Let’s be honest: it’s all too easy to highjack Jesus and make him the pin-up boy for our cause. Depending on your flavour he’s the middle-class moralist, the enlightened guru, the hellfire preacher, the social justice warrior—and the list grows every year.
The reason Jesus keeps getting a rebrand—the reason he simply refuses to go away—is that he is without question the most influential person in history.
Don’t believe me? Then consider the following.
1. Jesus Is Permanently World Famous
Most of the world is religious. But only one faith figure has over half the world’s attention. The Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam make up 54% of the world’s population. And a common thread of all three is Jesus.
Yes, Jesus was rejected by the Jews as a false Messiah—but he was the most compelling candidate to date. And he remains the most famous Jew who ever lived.
“The Bible is unbeatably the best-selling book in history.”
Jesus is the central figure of the world’s biggest religion. Christianity has always been a contagious faith. As a result, a third of the planet has pledged its allegiance to Jesus, with dramatic church growth continuing in Asia, Africa and South America.
Even Muslims, who deny that Jesus is God’s Son, acknowledge him as a prophet. The Qur’an calls him ‘Isa al-Masih or Jesus the Messiah, and it refers to him 93 times—four times more often than Muhammad himself.
But the Bible—whose central character is Jesus—has had better traction. At five billion copies, the Bible is unbeatably the best-selling book in history. It’s also the world’s most translated, written-about, and shoplifted, book of all time.
2. Jesus Launched An Equality Revolution
Staggering inequality still exists around the world. When people face discrimination for their gender, ethnicity, age or creed, a deep sense of injustice wells up in us.
But did you know that not everyone feels the same? For most of human history—and in much of the world today—it’s perfectly normal to treat people unequally.
“Staggering inequality still exists around the world.”
Besides that, the caste system, FGM, child marriage and honour killings are tragically commonplace. This isn’t a matter of spite—these cultures are simply acting on deeply-held beliefs.
Others will protest that our emphasis on equality comes from the Renaissance or the human rights movement. But even these were birthed in a Christian-saturated worldview. Uncomfortable as it might be, this equality revolution finds its beginnings in Jesus.
“All people are created equal. If that’s true, then all beliefs are not.”
From his embrace of women and children, to his claim that God knows the number of hairs on our head; from his call to leave the ninety-nine for the one, to his charge for costly love to the least of these, Jesus defied the ancient world to insist that every life matters.
All people are created equal. If that’s true, then all beliefs are not. Objectively speaking, Jesus taught a better way.
And in a time when “progress” has taken us beyond equality and into the frightful realm of identity politics, white guilt and reverse racism, Jesus still teaches a better way.
3. Jesus Redefined “Hero”
Here’s another confronting truth about the ancient world: its heroes were—let’s be honest—mostly murderers. Think conquering caesars, samurai warriors, and knights in shining armour.
Thousands of years later, it couldn’t be more opposite. In the West at least, we esteem the nun who serves in the ghetto, the rescuer who sacrifices his life to save a child, and the head of state who relates to the humble and lowly.
This is an extraordinary reversal. And once again, Jesus helps explain it.
As Jesus hung on the cross crying out in agony, his devastated followers had to decide: either he wasn’t the hero they once thought—or their very definition of hero had to change. They chose the second option.
Check out Kurt Mahlburg’s new book Cross and Culture: Can Jesus Save the West?
Slowly the continent of Europe marinated in a single, world-changing idea: the universe-creating God stepped down to earth, became a peasant carpenter, washed his disciples dirty feet, made upside-down claims like the meek will inherit the earth, and then gave up his life for his friends.
4. Jesus Inspired Universal Literacy
Most cultures have turned their language into writing. Some have gone on to develop beautiful literature. But from time immemorial and on every continent, education was for the elite.
That is until followers of Jesus saw otherwise. As the Reformation swept Europe, reformers like Luther and Wycliffe had a vision to make the Word of God available to the masses, taking it from Latin into the languages of the people.
“Christians have played a disproportionate role in making universal education global.”
Missionaries continued this project. To translate Scripture, they systematised national languages like Hindi, Urdu and Bengali which helped birth nations. In fact, thousands of indigenous dialects have been saved by Christians in this drive to democratise language.
