On the day after Jesus’ death, it looked as if whatever small mark he left on the world would rapidly disappear. Instead, his impact on human history has been unparalleled. After his disappearance from earth, the days of his unusual influence began. Rightly seen, this effect on past and current history will cause any thoughtful person — apart from their religious ideas about Christianity — to ask, “Who was this man?”
You can miss him in historical lists for many reasons, perhaps the most obvious being the way he lived his life. Jesus did not loudly and demonstrably defend his movement in the spirit of a rising political or military leader. He did not lay out a case that history would judge his brand of belief superior in all future books. He did not start by telling his disciples, “Here are proofs of my divinity; affirm them and I’ll accept you.”
Normally when someone dies, their impact on the world immediately begins to recede. But Jesus inverted this normal human trajectory, as he did so many others. Jesus’ impact was greater a hundred years after his death than during his life; it was greater still after five hundred years; after a thousand years his legacy laid the foundation for much of Europe; after two thousand years he has more followers in more places than ever.
If someone’s legacy will outlast their life, it usually becomes apparent when they die. When Jesus died, his tiny failed movement appeared clearly at an end. If there were a kind of “Most Likely to Posthumously Succeed” award given on the day of death to history’s most influential people, Jesus would have come in dead last.
And yet ...
Jesus’ vision of life continues to haunt and challenge humanity. His life and teaching simply drew people to follow him. He made history by starting in a humble place, in a spirit of love and acceptance, and allowing each person space to respond. His influence has swept over history like the tail of a comet, bringing his inspiration to influence art, science, government, medicine, and education.
Jesus is history’s most familiar figure. His impact on the world is immense and non-accidental. And his presence in our lives today remains undeniable.
Adapted from Who Is This Man? The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus. Learn More