Was Jesus a failure?
Many people in society, whether they are Christians or not, accept that Jesus of Nazareth actually lived and taught the kinds of things that are written in the Bible. Certainly, the historians do.
However, it can be said that the least successful set of moral teachings in the history of the world is arguably that of Jesus of Nazareth. By “moral teachings,” I am referring to his teachings about the kind of life that people should lead.
Jesus spent three years teaching, and after that time, Christianity become the most popular religion in the world. Today, you will find Christianity in every continent on earth.
You Would Have Thought that the Moral Teachings of Jesus Would Have Transformed Humanity
During the last 2,000 years or so, there have been more books about the moral teachings of Jesus than any other topic in all of history. There have been more teachers teaching it, and more classes taught on this subject, from places as diverse as homes to universities, than on any other.
You would have thought that the moral teachings of Jesus would have transformed humanity. You would have thought that there would be no more wars as we all pursued peace, poverty would have been eradicated as generosity overcame humanity’s selfishness, and that we would all be accepting and loving those who are different to us, as Jesus taught.
But none of that has come to pass.
Don’t get me wrong, clearly the teachings of Jesus have reshaped and brought amazing improvements to human civilisation in specific areas, such as education, medicine, human rights, and philanthropy. But they haven’t transformed and perfected humanity. Even the history of the behaviour of the Christian church itself throughout history has left a lot to be desired.
There are some atheists who are quick to throw up the moral failings of professed Christians and their institutions as examples of not just duplicity, by hypocrisy, and even moral depravity itself.
Did Jesus Fail in His Mission?
What do we do with this? Do we just declare the teachings of Jesus a failure? Did Jesus fail in his mission?
I would say that Jesus was most certainly not a failure. The reason is because he was not, as many non-Christians believe, only a great moral teacher, nor was that his primary purpose.
Of course, there are many facets to who Jesus was. He was a teacher, a healer, a preacher, and a wise man. However, the primary reason why Jesus came among us was not to be a teacher, or even an example, but instead, to be our Saviour. Jesus said,
For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world (John 4:27.)
If Jesus had come primarily as our example, then the world would have been judged as unworthy through his perfect life of goodness and love. It was impossible that we could have ever been saved by an example, however, Jesus tells us that that is not why he came. He came to save the world.
The apostle John emphasises this, writing that,
the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world (1 John 4:14.)
The apostle Paul tells us how Jesus saved the world, writing that,
all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith (Rom 3:24–25a.)
Jesus Was a Magnificent, Eternal Success
In this way, Jesus was a magnificent success. Countless millions, including myself, can attest to the inexhaustible blessings of salvation, and the new and incredible life that has opened up before us because we have accepted Jesus as our Saviour.
Jesus is first of all our Saviour, and then our example. We are saved through his death, and not by following the example of his life. If Jesus were first of all our example, then he was a miserable failure in uplifting and perfecting humanity. But in being our Saviour, Jesus is an astonishing success, and has laid the foundation for a new heavens and a new earth, including a new humanity of which you can be part.
The wonderful thing is that because life flows from his death, as resurrection followed the cross, so too we live new lives when accept and identify with his death. While we can never imitate his example, we can grow towards it, empowered through his Spirit.
In this way, Jesus is our Saviour and Lord. But always our Saviour first.