Whatever christians disagree on, we all pretty much agree that Jesus’ life on earth was pivotal in world history. But what was the purpose of his life? On that, you’ll get some different answers.
- Historians tell us about Jesus’ life and ministry in its context in first century Judaism. They will have different emphases, but most agree he was a messianic prophet, teacher and healer who believed he was inaugurating God’s kingdom on earth.
- Others stress the supernatural elements – his healings and exorcisms as victories over Satan, and the prophetic element in his words.
- Modern western evangelical preachers tell us Jesus came to die for our sins, and that all other ideas people have about his purpose are not as important as this.
- More liberal christians may emphasise how Jesus showed us an example of a life of love, or perhaps that he came to release people from political and social bondages and oppressions.
- And of course others, some of whom might not even call themselves christians, might say that Jesus is a teacher, a guru or even an appearance of the divine.
What does the Bible say?
When we look at the Bible, we find that many of these ideas can be found there. There is no doubt that, in the gospels, Jesus’ primary message was the dawning age of the kingdom of God, and that this would be a time when oppressions would be broken (see for example Luke 4:16-21). The Jesus of the gospels was also a teacher who entered into the issues of his day, and a healer.
But it is also true that in Paul’s and some of the other letters, Jesus’ death and resurrection are the main focus.
Do we have to choose only one?
Why make exclusive claims, that Jesus only had one purpose, and we know what it was? The kingdom of God means us welcoming God’s rule in our lives through king Jesus. It required Jesus to die and be resurrected, it involves our obedience to Jesus’ teachings, it leads to freedom from spiritual, political and emotional oppressions. We are called to be servants and messengers of God’s peace. Surely it’s all in there, and singling one aspect out exclusively misses the full, wonderful reality.
What we believe about Jesus’ purpose affects every part of our lives (or at least it should). If we have a reduced understanding of Jesus’ purposes, our lives will not so much reflect the richness of the values of his kingdom, and we will have a truncated gospel.
Let’s not sell Jesus short this Christmas, or any other time!
For more on the fulness of our message, see What message?