The quest for the historical Jesus, for the most authentic and true description of the man, dominated a strain of theological thought during the 19th and 20th centuries. Theologians would dissect scripture, historians would recover artifacts, and pastors practically posit who Jesus really was during the first century. In large part it was a response to the world’s obsession with historical and verifiable truth at the time, but it also captivated the minds of many Christians who sat in the pews on Sunday mornings.
Through their work Jesus was seen as a Rabbi (a teacher and prophet of first-century Judaism), a Light to the Gentiles (a philosophical mediator between differing groups), a Monk who ruled the world (a monastic example of the need to remove oneself from the world), the Prince of Peace (the divine example of pacifism), a Liberator (the opposition to economic and social injustice), and a slew of other identities.
In response to this growing trend, Albert Schweitzer famously said that going to look for the real Jesus is like looking into the bottom of a well; we know there is something down below, but what we’re really seeing is a faint reflection of ourselves.
Many of us are guilty of this similar line of thought even today. We have a social cause on our radar and we twist and manipulate Jesus to defending our cause. Politically, regardless of which side we identify with, we make the assumption that Jesus is on our side when debating someone with a different position. Our churches are so sure that Jesus supports our behavior that we are suspicious of everyone outside the bubble of our experience.
John, however, saw Jesus and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
How do we see Jesus? Do we limit Jesus to some political ideology or ethical principle? Do we believe that Jesus is our side and that we have a responsibility to convert those who disagree with us? Do we look for Jesus and only see a faint reflection of ourselves?
Or do we see Jesus like John? Do we open up scripture to enter the strange new world of the bible and encounter the Lamb of God? Do we understand Jesus as totally other and at the same time just like us? Do we believe that Jesus has not only taken away our sin (and therefore calls us to be holy) but also taken away the sins of our enemies?
How do we see Jesus?