Just Who Is This "Jesus" Person?
Editor's Note: My friend Steven Hunter has a great blog over at hunterpartyof4.wordpress.com. I love Steven's mind and the different perspective he brings to the table. Steven has done a lot of recent research on Luke & Acts; at my insistence, he penned this post. Thanks, Steven! - mcw
"Just who is this 'Jesus' person?" I would imagine that might have been the question asked by the readers/hearers of Luke’s Gospel. Throughout Luke, the physician was concerned with the identity of Jesus Christ. The 1st century and the time leading up to Jesus’ life and ministry were wrought with Messianic figures (cf. Acts 5:36-37) who scrounged up small armies to take on the Empire. They all failed because they were not the Messiah. In his Gospel and Acts, Luke wanted to solidify in the minds of Christians the fact that Jesus was in fact the promised Messiah of the Jews, and that to a Gentile audience.
From the earliest pronouncements of his Gospel, Luke recorded testimonies given to Mary about who her Son actually was (Luke 1:31-33, 41-45; 2:11, 25-33, 36-38, 49-51). John the Baptist would later preach about the identity of Jesus (Luke 3:15-17) and the Heavenly Father would speak at Christ’s baptism and affirm who His Son was (Luke 3:22). However, opponents of Christ would question His very identity beginning with Satan (Luke 4:3). I wonder if Luke intended us to relate all such questionings to the work of Satan by naming him as the first doubter of the identity of Christ? The Pharisees (Luke 5:21, 7:39, 44), John’s disciples (Luke 7:18-20), Christ’s own disciples (Luke 8:25), and Herod (Luke 9:7-9) all wondered just who Jesus was.
The turning point came in Luke’s Gospel when Peter confessed Christ as Lord (Luke 9:18-20), and God again confirmed his Son’s identity on the mount of transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36). Some unnamed person invoked the name of Jesus’ – an authoritative thing to do – to exorcise demons (Luke 9:49-50). It wasn’t until Luke 9:48 that Jesus spoke about things being done in His name, and on that occasion it was receiving a child in His name. Thereafter, we see things being done in the name of Jesus when we had not previously read of such in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 10:17; 13:35; 19:38; 24:47), and it would be in the name of the Lord that the Christians would suffer persecution (Luke 21:12, 17).
After Jesus rose from the grave, the report of the women to the apostles fell on deaf ears: “but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11). Though Jesus had been confessed as Christ, he was now, since His death, demoted to just another one of Israel’s prophets (Luke 24:19-21). Even once he appeared to His disciples, they could scarcely believe what they were seeing (Luke 24:41). The thrust of Jesus’ identity wouldn’t come until Peter’s sermon on Pentecost (Acts 2:22-36). That was the confirmation of Jesus’ identity: “God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). It was this message to the Jews that would give impetus to the spread of the Gospel unto the Gentiles as well.
I believe the identity of Jesus was juxtaposed to that of the imperial cult, and perhaps even the pantheon of Roman gods. It can be hard to truly define the identity of Christ until we have some figure posed to us that is meant to take His place. To the Romans, it might have been Jupiter (Zeus), or Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1): the former a Roman god and the latter a ruler who was often referred to as “Lord” and “Savior” of Rome. Luke posited before Theophilus and his audience that it was in fact Jesus who was “Lord” and “Savior,” not only of Rome, but of humanity.
Our lives are filled with many things that take Jesus’ place. How about sports? My wife, who works for a medical practice, has told me that children will miss school for illness, and their parents will bring them in for a shot so that they can play in that night’s game. Talk about messed up priorities! We’re living in an era when sports have quickly taken the place of Jesus; especially with traveling teams. Some parents wonder why their children aren’t Christians. It’s likely because they’ve never been to a church camp to have that interaction with God and His people.
I believe Luke’s Gospel and Acts are meant for us today to identify who that Messianic figurehead may be in our lives. For many it is a politician or the president of our country. For others it may be their ability to earn an income. Still, for others, it just may be some power greater than self. Luke invites us today to not be derailed by placing our hope in human devices or schemes. Luke adjures us to look to Jesus. Yes, this Jesus whom Gabriel told Mary was to be and now is “great and…Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32).