The most important question in all the world is the one that Jesus asked his disciples in Matthew 16:15: “Who do you say I am?” There is no question more urgent and more life changing and more eternally weighty than the question “Who is Jesus?”
Jesus is a man, a human being. He was born to a woman in Bethlehem (Matthew 1:25) and grew up as a child in Nazareth (Luke. 2:39-40). As a man, Jesus had a body, which grew and functioned like any other human body (cf. Luke. 24:39). He hungered (Luke. 4:2). He slept (Luke. 8:23). He felt tired after long journeys (John 4:6). He mourned the death of his friend (John 11:35). He pined for Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37). He displayed great sorrow at Gethsemane (Matthew 26:37-38) and righteous anger in the Temple (Matthew 21:12ff).
Jesus of Nazareth lived and died (and rose again!) in first century Judea under the imperial rule of Rome. His existence is even attested outside the Bible by the Jewish historian Josephus, the Roman historian Suetonius and the Roman governors Tacitus and Pliny the Younger.
But Jesus was more than a man from Palestine. He was a prophet (Matthew 21:11; Luke. 7:16). As a prophet, he ministered in word and deed, teaching the way of the Kingdom, healing the sick, raising the dead, and demonstrating his power over sin, the devil, and the created order.
There were other prophets in the first century, but Jesus was unique. He spoke as one having authority (Matthew 7:28-29). To reject him, was to reject God (John 5:19). To believe in him, was to believe in God (John 14:1). He was not simply teaching the way, the truth, and the life; he was claiming to be the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).
More than a prophet, Jesus is the Messiah (Matthew 16:16). He is the Christ, the anointed one through whom God promised to restore his people. The title of Messiah, or Christ, was a Jewish title. To be the Messiah was to be a King like David, a Temple builder like Solomon, and a prophet like Moses preceded by a messenger like Elijah.
Yet, for all the ways Jesus showed himself and believed himself to be the Messiah, there was still one glaring problem in the eyes of his Jewish contemporaries: Messiahs didn’t die. But Jesus did. For the first century Jew, a crucified Messiah was a contradiction in terms. The Messiah was supposed to go to Jerusalem and fight the forces of evil and be enthroned as king. But Jesus had in mind a different battle and took for himself a different kind of throne. In the paradox of the ages, Jesus took sin upon himself to vanquish evil, experienced death to conquer the grave, and rejected kingship so that he might truly rule. Jesus died for our sins and rose again on the third day so that we might be free from the power of death and the devil and forgiven for our rebellion against God.
Finally, Jesus is God. In Christ all the fullness of Deity lives in bodily form (Colossians 2:9). The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being (Heb. 1:3). He is our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13). He is the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End (Revelations. 22:31).
So who is Jesus? Jesus is a man, a prophet, the Messiah, the Son of God, and God in the flesh. He calls us to faith and repentance–to believe the good news of his life, death, and resurrection and to forsake our sins and wrongdoings. He calls us to leave everything and follow him. In dying to ourselves, we will truly live.