Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? Distinguishing Christ from the Plethora of Putative Jesi


Gathering on a vast and open plain, thousands had left their crops and flocks. For many, the journey took days just to arrive and see this man whom they had heard so many rumors. It was said that he was some sort of wild prophet with authority over nature itself. Others said this man was actually some sort of zombie—an ancient prophet returned from the grave to seek vengeance on Israel’s oppressors. Though his identity was not certain, even to those closest to him, countless throngs of people wanted to be near him. They came to him to be healed of their sicknesses, to be cleansed from the evil spirits which tormented them, and to be fed by his words and miracles (Luke 6:17-19). They wanted to touch him desperately because “power was coming out from Him and healing them all.”

Though these people knew that this Jesus was a holy man sent by God, his exact identity was unclear to them. But this confusion did not stop them from gathering around him, sitting at his feet, and being healed.

Concerning his identity, Jesus asked those closest to him. On the road to Caesarea Philippi, he asked them “Who do people say that I am?” Their answers varied. “They answered Him, ‘John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, ‘one of the prophets.’ ‘But you,’ He asked them again, ‘who do you say that I am?’” (Mark 8:27-29).

I imagine a deep silence fell over the disciples.

Did they know? And if they did, were they too afraid to declare what they thought and be wrong? I mean, these were the guys who had been tromping around the region with him seeing all the incredible works done by his hand. Who better to answer this question?

And yet, there was silence.

“Peter answered Him, ‘You are the Messiah!’”

Though Peter was the correct, Christ none-the-less told him to remain silent.

What is perhaps most interesting is that nothing more is recorded. Perhaps Christ went on through a deep theological discussion of trinitarian theology—but I doubt it. This concept was correct and all that was necessary. He was the messiah, the promised and awaited king sent to them by God. It is this messiah who said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by Me.” (John 14:6) But what more is needed? He told those around him that they could only come to the Father through him, but where is the deep theological discourse? Where are the sub-points?

“Now, guys. You must believe that I am light of light, of the same essence but not of the same substance as the Father, and that I am both wholly human and wholly divine, otherwise your confessions mean nothing. Sorry guys. You have to get it right for it to count.”

Though there is merit in deep theological discussion and clarification, Christ did not come teaching it—not about himself or any other speculative matter. He was far more concerned with his followers living and acting properly—loving one another, giving to and serving the poor, and healing the sick.

Today, however, a large swath of theologians, pastors, and studious Christians assert the contrary. One must have the correct understanding of Christ and his identity for prayers of forgiveness and service in his name to be counted valid.

I have heard countless times from such people that other “christians” and half-hearted “jesus-loving” hippies worship and serve another Christ—a false-christ. Mormons, Catholics, Jehovah’s witnesses, and “liberals” all imagine and follow deviant jesi (the plural of Jesus). “That’s not my Jesus” they declare with force and bile. Only my conception of Jesus is the right one!

There is something to be said about a “right” and “wrong” conception of Christ and his identity. There certainly is a right one. Christ is who he is. He is obviously not what he is not. And for a very long time people have fallen into the argument of whether one is on the “right” or “wrong” side of this identity of Christ.

I believe some can have very real misconceptions of who Christ is, but in comparison to thinking about Christ “rightly” in the fullness of who he is, we are all wrong. Christ, being God, is so much more beyond us than we will ever understand. He is beyond all human understanding. His very being is a mystery. And these doctrinal statements created over the last two-thousand years try to capture who he is—but they all fall desperately short of capturing his fullness. We all fall desperately short of understanding this man/god who we glibly call Christ and Messiah. But we don’t know what that really means. We don’t really know the fullness of who he is, even if we assent and verbally agree with traditional doctrinal creeds. We speak, but we don’t really understand. The images we have of Christ are gross distortions of who he is.

Understanding Christ is like a massive puzzle. We may get a few pieces in, portions of the image become apparent, but the whole image will never be put together and understood. The pieces which are put together and the image that is created may be considered “true” and “right”, but falls desperately short of the “full truth.”

