IF GOD WALKED ON EARTH,
WHAT WOULD HE BE LIKE?
If God were to become human and walk the face of this earth, what would he be like?
Would he be anything like Jesus? In the typical Jewish objections to Jesus -- his failure to bring in
the Messianic age, his opposition to oral law, his claims to divinity -- this question is overlooked.
Was Jesus like God?
Did the concept of a God-man originate in pagan mythologies? Pagan gods allegedly walked on earth, often behaving like the
worst of human beings. Gods like Gilgamesh, Vishnu, and Zeus were marked by lechery, rape, and violence.
Did the concept of Jesus, the God-man, originate in pagan mythology?
What Is God Like?
Actually, the God of the Hebrews Himself came down as a man and walked with humans.
We see him on the dusty road with Abraham, agreeing to spare Sodom if only ten righteous souls are found
there (Genesis 18). We see him in the form of a man wrestling with Jacob (Gen. 32:24-30). We see him
standing by the door of the tabernacle talking with Moses face to face as to a friend (Exodus 33:9-11).
What kind of God is he? He is the omnipotent Creator who could speak worlds into
existence by the word of his mouth (Psalm 33: 6, 9). He is a distant God (he dwells in the high and holy
place) but he also is near (he dwells with the contrite and the humble -- Isaiah 57:15). His holiness
and majesty are overpowering (Ex. 20:18-19) but he comes down to live with his people (Ex. 25:8)
Amazingly, this omnipotent Creator of the universe is intensely involved with the creatures he made,
communicating with them by direct appearances, angels, and prophets.
The highest revelation of God in the Jewish Scriptures is the law, delivered to Moses
by God from Mount Sinai amid smoke and fire, thunder and lightning, and trumpet blast (Ex. 19:16-19).
There God revealed his glory to Moses -- “the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger
and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, . . . forgiving iniquity and transgression” (Ex.
34:6-7). We see his intense emotions in his stormy relationship with Israel -- his love and his grief
at her frequent infidelities. His wrath was fearsome, but his compassion and mercy were
boundless. We see that he made total demands on his people -- that they
love him with all their heart, soul, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5).
What would this God be like if He were to enter the human race through the womb of
a human mother, grow up as a child into manhood, brush shoulders with peasants and kings, Jews and
Gentiles, sinners and saints? If Jesus were really God in human flesh, as Christians believe, did he
really portray the character of God? Was Jesus anything like him?
As a human being Jesus was unique. He has no equal in history. His influence has
extended farther in time and space than that of any other person. Through the centuries he has inspired
the greatest art, literature, and music, as well as the greatest devotion, ever seen in this world.
His reactions to human dilemmas were so creative and original, his life was so compassionate, so
self-sacrificing, that the gospel writers could not have fabricated him. Much of the time they
themselves did not understand him.
If you are a Jew, chances are you have never encountered the real Jesus. You have
glimpsed him through accounts of pogroms, persecutions, inquisitions, and the denunciations of Catholic
popes and Protestant Reformers. Your ancestors have fled from country to country, seeking a safe haven
from his followers. The cross makes you shudder, along with the taunt that you killed Jesus. We
Christians deeply regret the abuses perpetrated against the Jewish people in the name of Jesus. But we
feel that if only these historic barriers could be broken down, and you could understand the real Jesus,
you would admire him too.
The Mission of Jesus
What made Jesus unique? He came to earth with a mission. His initial task was to
reveal God to a world darkened by distorted ideas of God. His disciple John says he came from the bosom
of God to reveal God (John 1:18). He made an astounding claim: “Whoever has seen me has seen the
Father” (John 14:9). His revelation of God -- and here I offend many Jews -- surpassed that of
Moses on Mount Sinai. There we see the character of God reflected on tables of law. Jesus, as Christians
believe, was God in human flesh, perfectly living out those laws. In Jesus we see the mercy and
compassion of God expressed toward his rebellious creatures.
The second aspect of his mission was to redeem lost humanity by dying in their place.
