On the day after Jesus’ death, it looked as if whatever small mark he left on the world would rapidly disappear. Instead, his impact on human history has been unparalleled.
After his disappearance from earth, the days of his unusual influence began. That influence is what this book is about. Rightly seen, this effect on past and current history will cause any thoughtful person — apart from their religious ideas about Christianity—to ask, “Who was this man?”
You can miss him in historical lists for many reasons, perhaps the most obvious being the way he lived his life. Jesus did not loudly and demonstrably defend his movement in the spirit of a rising political or military leader. He did not lay out a case that history would judge his brand of belief superior in all future books. He did not start by telling his disciples, “Here are proofs of my divinity; affirm them and I’ll accept you.”
Normally when someone dies, their impact on the world immediately begins to recede. As I write this, our world marks the passing of digital innovator Steve Jobs. Someone wrote that ten years ago our world had Bob Hope, Johnny Cash, and Steve Jobs; now we have no Jobs, no Cash, and no Hope. But Jesus inverted this normal human trajectory, as he did so many others. Jesus’ impact was greater a hundred years after his death than during his life; it was greater still after five hundred years; after a thousand years his legacy laid the foundation for much of Europe; after two thousand years he has more followers in more places than ever.
If someone’s legacy will outlast their life, it usually becomes apparent when they die. On the day when Alexander the Great or Caesar Augustus or Napoleon or Socrates or Mohammed died, their reputations were immense. When Jesus died, his tiny failed movement appeared clearly at an end. If there were a kind of “Most Likely to Posthumously Succeed” award given on the day of death to history’s most influential people, Jesus would have come in dead last.
His life and teaching simply drew people to follow him. He made history by starting in a humble place, in a spirit of love and acceptance, and allowing each person space to respond. He deliberately placed himself on a collision course with Rome, where he would have been crushed like a gnat. And he was crushed.
And yet …
Jesus’ vision of life continues to haunt and challenge humanity. His influence has swept over history like the tail of a comet, bringing his inspiration to influence art, science, government, medicine, and education; he has taught humans about dignity, compassion, forgiveness, and hope.
Since the day he did come — as G. K. Chesterton put it—”It has never been quite enough to say that God is in his heaven and all is right with the world; since the rumor is that God had left his heavens to set it right.”
John Ortberg, Who Is This Man? The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012).