ACST 34: Christ: The Teacher

jesus_teaching Systematic theologies usually contain a section – like this – on Christology. They usually divide that section into two parts: the person of Christ (where they discuss his nature) and the works of Christ (where they describe what he has done). There is an issue that falls somewhat between these two categories which is often missing: the teachings and commands of Christ. One does not really know someone else unless one knows that person’s message. For that reason, it is helpful to spend some time learning what Jesus taught while among us.

Jesus affirmed that his disciples were right in calling him “Teacher.”[1] He came not just to die on the cross but also to share God’s word with humanity. The messages that he taught explained the heart of the scriptures, and charted a new path for us all to follow. He also taught about our future. Both the path we are to follow in obedience to his teachings and the hope that his teachings gave us are called the same thing: the kingdom of God.

Savior of the World

Christ taught that he is the savior of the world. He answered the question that he posed to his disciples: “But who do you say that I am?”[2] “With keen anticipation, he guided the conversation toward the crucial issue of their understanding of his identity. … He knew that their eternal destiny and the success of his mission on earth depended on their accurate perception of him and his ministry.” [3] Likewise today the church needs an accurate understanding of who Jesus was and is. Jesus provided a clear picture of his identity, but it takes faith to keep that picture in one’s mind because there are plenty of substitute pictures of Jesus that contend with it.

“This same question rings down through the centuries. ‘Who is Jesus Christ?’ ‘Is He just a man?’ ‘Is He a religious prophet?’ ‘Is he a great moral teacher?’”[4] Jesus taught that he was more than that. The angels declared when he was born that he was “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”[5] The people saw and heard him speak and do miracles and then proclaimed “we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”[6]

Jesus said it this way: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”[7] By so doing, he placed himself above every prophet, every sage, every guru, every religion, every philosophy, and every political movement. If one’s goal is a relationship with God, then Jesus Christ is the only way.

God has given bread to sustain us from heaven, and Jesus Christ is it. Jesus said “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”[8] He was talking about the hope of eternal life which no normal bread can offer. If we eat bread from the local bakery, we will hunger again. But God offers a bread that promises eternal sustenance. The manna that the Israelites ate in the wilderness was a sign promising that gift. Jesus was the gift. The manna sustained the temporary lives of the Israelites. Jesus will sustain us permanently. The Israelites accepted the manna by eating it; we accept Christ by believing in him.

Other teachers have claimed to have insight from the divine, but Jesus claimed more than that. He said “I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me.”[9] His knowledge of God was not learned through meditation or study. It was the result of an eternal relationship with his Father. What he taught us can be trusted because it came directly from the source.

Other teachers have claimed to have solutions to the world’s problems, but Jesus claims to be the solution. He said “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”[10] The darkness that threatens to destroy this planet is no problem for him. He is the light, and his followers have access to that light for their journey. He is called the light of life because the end of the journey will be eternal life. The metaphor of light speaks of both the path we follow today, and the hope we have for eternity.

Christ claimed to be of an entirely different category than all the other inhabitants of this planet. He said “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.”[11] If his claim was not true, and he was just another human being and nothing else, then there is no salvation and no hope for humanity. If he is merely one of several who are divinely inspired, then he is a divinely inspired liar, because he claims more of himself than just insight.

God has a flock in this world and as the world’s only savior, Jesus is both the way into that flock, and the only one who can shepherd it. He said “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.”[12] He also said:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.[13]

Some have suggested that there is wiggle room for some other saviors in this statement. But consider this evidence to dispute that claim: There is one shepherd and one flock. The one shepherd owns all the sheep. The sheep of other folds are owned by the same shepherd. They are simply not situated in the fold at present. This would suggest that Jesus is referring to people who would come to faith after the time of his speech recorded in John 10. They would come to faith (or into the fold) the same way these did. They would trust in Christ as their savior. At the end there are not several ways to God, but one flock, one shepherd.

