It may be that the answer to this question is “infinite,” i.e., that there is at least one Jesus for every believer, and another Jesus for every non-believer—who has an opinion of Jesus. Of course, there is the Jesus (or Jesuses) of the gospels; it is difficult to conceive of the Jesus of Mark’s gospel as equivalent to the Jesus of John’s gospel. Mark’s Jesus is no friend of the Jews, but John’s Jesus is a flaming anti-semite, who despises the Jews and equates them with Satan. Then there is Paul’s Jesus. We must remember that Paul’s affiliation with Jesus is decades earlier than the experiences of the gospel writers. I have my own opinion of Paul, but this is not the place to express it. However, Paul’s view of Jesus is less anti-semitic than the gospel writers.
All of these folks wrote well over 1500 years ago, and during those centuries ideas of Jesus have fluctuated, but until the Enlightenment (17th-18th centuries), the general view of Jesus by Christians (a loaded, but surprisingly indefinite category) were based on the idea that Jesus was divine—Son of God, equal to God, God before God—but always divine.
However we are now in a different era. While internationally the number of Christians may be growing, as a percentage of the population in western countries this number is shrinking.
But there is another view of Jesus that fascinates me. In the U.S., you can meet this Jesus repeatedly if you scroll among the many Christian television programs and channels. For the most part, the Jesus one meets here is a very personal Jesus. He is available to virtually anyone interested in having him in his or her life. This Jesus is a personal friend. He responds to prayer. He loves us—he loves everyone. The priest, pastor, or commentator tells us that Jesus died for our sins. How this was accomplished or what was involved is not always—if ever—clear. But since we have surely sinned since he was crucified, his forgiveness is available now, today, as well. All we have to do is accept him as our lord and savior.
There are tens—possibly hundreds—of millions of people, not only in the western world, but on all the continents, who accept this view of Jesus. And they are overwhelmingly sincere. To remove Jesus from their lives would be disastrous, even if it were possible. To cast doubt on the saving grace of this Jesus is despicable. Unkind and unworthy.
Other people, surely a minority, but a very active one, are interested in the “historical Jesus,” who by definition is not identical to the devotional Jesus, although many struggle w ith the attempt to merge these two images of Jesus.
What phase are these parallel inquiries in today? A question for another posting.