The picture that overwhelms Christians is that God did not send a substitute -- whether an angel or a
superman -- to atone for sin; but he, as the fully divine Son of God, left the glory of heaven to enter
this hostile world to give his life as a ransom for sin. As Creator he took responsibility for the sins of the race
he had created and suffered the full penalty of those sins so they could be forgiven. When Christians
contemplate the dying figure on the cross, they see the weight of all the atrocities humans have
committed crushing out the life of their Maker. To them forgiveness is not a cheap gift -- it cost the
life of the Creator.
Jesus had another mission, to transform human lives so that they are new creations,
driven by the same love that drives him. He writes the law in their hearts by coming in spirit to
dwell within them. Genuine Christians follow the highest ideals of ethical
Jesus’ character, while irresistible to many, was scandalous to others. It
both attracted and repelled. It can best be expressed in the one word, love.
He loved his people, the Jews, stating that his mission was first to “the
lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). But they resented being called “lost
sheep.” Their rejection stung him deeply. Yet he devoted most of his ministry to his own people.
The problem with his love was that it was universal and could not be confined to any
one race or class. He embraced humanity in whatever form he encountered it. He respected Gentiles, ate
their food, and slept in their houses, extending to them a place in the family of God (John 4:40). He
felt at home with rich and poor, high and low. He accepted the hospitality of the rich, but refused to
be influenced by money or power. He taught them to give their wealth to the poor.
In an age when women were lesser citizens, with few rights and privileges, Jesus
brought them into his inner circle of followers, educated them, and gave them positions of leadership
(Luke 8:1-3; Acts 1:12-14). In these contacts his life was never touched by scandal. His every act was scrutinized diligently by the paparazzi
of his day, and they found his life transparently pure.
He also loved children, taking them in his arms and blessing them. He admired the
humility and affectionate nature of children (Matt. 18:2-4). He said it was a terrible sin for anyone
to cause a child to sin -- it was better for such a one to have a great millstone fastened around his
neck and be drowned in the depth of the sea (v. 6). What would he say about the sexual abuse of children
Most scandalous to the orthodox was his association with morally degraded people
-- prostitutes, tax-collectors who collaborated with the Romans, and even drunkards, robbers, and
murderers. To him no human being, however degraded, was beyond hope. He stated “Those who are
well have no need of a physician but those who are sick. I came not to call ‘the righteous,’
but sinners to repentance” (Matt. 9:12). To every repentant sinner he extended God’s
forgiveness with the power to live a transformed life.
He had boundless compassion for the suffering and afflicted. Most of Jesus’
ministry was spent in healing people -- turning pain and grief into hope and joy. He had miraculous
power to heal the sick -- quadriplegics, lepers, the blind, deaf, and insane. Secular historians give
a certain amount of credibility to the miracle stories. The charges of his enemies that he performed
miracles by the power of demons confirm that something beyond the ordinary was happening (Matt. 12:24).
The Talmud acknowledges his miracles by calling him a sorcerer. His most spectacular miracle was raising a man called
Lazarus to life after he had been dead four days and his body stank (John 11:38-44). His miracles
-- the exercise of creative power -- gave evidence to the people of his day that he was God.
The purity of Jesus’ life was so repulsive to human nature that it aroused
bitter opposition. He was constantly pursued by enemies seeking to destroy him. The world could endure
him for only thirty-three years before assassinating him. He was always aware of the shortness of his
life -- that he had only a few hours to work before night closed in on him. How does one maintain sanity in the face of constant danger?
Besides depending upon God’s protection until his work was done, he allowed no hatred to embitter
his soul. He looked upon his betrayer, his judges, his executioners, with pity. “Father, forgive
them, for they know not what they do” was his prayer as the spikes were pounded into his flesh
Like the God of the Jewish Scriptures, Jesus exhibited wrath.
He deplored selfish ambition -- the seeking of the highest place. He hated hypocrisy -- the affecting of holiness to cover
up sin. He said that public prayer, alms-giving, and fasting done to win the praise of others was not
recognized by God (Matt. 6:1-6; compare Amos 5:21-24). Those who depended on their good works for
acceptance with God -- who refused to recognize their lostness -- placed themselves beyond His ability
to save them. The self-righteous felt no need, and so cut themselves off from his power to save.