What of those others who claim to have a way of salvation, and invite the world to follow them instead of Christ? Jesus calls them hired hands. They do not own the sheep, and when danger comes they flee, and fail to protect the sheep. Jesus was not like that. He faced the danger head on, went to the cross, and laid down his life for the flock. There is only one good shepherd.

Salvation from Christ is by means of resurrection from the dead. He is the savior from death. Many people in Jesus’ day assented to the concept of a future event where people would be raised from the dead. That was a correct theological assumption. But Jesus challenged the people of his day to connect that concept with himself. He was the savior because he was to be the one who does the raising on resurrection day. He said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”[14]

Jesus was not promising that believers will never die. The phrase “though he die, yet shall he live” makes that clear. Death will come to us all at the appointed time, and believing in Christ does not change our mortality. Lazarus was a case in point. He was asleep in Christ, and would have remained in that state until the resurrection day. But on the resurrection day, Lazarus would live. To prove that reality, Jesus brought Lazarus back to life. He has power over death.

But Jesus made another point. His other statement to Martha was not a contradiction to what he had just said. He had already established the context of his promises to Martha, and that context was resurrection day. It will be on resurrection day that Jesus will raise to life those (like Lazarus) who believe and die. Jesus’ other statement pertains to those who believe and are still living on the resurrection day. Those people who are living and believing in Jesus when he comes to raise the dead “shall never die.” Instead, they will be made immortal without ever having gone through death.

Entering His Kingdom

The metaphor Christ used most to explain spiritual things was that of the kingdom of God. Christ is king in God’s kingdom. Christ explained how to enter his kingdom. To enter his kingdom is to believe and follow Christ as the kingdom’s king, and to be prepared when that kingdom comes to earth to rule over the planet. The kingdom of God is not a metaphor for heaven. Heaven is where God is, but the kingdom of God is about where God wants to be. His throne in heaven is secure, but it is on earth that Satan’s rebellion had dared to supplant God’s dominion.

Jesus claimed that it is possible for human beings to become part of God’s kingdom today. He called it entering the kingdom. In a sense, what he was talking about is a kind of insurgency. People who have entered God’s kingdom before it comes to earth are like rebels. They live among the established nations but their allegiance is to the coming kingdom. Their goal is not to destroy the kingdoms of men, but to promote and recruit for the coming kingdom and its Lord.

There were a number of groups in Jesus’ day who thought that in order to enter the kingdom one had to be just a little bit more righteous than the next guy. So they established rules to follow to make sure everybody could tell the difference. The problem is, Jesus warned, those super-spiritual groups did not make the cut! He said “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”[15]

The Pharisees and scribes of Jesus’ day tried hard to live up to God’s expectations. If human effort could accomplish the task at all, they would certainly have been granted a passport. But they failed to recognize three theological truths. First, sin is a problem too difficult for anyone to handle without divine intervention. Second, God has provided an atoning sacrifice for the sin problem in the death of Christ. Third, only through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit can a person overcome the sinful nature and reflect the righteous life God requires for citizens of his kingdom.

Jesus taught that in his day most people would reject his way into the kingdom and try to get in some other way. But he urged his listeners to “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”[16] He did not mean that it is hard to “become a Christian.” Lots of people “became Christians” in his day, as they do today, only to fall away when their faith is tested by adversity. Entering the kingdom involves more than that.

Jesus taught that there would be many who claim to be his followers but would also fail to enter the kingdom. He said “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”[17] Christ requires that we enter his kingdom through a process of repentance (like a spiritual death) and faith that he describes as a spiritual rebirth. He said “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” [18] To be born of water is natural birth. To be born of the Spirit is a supernatural rebirth that enables one to live according to the principles of the kingdom that Jesus taught us to live by.

