ body is believed to be buried on or near Mount Nebo. But Jesus’ remains have never been found. Though he has two tombs in Jerusalem–the Holy Sepulcher and the Garden Tomb–both are empty. Though skeptics and archaeologists have scoured the earth looking for Jesus’ body, they have yet to find it. Did Jesus, as his followers claim, rise from the dead?
Well, let’s think about it. It seems unlikely that his disciples would have tossed the body of their precious friend into an unmarked pit simply to justify their claims of resurrection. Such an act would be abhorrent by nearly any culture’s standards, and certainly to theirs. Besides, what would it have achieved? Certainly not any kind of political power or wealth, since they all died tortured and penniless. The Jewish leaders had no reason to hide the body, either; they wanted people to believe Jesus was a mortal fringe lunatic–and were quite willing to persecute anyone who said otherwise. Who else had an interest in Jesus’ body and could hide it so well that no one could find it? How could such a conspiracy be devised without anyone ever uncovering it? It’s something to consider.
Even if someone disputes Jesus’ divinity or resurrection, there’s no denying that Jesus was an extraordinary person who said and did extraordinary things. Even after 2,000 years, his words still cut to the core of the heart, challenging mankind to abandon the pursuit of worldly gain, care for the needy, and take up his cross and die to self to save one’s soul. It is for these reasons that I continue to put my hope in Christ and strive to be his disciple. What say you?