Spend any amount of time consuming popular media or talking to non-Christians, and you quickly realize that everyone has their own ideas about who Jesus was and what He wanted to communicate. So, if we want to share Jesus with others, we need to be able to center the discussion around what the gospels reveal about Him and His priorities.
Here are five critical teachings of Jesus that make Him unique among other religious teachers. It’s definitely not an exhaustive list, but these teachings are a helpful place to start.
1. Loving God and loving others
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37b-40).
When an expert of the law tried to trap Jesus by asking about the most important commandment, Jesus made this critical statement. People often zero in on Jesus’ command to love others, and that’s important. But we need to recognize that He prioritized loving God with our entire being, and one of the ways we do that is by loving the people He created.
Jesus summed up the entire Law and the words of the prophets with these two commands.
2. I am the gate for the sheep
“Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:7b-10).
We can’t embrace the idea that Jesus was just a great teacher and ignore the exclusivist language He used. Jesus clearly communicated that He was the doorway into the kingdom of God. If we want to be reconciled with God, we must go through Jesus.
3. I and the Father are one
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”
“We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God” (John 10:27-33).
Orthodox Christian teaching recognizes Jesus as God-the second member of the Trinity. Some suggest that Jesus never claimed to be God, but that’s not accurate. Jesus clearly says that He and the Father are one. Anyone curious about whether that was a metaphoric statement need only look at the reaction of the Jews who were going to stone Him for blasphemy. They knew exactly what He was saying.
4. The Son of Man has the authority to forgive sin
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Mark 2:5-10a).
Not only does Jesus claim to have the authority to forgive sins, but by doing so, He also suggests that there’s something to forgive. People require forgiveness for their sins, and it’s Jesus who has the power to forgive.
So much of the tension between Jesus and religious authorities stemmed from moments like this when He made claims that put Him into God’s jurisdiction. If there’s ever any doubt about what Jesus is saying, pay close attention to others’ reactions.
5. Coming on the clouds of heaven
Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”
“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:61b-62).
Sometimes people suggest that Jesus was simply speaking about the divinity present in all of us, and He wasn’t making any claims that He was distinctly divine. But that’s just not true. Here Jesus makes a statement about Himself that’s drawn from Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah (Psalm 110:1, Daniel 7:13-14), but they also point to an eschatological (end-times) picture of Jesus as divine.
Again, it’s easy to discern when Jesus is saying when you check out the response:
The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” They all condemned him as worthy of death (Mark 14:63-64).
Jesus sets Himself apart
The idea that “all religions are basically the same” isn’t accurate. The Christian faith is built upon the uniqueness of Jesus. He wasn’t just a kind leader who encouraged everyone to be nice to one another. He wasn’t a random person crucified for His message of love.
He had a unique authority to call us to love God and love others. It was because of this authority that the Sanhedrin wanted Him eliminated, and it was His resurrection that confirmed He was who He claimed to be.
If you’re interested in learning more, watch The Life of Jesus, the feature-length film taken from the Gospel of John.