"Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord."
"I can give a precise day when Christ came to me and began to transform my life with his power and love."
- Keith Ward
Some people consider Christianity to be about culture, morality, or the fulfillment of religious obligations. In reality, however, it is all about Jesus. Though the Christian faith involves doctrines and practices that affect all of life, its essence is about the person of Jesus Christ. This is why powerful, encouraging spiritual quotes such as the one above by philosopher and theologian Keith Ward are not rare within Christianity.
Many people who have either had a relationship with Christ their whole life or who came to Jesus later on are often quick to share their experience with the transformative power of this connection. Knowing the person of Jesus on such a deep level often gives believers great spiritual peace, as well as the motivation to wake up every day feeling like they have purpose, like their life has meaning during both the good times and the bad.
The Apostle Paul stressed this relationship with Christ in his writings. Understanding that he himself had been distracted by so many other things, he emphasized the fundamental importance of getting to know Jesus personally. "Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him... I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead" (Philippians 3:8-10, NLT).
Knowing Jesus is a matter of faith. It involves placing your hope and trust in who he is and desiring to live for him from this moment on. Reading the Bible, spending time in prayer, and practicing a variety of other spiritual disciplines can help you get to know him better, but the focus is solely on Jesus.
But who is this Jesus? What does the Bible teach and what do Christians claim about him? Consider these seven fundamental truths about Jesus--truths that are common throughout most of Christendom.
1. Jesus is one of the persons of the Trinity.
Though the Bible never actually uses the term "Trinity", the doctrine encapsulates what Christian theologians believe Scripture teaches about the nature of God. The Bible portrays the Father as God (John 6:27), Jesus the Son as God (Mark 5:19-20), and the Holy Spirit as God (Acts 5:3-4), but also affirms that there is one and only one God (Isaiah 43:10). This doctrine, then, explains that the one God exists with three centers of personhood.
As can be seen in the writings of the New Testament, the early Christians came to understand the nature of God as triune. The term "Trinity" itself, though, was not used to describe God until the Latin theologian Tertullian used it around AD 200. A century later, the doctrine was formulated at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325. The doctrine itself, however, is rooted in the pages of Scripture.
The concept of one God existing as three persons is a reasonable explanation of what the Bible teaches. Teaching that one person exists as three persons or that one God exists as three gods would be contradictory, but one God as three persons is perfectly coherent, though perhaps a difficult concept to grasp.
2. Jesus is truly God and truly man.
The first chapter of the Gospel of John, referring to Jesus as "the Word", decrees that Jesus was God and that he became human. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:1, 14, NIV). In other words, Jesus was fully divine while simultaneously fully man.
Jesus did not merely appear as a man; he was a man. He got tired, he felt hunger, he faced temptation, he became angry, and he knew grief. He experienced everything we all do. Though there have been some who have argued that the humanity of Jesus was only an illusion, John's emphasize on Jesus becoming flesh eliminates that option.
As for his divinity, Jesus demonstrated power and authority over nature, over disease, over spirits, and over life and death. He healed people, he taught with an authority no one else could, and he even raised the dead. The actions and abilities attributed to Jesus clearly point to his divinity.
Understandably, this dual nature has been the topic of some debate. Theologians have struggled to describe how these two natures--divine and human--coexist. This balance, known as the hypostatic union, was described in AD 180 by Iranaeus as "Vere Deus, Vere Homo", which means, "Truly God, Truly Man."
3. Jesus is eternal.
Referring to Jesus, the Gospel of John explains that, "He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made" (John 1:2-3, NIV). John leaves no room for exceptions. Nothing--not even Jesus himself--was created apart from the creative work of Jesus.
This means that Jesus cannot have been a contingent being; his existence cannot be dependent on anything or anyone else. Because anything that comes into existence is contingent on something else, Jesus could never have come into existence. The only possibility, therefore, is that he has always existed. He is eternal. He had no beginning; instead, all things found their beginning in him.
The writer of Hebrews also asserted the eternal nature of Jesus when he wrote, "But because Jesus lives forever, his priesthood lasts forever" (Hebrews 7:24, NLT). The writer reaffirmed it six chapters later with the pithy statement, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8, NIV). Jesus had no beginning and He will have no end. Rather, he transcends time and space.
4. Jesus was crucified for humanity.
Because of sin, humanity had become separated from God. We were hopelessly lost with no possibility of gaining redemption. No matter how hard we tried, we could never atone for our sin and measure up to the standard of a holy, perfect God.
