Greg Gilbert. Who Is Jesus?. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015. 144 pp. $12.99.
Ten billion years from now, every one of us will exist. And the quality of our eternity will be tethered to how we answered a question: who is Jesus? It’s the most important question any of us will ever face. Indeed, we can only begin to truly understand ourselves, each other, and this whirling marble we live on once we know who he is. In his newest book, Who Is Jesus?, Greg Gilbert is a worthy tour guide through the mystery of the cosmos: Jesus crucified and risen from the dead.
Gilbert, senior pastor of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, walks readers through seven areas showing who Jesus is:
- “An Extraordinary Man, and Then Some.” Jesus is an astonishing teacher and miracle worker—showing him to be the Son of God.
- “King of Israel, King of Kings.” Jesus is the long-expected Messiah, and the King of the universe.
- “The Great ‘I Am’. . . .” Jesus is fully divine, very God of very God.
- “. . . Is One of Us.” Jesus is also truly human.
- “The Triumph of the Last Adam.” Jesus is the one who undoes the sin of Adam.
- “Lamb of God, Sacrifice of Man.” Jesus is the one who paid for our sins, in our place, delivering us from God’s wrath.
- “Resurrected and Reigning Lord.” Jesus is alive and well, reigning as the cosmic king.
When ‘Extraordinary’ Falls Short
While all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ Jesus (Col. 2:3), this doesn’t require books on Jesus to come with a decoder ring, a Webster’s pocket dictionary, or a supermarket back brace. Don’t let the size of the book fool you; it’s like Bruce Lee’s one-inch punch—tiny but powerful. There are wagonloads of books on Jesus, written by Christology scholars for Christology scholars, that rarely evoke worship among the saints. Who Is Jesus?, like John Stott’s The Incomparable Christ (InterVarsity, 2004), John Piper’s Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ (Crossway, 2004), and Jared Wilson’s Your Jesus Is Too Safe (Kregel, 2009), is accessible and faithful to the Bible’s testimony about God’s Son. Indeed, this is Gilbert’s goal:
We’re not going to work page by page through any one of the New Testament documents. Instead, we’re going to use all those sources to try and get to know Jesus in the same way that one who was following him might have experienced him—first as an extraordinary man who did wholly unexpected things, but then with the quickly dawning realization that “extraordinary” doesn’t even begin to describe him. (21)
He then continues:
I hope that as you read and as we explore his life together, you’ll begin to get to know Jesus better—not so much as an academic or a religious figure, but as the man the earliest Christians knew personally as a friend. I hope you’ll see what amazed them about him, and I hope you’ll come away understanding better why millions say, “That is the man I’m trusting with my eternity.” (23)
Without bludgeoning the reader, Gilbert delivers guidance in an array of subjects: biblical theology, the doctrine of creation, Trinitarianism, demonology, apologetics, even a discussion on the existence of extraterrestrials, since it all connects to Jesus who is Lord of all. This isn’t the kind of Jesus you invite into your life—but the One who invites you into his life, his kingdom, his glory. Small thoughts of Jesus aren’t safe around this book.
Eulogizing Bone Dust
Gilbert’s book shines in its grammar. You can see this clearly, and importantly, in the title: who is Jesus? Not was. Is. Jesus is. Though this tense choice may seem small, it’s not uncommon for authors to unintentionally betray Jesus’s resurrection and write like they’re eulogizing him—remembering his mighty acts, yet speaking of him as though he’s a pile of bone dust.
But Jesus is living, active, breathing at the Father’s right hand, with blood still coursing through his veins. He was, and is, and is yet to come—“the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8).
Give to Anyone
Who Is Jesus? is lovingly and winsomely written for the skeptic, the unbeliever, those wondering about the man from Nazareth. Gilbert writes with kindness, never letting tone, assumptions, or Christianese distract or detract from the truth about Christ. This is the kind of book you can give to anyone. The skeptic, the curious, the lukewarm Christian, and the gospel-wakened Christian will all be served. The chapter on Jesus’s resurrection literally gave me goosebumps.
By the end, Gilbert has ushered us to the edge of Christ’s megaton glory and summons us to look, to behold, to believe, to follow. “You should look at his claims, his words, and his actions, and decide if you think he is worthy of your trust, worthy of staking your life on him,” he writes (130). When you put your faith in Jesus, you are “recognizing him as your King, and that means he will begin to exercise authority in your life. . . . That’s what King Jesus—risen from the dead and reigning from heaven—invites every human being to do” (132–133). Hallelujah!
Why Not Ted?
It is no small challenge to a write a short and compelling book on Jesus’s person and work like Gilbert has done. Some elements will be overlooked or omitted. I wish the book would have included a small section on why Jesus’s name is, well, Jesus. Why didn’t his parents name him Ted? Jesus means “YHWH saves,” as the angel told Joseph: “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).
Gilbert has penned an “of first importance” evangelistic resource. Churches should consider stocking it as a gift for first-time guests. By God’s grace, Who Is Jesus? could be a new generation’s More Than a Carpenter. It’s certainly a book I can’t wait to give it to others.