Jesus | Christ | Jesus Christ



Who is Jesus of Nazareth?

Who did Jesus think he was?
Who did those around him think he was?
Who was Jesus of Nazareth?
To answer these questions, let us look at four titles that have been applied to him.

A wandering rabbi

In many respects Jesus was very much like the rabbis of his period, who roamed around, accompanied by disciples, dispensing advice and debating interpretations of the Law. But they tended to come from one of the recognized rabbinic schools, and to be sought out by disciples who would attach themselves to them. By contrast, in spite of Jesus’ ability to speak with authority (Mark 1:22 and parallels), he appears to have had no such formal training, and is the one who took initiative to gather his inner circle of twelve disciples around him.


By the time the apostle Paul was writing, 20 years after Jesus’ life, he was using the term Christos (which is simply the Greek word for Messiah) as a title for Jesus, as if it were his Surname. But at the time of Jesus, Messiah would have had very different connotations. Jewish hopes and expectations regarding the arrival of a Messiah were complex and varied, but there was a significant stream of thought that hoped for the arrival of a great leader from the line of King David, who would come and deliver military victory over the occupying Roman powers and herald a new age of freedom and prosperity for Israel.
Jesus fulfils some, but not all, of these expectations. He came from David’s line, he restored many to wholeness, he chose twelve disciples in a clear allusion to the twelve tribes of Israel, and he entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey in fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9. Yet, he had no intention of bringing about a military uprising, and, when one of his disciples acknowledged him as Messiah, he told him to hush it up (Mark 8:30 and parallels).

Some scholars claim that Jesus had no Messianic pretentions at all, and that all references to his being Messiah are later inventions of the early Church. But it would make no sense for the Church to give him that title, if he hadn’t made some reference to it himself; for, by not bringing about military victory and by dying an ignominious death, he had ultimately failed to meet the popular expectation of a Messiah.
So why did Jesus seem so reluctant to make the claim to be Messiah? This could be for a number of reasons:

  1. There would be great political danger in making such a claim openly, for the occupying powers would be very sensitive to someone making claims to be a saviour of the nation. (Although there is a degree of doubt regarding the exact wording of Jesus’ statements at his trials, it is surely no coincidence that it is when Jesus is under arrest and knows that he is about to die that he is most open about his identity.)
  2. Because Jesus’ idea of a suffering Messiah was so different from popular conceptions, it would have led to misunderstanding.
  3. There was a tradition that one could not claim to be Messiah until one had accomplished the Messiah’s task. In Jesus’ case, this was not until he had died.
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