Living in His Kingdom

By teaching those principles, Christ explained how the subjects of his kingdom are supposed to live. Central to living Jesus’ way is the doing of good works as a witness to the new life within. He tells his followers to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”[19] But, unlike the super-spiritual groups of his day, Jesus warned against doing good works just for show. He told them to “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”[20] A good work is only a true good work if it springs from the Holy Spirit within, and is done for the benefit of others, not to put notches on one’s spiritual belt.

Miracles are expected as kingdom citizens go about their lives. Jesus said to his disciples “if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” The idea is not that we have to build up our faith until it gets strong enough. Just a little faith – the size of a mustard seed – will do. What matters is not the size of our faith but the power of our king. We are citizens of his kingdom, so when the king wants a mountain moved, nothing is going to stand in his way. What our king requires of us is the courage to stand before the mountain and risk making fools of ourselves by telling it to scram.

Living in the kingdom means making the kingdom itself our priority and all other things become second place. Here is how Jesus put it:

And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.[21]

Notice that Jesus compares citizens in his kingdom to the other nations of the world. God knows the people in the nations and he sees to it that they get the things that they spend their lives worrying about. But citizens in Christ’s kingdom are to seek the kingdom itself, and not to get caught up in the rat race for those insignificant things, like their next meal.

Christ taught us to seek the kingdom for two reasons. First, the kingdom of God is going to manifest as dominion over the whole universe when Jesus comes again. To seek the kingdom is to strive to be in that number when the saints go marching in. Nothing should be a higher priority than being there. Second, to seek the kingdom is to allow the king to live his life through you. It is striving to live the way of life expected of a kingdom citizen. That is a full-time job. No wonder that Jesus added to his counsel that we should not fear because the Father wants to give us his kingdom.

Living in the kingdom is simply a matter of obeying the commands of our king. Jesus gave us those commands as part of his teaching ministry. The Great Commission from Christ includes the order to pass on those commands to those we bring into the kingdom. Jesus told us to make disciples by baptizing believers in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and by teaching them to “observe all that I have commanded you.”[22]

It is amazing how the church teaches about so many things, and even exegetes the texts of the New Testament, but so often ignores these foundational principles – the ones found in the commands of Christ. The commands can be summarized as follows:

1. Make your choices based on God’s permanent realities, rather than the world’s temporary ones. Invest your life in eternity.

2. Put Christ and his kingdom first in your life. Be devoted to him.

3. Be genuine: don’t pretend to be something you are not, and don’t forget who you are in Christ. Be what you claim to be.

4. Trust your heavenly Father to take care of your needs, and to win your battles. Rely on God to do what you cannot do.

5. Keep in contact and communication with God through prayer.

6. Concentrate on learning, living and proclaiming the truth.

7. Expect the power of the Holy Spirit to make up for your weaknesses and insufficiencies. Be used by God to fulfill his will.

8. Live in expectancy because the king is coming! Be alert, and ready for his arrival.[23]

Besides these, and foundational to them are the two greatest commandments from the Old Testament (that we should love God with all that we are and love our neighbors as ourselves). The third greatest commandment is that which we call the Great Commission, that disciples of Christ should make more disciples of Christ.

Enemies of His Kingdom

Christ denounced his enemies as well. It is interesting to see who is on that list, and who is not. Caesar, the emperor of the Roman world, is mentioned in 19 verses of scripture, but Jesus never calls him his enemy.[24] In ancient times a prophet would identify God’s enemies by pronouncing a woe upon them – a kind of prophetic curse.[25] Jesus pronounced woes upon his enemies, and so identified the enemies of his kingdom.

Counted among the enemies of Christ’s kingdom are those places where the gospel is preached, but the people respond with indifference or rejection. Jesus said:

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”[26]

The miracles accompanied the message, but for the inhabitants of those cities, the miracles were not enough. They refused to seek the kingdom about which Jesus preached. They probably prided themselves on the fact that a great prophet had been among them, and enjoyed telling stories about his miracles. But on the judgment day, the ancient enemies of God’s people to the north – Tyre and Sidon – will fare better than them. Even Sodom will suffer less.

