The Worldview of Jesus

Did Jesus have a worldview?

If he did how did it shape his thinking?

Is any of this even important?

I hope to show that it is indeed important to discover the worldview of Jesus. And I think that after we have looked into these probing questions that we too will find this helpful in our own understanding about Jesus. And ultimately about our own need to form a biblical worldview.

Whether you are a Christian or not everyone has a worldview. Each and every person has constructed a belief system in which the world around them is interpreted. In its complexity, there are as many worldviews as there are people. As Christians it is important that the views which we hold about the world and life is grounded in biblical truth. The bible makes only two real distinctions: There is the kingdom of God (The Christian worldview) and the kingdom of this world (all other worldviews). Because they are divergent (the bible makes this distinction so notable that it presents one as darkness and the other as light) they therefore present opposing ways of looking at God, the world, people and spiritual things in general.

All worldviews have their basis on three contributing factors. These three factors are the hub of all philosophical inquiry and discussion. Let’s break them down and then we will see how Jesus embodied them and how this formed his own worldview.

•    Metaphysical: It is those realities that may not be of a physical nature but none the less are real. Things like love, spirits, heaven and thought are considered metaphysical.
•    Epistemological: This covers the areas of our knowledge. Not the acquiring of facts alone but how we know that what we know is real or true. We engage our epistemic makeup every time we think.
•    Ethics: This involves the areas of justice. What is good and what is evil, what is right and what is wrong. The way we live our lives demonstrates our ethics.

The combination of all these things together make up a person’s system of belief. It is to this triad of the uniquely human construct that Jesus so powerfully and surprisingly alluded to when he said,

“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

We may think it a bit odd at first to think of Jesus as forming or having a worldview. After all, he was the agency by which all that was created came into being. He surely knew all about the world: its destiny, its truth and its ethics. So why would Jesus need to have a worldview; simply because the scriptures inform us of such. In Luke 2:52 we read that,

“Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”

In this verse we immediately notice that Jesus increased in wisdom. We may be quick to think that if Jesus increased in wisdom that this meant that he could not be God, because if he was he would already embody all wisdom. But we should keep in mind that Jesus voluntarily limited his right to act on his divine attributes in order to become fully human in all its physical attributes and essences. Philippians 2:6-7 says,

“Who[Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”

 In every way he became human, and in his condescension from the royal throne of Heaven to the stable in Bethlehem he submitted himself to the limitations of a human being. And like all people he would grow in wisdom, intelligence and knowledge. Even though he knew that he created the world, he chose to veil this divine knowledge from himself. Dean Goulburn explains, “And while the body grew, His human mind grew also; His human intelligence unfolded itself gradually into full blossom, in the same manner as the mind and intelligence of other children, only, doubtless, in a much greater degree. Now in order that He might be really and truly a man, He consented, in His wonderful condescension, not to call into exercise those powers which He had as God. You can quite understand a person having strength, but not using it.”[1]

I will endeavor to present what I understand to be the foundations of truth that formed the worldview of Jesus. And I will use the aforementioned verse in John 14:6 as the starting point. It is in these words where Jesus Christ spells out the three truths of self knowledge and their worldview application. Once again Jesus states,

I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”.

The Way (Metaphysical). The Truth (Epistemological). The Life (Ethical). In one statement Jesus reveals what remains an enigma to some and the answer to all of life’s meaning to others. I will explore how the areas of metaphysics (above the natural order), epistemology ( how we come to know something) and ethics ( what we deem as accepted values for living) create the lens by which Jesus Christ understood, verbalized and applied his view of the world, when he lived and walked amongst us.

The Way (Metaphysical)