He fearlessly denounced the commercialization of religion. Each time he caught
merchants swindling the worshipers in the temple, he threw over their tables, scattered their coins,
and drove them out (John 2: 13-16; Matt. 21:12-13).
Ironically, Jesus directed his most shocking denunciations toward the Pharisees
-- the most pious of the Jews.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut the kingdom of
heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you cleanse the outside of the
cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and rapacity. You blind Pharisee! first
cleanse the inside of the cup and of the plate, that the outside also may be clean . . . .
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you build the tombs of the
prophets . . . saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part
with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ . . . You serpents, you brood of vipers, how
are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes,
some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute
from town to town, that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of
innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah . . . whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.
Truly, I say to you, all this will come upon this generation (Matt. 23:13, 25, 29-36).
From Abel to Zechariah includes the whole of the Jewish Scriptures!
He said this three days before he was assassinated at their instigation. But then
he broke down and wept.
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you!
How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and
you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate (vv. 37-38).
Forty years later the temple was destroyed.
Jesus was undoubtedly the greatest teacher in history. Vast crowds -- intelligentsia
and peasants, men and women, old and young -- hung spell-bound by his words and astounding miracles.
They forgot their hunger and the passage of time. He used common illustrations -- planting, baking,
fishing, shepherding, keeping accounts -- to teach profound truths. He found in the natural world the
same principles that operate in the spiritual world. The nations of the world use the lion, the bear,
the dragon to represent their might. Jesus illustrated the spread of his kingdom by the power of seeds
to grow and produce a rich harvest (Matt. 13:1-9, 18-23).
He told familiar stories, but gave them a surprising twist. The man God accepts is
not the “saint” who boasts of his tithe-paying and abstinence from fleshly sins, but the
sinner who cries to God for mercy (Luke 18:9-14). The model neighbor is not the clergyman who passes
by a victim of violence, but a hated foreigner who goes out of his way to give aid (Luke 10:25-37).
Day laborers in a vineyard all get paid the same, whether they worked all day or only for the last
hour (Matt. 20:1-16). The son who gets partied is not the one who faithfully worked the farm, but
the one who came home in tatters after squandering a chunk of the family fortune (Luke 15:11-32).
By these startling illustrations Jesus explained God’s mercy for the undeserving who feel
their need and the danger of those who trust their own goodness and feel no need.
While the theme of most religions is man’s search for God, Jesus represented
God as searching for man -- a shepherd seeking his lost sheep, a woman looking for a lost coin, a
father rolling out the welcome mat to a rebellious son (Matt. 18:10-14; Luke 15).
His teachings were revolutionary for his day and ours. He taught love for one’s
enemies, doing good in return for evil, destroying enemies by making friends of them -- principles of
non-violence adopted by Gandhi and Martin Luther King (see Matt. 5:38-48). In view of the boundless
mercy of God toward sinners, Jesus taught that we as sinners should forgive one another or God would
not forgive us (Matt. 18:21-35).
Jesus redefined greatness. He did not measure it by wealth or prestige or power. He
deliberately shunned them so that people would be attracted to him only by the beauty of his character.
His concept of rulership was extraordinary. Rather than climbing the ladder to
succeed, he taught descending the ladder to serve. “Whoever would be first of all must be last
of all.” Rather than oppressing the masses by ruling over them, he taught empowering the masses
by serving them.
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 (Matt. 20:26-28).
It was not beneath his dignity -- rather, it was an evidence of his divinity! -- to
kneel down and wash the dirty feet of his disciples, including the one who betrayed him to death.
What would the world be like if government officials lived by the ethic of Jesus,
to rule by serving? How many dictators siphon off the cream of their national economies to enrich
themselves with palaces, yachts, and Lear jets, while their people live in squalor!
