Posted On 18/08/2020
The Christian Faith depends on the belief that Jesus was a real human person like us, a man who lived in Galilee and died at Jerusalem at the beginning of the 1st Century. Independent historical confirmation of this comes from a Jewish historian of that time called Josephus. He was really writing about a man called James but he mentions in passing that James had had a brother called Jesus whom some thought was the Jewish Messiah.
After the death of Jesus, James became the leader of those who believed this, together with the galilean companions of Jesus. James was a well-known and respected figure in Jerusalem and like Jesus he was opposed to any idea that the Jews should try to get political independence from Rome by the use of force. Jesus believed that he was descended from King David but he does not like using the title Son of David because for most Jews that meant being a warrior King. It was David the prophet who inspired Jesus. He also avoided using Son of God as a title because it was often given to Kings and Powerful rulers and so it could also have given people the wrong idea. His disciples accepted Jesus as their master or teacher, which is often translated as ‘lord’ but Jesus tried to make it clear that like them he was a servant of God though he had the special task of transmitting God’s will and purpose to human beings who were all God’s children. By calling himself Son of Man he was presenting himself as the prototype of what it means to be truly human. Jesus had a profound knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures of his own people beginning with the insights of the Legendary Moses and he claimed to be fulfilling them but he makes a careful and original selection from them in a way that makes his teaching universal. As well as direct quotation and commentary he told stories (parables) that challenge the listener to work out the meaning as it applies to him or her self.
Jesus made no attempt to record his teaching in writing and he died after only 1, 2 or 3 years of public ministry. All that we know of it depends on the memories of those who had known him. It’s written origins however can be found in the Hebrew Bible which tells the story of Israel (those who struggle with God). It does this in story and verse and even in translation can be understood and welcomed by peoples of many different cultures. Jesus however realised this is only possible if the readers are also listening to what God is telling them in themselves. It is this revelation of God in us that Jesus called ‘the living water’. He did not think that one could compel belief by special external supernatural names. He appealed to the faith in God that exists in every human being however deeply buried it may be. The prophetic work of Moses must be completed by replacing the limited idea of a Chosen Land as a geographical territory by a spiritual attitude in the hearts and minds of the Chosen people so that it was without losing their common identity that they can live anywhere on Earth.
This made little appeal to those already living in a Jewish political state but it meant a great deal to some Greek speaking Jews who met Jesus in Jerusalem when he preached there before his death. Most Jews now lived in countries all over the Roman and Persian Empires and had got used to other cultures. Most could speak a popular international form of Greek. So they called Jesus “Christ” which was a literal translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah”. This was after his death when, as they believe, Jesus had become ‘one with God’. As such he continues to teach us through the holy spirit. Where Jesus went we can follow. The human Jesus has shown the way for the rest of us humans to become ‘sons of God’ or Christ like him. Thomas Aquinas says, quoting an early and orthodox Christian source, “God became Man so that Man could become God”. Jesus shows us the way.