In order for us to grasp how Jesus came to comprehend the metaphysical world, it is helpful to listen to the statements that he made, and then go behind the words, to the deeper meaning of the thoughts that inspired them. For words are thoughts verbalized. It is here where his cultural background, as a Jewish man, set the foundation for his singular view of life. Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft explains, “He [Jesus] was a Jew. The ultimate truth of metaphysics, the nature of ultimate reality, was not the unknowable mystery to the Jews that it was to all the pagan tribes, nations, and religions around them. It was because Ultimate Reality [God], for reasons known only to Himself, had chosen to reveal Himself to them as to no one else. God had come out of hiding.”[2] Because Jesus was Jewish he held a unique metaphysical understanding of the reality of God. An understanding starkly different from the pagan thinking of the Greco-Rome worldview. This is evidenced in the opening lines of the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father who art in heaven…” (Matthew 6:9). Jesus brings into focus the familial character of the Ultimate Reality. The Son calls God “Father”. This takes the Divine One, who in the minds of many is at a distance, and places you in his lap. He removes the mystery of His unattainable person-hood and speaks in terms of filial love and fellowship. Next Jesus discloses the Father’s dwelling place. It is a very real place that exists beyond the earthly, natural cosmos. This is a metaphysical realm. A realm that Jesus calls, “Heaven”. I believe it is upon these two realities, the existence of God as Father and the dimension of another reality called heaven, that his entire worldview is anchored. Everything Jesus says, metaphysically speaking, will find its meaning emerging from these. In fact, his whole self-recognition becomes tied to this understanding as we again hear him say, “I am the way, the truth and the life…

So can we make a metaphysical connection to the words of Jesus when he states, “I am the way…”“The Way” to what or to where or to whom? In this single statement the Son of God is making the most astounding ontological premise. That there is another realm of existence that stands outside the bounds of this natural and physical order. Naturalism vehemently disagrees. Naturalists only believe in this physical reality. According to their worldview we cannot know anything outside this physical universe.The whole universe can be likened to a box. Enclosed in this system or box, we cannot know if anything exists outside the box. Christian author and teacher James Sire illustrates, “Naturalism places us as human beings in a box (closed system)…[naturalism says] we need to stand outside the box (open system) but there is nothing or no one outside the box to give us revelation…”.[3]

The ‘box’, as Sire explains naturalism, is the closed system of the material or natural order. Naturalism sees nothing outside the box and therefore concludes that nothing exists outside the material world. The revealing of truth about our existence, escapes us, unless there is something outside the box, meaning from a metaphysical reality, to bring that truth to us. Jesus speaks as if he indeed is one who has been outside the box. He reveals this in a way that makes him sound like he has first hand knowledge of supernatural, metaphysical spatiality’s. Thomas’ question,

“Lord, we don’t know where you are going” (John 14:5)

was a probing query into the Savior’s previous statement that he was “going away to make a place ready for them” where in the house of God, that Heavenly realm, are “many dwelling places” (John 14:2).

Making himself the prime metaphysical truth and reality, Jesus responds, knowing himself to be the singular contact to Ultimate Reality. He adds, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” The Son of God alone is the access point to the Heavenly Father. In order for anyone to believe that there is something outside the box and realize the fullness of the metaphysical reality called the Kingdom of Heaven, one must go through Jesus Christ. All this is a fantasy until this revelation breaks in upon the mind and in the heart. If the proposition of such a heavenly world is rejected you will remain in the box. Jesus is the box cutter and says, “I am the way…”

So it becomes apparent that when Jesus claimed to be “the Way” he was giving reason to believe in a place that existed beyond the physical worlds and to a personal Being that existed beyond physical realities.

But Jesus of Nazareth pushed the envelope, regarding himself, right off the edge of any statement made by a human being. He, in fact, makes himself out to be the incarnate metaphysical reality of the Supreme Being and by extension the cause of all that exists. His words staggered the theologians of his day when he answered them, “…before Abraham was I AM.” (John 8:58) [4]. This is a clear reference understood by the religious Jews about his existence. Not only did he allude to predating Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, but he causes their minds to grapple with a claim that there was never a moment in time in which He did not exist. He did not suggest that he was an emanation of God or a part of God or that he was like God or one of many gods. But that the very God of their fathers, for whom the Jews knew to be transcendent, now was also immanent and stood before them. James Sire notes that Christian theism stands apart from other worldviews in that God is both transcendent and immanent. Where once, the metaphysical God was incomprehensible to the human mind, he now becomes revealed to the physical world in the person of Jesus Christ. In answering the box bound naturalist, someone has come from outside the box and revealed that there is more to reality than just the natural world alone.