The justice of God demanded that our sinfulness be punished. As sin is akin to treason against God, the penalty would be death. The love of God, however, demanded mercy. To satisfy both justice and love, therefore, Jesus devised a solution. He would freely sacrifice himself to pay the penalty for our sin. In this way, the demands of both justice and love could be met.
In explaining this, Jesus said, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45, NIV). Though Jesus said and did many things during his time on earth, his primary reason for coming was to sacrifice himself. He would later fulfill this mission on the Cross.
In the Roman Empire, crucifixion was reserved for the worst of criminals. As Jesus would be taking the sins of humanity upon himself, it seems appropriate that he would die this kind of death. However, Jesus himself committed no wrong. Instead, he was falsely accused of blasphemy and sedition against Rome. Subsequently, he was sentenced to death on a cross.
5. Jesus rose from the dead.
The central event of the Christian Faith and the pivotal event in all of history is the Resurrection of Jesus. If it really took place, then Jesus truly is divine. If it never happened, then the claims of Christianity fall apart. The Apostle Paul--one of the greatest proponents of Christianity and the man most responsible for taking the Christian message beyond the Jewish community--understood this reality. This is clear from his writing to the church in Corinth: "And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith" (1 Corinthians 15:14, NIV).
The late Christopher Hitchens, the famous author and atheist, agreed with Paul on this one point. "I would say that if you do not believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you are really not in any meaningful sense a Christian." Hitchens' view of the importance of the Resurrection was in line with orthodox Christianity, though he would disagree with the veracity of the Resurrection.
Historically, the Resurrection cannot be proven or disproven. There are evidences, however, that Christian apologists use to support the claim that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead.
First, it is generally accepted as factual that the body of Jesus was discovered to be missing from the tomb. The location of the tomb was not in dispute, no one had a clear motive for moving the body, and no one had the opportunity to steal the body.
Second, eyewitnesses claimed to have seen Jesus alive again after the Crucifixion. These sightings were not isolated instances; they were group experiences. Nor could they have been cases of mistaken identify, as the people who knew Jesus best interacted with him, ate with him, and even touched him. The followers of Jesus had the opportunity to verify his identity. They recognized that Jesus had risen from the dead and they publicly proclaimed this belief.
Third, the disciples were willing to go to their deaths defending their claims. Though many people have died for their beliefs whether they were true or not, people are not so willing to die for a claim if they know it is false. The followers of Jesus were in a position to know whether or not their claim was true.
While these evidences do not prove the Resurrection occurred, they do support the belief that it did.
6. Jesus ascended into heaven after his Resurrection.
After rising from the dead, there were several postmortem appearances of Jesus. During that time, Jesus appeared to hundreds of people. Then, forty days after the Resurrection, Jesus ascended into Heaven.
According to Acts chapter one, this took place outside Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives. Jesus had been talking with his eleven remaining disciples when he suddenly began to rise into the sky. The disciples watched as Jesus disappeared into the clouds, and they continued gazing upward until two white-robed men--presumably angels--suddenly appeared among them. The men explained that Jesus had indeed returned to heaven, but that he would also someday return just as he went.
The implication of the Ascension is that Jesus returned to heaven with his humanity intact. He had experienced a bodily resurrection, and that body is the one that ascended. Jesus did not merely assume human form for a season; he is forever the God-Man.
7. Jesus will return again someday.
The hope of every believer is the Second Coming of Jesus. Though in many ways his kingdom is a present reality, it will be established in its fullness at that time. The first time, Jesus came as a baby. His arrival was missed by most. The second time, however, he will come in power and majesty.
Christians disagree on the details of the Second Coming, including the timing and the sequence of events. Because of this, various Christian eschatologies have emerged, with timetables attempting to decipher prophecies about the Tribulation, the Rapture, the Abomination that Causes Desolation, the Second Coming, the Millennium, and all the other events predicted to occur during the End Times.
However it happens, however, Jesus will arrive as the Righteous Judge of the living and the dead. He will then establish his Kingdom with the fulfillment of all Messianic prophecies.
The establishment of this Kingdom will usher in a new era for all who have placed their faith in Jesus. Experiencing his presence in all its fullness, followers of Jesus will enjoy unprecedented joy and fulfillment. Furthermore, the devastation of life will be gone. As foretold in the Book of Revelation, "He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever" (Revelation 21:4, NLT).
Ultimately, each person makes up his or her own mind about Jesus. Some will reject him as a legendary figure, some will regard him as a good teacher from long ago, and others will accept him wholeheartedly as the Savior of the world. The Jesus of the Bible clearly fits the latter.