We all experience and know Christ through approximation to his identity, never through fully understanding or knowing.

And while many may feel depressed or discouraged that Christ cannot be fully known or understood, it is in reality quite beautiful. Our savior is one who is infinitely beyond us. He transcends our understanding. And this infinite Christ died for us. What’s more, he cannot be contained in our boxes. He cannot be contained within our nice and neat theologies. And this is okay! This is a wonderful mystery.

Salvation cannot rest on understanding and believing the right theologies and the “right” Jesus—otherwise millions of children’s confessions of Christ are meaningless. A child can’t understand Christ (as if anyone can).

Does the child of seven who confesses that Christ is God died for their sins become meaningless when they know nothing of christology or that he was the Christ-man—100% God, 100% Man?

Is my daughter’s confession of Christ pointless because she clearly misunderstands trinitarian theology?

God honors and loves these confessions. And although children, both you and I, and countless others get it wrong constantly—all having very different conceptions of Christ, minute though they may be at times—Christ honors and loves the way we respond to him according to our understanding. He loves the little child that loves Christ, though they clearly hold infantile and “heretical” views. He loves that they give and serve and pray, though in child-like ways.

Is their position all that much lower or different from yours or mine in relation to the fullness of Christ? I assert that it is not. Christ is who he is—no question. But just as countless people flocked to Christ, misunderstanding him as they did and even as the disciples were not exactly clear on his complete identity, Christ loved them and gave them authority in his church.

And while there are clear distortions, gross misconceptions, and heretical errors concerning the identity of Christ, room must be left for those ignorant of who he really is. Room must be left for those whose understanding of Christ is evolving, shifting, and changing.

The beauty is that Christ responds when we call to him, even when we misunderstand. Martin Luther, the great reformer of the protestant reformation, cites a peculiar moment when God answered his prayers. The new, bright-eyed lawyer was nearly killed in a violent lightning storm. He cried out to St. Anne, the virgin mother of Mary, to save him. “I will become a monk!” he cried out. Through this moment weakness and the desperate cry for help, God answered his prayer and used his life to reform the church. And though Luther had some very serious misconceptions, Christ none-the-less responded and used his life.

May he do the same for us all.

With this Article, a new series is launched on the identity of Christ. Each Tuesday a cultural and religious misconception of who Christ is will be explored—from the Mormon conception of a brother-of-Satan, created Christ to the super-buff, body-building, UFC-fighting Jesus. We all have baggage. Here we will explore it.

THEOLOGY21 is a co-op of authors dedicated to renovating theology for a new generation, taking the ancient truths of scripture and theology and speaking to the post-Christian culture of the 21st century. To keep up-to-date on all things THEOLOGY21, Give our Facebook page a “like”, follow our twitter page, add yourself to our email list, or subscribe to our feed!

  • F474L3RRoR

    While I get the idea that the fullness of Christ is ‘unknowable’, as usual some of this article makes me a little leery. The idea that Mormons, Catholics, Jehovah’s witnesses, and “liberals” are all treated as equals with different perspectives is way too universalistic for me. Dude those groups are NOT on the same team. All wells though perhaps refreshing do not quench thirst, as does Christ. Many religions have found parts of God, universal truths if you will, or as you put it ‘parts of the puzzle’ but that does not make all religions equal. A Coptic priest once broke it down like this; ‘Christ is narrow but exceedingly deep’. The doctrines of the church do not change, we are free to explore the depths of Christ, but let us not exchange His gospel for another. He is the way.

    While He ‘transcends understanding’ He very much wants to be known by us. Not in an academic sense, systematically put in a scientific box, but as a friend walking with us in the cool of the garden. Don’t let His mystery keep you from relationship. He can be known, we have the fullness of God inside of us, how’s that for a mystery? But you are absolutely right; He will not fit in our box. The first time we tried that we got the law, relationship is scary, He is scary but He is good. If we will set fear aside we can take hold of the mane of the Lion of Judah and walk with Him. Don’t miss the reality of Him, He is not an idea. He is real and wants to be known to His children.

