Who Is Jesus?
I want to examine for a minute, the identity that Jesus (with emphasis on the fact that He is the eternal second Person of the divine Trinity) chose to take on when he came to earth. Let me begin in Philippians 2:5-8.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
This passage is going to be increasingly important as I continue. That is the underlying truth that informs how we understand all of the context of the life of Jesus.
So what is that context? If we considered only what can be observed through cultural or physical analysis, excluding for a moment the spiritual element, who would the people in Jesus’s day have seen him to be?
Let’s start with the geopolitical realm. Jesus was a Jew in the Roman empire. At the time of Jesus’s birth, the Jewish capital, Jerusalem, had been taken over by the Romans through General Pompey. Jewish life under Roman rule was far from ideal. The Jews were often oppressed, openly mocked, provoked, instigated, and repeatedly suppressed when they chose to rebel or riot. The Jews were considered by Rome to be a troublesome minority and beatings and executions were often used to maintain law and order.
Jesus was born into this reality. But for Jesus, this was just the beginning of his earthly identity. Jesus grew up in a place known as Nazareth, which was kind of a suburb of Galilee. For many of us, it sounds nice to grow up in the suburbs. But the American suburbs are an anomaly that don’t really exist in most of the world and definitely didn’t reflect what life in Nazareth would have looked like. Nazareth was a small, poor town where Jesus lived as the son of a carpenter. In fact, the question was posed in John 1:46, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” So, Jesus was viewed as poor, backwoods, and a minority. Let’s continue.
When Jesus was born, Maji saw a star and concluded that it was a sign that a new king had been born. They followed the star to Jerusalem where they met Herod and told him that a new king had been born. Herod hated the thought of another king, so he had all boys under 2 killed. Mary and Joseph were warned about this in a dream, so they fled to Egypt, where they became refugees. So now we see that Jesus also was a refugee for the first years of his life.
From a political standpoint, Jesus was a minority of minorities. But in his own culture, among the Jews, he eventually rose to prominence, at least to a degree. In fact, he gained a position that bore with it a degree of privilege—that of a Rabbi, or teacher. We see Jesus, on multiple occasions, interacting with the religious leaders of the times. He was, on at least several occasions, invited into their homes for meals. He was allowed to teach in the synagogues. He was also a man, a distinction that itself came with certain privilege.
And it is at this point that we need to start to examine how Jesus handled each of these positions. Jesus had a voice. How did he use it? He had privilege. How did he use it? He used his voice and his privilege to speak against those who were using their voice and their privilege to oppress. He overturned tables that were being used to oppress in the temple. He called the religious leaders a “brood of vipers”. He used his privilege and his voice to establish a platform for himself. But his platform was not one on which he stood but was one on which he hung. He used his privilege and his voice as a means to denounce injustice, knowing that in doing so, it would cost him his life. And it would end up with him moving from the center of Jewish privilege, back to the outskirts of the city, back with the outlaws and outcasts.
Hebrews 4:15 tells us that we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Jesus experienced privilege and oppression. He understands the plight of the oppressed minority. He understands the allure of a position of privilege. This Jesus offers great comfort to the oppressed minorities of the world. But his life offers a harsh rebuke to those who fail to use their privilege “to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God.” – Micah 6:8. In fact, as the passage in Philippians shows, Jesus always chose to use his privilege for the weak, ultimately forsaking his privilege and becoming like the oppressed (all of humanity) for our sake. And he called us to follow him.
Will you follow him in using what privilege you have to pursue justice? Will you, as Jesus did, seek to understand the realities that oppressed people endure? Will you, like Jesus, willingly and humbly bear the repercussions that come when you speak out against injustice? Will you follow Jesus in bearing one another’s burdens, even if you don’t feel that you had any role in creating those burdens? And if you are oppressed or maligned or ridiculed, take comfort in knowing that you do have an advocate. There is One who had more privilege (“though he was in the form of God”) than anyone yet laid it all down for us. That is who Jesus is.
Written by Tyler Campbell