Also counted among the enemies of Christ’s kingdom are the people, institutions and things that cause sin. Sin cannot endure where Christ’s kingdom reigns, and Christ’s kingdom cannot abide where sin reigns. Jesus said:

“”Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.”[27]

Any system (whether political or religious, economic or social) that encourages sin and tempts people to transgress God’s will is set against the gospel and against the kingdom of Christ. These are all identified by Christ as his enemies. Christ taught that we cannot escape the temptations because we will have to live in the world and so we will have to operate within those systems. He said “it is necessary that temptations come.”[28] But he warns us not to be part of the problem. He said “woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!” People will not be judged for the sinfulness of their society, but they will be judged for their personal contribution to it.

If the number of woes applied to them is the standard of judging who gets the “worst enemy status” then the Pharisees and scribes win that title. Jesus pronounces seven woes against them in Matthew 23.[29] From what Jesus said about them, it is clear that what made them kingdom enemy #1 is their hypocritical attempt to replace God’s kingdom with one that looked righteous on the outside, but was corrupt within.

In the kingdom of God, our biggest enemies are going to be the groups that want to be our friends. They will want to snuggle up to us and work with us on community development projects, and things like that. They will want to join with us in community minister’s organizations, and will praise us for our social welfare programs. But they will draw the line at proclaiming Jesus as Lord. When push comes to shove, they will show themselves our enemies, because they are his enemies.

Equipping His Church

As a teacher, Christ equipped his disciples to lead the church. The church was not a mistake. It was Christ’s intention to found it, and he spent years of his earthly life preparing the people who would lead it. On one particular occasion, he brought his disciples together and pointed out how the Gentile rulers lead by intimidation and domination. He told his disciples “It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”[30] Christ himself was to serve as the example for Christian leadership. He taught leadership with a towel and wash basin.

He trained by discipling. That is, he did things and his disciples watched, he said things and the disciples learned – and eventually it was their turn. When they were ready, he set them loose to preach and cast out demons. They did what they had learned.

Preparing His Church for Suffering

As a teacher, Christ prepared his disciples for the difficulties they would face as well. He let them know that they would not always have the honor of his personal presence among them. He told them “I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to him who sent me.”[31] They would need to learn to face the challenges that they would face without his personal counsel. Instead, he would leave them with the third person of the Trinity: the other counselor.

It was he, the Holy Spirit, who would be with them as they faced trials and persecution. Jesus assured them that “the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”[32] He would also help the disciples to remember and take in the tremendous lessons that Jesus had taught and the significance of the events the disciples witnessed. Jesus said “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”[33] And because Jesus suffered in doing God’s will, they understood it when they suffered themselves.

His Role as Messiah

As teacher, Christ predicted the events concerning his own life, death and resurrection. There were no surprises with him. Everything that happened in his life was scripted and pre-measured to fit God’s plan. Perhaps the disciples did not quite make the connections when Jesus promised that “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself”[34] but Jesus repeated detailed descriptions of his crucifixion to them several times.[35] And after his resurrection he made the connections by going back to the Old Testament scriptures and showing how his death and resurrection were necessary.

His Return as Messiah

Christ also predicted current and future eschatological events. He understood his times, and marveled that those around him did not. He told them “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”[36] He spoke of his own generation in Jerusalem, and how they were going to suffer God’s judgment because so many would reject him.

He went on to describe that judgment in detail in his eschatological discourse on the Mount of Olives. He called them God’s “days of vengeance” upon Jerusalem.[37] Little did his listeners know that in a mere 40 years, those days of vengeance would come. Jesus predicted that Roman armies would surround Jerusalem.[38] The armies of Rome laid siege to Jerusalem and starved it for a matter of years. Jesus predicted that Jerusalem and its temple would be destroyed.[39] That fateful event happened in 70 AD. He also predicted that the Jews would undergo another exile, being scattered in other nations, trample underfoot by the Gentiles until God’s vengeance is completed. It happened just as he predicted.

