Behold, the Man

Behold, the Man

Written By Adam Groza, Ph.D.

Behold, the Man

John 19:1-11 records a scene in which Jesus, on his way to the cross, is brought to Pilate by the chief priests. Pilate doesn’t think that Jesus is a threat to Rome because he doesn’t have an earthly kingdom. Jesus plainly says, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 19:36). Just as Peter denied Jesus three times, Pilate three times declared that he found no guilt in Jesus (18:38, 19:4,6).

Pilate also didn’t seem to think that Jesus was a threat to the Jews, either! The Jews had a law by which a person could die for blasphemy, and Jesus had revealed Himself to equal with God, the long-awaited Son of God (Isaiah 7:14; John 5:18; 19:7). Pilate certainly doesn’t believe that Jesus is any kind of god! In fact, he thought that he had ultimate authority over Jesus (John 19:10)!

In this context of political manipulation, confusion, and blame-shifting, Pilate mockingly presented Jesus to the Jews in a crown of thorns and a purple robe, famously declaring, “Behold, the man” (John 19:5). Pilate intended to defuse the escalating tensions and bloodlust by showing that Jesus was no real king and that Jesus was no real god. He couldn’t be! After all, he was just a man.

Atheist German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) wrote his last original book shortly before descending into madness. An autobiography, the book’s title is Ecco Homo, which is a Latin translation of Pilate’s words in John 19:5 about Jesus: Behold, the Man. Nietzsche has complicated views about Jesus and Christianity (see his book, The Antichrist), but what is clear in Ecco Homo is that Nietzsche thinks that Christianity is nihilistic (i.e., meaningless), saying in the first section that “Christianity is most profoundly nihilistic.” Nietzsche seems to have respected Jesus (after all, he claimed to be a god!) but disdained those who merely follow Jesus (i.e., Christians) rather than aspire to become gods themselves. As Nietzsche wrote in The Gay Science, now that God is “dead,” he asks, “must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?” In the absence of God, all that is left is human will, human desire, human power, and human interpretation.

Madness, indeed.

Unwittingly, Pilate’s jest that Jesus is merely a man conceals a glorious truth and profound mystery without which the Gospel unravels. To be humanity’s Savior, Jesus had to be a holy sacrifice. Since God alone is holy, Jesus had to be divine. However, humanity’s Savior would also need to be human. In the words of Gregory of Nazianzus, “That which he has not assumed he has not healed.”  

Pretty much everyone agrees that something has gone wrong in the world. The Bible explains that sin brings death, destruction, and is the source of all that is bad. The first human (Adam) is responsible for sin and death (Romans 5:12 and 1 Corinthians 15:22). When tempted by Satan, Adam gave in to sin. His sin brought spiritual and physical death, separation from God, and incurred the holy wrath of God against sinful humanity.

In the aftermath of sin (Genesis 3), God pronounced His curses but also promised to bring a Savior born from the seed of the woman to defeat sin and death (Genesis 3:15). The Gospel is preached in Genesis!

As “the second Adam,” Jesus was created directly (i.e., miraculously) in Mary’s womb by God the Holy Spirit. Like the first Adam, Jesus was tempted by Satan (Luke 4:1-13). However, unlike the first Adam, Jesus did not sin. In every respect, Jesus has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15).

Jesus is the only perfect man. Paul masterfully lays out the manifold perfection of Jesus in Philippians 2:1-11. Sinners like us seek advantages for ourselves; we put ourselves first, puff up over our accomplishments, and then want others to take notice. Being praised is never enough; we want to be served.

Jesus, on the other hand, is selfless and humble. Jesus came to serve and emptied Himself to fill us with His righteousness. He laid aside the glory of heaven to enter the frailty of humanity so that we could be filled with His righteousness.

Pilate was right; we should behold the Man.  

When we behold Jesus, the perfect man, we see a Savior who succeeds where we fail. We see a real body that has borne our griefs, carried our sorrows, and been stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted (Isaiah 53:4). We see the blood of the New Covenant poured out for the forgiveness of our sins (Matthew 26:26-28). We see the Word made flesh, shining in the darkness, full of grace and truth (John 1:1, 5, 14).

The Gospel of a sinless Savior who is fully God and fully man rescues from sin and death. It infuses meaning into all aspects of life. It reminds us that since God has become a man, we need not try and become gods.

The Christmas narratives of Scripture are filled with exhortations to behold Jesus:

•             Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means God with us). (Matthew 1:23, ESV)

•             “Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29, ESV)

•             “Behold, the Man!” (John 19:5, ESV)

Jesus is the virgin-born King. He is the sinless Lamb. He is the perfect Man. God has chosen us to behold Him in worship, follow Him in obedience, and tell the world that Jesus is the Man.

About the Author

Adam Groza, Ph.D.
President Elect, Gateway Seminary

Adam Groza (Ph.D.) formerly served as a Vice President and Associate Professor at Gateway Seminary before his recent election as President. Adam and his wife Holly have been married since 2000 and together they have four children: Cosette, Charlie, Christian, and Cate. He is the co-author with J.P. Moreland of Unraveling Philosophy (B&H Academic) and Faith Wins; Overcoming a Crisis of Belief (New Hope Publishers).

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