Jesus advocated radical self sacrifice. He compared successful living to seed buried
in the ground where it appears to die but later yields a rich harvest (John 12:24). To bury one’s
life in the furrow of the world’s need -- to lose one’s life in service to humanity --
promotes the highest self-development and richest rewards. The greatest disillusionment with life
comes from self-seeking. Jesus expressed this concept with the paradox: “Whoever would save
his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it” (Luke 9:24).
He demanded a total response from his followers -- that they love him more than family or possessions
or life itself.
Jesus’ life fits the description of the prophet Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good tidings to the afflicted;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion -
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit (Isa. 61:1-3).
The Effect of Jesus’ Life
What moves us Christians to the depth of our being is our understanding that God did
not send a substitute to help our tormented world -- he himself came down and suffered with us and gave
his life a ransom to redeem us. He left the throne of the universe and the adoration of heavenly beings
to become a servant to his rebellious creation. Such sacrifice, such love, creates in us a desire to be
It is this love for Jesus that drives Christians to the ends of the earth -- to
malarial tropics, parched deserts, and arctic lands -- where they have often laid down their lives in
their zeal to spread the good news of salvation. The love of Jesus leads them to see potential in every
human being -- the head-hunters and cannibals of Pacific isles, the untouchables of India, the drunkards
and addicts of the inner city. To lift up the fallen, they establish schools, welfare centers, churches,
and hospitals. Through their efforts deprived peoples of the world have been transformed into farmers,
teachers, nurses, doctors, and statesmen.
The love of Jesus led William Carey to translate the Scriptures into many languages
of India, to establish a university there, and to persuade the government to pass a law against
sati, the practice of burning a widow on her husband’s funeral pyre. The love of Jesus led David Livingstone to penetrate the
deepest jungles of Africa, where at last his heart was buried under a mvulu tree, to open up routes for
trade and the gospel. The love of Jesus drove Hudson Taylor into the interior of
China where he buried his beloved wife and seven of his children, to introduce the Chinese people to
their Creator God. The love of Jesus led William Wilberforce to mount a twenty-year crusade in the
English Parliament to abolish the slave trade.
It is love for Jesus that enables Christians to endure persecution -- destruction
of property, rape, torture, imprisonment, and death -- for his sake. In horrifying hell-holes Christians
have witnessed to their torturers -- Inquisitors, Nazis, Communists, Muslims -- sometimes melting the
hearts of their oppressors by returning good for evil.
It is love for Jesus that drives Christians to disaster areas of the world to bring
relief to lands wasted by tsunamis, volcanos, floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes. They consider it a
privilege to minister to the needy, regardless of race, religion, or status.
Jesus’ wonderful character has not been properly reflected by his followers
throughout the centuries. After his death, thousands of Jews became his disciples, based on personal
contact with him and his contemporaries. Could contemplative Jews of today see in this historical
Jesus what these first-century followers did?
If you would like to read the life of Jesus for yourself, obtain a Bible containing
the New Testament and read the sections called Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Your heart will be stirred.
We feel that if you knew the real Jesus, you would admire him too.
1 Rabbi Singer suggests that the idea of gods becoming human
(especially through virgin birth) was common in the ancient world, so the gospel writers added this
feature to the story of Jesus to gain credibility. But how much did Jesus resemble pagan gods?
2 “For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great
compassion I will gather you. In overflowing wrath for a moment I hid my face from you, but with
everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the Lord, your Redeemer” (Isa. 54:7-8).
“She shall pursue her lovers, but not overtake them; . . . Then she shall say, ‘I will go
and return to my first husband, for it was better with me then than now.’ And she did not know
that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished upon her silver and gold
which they used for Baal” (Hosea 2:7-8).
3 “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen this
people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people; now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot
against them and I may consume them’” (Ex. 32:9-10). “‘The Lord, the Lord, a
God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’”
4 For questions about God becoming a man, see my essays, “Is God One or Three-in-One?”, “Would God Become a Man?”, and “Was Messiah Supposed to Be God?”
5 When Jesus told his disciples that he would be mocked,
scourged, and killed, and rise again the third day, “they understood none of these things . . .
they did not grasp what he said” (Luke 18:34).
