Babies are marvelous creatures! They have eyes that can see and ears that can hear, they have brains that can process these sights and sounds, and they have minds with the ability to put everything together with intelligent meaning. As these babies grow older, they mature into children, teens, and eventually adults who become skilled scientists, creative craftsmen, wise teachers, and deeply spiritual pastors. And Mary’s Baby was one of these marvelous, brand-new humans with all the potential that every baby has at the time it first enters the world.
But who was He?
Let’s begin with the fact that He had a most unusual start in life: His mother was a virgin. Now how can a virgin give birth when it takes both a man and a woman to bring a new child into the world? Luke tells us that the angel Gabriel came to Mary from God’s throne and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you. . . . You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus” (Luke 1:28, 31).
Mary was stunned. “How will this be” she asked, “since I am a virgin?”
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,” Gabriel replied, “and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (verses 34, 35). Through a miracle of divine grace and power, God would place an embryo within Mary’s womb. In other words, Jesus would not have a human father. His Father would be none other than God! This is our first step in understanding who Mary’s Baby was.
- He did not have a human father. His Father was God.
We find another clue to Jesus’ identity in something else Gabriel said to Mary: Your Son “will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end” (verses 32, 33). Every Jew would understand that language. Gabriel was telling Mary that her Son would be the long-awaited Messiah! So we now know two things about Jesus:
- He did not have a human father. His Father was God.
- He was the Messiah.
And there’s more, but for that, I need to give you a bit of background.
Mary had been pledged to be married to a carpenter in her hometown of Nazareth whose name was Joseph. The Bible doesn’t tell us whether Mary told Joseph about Gabriel’s visit or whether he learned of her pregnancy when she began to “show,” but he did find out, and the Bible says that “he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:19). So, Gabriel stepped in again, and this time he came to Joseph in a dream. “Joseph son of David,” he said, “do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (verses 20, 21).
The name Jesus comes from the Hebrew word Joshua, which means “Jehovah is salvation,” and thus the name Jesus is very appropriate for the One who would “save his people from their sins.” So Mary’s Baby wouldn’t just be a great Leader who would establish an everlasting kingdom. He would also be a Deliverer from sin. Now let’s put these ideas together:
- Jesus had God as His Father, meaning that He was a divine Being.
- He was the promised Messiah.
- He would save human beings from their sins.
God affirmed who Jesus was
The Bible says very little about Jesus’ early life. Beyond a brief visit to the temple in Jerusalem when He was 12 years old (Luke 2:41–49), Luke simply says that He “grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52).
But that all changed when Jesus turned 30. John the Baptist was preaching and baptizing people in the Jordan River, and Jesus came to him and asked to be baptized. John immediately recognized Jesus, and he objected. He said, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matthew 3:14).
Jesus simply replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” (verse 15). So John baptized Him.
Following His baptism, a Voice spoke from heaven and said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (verse 17). God publicly reaffirmed what He had told Mary 31 years earlier—that her Son would also be God’s divine Son. At the same time, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove flew down and rested on Jesus’ shoulder (verse 16), anointing Him for His coming mission.
Jesus’ mission to defeat Satan
The Bible says that immediately after His baptism, Jesus “was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1). That sounds strange. Didn’t Jesus include the words “lead us not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13) in the sample prayer He gave to His disciples? To explain this, we need to take another short detour.
Satan was at one time a mighty angel whom we know as Lucifer (Isaiah 14:12, KJV).* He stood next to God’s throne in heaven (Ezekiel 28:14), but he rebelled against God and aspired to take over His throne (Isaiah 14:12–14). So God cast Lucifer, now Satan, and the angels who sided with him, to the earth (Ezekiel 28:17; Revelation 12:7–9).
God had just created the earth, including the first two humans, Adam and Eve, whom He made rulers under Him over the earth (Genesis 1:26–28). However, when they yielded to Satan’s temptation and ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that God had forbidden them to eat, they came under Satan’s dominion. Satan grasped the rulership over the world that God had given to them, and he became “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4, KJV), “the prince of this world” (John 12:31, KJV), “the ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Ephesians 2:2).
And one of the reasons Jesus came into the world was to recover the lost dominion. However, to accomplish that He had to pay the death penalty for human sin. He was born into the world as a human being so that as a human He could pay that death penalty—and not just for Adam and Eve’s sin but for the sin of every human being who has ever lived or ever will live.
Satan was very clever. When Jesus was famished from 40 days without anything to eat, Satan tempted Him to doubt His relationship with God. “ ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘tell these stones to become bread’ ” (Matthew 4:3, emphasis added). Had Jesus followed through on Satan’s suggestion, He would have sinned by expressing doubt about His relationship to God, who not more than a month and a half earlier had proclaimed that He (Jesus) was “my beloved Son.”
Failing with that temptation, Satan offered Jesus an easy way to regain dominion over the world. He took Him to a high mountain and gave Him a vision of all the glorious kingdoms in the world. “ ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me’ ” (verse 9). Wow! No Gethsemane. No floggings. No cross to bear. No nails through the hands and feet. No hanging in agony for six hours while most of the people standing around were mocking Him!
But Jesus shot back, “Away from me, Satan!” (verse 10) because He knew that He had to go to the cross to regain the lost dominion over the earth and to “save his people from their sins.” Jesus chose the hard way because He loved you and me!
Jesus claimed divinity
One of the astounding things about Jesus is the claims He made about Himself. For example, when the Jewish ruling council put Him on trial for healing a man on the Sabbath, He declared boldly, “A time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” (John 5:25). So Jesus claimed to have the power to raise people from the dead—but only God can do that!
Jesus made the same claim when His friend Lazarus died. Jesus said to Lazarus’s sister Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25). Then He proceeded to raise Lazarus back to life, even though Lazarus had been dead four days! (verses 39, 43, 44). Anyone with the power to do that has to be God.
Also, in a heated exchange with the Jewish leaders, Jesus actually claimed to be Jehovah, the most sacred Hebrew name for God. He said, “Before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58).
Allow me to explain. When Moses met God at the burning bush, God told him to speak with the Jewish leaders and inform them that God had sent him to deliver them from Egyptian bondage. Moses asked God to tell him who he should say sent him, and God replied, “This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you’ ” (Exodus 3:14). In the Hebrew language, Jehovah is thought to be a form of the verb “to be,” one version of which is “I AM.” So Jesus claimed to be Jehovah, which was the most sacred Hebrew name for God! The Jewish leaders understood very well what He meant, because they immediately picked up stones to stone Him—the Jewish punishment for blasphemy, the claim to be God.
Putting it all together
Let’s briefly review what we’ve been discussing. Mary’s Baby was conceived in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit, who is God, and since God was His Father, Jesus also was a divine Being—God in human flesh. He was also the Messiah, whom the Old Testament prophets said would save God’s people from their sins. This is the conservative, evangelical Christian understanding of who Jesus was.
Jesus was unquestionably a good Man who lived an exemplary life and spoke many very wise words, and many non-Christians acknowledge that. However, C. S. Lewis, the famous British atheist turned Christian philosopher and theologian, said, “Let us not come with any patronising nonsense about [Jesus] being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” In other words, Jesus is either the divine Being that He claimed to be, or, as Lewis put it, “He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell.” Mary’s Baby was—and is—the Messiah, “the Son of the Most High,” the One who would “save his people from their sins.”
Lewis confronts each of us with a decision: “You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.”
I choose to believe that He was exactly who He claimed to be, and I put my faith in His promise that all who make that choice will spend eternity with Him in His everlasting kingdom. I also encourage you to make the same choice, because your eternal well-being depends on it!