The Truth (Epistemological)

Jesus said, “ [I am] the truth…” (John 14:6). Truth. What every person seeks, even if we are unaware of its prying with constant force to break through to the surface of our minds, and which so few ever come to comprehend even after an entire lifetime. Jesus’ statement epitomizes the philosophic theories of all ancient and modern thinkers and their endless search for answers; and then garners them unto himself. He towers above every form of human intellect and wisdom and makes small the ruminations of the world’s prodigious sages. Not by expounding on their philosophy or even considering it a thing to bring forth light. But he parts the waters of the grand sea of human ideas and thoughts, and with the mighty force of one phrase discounts all the logic, wisdom and intelligence of all mankind. He does this not by claiming to possess the truth about life but by claiming himself to be “the Truth” about all that is life. Again, Jesus said, “[I am] the truth…”

Again Peter Kreeft comments, “Christ is the ultimate epistemological revelation of ultimate metaphysical reality. Christ is the key to epistemology.” Whew! That’s a mouthful and a mindful.  Let’s see if I can unpack this a bit. Humans were created with a unique capacity to know. For instance we are self aware. Not all living things are self aware. Lower forms of life are not self aware such as plants and vegetables or animals. These forms of life don’t sit around and ruminate on things like “who am I” or “why am I here”.  This kind of knowing comes from God. The concept of knowledge itself was created by God. For Jesus then, the knowing of anything originates within the being of God. Any knowledge that is made known to man is only possible because we were created with the capacity to acquire and comprehend what is knowable. A capacity endowed by the Creator.

Therefore because we have the capacity to know something, we are able to comprehend the truth of a thing, its essence or reality as it truly is. Sire strengthens this point, “He [God] is the ultimate source of all knowledge and all intelligence.  The foundation of human knowledge is the character of God as Creator. We are made in His image (Genesis 1:27). As he is the all-knowing knower of all things, so we can be the sometimes knowing knowers of some things.” We return again to the statement of Jesus, “I am the way, and the truth…” Though his words may impart philosophic meaning, it is much more; it is a description that gets to the core of Jesus’ identity, or better still, his essence or being. Wondrously, Jesus claims to be the literal personification of truth. As the Savior stood before Pilate’s judgment seat the Judean governor uttered the words that can be found in the heart of every person. That bewildering philosophic question that gnaws in all our minds; simply,

“What is truth?” (John 18:38).

Pilate’s query, like all of us, makes the mistake of thinking that truth is a what instead of a who. Jesus therefore did not just speak the truth but he was truth speaking. But like Pilate we cannot know anything, especially God, unless it is first revealed to us.

The capstone of Jesus’ epistemology is then set in place by this familiar quotation,

“Now this is eternal life-that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent.” (John 17:3).

The worldview of Jesus was such that people need knowledge of God in order to make sense of their life.  It is therefore, without question that the Son of God states that the knowledge that people need is that which not only comes from him but is him. For he is the revelation of the perfect God in human flesh; and by the triune essence of the Godhead, the Father as well is made known to be the only true God. This knowledge is vital if the world is to comprehend, then apprehend a life that culminates in an ethical quest which Jesus calls “eternal life”.

The Life (Ethics)

In constructing a Christian worldview we will look at the last phrase of Jesus’ self disclosed declaration. Once more let’s listen to what’s behind the words, “I am… the life…” Jesus is “the life”. Not just existence as stars exist or molecules exist but a quality of life. A life gushing with meaning where worth and value are central to it. Simply stated it is a life built upon certain ethics or moral distinctions. For Christians, it is a quality of life that is the result of living by biblical principles; a view that has very definitive ideas of what is right and what is wrong; where what one does in this life has significance, now and in our future. It is a life that, according to scripture, can reap the benefits of God’s blessing or incur his judgment.

The post-christian thinking of today has all but rejected this kind of moral ethic. Because Darwinism has reduced humankind to animals and atheism removes God from life, there is no real defined morality. According to their humanistic worldview there are no absolutes. Except of course for that very statement they are making (which is a logical contradiction). Jesus astounds his hearers by claiming to be“the life”. That he is the standard, ethically speaking, by which all of life can be measured. In other words, if I want to know what God thinks about right and wrong, watch how Jesus acts, what he thinks and how he speaks. Jesus is the definition of life, the ethical values ascribed to it and the consequences that follow. Ethics are meaningless unless there is value given to a person’s actions; whether those actions are good or evil. We see this evidenced throughout scripture. Every time we read that the Lord has rewarded or punished a person, we are entering the area of ethics. The consequences of living life a certain way results in either blessing or punishment. Regarding the Savior, we see his action to do good is rewarded. In the book of Revelation we read,

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain (a choice to do a good act for others) to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (rewards of the choice made) (Revelation 5:12).