6 Christ Jesus “though . . . in the form of God . . .
emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in
human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians
7 “For the love of Christ controls us, because we are
convinced that one has died for all.” “Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new
creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:14, 17).
8 “I will put my laws into their minds, and write them
on their hearts” (Hebrews 8:10, quoted from Jeremiah 31:33). “I have been crucified with
Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh
I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
9 “He came to his own home, and his own people received
him not” (John 1:11). Looking forward to the terrible destruction of Jerusalem predicted by
Daniel the prophet, he wept over the beloved city. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets
and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen
gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (Matt. 23:37).
10 Once when a rich, young ruler came to Jesus asking how to
inherit eternal life, Jesus invited him to sell his property, give to the poor, and become a disciple,
with the promise that he would have treasure in heaven. But the young man went away sorrowful because
he had great possessions (Matt. 19:16-29).
11 Jesus challenged his opponents: “Which of you convicts
me of sin?” (John 8:46). They had no answer.
12 Once a woman caught in adultery was brought before Jesus for
a verdict on whether to stone her or not. Jesus commanded, “Let him that is without sin among you
cast the first stone” and apparently wrote the sins of her accusers in the sand. After they slunk
away he asked, “Woman, has no man accused you?” She said no. Then he said, “Neither
do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” (See John 8:3-10).
13 “On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For
forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, ‘He is going forth
to be stoned because he has practised sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Any one who can
say anything in his favour, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.’ But since nothing was
brought forward in his favour he was hanged on the eve of the Passover.” Babylonian Talmud,
Sanhedrin 43 A, 33-36, italics mine.
14 “We must work the work of him that sent me while it
is day. The night comes when no man can work” (John 9:4).
15 He told people who were invited to a feast not to sit in
the highest place, but the lowest. “For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he
who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:7-11).
16 Some scholars dispute the New Testament picture of the
Pharisees as hypocrites since Josephus comments on them favorably (Jewish Antiquities, 18:12-15).
But ancient rabbinic literature makes fun of some among them (B. Sotah 22b). The gospels
indicate that their meticulous observance of the oral laws did not prevent them from plotting the
death of Jesus (John 7:19, 32; 11:45-50).
17 “He who loves father or mother more than me is not
worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not
take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will love it, and he who
loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:37-39). “And every one who has left
houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake,
will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life” (Matt. 19:29).
18 Here we identify Jesus with God. See my essays on this
website: “Is God One or Three-in-One?”, “Would God Become a Man?”, and “Was Messiah Supposed to Be God?”
19 Carey, a genius with languages, translated the entire
Bible into Sanskrit and Bengali and assisted in the production of Scripture into 44 other languages
and dialects. His wife Dorothy, who went insane after the death of their five-year-old son,
tormented their home life for twelve years until she succumbed to fever. See Wikipedia on William Carey.
20 Livingstone wrote in his diary, “My Jesus, my King,
my Life, my All; I again dedicate my whole self to Thee. Accept me, and grant, O gracious Father,
that ere this year is gone I may finish my task” (finding the source of the Nile, which he did
not do). Sick for months with painful bleeding of the bowels, he died while kneeling by his cot in
prayer. His African attendants, Susi and Chuma, buried his heart under a mvulu tree, dried his body,
and carried it 1500 miles over treacherous country to the coast where it was shipped to England.
Livingstone is buried in Westminster Abbey. (Ruth Gordon Short, Into the Lion’s Jaws: The
Story of David Livingstone [Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1971] pp. 270, 277-283).
21 The World Evangelical Alliance estimates that over 200
million Christians in more than 60 countries are denied their basic human rights because of their
faith in Jesus Christ (Evangelical Fellowship of Canada web page). Michael Horowitz, a
Jewish activist in behalf of persecuted Christians, sees parallels between the way the elites of the
world are dealing with Christians and the way they dealt with Jews when Hitler came to power. In the
face of atrocities perpetrated on them by thug governments, much of the world is ignorant or silent
(Chuck Colson interview with Michael Horowitz, “The Jews of the Twenty-first Century?”,
Jubilee Spring 1997, p. 13).