“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father” (John 10:14-8). There is overwhelming biblical evidence, such as this passage, that Jesus declared a new way of living exists. Were these the words of a social reformer, or a revolutionary destined to break down the barriers between God and man?
Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus Christ, or simply “Jesus,” was born in Israel more than 2000 years ago. A Jew, who’s life would later become the foundation for Christianity; would rise out of the oppression of Roman rule to lead followers to salvation by reconciling their relationship with God through sacrificing His own life to atone for the sins of man. For most of His life, Jesus lived a life of obscurity as a simple carpenter. It was not until His second cousin John the Baptist of Judea baptized him that He fully embraced his rightful namesake. “Jesus” stemming from the Greek language relating to the Hebrew word Joshua, means “savior;” and “Christ” stemming from the Greek language related to the Hebrew word Messiah, meaning “anointed one.” In theological circles the word baptism has often been met with resistance. Jewish baptism customarily was looked upon as a process of one’s conversion from a pagan to Judaism. Yet, when Jesus was baptized the Bible states, “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him” (Matthew 3:16). This baptism not only marked the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, but a spiritual awakening foretold by Old Testament prophecy.
Many words have been used to describe Jesus Christ; Son of God, Savior, and Redeemer to name just a few. However, no two words bring questions to the life-works of Jesus Christ more than words: Reformer and Revolutionary. Was Jesus a reformer, was He a revolutionary, or was He both? The opinion one can conclude is best derived from the evidence presented and how one views its importance. Christ’s teachings were synonymous with humility, grace, and empowerment. However, His instruction moved beyond that of an influential reformer; His teachings became the voice of a revolution.
To begin, let us look at the role Christ played as a reformer. As Christians, we can spend literally years thumbing through the New Testament marveling at the events that identify Jesus as a reformer. Ironically, Christ’s ministry only took root during the last three years of His life. The Roman Empire, led by Tiberius Julius Caesar Augustus was an unscrupulous political regime and as a reformer, Jesus chose to make changes to improve this tyrannical corrupt system. Through His ministry, Jesus was insistent upon confronting those religious leaders that kept its people in a constant state of oppression. He not only broke down barriers by standing up for woman and the poor by calling them to take part in His ministry; but also questioned the hierarchical system of those religious authorities that tried to define the status quo. Instead Jesus was insistent upon calling the poor to partake in the best of life. Jesus wasn’t one just to standby and allow circumstances to dictate His work. He confronted wealth, racism, and fought to defend the common man against the oppressive Roman Empire, all the while conveying His message of hope, faith, and love.
Perhaps it was not even Jesus, “the man,” that was the greatest reformer after all, but the reformation that His ministry provided to this earth; for it was His inception of an approachable God that seemed to provide the greatest reform. A God based upon love, forgiveness, and grace; not one who was ready to destroy and wreak havoc on those who sinned. When Jesus taught about the kingdom of God He did not do so as a forewarning of the apocalypse, but in true Hellenistic form, Jesus was using the opportunity to urge His followers to embrace relationships among people of all social classes. Jesus reformed a society; He changed a mindset. He was a gift given from God, His only begotten Son. Who would die for all of us, in effect redeeming and atoning for our sins; which laid the groundwork by which Christianity is based upon today.
When looking at the life of Jesus, one cannot argue that He was in fact a reformer; however, the reform he provided also translated as being revolutionary. Characterized by many accounts in the Bible, “Jesus is clearly the Davidic Messiah, that figure expected within certain circles of Judaism as the hope of the future, a figure as magnificent in general promise as he is unclear in precise detail” (Crossan 19). He became known as a freedom fighter for His attempts to liberate His people from Roman control, but became discouraged by the reality of the political state of affairs. “Jesus did not teach violence and murder; rather… He strove for nonviolent liberation” (Schnackenberg 11). Jesus the insightful philosopher, who’s strict moral code drove Him to strive for the transformation of a corrupt society, who foretold the end of the world and crusaded to prepare the world for it, would one day find Himself in direct conflict with Pharisees and teachers. Only to have one of His chosen followers betray him in the Garden of Gethsemane.
As Jesus stood before His accusers, He remained a revolutionary as the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, read His sentence of death by crucifixion; a death so vial that it was reserved for Rome’s greatest enemies. He bore the final judgment for man as an act of human compassion rather than a religious obligation. As the Roman soldier shackled Jesus to the whipping post, Jesus looked up even though He knew what He was about to face, as if still saying, “I love you.” The Roman soldier then bore the cat-of-nine-tails against Jesus’ back thirty-nine times, because forty was considered execution. Then with His back barely held together, they forced Him to pick up His cross and carry it through the streets of Jerusalem to the hills of Golgotha. There, they would pound eight-inch spikes into his hands and his feet, and hang Him on an old Roman cross. When thinking of this account I reflect upon the book of John when Jesus said, “”I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Life, this is life? Life taken by thirty-nine lashes? Life taken by eight-inch spikes and gruesomely suspended on a cross? Nevertheless, this was not really about life; it was not even about power, or even overturning the Roman government. This was about forgiveness. For even when He hung there suffering, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:24). Ironically, what the Romans really did not understand was that they had just began a “revolution.”
Whether you believe Jesus is a reformer or a revolutionary, it makes little or no sense in the context of His life. Through His teachings, He reformed a society; yet, it was these same teachings that proved revolutionary to the history of the world. Fact, Jesus was the Son of God, Savior to the world; and the ultimate reforming revolutionary figure in the Bible. As Christians, each day we have the honor of sharing our appreciation for the liberating gift that Christ’s death provides; a gift that flows through our relationships and remains the hallmark of forgiveness, reconciliation, and an abundant love for others. This same gift that once transformed me, this wretch of a man, into a compassionate soldier for Christ. The same person that used to make fun of “bible-bangers” is not only now one of them, but now serving in God’s Kingdom as a pastoral leader. Had I not chosen to say “Yes” to the grace and love that Jesus provides to us, I seriously do not know if I would be alive today. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ can be viewed as reforming or revolutionary; but one thing is for certain, it will continue to remain a life-changing authority that generates a revival of the Divine law; and a revolution that closed the gap between the relationship we now have with our Heavenly Father.
Building HIS Kingdom One Soul at a Time…
Crossan, John Dominic. Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1994. Print.
Schnackenburg, Rudolf. The Friend We Have in Jesus. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press. 1997. Print