Who Is Jesus By The Rules? Pointing to the Rule that Matters
It is a unique story that has captivated many over many centuries: Jesus, born on the edge of a large empire in a small village that was far from the center of world activity. In a handful of months his ministry generated a movement that grew to become one of the great expressions of faith and spirituality the globe has seen. That story has been investigated, critiqued, and deconstructed over the centuries; it has led to praise and inspired many, transforming the direction of their lives. Many things have been done in his name— good, bad, and ugly. It all started right here with the events surrounding his life.
Usually when Jesus is handled by the rules, much of what is said and written about him is cast aside, like chaff being shed from the wheat. We have examined why this is the case and have challenged whether this story deserves to be so completely deconstructed. We have taken a different path, but have argued for it using the same corroborative rules others use in studying Jesus. Those rules of historical Jesus study have been applied to twelve significant events or themes. We have examined the reason these accounts can be trusted, as well as the objections raised against them. These are not the only twelve events we could discuss to get at who Jesus was and what he did, but they do constitute central events that together tell a coherent story. We have explored what discussion of the historical Jesus entails and why it is controversial. We have weighed those opinions and attempted to place Jesus in his historical context. Out of that study we can see a unified portrait of a figure claiming to bring with him a fresh reflection of God’s presence. In what he did and said, Jesus presented the promised rule of God and placed himself at the center of its arrival. In those acts, there was a consistent claim of authority displayed that gave all pause— some in embrace, others in rejection. There was no place for a kind of middle ground. Either Jesus brought the kind of era he proclaimed, or he did not.
The twelve events we have studied together tell us a lot about Jesus. The first three events set the table for what Jesus was bringing.
Event 1: Jesus affirmed the ministry of John the Baptist and the claim that the new era of God was approaching, which also brought with it an accountability before God that required a response.
Event 2: He collected twelve key followers around him, symbolizing the restoration of a promise for a community with a rich history of involvement with God.
Event 3: He associated with sinners to demonstrate a place for forgiveness in helping people to find their way back to God. Controversy followed him, because the actions he performed reflected great, unusual claims. What Jesus offered was new and challenged the way things were being done. Jesus was more than a prophet or religious teacher. His claims went beyond simply pointing the way to God. His claims involved a personal level of authority through which God was revealing himself.
Event 4: In claiming to be Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus showed how pausing for a day of sacred reflection was never meant to prevent one from showing mercy or meeting daily needs.
Event 5: By casting out demons, Jesus showed that his message was about more than the politics of Rome. Jesus challenged and faced off against forces that sought to rip out our humanity from within.
Event 6: In accepting with caution Peter’s declaration that he was the Christ (or Messiah), Jesus began to teach that the kingdom he would bring was different than the anticipated raw display of power his disciples had expected. It involved suffering for him and for those who followed his path.
Confirming this different kind of kingdom, in event 7 Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. There in the central city of his faith he issued a challenge that would lead to his death. This was a kingdom that would not force itself on people. It would just be what it was, walking with faithfulness in the direction that had been set.
Event 8: However, this kingdom is not timid. In the temple action, Jesus affirmed an authority over sacred space and reminded people that life is about more than participation in a bazaar.
Event 9: Sitting at a table with his followers at a final meal, he completed the salvation story of his people. He transformed the deliverance of Passover into a story of how God would use him to deliver. His death would become the opportunity to bring anyone into a fresh connection with God who sought the forgiveness he offered as a sacrifice.
Event 10: Before the Jewish leaders, he predicted a vindication that would exalt him into God’s presence, sharing directly in the divine rule. That testimony sealed his short-term fate and led him to Pilate.
Event 11: There the Roman ruler, using the power of his mighty state, put Jesus to death for sedition. Pilate executed Jesus for claiming to be a king Rome had not appointed. That painful crucifixion was supposed to be the end of the story.
Event 12: However, what Jesus had promised, the empty tomb delivered. Women, who had no business being witnesses, discovered that the dead body they had gone to anoint was gone. Risen and alive, the one who stood at the center of God’s kingdom was vindicated. His claims of kingship, heavenly rooted authority, and God’s kingdom stood firm. Life triumphed over death. The disciples’ grief became conviction. The offer of life had found in him a fresh central focal point— forever. The disciples taught what Jesus had preached. They proclaimed the new promise of God. They shared that life had come in the message and person of Jesus. Resurrection not only meant new life for Jesus, but the offer of new life to the world.
These twelve events belong together. They tell us of a figure who mixed authority and humility. They reveal a power that invites and inspires. They affirm to us that the Jesus of history links to and discloses the Christ of faith. Jesus Christ was sent to reveal the living God and point us into the way of life. That is who Jesus was— and is.
The bridge we discussed in the introduction to this book can be crossed. To cross it leads not only to the historical Jesus but to the cross and the Christ. That bridge points to the anointed one of God who sits at the hub of God’s promise, ready to deliver on God’s promise of forgiveness, enablement, and life to those who seek it. That link takes us into something whose reach extends into heaven. To bring us to this opportunity for life, his followers tell of the events faithfully in every sense of that word. Through these events, Jesus’ followers answer the question Who is Jesus? Our culture has an array of answers and questions about this question, as we have seen. But, as we have also seen, the answer of his followers points to his authority and uniqueness. Using the rules to examine who Jesus is points to the one question that matters: How should we relate to the God Jesus so authoritatively discloses? The disciples told the story this way, because the message about God, Jesus, and us is so life-changing. It is something we can see powerfully only after we link the Jesus of history with the Christ of faith.
About Dr. Darrell L. Bock:
Darrell L. Bock is a New Testament scholar and research professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas, United States. Bock received his PhD from Scotland’s University of Aberdeen. His works include the monograph “Blasphemy and Exaltation” in the collection Judaism and the Final Examination of Jesus, and volumes on Luke in both the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament and the IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Bock is a past president of the Evangelical Theological Society. He serves as a corresponding editor for Christianity Today, and he has published articles in the Los Angeles Times and The Dallas Morning News.
Darrell L. Bock. Who Is Jesus? Published originally by Simon & Schuster, Inc. and most recently by Howard Books in 2012. The article above was adapted from the Conclusion of the book.