    Countless people flocked to Christ for things, healing, food, and freedom. But not all who received these things got what Christ was here for. Christ even told them you aren’t following me you are following the food. He was very direct that He was the only way, that all are reconciled to God, and instructed His church to not forsake His teaching. Maybe it wasn’t five bullet points, but the points He did give are wonderful and are to be held as mysteries of the church. When He spoke of the children coming, it was faith He was speaking of. Not of our ignorance, we are to grow up in His teaching, take up the meat of the doctrine of the church.

    I love you brother, but this sounds too familiar. Christ is unknowable so do your best. You will always be a sinner so just do your best and try to keep your sin in check. We are all wrong so don’t make absolutes. I’m sorry if I am painting with too broad a brush, but Bro that is not the gospel. Seek and ye shall find, knock and it will be opened. Those who call on Christ wherever they are or what they believe will know Him. And they will be known by their doctrine, no it doesn’t say that, they will be known by their fruits. So Christ cannot be known through a set of facts or His bible even, He is know through communion. Sitting face to face as friends in the tent of meeting. And in that place, captives are set free, He is known, the Truth is revealed.

    Yes there are things we cannot comprehend, but He is not one of them. He tore the veil man, He bankrupt haven for relationship, that we by His Holy Spirit can be called sons and daughters. Not orphans waiting to meet something we call ‘Father’ in the sky, but truly adopted and know to Papa Daddy God. Anything that doesn’t lead to Him, let it go. “I will not let go the hand of God even to feed the poor”. We cannot judge or should we judge anyone on his or her spiritual journey. But the boast of Christians is not that we are seeking God, but that we found Him, or rather He found us. If more people in the church got saved, these would be non-issues. The trinity is not up for debate, it might be ‘intellectually stimulating’ to debate it but these are issue that have been laid down from since Christ’s death. Even your boy Luther didn’t abandon the teaching of Christ, to make it up as He went. I’m rambling now anyway man I love you keep up the good work.

    TL;DR: Christ is not a test, information to be learned He is a person. Talk to Him as a person and He will talk back. Stop seeking and find Him in the cross.

  • You are quite right! There is no doubt that the Mormon, Catholic, Jehovah’s Witness and countless other “Christian” sects and heresies have it wrong. They have Christ wrong. And for many, Christ is just an idea—not a person in relationship. And this makes a huge difference. I have to confess, that my personal confusion is that we all have misunderstandings of the person of Christ, even though we are “all” in relationship with him. A perfect example is between myself and Driscoll. He sees jesus as this buff, body-builder type who is powerful and wants to kick butts and take names. This is obviously a gross understatement of his view on Christ, but nonetheless an element of truth. For me, I see him as a social radical, revolutionary, and generally politically disinterested “hippie”—as it were. While in a certain sense we are both right, both of us have different understanding. And this is the whole point. This is why I want to explore the various Jesi that are out there, not just those variations within the orthodox (not the church but in faith) and the heretical. Part of the question that I wrestling with is how much error or misunderstanding makes one a heretic? How much error makes a brother a demonic enemy? I would have never considered Rob Bell a heretic or one whose words are from the devil leading people to Hell, but that is what many evangelicals are saying. Because his Christ is too open and too forgiving (I don’t agree with Bell, not to that extreme).

    In any case, you raise some great and wonderful points. Ultimately, I am not sure where the answer lies between seeking and knowing, understanding and experiencing Christ. In either case, you are quite right. We will be known by our actions. I read this scripture this morning.

    “ …for such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself is disguised as an angel of light. So it is no great thing if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their destiny will be according to their works.” 2 Cor. 11:13-15

    There are clearly things that are true, like the trinity. No question about that. I guess the question is whether Christ is willing/can/does have relationship with people who misunderstand, believe errors, or generally have an ignorant perspective of Him.

    In either case, praise God that any of us have relationship with Him.

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