Jesus Is Different

I think people view Jesus as just another religious founder.  This is a mistake, and a common reason why the claims of Jesus are never fully considered.  People are right to point out the inconsistencies (even absurdities) of religious leaders and the religions they founded.   But Jesus is different.  His uniqueness is compelling, and I think demands unique consideration.  Here are 10 ways Jesus is different…

  1. Jesus spoke on His own behalf; others spoke on “god’s” behalf

Every religion is essentially a revelation, and in this way the founder of a religion first and foremost claims to be a prophet.  They have received a special message or insight that they then deliver to others.  In other words, they claim to speak on behalf of God

Jesus certainly was a prophet, but his prophetic ministry had a subtle uniqueness that sets Him apart.  He spoke on His own authority.  He didn’t claim to have received a message from God; He claimed to be the author of the message.  The flavor of Jesus’ teachings was not, “Truly God has revealed to me to say unto you,” it was, “Truly I say unto you.”  There is a huge difference between “Thus sayeth the Lord” and “Thus I say” and Jesus unashamedly used the latter.

  1. Jesus claimed to be the way; others claimed to have discovered the way.

Not only does every religious founder claim to have a revelation, they claim their revelation is the fix.  That is essentially what religions are.  They are a way to solve humanity’s most fundamental dilemmas.  The different ways of religion vary but they are all proposed solutions offered up by the religious founder.

Jesus does the same, but his way is unique. He is the way. He did not come to offer a system to follow; He came as a Savior to accept.  So what makes Jesus unique is that his answer to man’s need is found in Himself.

  1. Jesus left witnesses; others left writings

Every substantial religion has sacred texts, and those texts are the recorded revelations of the founder.  This typically makes the difference between a small cult following that anybody with charisma can form and a religion that endures.  Sacred writings become the means for the religion to be passed on for generations to come.

What is interesting about the Bible is that Jesus didn’t write a word of it.  That is so significant.  In the same way Jesus viewed Himself as the authority and Himself as the way of salvation, He also viewed Himself as His own enduring revelation.  Jesus didn’t leave us His writings to ensure His legacy would carry on; He called to Himself witnesses to testify about Him.  And these inspired testimonies from multiple eyewitnesses were canonized as Scripture.  Jesus didn’t leave us His word; He is the Word.  Jesus didn’t write a book; He is what the book is written about.

  1. Jesus gathered the unlikely; others gathered the likely

Speaking of witnesses, if you study the life of major religious figures, the movement always begins with the founder’s family and close friends.  That’s not a coincidence.  You would assume that those closest to you would be the easiest to convince or manipulate, and skeptics of religion are right to point out this convenient fact.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Jesus, however, is that strangers were His early followers.  He would walk up to seemingly random people and say, “Follow me,” and they would leave everything and do just that.  That’s astounding!  And even more amazing is that the central figure of Christianity’s birth and development was the Church’s earliest and fiercest enemy, the Apostle Paul.  Paul went from attempting to destroy Christianity, to being the very person to catalyze Christianity.

  1. Jesus was countercultural; others were products of culture.

Skeptics are correct to point out that religions seem to merely be the outworking of culture and context.  You have a gifted charismatic leader combined with a context ripe for his message and out comes a new religion.  For example deep unrest and discontentment existed within the disordered, wicked, oppressed, polytheistic Arab world when Muhammad proclaimed his strict, moralistic, revolutionary, monotheistic religion.  Or the Second Great Awakening in America marked by sensationalism, emotionalism, and uninhibited religious fervor, offered the perfect climate for the eccentric Joseph Smith to sell the extravagant and outlandish claims of Mormonism.

But Jesus is clearly not the outworking of a sociological equation.  He was anything but a product of His times.  He offended the Romans in His brazen defiance of Caesar, He disappointed the Jews in his indifference to their Messianic expectations, He pushed back on cultural trends in the way he treated women, outcasts, and the oppressed, and every time they tried to turn Him into a popular cultural hero, He refused their efforts.  Simply put, Jesus wasn’t trendy at all.  When you consider the first-century context of His day, His movement should never have worked.  He defies all the normal predictors.

