The Ultimate Question
Why was Jesus born? Or, why did Jesus come to the earth 2,000 years ago? Or, what was the purpose of Jesus in His first coming? These three questions are basically asking the same thing. Together they amount to the most important question anyone can ask. Most people ask these very same questions about themselves at some point in life: “Why am I here? Why was I born? What is my purpose?”
Unfortunately, many mortals don’t know the answer as to why they are here, and the resulting uncertainty leads to countless personal—and devastating—problems. Because people can’t figure out why they are here, they become insecure, paranoid, depressed or prone to manipulation by others in a desire to feel a sense of belonging; to secure a meaningful identity. Sadly, many commit suicide after reaching a point of utter hopelessness about living on this earth, not knowing why they are here.
Such uncertainty does not apply to Jesus. We know why He was born. He knew why He was born. He told the world why He came to earth, with crystal clarity and unmatched authority. He proclaimed the purpose of His appearance for three-plus years. He commissioned His disciples to write it down in the New Testament. Why was Jesus born? The Bible answers that question for us. And only the Bible answers that question for us.
If we want to learn anything about Jesus—who He is, what He said—then we can only rely on the Bible for that information. Many people think there are other sources aside from the Bible where one can learn about Jesus. But that is not the case. Some false religions like Mormonism and Islam have fictitious stories about Jesus in their so-called holy books. The Book of Mormon says Jesus appeared to people in the Americas after His resurrection. The Muslims’ Qur’an says that a young Jesus turned clay birds into real ones, a story plagiarized from the fictitious and nefarious gospel of Thomas. In fact, Jesus never made an appearance in the Americas, and He did no miracles in His childhood days. We know these two claims are false because they contradict the Bible’s clear teaching about Jesus.
Others naively claim that we can glean valuable, reliable information about Jesus from old secular sources such as the Roman historian Tacitus (ad 56-120), or Jewish sources like the Talmud, or other ancient writers like Thallus, Lucian, Phlegon, and Mara Bar-Serapion. The most popular supposed secular source of information on Jesus that is touted would be the Jewish historian, Josephus (AD 37-100). People routinely flippantly throw Josephus’ name around as though he had written a comprehensive bio on the life and times of Jesus the Messiah. But he didn’t. He did write a lot of stuff. Some of it is helpful history. Some of it is highly questionable in terms of accuracy and reliability.
Among the voluminous writings of Josephus there are only two so-called references to Jesus. Two brief passages out of tens of thousands of passages. One of the references is highly questionable and is rejected as inauthentic by most scholars. It is commonly called the Testimonium Flavianum (Latin for “the testimony of Flavius Josephus”) in Book 18 of the Antiquities. It’s one paragraph and is translated from Greek into about seven English sentences. It states that Jesus was “the Christ” and a teacher who was crucified by Pontius Pilate. The earliest reference we have of this passage being mentioned is from Eusebius, around ad 324. So, there is no early manuscript evidence before Eusebius to verify this passage even existed.
The consensus is that Josephus wrote it around AD 94 and that only a portion of it, a kernel, may be original. A bulk of the seven sentences are considered an “interpolation,” meaning someone who came after Josephus added his own stuff to make it sound convincing. The small kernel of the passage that is authentic no doubt came to Josephus from the New Testament Gospels, which had already been written and circulated in his part of the world for decades. So, Josephus does not contribute anything new about Jesus that we don’t already find in the Bible. The only thing Josephus knew about Jesus that was true was already written in the New Testament. Further, if Josephus had written anything new or contrary to what the New Testament had already said, then it is to be rejected as false. All this is to make the point raised earlier: the only thing we know about Jesus that is trustworthy comes from the Bible and the Bible alone. This is what the Reformers called Sola Scriptura! Scripture alone. The Bible is sufficient. It says everything we need to know and the only thing God wanted us to know. So, no, we can’t go to Josephus to learn new truth about Jesus.
Beware the Pretenders
Notwithstanding what has just been said, prominent popular magazines, like Time and Life and others, come out with special issues each year around the holidays featuring articles on Jesus, typically posing the basic question, “Who is Jesus?” They have been doing this annually for decades. And each time they give the same unbiblical answers because each time they rely on liberal religious “scholars” and historians who don’t believe in the Bible. They quote the Bible. But they don’t believe in the Bible. They re-interpret and distort the Bible and manufacture their own spin on what it means. They also routinely give more credence to non-biblical sources than the New Testament when explaining who Jesus was and what He taught. They say Jesus was an Essene—a word never mentioned in the Bible. Or, they’ll say Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene—another farce not found in the Bible. They promote and propagate a Da Vinci Code theology that comes nowhere close to what the Bible says about Jesus.