And again this appeal to his Father,

“I glorified you on earth by completing the work you gave me to do (Jesus’ choice to do good by God). And now, Father, glorify me at your side with the glory I had with you before the world was created.” (The expectation to be rewarded by God). (John 17:14, 15).

This is in contradistinction to the worldview of non-believers. Why would anyone want to do good by making Godly choices if it all is just a mindless, purposeless existence? If there is no God to covenant with, no heaven to be gained, no hell to be averted, then there is no reason to live life morally. Good and evil  blur in the ethical makeup of this kind of worldview. People can make life what they want it to be instead of apprehending true life; which is Jesus himself:“the life”. 

God is the supreme ethicist. The bible uses the term “holy” to describe this attribute of God. He is the one who has engineered it, and made it part of the fabric of humanity. When people live by “the life” it crowns those who live for His glory. “The life” that Jesus speaks of, because it is of divine status, is eternal. Christian doctrine affirms this throughout the teachings of Christ. It is never temporal. And unlike all other living things the stakes are higher because we are made in His image and are thus immortal and designed for eternal habitation. This makes the rewards of doing right more gratifying but the punishment for doing wrong far more severe.  Jesus discloses this ethical principle by stating,

“…the ones who have done what is good to the resurrection resulting in life, and the ones who have done evil to the resurrection resulting in condemnation.” (John 5:29).

Jesus knows that God’s moral characteristics are etched within us, damaged as they may be through our sinful nature. Again, he holds people responsible for what is in their hearts,

“The good person brings good things out of his good treasury, and the evil person brings evil things out of his evil treasury.” (Matthew 12:35).

And though we may find similar morality in other religions or taught by other teachers before Christ, this is not because they thought of something new which Jesus Christ should later build upon, but because all people have within their conscience the holy imprint of the Creator’s ethics, which is really his holiness, imparted at the creation of Adam and Eve. And so, universally and meta-ethically speaking, we cannot escape the moral law of God which is woven into the constitution of every human being and which pounds the consequential gavel according to the choices we make in His universe. William L. Craig says it this way, “…the moral choices we make in this life are infused with an eternal significance.”[5]

And so, because we as sinners have the knowledge of good and evil (see Genesis 3:22) we are morally impotent. We have moral knowledge but not moral power. Only God has within himself a constitution that is completely pure in its essence. He is altogether holy and his actions are always for the good. Unlike our Creator, we cannot be good, intrinsically speaking. We need only to understand Romans 3:12,

All have turned aside; together they have become worthless no one does good, not even one.” 

God looks upon humanity for someone who is able to do good all of the time and there is none to be found. Now we may act and do good things some of the time. But for us to be good, as God sees it (for he is using his character of goodness as the standard) would mean that everything we are, that is our be-ing, is in essence and in existence for the selfless benefit of everyone else. And no human exists that can accomplish that at every moment. That is the reason that He sent his sinless Son on our behalf. It is therefore, Jesus alone that can rightly say that he is “the life”.

Finally, in order to have a quality of life, this means that something is better or worse than something else. For how could there be such a thing as quality unless there was some standard built into the cosmos that caused us to perceive such a thing. Jesus made himself to be that standard. He is not talking about just any kind of life but a quality of life that he himself is and is the necessary quintessence for all people to acquire in order to gain it eternally. But in order to gain it, we must live it. And in order to live it, we must choose it. And in order to choose it, we must know there is a choice to be made that effects the qualitative outcome of our destinies. And that choice is the ultimate ethical question that is posed to anyone who would  look unto him and hear him say,

“But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15).

For those who would desire to live by the worldview of Jesus it is answered by living for the One who said,

“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”.

Bibliography

[1] Dean Goulburn (from The Biblical Illustrator Copyright © 2002, 2003, 2006 Ages Software, Inc. and Biblesoft, Inc.

[2] Kreeft, Peter. 2007. The Philosophy of Jesus. South Bend, Indiana: St. Augustine’s Press.

[3] Sire, James W. The Universe Next Door. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press. 2004

[4] Net Bible. First Edition. 1996-2005. John, Commentator notes: footnote 161. The statement “I AM” is an explicit claim to deity.

[5] Craig, William Lane. 2008. No God? No Good. Internet. Available from http://www.bethinking.org

 Copyright © Steve Covarrubias 2010

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