A Bible you can understand is only useful if you can read. So the other goal of reformers and missionaries was mass literacy, for which they enlisted the help of governments. From the earliest days, Christians have played a disproportionate role in making universal education global.
As for higher learning, don’t forget that monks invented the university—and that the world’s leading institutions like Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Yale (and too many more to list) were established to teach the Bible.
5. Jesus Is The Star Of Ancient History
It’s often assumed that the Bible is historically unreliable. Some even question if Jesus ever lived. But it’s no exaggeration to say that Jesus is the best-attested figure of ancient history.
Tiberius was emperor when Jesus was born. But almost everything we know about him was written 80 years after the event. The writings we have about Jesus, on the other hand, were written within 20-60 years of his life.
In case you didn’t catch that, our records about a ragtag rabbi called Jesus are better than those we have for the man who ruled the world at the same time.
Check out Kurt Mahlburg’s new book Cross and Culture: Can Jesus Save the West?
But it gets more impressive. No one claims the history about Caesar or the writings of Plato were made up. But only a handful of these documents have survived.
By contrast, 24,000 New Testament manuscripts can be found throughout the world’s libraries. With these, it’s possible to reconstruct the New Testament with near-perfect accuracy.
“The historical evidence for Jesus is overwhelming.”
And if you’re concerned that the writers of the Bible were biased, consider just some of what we know about Jesus from non-Christian authors:
Jesus came from Nazareth; he lived a virtuous life; he was crucified in Palestine during the festival of Passover, under Pontius Pilate, during the reign of Tiberius Caesar; he was considered a Jewish king; his disciples believed he was raised to life three days after he died; and they worshipped him as God.
Yes, faith is needed to follow Jesus—but it’s not a blind faith. The historical evidence for Jesus is overwhelming.
6. Jesus’ Followers Discovered Science
Many believe that science and religion are at war. Take Richard Dawkins for example, who says, “I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.”
But this would be news to the founders of modern science, who were mostly Bible-believing Christians. Think Pascal, Faraday, Pasteur, Kelvin—or Newton, who discovered gravity but wrote over a million words about the Bible.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth gave Europe a real universe that could be studied.”
Quite simply, science arose only once in history—in Christian Europe. Many other cultures had scientific insights. But it took a lot more than insights to develop a culture of science. For that, Christian assumptions were needed. Like these:
Objective truth exists. Many eastern faiths say that each person can find their own truth. But science only works if truth exists and can be discovered—a thoroughly Christian idea.
The universe exists. It’s also common in the East to see the world as an illusion. By contrast, “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” gave Europe a real universe that could be studied.
The universe is orderly. Most faiths imagine an array of gods competing to run the universe. However, one Creator using one set of laws made life much easier for scientists like Kepler who said that to do science was to “think God’s thoughts after him”.
“All of these ideas are at the heart of Christian belief.”
We’re fallen and sinful. No one likes the Christian doctrine of original sin, but it inspired the scientific method which stresses that a discovery is only made when we’ve doubted our theories until we can doubt them no more.
Our brains can be trusted. If we’re here by some cosmic accident, how can we trust the conclusions our brains come to? But if we’re made in the image of an intelligent God, that problem is solved as well.
All of these ideas—which are at the heart of Christian belief—made science possible.
7. Jesus Is The World’s Greatest Force For Compassion
Early Christians were despised in the Roman Empire. Despite this, their program to feed Rome’s poor was as big as the city’s civic guilds. And they scoured streets and trash heaps to rescue discarded babies—their example ultimately ending infanticide.
Christianity and compassion are deeply linked. The history of hospitals, for example, is mostly a history of the church. Public healthcare was unknown in the ancient world, before St. Basil opened a 300-bed hospital. His vision spanned a thousand years until monks were caring for the sick in 37,000 European monasteries.
As modern medicine was born, followers of Jesus led the charge again, pioneering antiseptic surgery, clinical teaching, physiology, transplant surgery, the vaccine, and writing what became the standard medical textbook for two centuries.
“Christianity and compassion are deeply linked.”
The world wouldn’t be the same without Christian heroes like William Carey who ended widow burning in India, William Wilberforce who abolished the slave trade, Martin Luther King, Jr. who transformed civil rights in the U.S, and Mother Teresa whose name is literally a synonym for compassion.