Consider one of these relatively recent editions, namely Life magazine, from December of 2018. It is simply titled, “Jesus,” with the picture of some white-faced, blue-eyed, long-haired hippy that is supposed to be Jesus plastered on the front, with the sub-title, “Who Do You say that I am?” This was front-and-center in every aisle by each cash-register in Safeway and countless other stores at that time. The whole community was getting bombarded with this false propaganda. The entire issue (112 pages worth) was dedicated to the topic of Jesus, with so-called experts telling us who He was and why He came. Here’s the magazine’s conclusion as to why Jesus came to earth: Jesus came to create “a movement of empowerment for the peasants, telling them that this is what you must do. You must take your lives back into your own hands. You must learn to heal one another.”1 The magazine rejects the clear teaching of the Bible and Jesus Himself, who said He came as the God-Man to save sinners from their sin.
Consider again a more recent Christmas: December of 2020. Once again, like clockwork, as I am roaming around Safeway looking for fresh fruit, I go to the checkout stand and there is prominently displayed in all fifteen cash-register lines a new magazine titled, “The Unknown Jesus,” with the sub-title, “The Real Story of the Messiah.”2 This magazine is 100 pages long and full of stories by several so-called experts on religion attempting to explain everything we need to know about the “true” Jesus. And once again, they get it all wrong. And of course, the Bible is not their authority for explaining who Jesus was or what He taught. It is all human speculation couched in religious terminology declaring outright historical inaccuracies and even blasphemies about Jesus Himself. It is not worth recounting, but here is one typical absurdity they try to pass off as a true, scholarly opinion about Jesus: “Jesus was selective in what He believed in the Bible.”3 The author is arguing here that Jesus did not believe in much of the Old Testament, and with His teachings He categorically renounced most of it. The author alleges that because He emphasized love, “Jesus wiped out a huge portion of the Old Testament.” Actually, such a claim is outlandish. Jesus believed in 100% of the Old Testament and considered it the highest authority (John 17:17), inspired by the Holy Spirit (Matt 22:43) and the very unbreakable truth of God (John 10:35). Jesus told the multitudes that He did not come to undermine or discredit the Old Testament but rather He came to fulfill and endorse all of it (Matt 5:17-18).
The foregoing illustrations are good reminders for the faithful to remember the many warnings of Jesus, such as when He told His followers that many false prophets and false religious teachers would arise espousing false views about all matters, especially regarding Jesus Himself. Jesus warned, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt 7:15). The most dangerous teachers are false religious teachers because they mix biblical truth with error that is fatal. They camouflage lies with biblical jargon making it look like the real thing on the surface. False teaching about Jesus will abound throughout all history and even get worse as the end of the age draws near. Again, Jesus warned, “false prophets will arise and mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased…false Christs and false prophets will arise” (Matt 24:11, 24).
The hallmark of false religious teachers is that they tamper with God’s Word, the Bible. They tinker with Scripture. They do so sometimes overtly and at other times subtly. But in the end, they deviate from the clear teaching of everything the Bible has to say. Going back to our original question, “Why was Jesus born into this world?” let’s look to the Bible for the clear answer, undistracted by the pseudo-wisdom of those who don’t rely solely on the Bible regarding the truth about Christ.
The Simple Truth
The answer to the question as to why Jesus came into the world 2,000 years ago is a compound one, yet simple to understand. Let’s start by looking at the reasons Jesus Himself gave. First, Jesus said He came to fulfill Old Testament prophecy: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt 5:17-18).
Second, Jesus said He came to save sinners. On one occasion, as Jesus was headed toward Jerusalem, He passed through the town of Jericho, about fifteen miles north of the city. There resided a pathetic, compromised, money-loving tax-collector named Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus had a notorious reputation for being a traitor to the Jewish people, for he collected, and even extorted money from his own race on behalf of the pagan Romans. Jesus invited Himself to Zacchaeus’ home as He passed through the town. Fellow Jews who saw this “grumbled” over Jesus’ decision because they considered tax-collectors to be unclean and incorrigible enemies of God. Jesus considered Zacchaeus to be a human made in God’s image in need of forgiveness. Jesus offered salvation to the sinner, Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus accepted and repented of his sin. Jesus then said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:9-10). Here Jesus clearly states why He came to earth: to seek and to spiritually save sinners.