The great teacher of the future was just as accurate when he described the age that precedes his second coming. We are living in that age now, so it is easy to see the signs all around us that Jesus called birth pains.[40] Birth pains all have two things in common: they are intermittent, and they indicate that a birth is happening. The signs Jesus mentioned are: false Messiahs, warfare and its threat, famines, pestilences, earthquakes, persecution of believers, and divisions among families because of Christ. These realities have been with us intermittently for the past two thousand years.

But Jesus was even more specific in his predictions. He described his second coming in detail as well:

And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.[41]

…the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.[42]

It is clear from these predictions that Christ is going to come physically, visibly and gloriously. His return will be a time of great joy for those who have entered his kingdom, but terrible distress and shame for those who have not. Like Jesus, the church should encourage believers with the hope of the full deliverance we will experience at the second advent, and also warn unbelievers of the great calamity they will face if they are not found in him.

Scope and Balance

The Teacher taught the kingdom of God, as the king’s rule present and continuously expanding in the lives of believers, and also their future hope. Christian teaching should seek the same scope and balance.


[1] John 13:13.

[2] Matthew 16:15.

[3] Gilbert Bilezikian, Community 101: Reclaiming the Local Church as Community of Oneness. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 169.

[4] Dan Story, Defending Your Faith: Reliable Answers for a New Generation of Seekers and Skeptics. (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1997), 75.

[5] Luke 2:11.

[6] John 4:42.

[7] John 14:6.

[8] John 6:35.

[9] John 7:29.

[10] John 8:12.

[11] John 8:23.

[12] John 10:9

[13] John 10:11-16.

[14] John 11:25-26.

[15] Matthew 5:20.

[16] Matthew 7:13-14.

[17] Matthew 7:21.

[18] John 3:5.

[19] Matthew 5:16.

[20] Matthew 6:1.

[21] Luke 12:29-32.

[22] Matthew 28:20.

[23] See Jefferson Vann, The Commands of Christ (http://commandsofchrist.wordpress.com/).

[24] Matt. 22:17, 21; Mark 12:14, 17; Luke 2:1; 3:1; 20:22, 25; 23:2; John 19:12, 15; Acts 17:7; 25:8, 11f, 21; 26:32; 27:24; 28:19.

[25] Num. 21:29; 1 Sam. 4:7f; Isa. 3:9, 11; 5:8, 11, 18, 20ff; 6:5; 10:1; 24:16; 31:1; 45:9f; Jer. 4:13, 31; 6:4; 10:19; 13:27; 15:10; 22:13; 23:1; 45:3; 48:1, 46; 50:27; Lam. 5:16; Ezek. 2:10; 13:3, 18; 16:23; 24:6, 9; Hos. 7:13; 9:12; Amos 5:18; 6:1, 4; Mic. 2:1; 7:1; Nah. 3:1; Hab. 2:6, 9, 12, 15, 19; Zeph. 2:5; 3:1; Zech. 11:17.

[26] Matthew 11:21-24.

[27] Matthew 18:7-9.

[28] Matthew 18:7.

[29] Matt. 23:13,15,16, 23, 25, 27, 29.

[30] Matthew 20:26-28.

[31] John 7:33.

[32] Luke 12:12.

[33] John 13:7.

[34] John 12:32.

[35] Matt. 17:12; 20:19; 26:2; Mark 8:31; 9:12; Luke 9:22; 17:25; 22:15.

[36] Matthew 16:2-3.

[37] Luke 21:22.

[38] Luke 21:20.

[39] Matthew 24:2; Mark 13:2; Luke 21:6.

[40] Matthew 24:8; Mark 13:8.

[41] Luke 21:25-28.

[42] Matthew 24:29-31.

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