Jesus was a teacher. That’s what the word “master” means in the older versions of the Bible. Jesus was also called “rabbi”, which is another word that means “teacher.”
However, there is a theological danger in viewing “teacher” as the Lord’s primary role. The path that liberal theology took in the nineteenth century began with viewing Jesus as primarily a great teacher, even as the greatest teacher of all times. The problem is this: what Jesus taught was not essentially different than what great teachers had taught before. Moses, the Buddha, Socrates, Solomon, Lao Tse and other great men taught people how to live, think and act in ways that turned their hearts toward others.
They all taught their followers to cultivate gratitude and forgiveness. It is easy to print the teachings of these people side by side, demonstrating their common ground. In fact, many eighteenth century books did this, giving the impression that Jesus was a member, perhaps even the greatest member, of an elite club of great spiritual masters.
Orthodox Christianity does not require us to ignore the greatness of the world’s teachers. A faithful Christian should have no difficulty admiring the Buddha or respecting his followers. However, the Buddha is not a peer of Christ. The Buddha was a very great man; Jesus is the incarnate God. Like the Buddha, Jesus taught others, and it is obvious that our Lord said many things that are incredibly similar to things the Buddha said. The difference between them though lies not primarily in what they taught but in who they were and in what they did. Jesus was God as well as man. Jesus died and then resurrected from the dead.
So what might we say is the Lord’s central title or role? In my last blog, I talked about Jesus as exorcist and offered the idea that this was a deeper and more fundamental role for Him than “teacher.” The more I think about it though, exorcism, as vital and fundamental as it was to our Lord’s work, was not His central role either. Like teaching, exorcism served an even more fundamental aim in our Lord’s ministry.
Jesus is the Lord! He is the ruler of a kingdom. He drove out evil because evil does not submit to the rule of God. He taught because He wanted us to learn what it means to be citizens of His kingdom.
If Jesus is only a teacher, we can learn good things from Him without really changing who we are. If He is only an exorcist, we can gain deliverance from oppression and break into new personal freedom. However, if He is our Lord, it means we have turned our primary allegiance away from our culture, our nation and our family (and all their customs, laws and values) and are adopting the laws, customs and values of a very different kingdom.
That is what it means to be a Christian – a follower of Christ. It means that we are delivered from darkness, given eternal life and taught a new way of living and thinking. These are the gifts of our Lord, who came that we might have life and have it in abundance.