Could Jesus from Nazareth
really have been
history's first perfect man?
The dictionary defines perfection as "a state
of complete excellence; without blemish or defect; faultless." Perfection,
in human terms, is hard for us to understand. This is because we don't know
of anyone who is perfect. Sooner or later everyone we know will let us down.
Could Jesus actually have lived a perfect life? Was he completely unsoiled
by sin? What was this man from Nazareth really like?
What Jesus Said About Himself
Jesus instructed his disciples: "When you pray say, 'Father, forgive us for our debts just as we forgive those who owe us.'" But you might be surprised to know that Jesus never prayed those words for himself. He never confessed his sins or asked for forgiveness. He never showed any consciousness of moral failure and appeared to have no guilt feelings.
The fact that Jesus felt no sense of sin is interesting in the light of the fact that he possessed a keen judgment of the sins of other men. "He knew what was in man." (John 2:25). He also knew that "it is not what goes into a man which corrupts him; it is what comes out of his heart." (Mark 7:18, 20). He was quick to expose the hypocrisy of others, and yet when he claimed his own perfection, he did not see in himself even a sliver of inconsistency.
One day a young man came running up to Jesus and knelt before the master. "Good teacher, what good thing shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
"Why do you call me 'good'?" the teacher asked. "There is only one who is good—and that's God." (Mark 10:17-18; Luke 18:18-19).
This statement reveals the Nazarene's thinking. He knew full well no one is truly good but God. In the context of his comment to the man, it is obvious that Jesus wanted the man to think about the true goodness of God.
So when he later takes for himself the claims and powers of God
Almighty, it is obvious he believed himself to be absolutely good, just like
God the Father.
On the night before he was crucified, one of the disciples said, "Lord, show us the Father and we'll be satisfied."
"Philip, have I been with you this long, and you have not come to know me? He who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say 'Show us the Father'? Don't you believe I am in the Father and that the Father is in me?" (John 5:48).
Here Jesus was claiming equality with God. Earlier, in the Sermon on the Mount, he had said, "Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48). So if Jesus believed he was equal with the Father, he must have believed he was also perfect in the same way he taught that the Father was perfect.
What Friends Said About Jesus
The disciples lived in close proximity with Jesus for approximately three and a half years. They ate and slept together. They walked the long, hot, dusty miles together and often shared the same cramped quarters. If anyone knew what Jesus was really like, it was the disciples.
Although these men irritated each other and often quarreled among themselves, they never found in Jesus the sins they found in each other. Usually, the better you know someone, the more transparent their faults become. But with the disciples, we find the exact opposite happening.
At first they didn't completely trust Jesus. They were not certain about his powers, his teachings, or his character. But slowly, as their relationship with him grew, we discover fewer examples of mistrust. Instead of their familiarity breeding contempt, it developed only a consciousness of his complete and utter perfection.
Because the disciples were all Jews, they knew from infancy the Hebrew Scriptures which teach that all men are sinners. (Isaiah 53:6; Psalm 14:3). So when they tell us Jesus is sinless and perfect, they are well aware he is different from other men.
In a letter, the disciple John said that Jesus "appeared to take away sins; and in him there is no sin." (1 John 3:5). Earlier in that same letter John stated, "If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves." (1 John 1:8). So John knew all men were sinners—all, that is, accept Jesus.
Another disciple, Simon Peter, called Jesus "an unblemished and spotless lamb." (1 Peter 1:19). He went on to say that Jesus "committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in his mouth." (1 Peter 2:22).
The Apostle Paul, another first-century Jew who had a personal encounter with the risen Lord, stated that Jesus was sinless and perfect. He stated that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23). But of Jesus he says simply, he "knew no sin." (2 Corinthians 5:21).
What Jesus' Enemies Said About Him
The friends and companions of Jesus could easily be biased in his favor, but not his enemies. We read in the gospels that Jesus' enemies, the religious leaders, were constantly watching him for some sign of sin. Because they could not trap him into making some publicly defacing statement, they chose to offer their criticism of his behavior.
They claimed they were horrified with his friends. He rubbed shoulders with prostitutes and fraternized with sinners of every kind, including the hated tax-collectors and even political zealots. No Pharisee would have dreamed of behaving in such a way.
Clearly we cannot condemn Jesus on the definition of piety held by his enemies. If he had engaged in the sordid deeds of those with whom he associated, maybe we could agree with the religious leaders. Jesus, however, was an influence for good with these men and women who needed help. His was a commitment to pointing people towards God, while the Pharisees' commitment was to a set of rules and regulations. He applied the spirit of religion to life, they applied the letter of the law.
When he was questioned about healing on the Sabbath, Jesus said, "I ask you, is it lawful to do good, or to do evil on the Sabbath? To save life, or to destroy it?" But the Pharisees wouldn't answer knowing he would point out the inconsistencies of their philosophy.