By no means do Christians have a monopoly on care. But Jesus—who gave us the story of the Good Samaritan, and backed it up with his profound love for the hungry, sick and dying—has inspired more compassion than any other force in history.
8. Jesus Paved The Way For Democracy
Rule of law is the remarkable idea that a nation is governed by its constitution—something with a higher authority than senators, kings, or the mob majority.
For this, followers of Jesus were inspired by ancient Israel’s law—and they were central in drafting the foundation texts of modern democracy like The Magna Carta, Lex Rex, The English Bill of Rights and the U.S. Declaration of Independence.
“On these ideas we’ve built the freest, safest and most generous societies on earth.”
They reasoned that if we’re all made in God’s image, we the people should get a say in how government is formed, not just the elite. But if we’re fallen and sinful, we also need checks and balances to restrain our own corruption.
These are revolutionary ideas—enjoyed by very few in history. On them we’ve built the freest, safest and most generous societies on earth. Even human rights, which are slowly being adopted worldwide, have deeply Christian roots.
As secularism spreads, it’s worth remembering that the separation of church and state was originally Jesus’ idea. And that freedom of religion has never meant freedom from religion.
If it did, we never would have discovered democracy in the first place.
9. Jesus And His Church Are The Most Hated People On Earth
Many people suffer oppression today—but none more than followers of Jesus. Though they make up only one third of the world’s inhabitants, Christians bear the brunt of some 80% of religious discrimination.
100 million Christians are targeted for their faith in 139 countries—or three quarters of all nations on earth. Every year, 150,000 believers are put to death simply for what they believe. In its Middle Eastern homeland, the church is under threat of extinction.
“Christians bear the brunt of some 80% of religious discrimination.”
This silence, in fact, is key to understanding another trend: a growing anti-Christian sentiment in the West.
Christians who report discrimination in places like Australia, Europe and North America are often dismissed as having a martyr complex. But real data has led Open Doors, the leading authority on global Christian persecution, to warn that western nations will soon be included in their annual reports.
When a single faith is the target of so much worldwide opposition—and this despite the many benefits it has brought the world—it should get our attention.
Maybe Jesus really did come to rescue humanity from its deep hostility towards God.
10. Jesus’ Claim To Be God Was Unique
One final quality that sets Jesus apart is his claim to be God. That might sound odd, given that countless people through time have done the same.
But actually, the claim of most was that they were a god. Jesus however claimed to be the God—the Creator of the universe, walking among us in human flesh.
Check out Kurt Mahlburg’s new book Cross and Culture: Can Jesus Save the West?
No one else who launched a world religion has gone there—certainly not Muhammad or the Buddha. And most who’ve done so in modern times have actually taken a shortcut: claiming to be a reincarnate Jesus, they’ve simply hoped to borrow some of his unassailable fame.
When God spoke to Moses in the burning bush, I AM was the name he gave himself. What got Jesus in so much trouble with the religious leaders was when he took this title to himself, saying “before Abraham was, I AM”.
Jesus forgave sins, which any Jew knew was God’s business alone. He accepted worship, which was an even greater scandal. In these and countless other ways he made himself equal with God—which is what ultimately got him crucified.
“Jesus claimed to be the Creator of the universe.”
And it means there is hope. “I am the light of the world,” Jesus said. “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
He was born in an obscure village
The child of a peasant woman
He grew up in another obscure village
Where he worked in a carpenter shop
Until he was thirty when public opinion turned against him
He never wrote a book
He never held an office
He never went to college
He never visited a big city
He never travelled more than two hundred miles
From the place where he was born
He did none of the things
Usually associated with greatness
He had no credentials but himself
He was only thirty three
His friends ran away
One of them denied him
He was turned over to his enemies
And went through the mockery of a trial
He was nailed to a cross between two thieves
While dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing
The only property he had on earth
When he was dead
He was laid in a borrowed grave
Through the pity of a friend
Nineteen centuries have come and gone
And today Jesus is the central figure of the human race
And the leader of mankind’s progress
All the armies that have ever marched
All the navies that have ever sailed
All the parliaments that have ever sat
All the kings that ever reigned put together
Have not affected the life of mankind on earth
As powerfully as that one solitary life
One Solitary Life—Dr James Allan Francis, 1926
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