I asked our Bible class yesterday morning who they believed to be the 10 most influential people to have ever lived, excluding people whose lives are recorded in the Bible. I can't remember all of the various answers, but some of the names mentioned were Mother Theresa, George Washington, Gandhi, Confucius, Charles Darwin, Abraham Lincoln, Adolf Hitler, and Helen Keller. I then asked the class to think of how different our world would be if Jesus of Nazareth had never been born. This question is really too big to even get our heads around. So much of the world that we take for granted is directly or indirectly related to the impact of a seemingly insignificant craftsman turned rabbi from a backwater region of an insignificant province on the edge of the Roman Empire. According to an article in Time Magazine http://ideas.time.com/2013/12/10/whos-biggest-the-100-most-significant-figures-in-history/ , Jesus actually is the single most influential person to have ever lived.
How and more importantly, why did this young Jew make such an impact on the world? Regardless of one's religious convictions (or lack-there-of), this is a question that's worth pondering. Prior to and even after the life of Jesus, there were many would be messianic figures who arose in 1st century Palestine. The fact that we even refer to it as the 1st century shows how much of an impact Jesus has had on history. He's the pivot on which our entire dating system in the Western world turns. He wasn't the only person who lived in his era who harbored messianic pretensions. But how many others of these would be messiahs have had the impact on the world that Jesus did? How many of these others can you name without a google search? What's also interesting is that Jesus' vision of the Kingdom of God shared some continuity with the expectations of his fellow Jews, but in many ways, his vison not only transcended his contemporaries' hopes and dreams, it completely turned them upside down. And yet, his impact on not only his own generation, but countless generations since is virtually incalculable.
The historian, the philosopher, the theologian, and I would argue, the average person really has to come to grips with this amazing man, Jesus of Nazareth. Who was he? What was his hope for his people, the nation of Israel? What was his vision for the world? How did the kingdom that he hoped to establish differ from the other kinds of kingdoms of the world? And if he ultimately failed in establishing his kingdom, as many of his contemporaries would have said, then why are we still talking about his impact on the world rather than the impact of Tiberius, who reigned in Rome at the same time? How did a crucified criminal wind up making a bigger ripple in the subsequent centuries than did the ruler of the world's largest empire? Why are the other would be messiahs of the 1st century just a footnote and Jesus is the pendulum on which the door of history swings? I believe these are the biggest questions in the history of the world. - Shay