"Listen. Which of you who has a sheep that falls into a pit on the Sabbath will not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it's lawful to do good on the Sabbath." (Matthew 12:11-12; Mark 3:4; Luke 6:9).
No one who studies the teaching and behavior of Jesus could ever condemn him for not having a high regard for the Jewish law. The religious leaders condemned him for breaking the Sabbath based on their legalistic interpretation of the law. They believed nothing which resembled work could be done on the Sabbath. Jesus believed doing good is the work of God and could therefore be done on any day of the week. His logic is flawless and we cannot find fault with his Sabbath-breaking healings.
Jesus was so conscious of his own divine perfection that he boldly challenged his enemies to produce proof of any error in his belief or conduct. "Which of you can convict me of sin?" He asked. (John 8:46).
This challenge is startling, because the
shrewd doctors of the law were already putting in overtime hours
scrutinizing his every word and deed under the kind of intensity that only
hate can muster. They wanted desperately to find a character flaw or error
of judgment. His challenge must have prodded them to even greater effort to
come up with something, anything, against him. No other man could have asked
for this type of investigation into his character with such confidence in
its final outcome.
With all of the many slurs and accusations the Pharisees directed against Jesus, we see an interesting thing when their moment of victory arrived. When they finally arrested the prophet and were attempting to convict him of some capital crime, they had to hire false witnesses against him. They had been studying him for three years and they could not come up with a single charge that would stand up in their own court of law. And when they delivered Jesus over to the Roman governor, their charge was not moral but political. (Luke 23:2).
Finally, there are the statements of those who were involved in his death. Pilate, the Roman governor, declared, "I am innocent of the blood of this righteous man." (Matthew 27:24). King Herod also could not find any fault in him. (Luke 23:47). At the place of his execution, and upon seeing the supernatural events at this death, the Roman officer in charge stated, "Certainly this man was innocent!" (Luke 23:47). Even Judas, the disciple who had turned Jesus over to the authorities eventually cried, "I have sinned in betraying an innocent man." (Matthew 27:3-4).
Did Jesus Behave Like a Perfect Man?
It might be easy for us to assume the four gospel writers of Jesus presented a shielded view of this man by showing us only his good qualities. But then we read, in each of their accounts of his life, of a particularly disturbing incident.
On at least two different occasions it is recorded that Jesus walked into the Temple courtyard and physically chased out the money changers and those selling sacrificial animals. If his biographers had been trying to make us think Jesus never got angry, this is the first event they would have eliminated from their books.
"Take these things out of here!" he cried. "Stop making my Father's house a house of merchandise." (John 2:16).
Over went the tables; the coins went flying. With flashing eyes he cracked a whip, and men and animals fled in terror. After all the vendors had left the courtyard, he wouldn't even let them carry their merchandise through the Temple area. (Mark 11:16).
Jesus was angry, but is anger always wrong? Is it possible to be angry at the sin of other men and not sin yourself? David showed he believed it was possible when he wrote, "be angry and sin not." (Psalm 4:4). And certainly it is recorded in the Scriptures many times that God gets angry at sin.
Jesus was angry, but we cannot assume he had lost his temper. When we read John's account of the first such Temple cleansing, we notice Jesus calmly made a whip of cords before he expelled the money changers. (John 2:15). This is not the behavior of a man who has lost his temper. It is the behavior of a man who is determined to accomplish his goal. When he took the time to make that whip, he created an "authority" he knew the merchants would obey.
With Jesus there is balance. I see no trace of the crank. Although he believed ardently in what he taught, he was not fanatical and unreasoning. His humility is especially striking, considering he believed himself to be divine. While he claimed a central spot in his own teachings, he was not self-centered in his behavior. On one occasion he insisted on washing the feet of each of his disciples. At another time he told them, "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve." (Mark 10:45).
Jesus from Nazareth experienced normal physical development. He was a human being, and as such he was subject to all the limitations of a human body. When he was tired, he needed sleep. When he felt hunger or thirst, his body cried out for nourishment. He sweated, became weary, and was tempted like any normal man.
The big difference is that Jesus did not sin—ever. He never failed. He never succumbed to the problems or temptations of life. It is never recorded that he worried; he never said anything for which he was sorry. Although he was fully human, he overcame the temptation to give in to human weakness.
Jesus from Nazareth was misunderstood and misrepresented. He was rejected by his own nation and deserted by his friends. Even his family did not believe in him. Yet he never grew resentful or irritable. He never retaliated. He had complete self-mastery. He lived life the way it was meant to be lived. Jealousy, bitterness, immorality, and disease were all around him in the lives of others, but he was never controlled or soiled by the sin nature of others.
He is the one man in all human history who had absolute control of himself. Here is the one man who truly conquered life. Plainly and simply, Jesus from Nazareth is the world's first, and only perfect man.