  1. Jesus was public; others were private.

Another suspicious fact about other religions is that the central claims and miracles always seem to occur in private.  Whether it’s being visited by an angel in a dream, going into a cave to hear from a god, discovering golden tablets that need to be translated in secret, the alleged supernatural always happens in private without witnesses, and then what happened in private is taken public.

In contrast, Jesus did everything in public.  Crowds were constantly following Him, He could never escape the public eye, and all his great words and deeds (yes miraculous deeds) were performed before many witnesses.  Even the central miracle and foundational claim, His resurrected body, was seen by over five-hundred witnesses!

  1. Jesus renounced earthly rewards; others indulged earthly rewards

If you look at the founders of other major religious movements or just your run-of-the-mill cult leader, the one thing they all have in common is an unhealthy lust for a worldly pleasure.  Whether it be irrepressible sexual appetites, or thirst for power and fame, or uncontrollable greed, when you study the biographies of these founders, they are clearly replete with ulterior motives.

And then you study the life of Jesus: refusing riches, treating women with utmost dignity rather than objects of sexual gratification, pushing back against all popularity, trying hard to keep His fame from spreading, never abusive, never manipulative, never exploitive, nothing but purity, love, and justice.  I’ve heard a lot of arguments against Jesus, but I have never heard someone question the character of Jesus.

  1. Jesus doesn’t make sense; others make perfect sense

Religions may appear on the surface to be very different, but in reality they are all different takes on the same idea.  There is a system to follow, tenants to keep, philosophy to embrace, commands to obey, and if you are do these things you will be rewarded, and if you don’t you will be punished.  This system of rewards and punishments is how our world operates, it makes complete sense, and if I were to create a religion I’m sure it would end up looking something like that.

But when you consider the claims of Jesus, His proclamation doesn’t make sense. Grace is the ethos of His message, and grace is at best confusing and at worst scandalous.  You don’t earn anything, you don’t do anything, you don’t achieve anything, Jesus does it all on your behalf.  The founder of Christianity doesn’t tell you what to do but instead does everything for you.  Of course Christianity brings about change in a person, but the change is different than conventional religious change.  Every other religion says you obey to be accepted.  Jesus says I accept you therefore obey.

  1. Jesus is the most important person of history; others are not.

Without a doubt, the most significant people of human history have been religious figures.  Men like Buddha and Mohammed have shaped entire countries and cultures.  But they are not the most significant person in history, not even close.

Jesus changed all of human history.  In fact, it would appear that history is all about Jesus.  He claimed to be the fullness of time, and that is a claim He lived up to.  All Jewish history (the most ancient monotheistic religion) points to Him, and all history since His arrival has been in response to Him.  Simply put, He is literally the tipping point of human history.  Most remarkable of all is that He had no credentials of greatness.  He was poor, uneducated, non-political, didn’t leave us writings, and constantly pushed back on popularity.  His public ministry only lasted three years.  He was then put to death by capital punishment like a common criminal.

How is it possible for a man like this to become the most influential figure of all time?

One reason alone…

  1. Jesus is risen; others are dead.

Every other founder of every other religion is in the grave.  I don’t know if there is much more to say about that.

Jesus, on the other hand, is risen from the grave.  He promised that He would rise from the dead three days after His death and that this resurrection would serve as His crucial vindication.  He bound all that He said and all that He did to His ability to rise, and then He actually did it.

I think people view the resurrection of Jesus as just another religious myth, but this is a gross misunderstanding.  The historical evidence is so overwhelmingly in favor of the resurrection that, ironically, you have to forsake intellectual honesty to deny it happened.  If we were talking about anything else, you would be called foolish to deny it’s validity.  Simply put, it is one of the most thoroughly documented and attested event in all of ancient history.  Indeed, Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.

That doesn’t make Him unique; that makes Him God. 

Rev. Robert Cunningham