Who was Jesus ?

Jesus lived about 2000 years ago in Galilee and Judea, two regions of what is now Israel. He was a Jew by birth and upbringing. Historically speaking, it seems indisputable that he lived, and that he became a preacher, was joined by a group of disciples, had a controversy with the Jewish leaders, and was executed by the Romans. After his death his disciples continued and some of them were persecuted, even killed.

The four Gospels in the New Testament - accounts of his life and teaching that were handed down by the early Church as being authentic - tell us about his life and teaching, his death, and end with accounts of his appearances to his disciples after his death. Other documents in the New Testament, particularly the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of St Paul, tell how the disciples experienced and reacted to these appearances, how they understood them and how they were energised and emboldened to risk everything in order to bring the Good News to other people. These texts all vary in terms of emphasis and interpretation, representing the views, traditions and agendas of different groups as they diverged in the tens of years following the events they report.

What does 'Christ' mean?

Jesus became known as Jesus Christ, or 'the Christ'. This is another word for the Hebrew 'Messiah' meaning 'chosen one'. It indicates the Christian teaching that Jesus, was the chosen Son of God, chosen by God to reveal God's nature to the world. 

Why does Jesus matter ?

What followed Jesus' teaching mission, and how it was interpreted by his followers is the foundation of Christian faith. On the face of it, Jesus was murdered by the Romans in the most humiliating way possible, and one reserved for the lowest of the low: being nailed to and suspended from a rough and ready gallows until he finally suffocated. For most Jews this would have confirmed that he was not the promised Messiah, but an imposter. St Paul (Saul as he then was certainly thought so).
But Jesus' followers, presumably to their surprise, appear to have experienced him in their midst and concluded that he was in some sense alive in a unique way - 'risen again'. After a certain period it seems these experiences gave way to a new found spirit of hope and confidence that God had raised Jesus from the dead. For them this validated Jesus both for his teaching and for the demonstration of God's love he had shown in accepting that death and putting that teaching into practice.

What we are to make of this in our modern, empirical age is a challenge. On the face of it, resurrection - 'coming back to life' -  lies outside our experience, and the stories of Jesus' resurrection are unverifiable in the ways that we accept today. The texts we have are actually a bit coy in what they claim, but it is inescapable that his followers were sufficiently emboldened and strengthened to withstand vicious persecution from both the Jewish religious hierarchy and subsequently the Roman Empire.

The witness of St Paul

In this respect, St Paul's story is interesting. As a super-committed adherent to the Jewish law, he not only found Jesus' death a sure sign of disgrace in the eyes of God, but set about vengefully harassing and killing Jesus' followers and those whom they were persuading. Until, that is, he experienced a vision of the risen Christ. In this moment, his world was completely upturned. 

For him, understanding that Jesus was risen meant that God had vindicated Jesus, and that God was actually to be found not in glorious acts of national liberation but in humiliation and in the darkest places the world can offer - a complete upturning of the way the Jewish faith and the secular powers thought about power. It also meant that Jesus' teachings about the equality of all human beings in God's sight and the upturning of the accepted world order were vindicated and that sharing this news was an urgent priority.

Treated with understandable suspicion by the community in Jerusalem he had so viciously persecuted, St Paul spent the rest of his life (although we have no idea where, when or how he died) bringing the news of God's new world order to the non-Jewish Greek and Roman communities around the north and east coasts of the Mediterranean.