A third reason Jesus came into the world was to bring truth to humanity. At His trial during the last week of His life, standing before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, Jesus responded to Pilate’s cynical statement as He declared, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (John 18:37). Why was Jesus born? To declare the truth. In context Jesus meant He came to earth to proclaim ultimate truth about a holy God, sinful humanity, and the only solution to bridge the infinite chasm between the two, namely the substitutionary death that Jesus would provide on behalf of sinners to assuage the wrath of a holy God.
A fourth reason Jesus came into the world was to be a servant by dying on behalf of sinners who had become enslaved by Satan and their own sin. This is what He meant when He said to His disciples, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The word “ransom” was a term used in the human slave market. It was the price to be paid to free someone in bondage. Jesus came to pay the price required to free sinners who were in spiritual bondage to their own iniquity, and the price He paid was His own life—His shed blood on a cross. And that price was paid to God the Father who required death as the penalty for sin.
A fifth reason Jesus gave for the purpose of His coming 2,000 years ago complements the first four. He told the Jewish religious leader, Nicodemus, that He came into the world to save those who believe in Him from perishing by giving them eternal life. He proclaimed, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17). Jesus came to save people; to bring salvation to sinners. Jesus was clear what He meant by the word “save.” He meant to save people spiritually; to rescue them from their own personal sin and its consequences which included spiritual death (which is separation from God), physical death, and eternal death, which is the same as being cast into eternal hell—a real place where the unrepentant will spend all eternity in anguish and pain resulting from God’s ongoing holy wrath. This is in contrast to what He did not mean by the word “save.” He did not mean that He came to save people economically, or to liberate them from their financial burdens and debt. He did not come to eradicate poverty. He said just the opposite by declaring, “For you always have the poor with you” (John 12:8). He did not mean He would save people socially by changing the culture or political structures of the world. He did not come 2,000 years ago to eradicate slavery. If He did, then He failed. But Jesus failed at nothing. He accomplished everything He came to do in His first coming in humiliation. On the cross He exclaimed, “It is finished!” One word in the Greek language—tetelestai. And it was emphatic. Mission accomplished!
This takes us to Jesus’ sixth self-proclaimed reason that He came into the world, which is that He came to call sinners to repentance. Jesus said plainly to the arrogant spiritual snobs of His day, the Pharisees, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). Why was Jesus born? So that as the God-Man, the Savior and Judge of the world, He could call sinners to repentance. Repentance is when a sinner admits personal guilt to a perfect, holy Creator God (Ps 51:4). And the repentant one knows that such sin deserves death from God (Gen 2:17; Exod 21:17; Ezek 18:4; Matt 10:28; Rom 6:23). Anything less that that attitude and admission of guilt is not true repentance (cf. Luke 18:13-14).
In addition to Jesus’ own stated purposes for being born, the other New Testament writers attest to the reason why He came, and their reasons complement His. Paul says in Philippians that Jesus left the eternal glories He shared with the Father in heaven to come to earth as a humble human to die for sinners in “obedience” to God’s will (Phil 2:6-8). The author of Hebrews said Jesus came to earth to “bring many sons to glory” by dying for them, and that “through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (Heb 2:10, 14-15). In other words, Jesus was born to die. His death was a supernatural transaction that would conquer Satan and death, and secure personal salvation for sinners. An angel of God told Joseph, the husband of Mary, that Jesus was born so that He might save His people from their sins.
Jesus the Savior
The Bible gives one consistent, full, comprehensive answer as to why Jesus came, yet it is stated in many ways as we have just seen. Jesus came 2,000 years ago in obedience to the Father to reveal spiritual truth, to die as a substitute, to fulfill all that the Old Testament predicted about Him, to conquer Satan, sin and death through His substitutionary death, to call sinners to repentance from their sin in order to rescue them from eternal hell and to give them eternal life. God did all this because His ultimate plan has always been to reveal His full glory to His people and to “dwell among them and they shall be His people” (Rev 21:3) for all eternity. This is glorious news. In fact, the Bible calls it good news. That is what the word “gospel” means. The good news was the message that Jesus came and preached (Mark 1:14-15). He is the good news. He is the only real good news. And sinners get to share in the blessings of His good news by embracing His gospel. When a sinner hears, understands, believes and submits to Christ’s gospel, God instantly saves that person and adopts them into His spiritual family forever. They instantly become a new creature, having been born again and indwelt with the Holy Spirit of God.
- Life, “Jesus: Who Do You Say that I Am?” Vol. 18, No. 27, December 21, 2018.
- Bob Guccione Jr., ed., The Unknown Jesus (New York: Centennial Media, 2020).
- Lukas Harnisch, “Jesus: Who Do You Say that I Am?” 61.