What was the purpose of Jesus Christ?
In Acts 2:22-24, the Apostle Peter offers a succinct answer to this question in his sermon to the Jewish crowd at Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost:
Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
There are two parts to his answer: history and theology. The history is a précis of the three-year ministry of Jesus Christ, focusing on his miracles and culminating in his death and resurrection. The theology shows God at work behind the scenes of everything that Jesus did and that was done to him. Neither the history nor the theology sits well with modern minds.
Consider, first of all, the history. Modern treatments of the historical Jesus downplay or outright deny the supernatural and miraculous character of Jesus’ ministry. There is no better symbol of these treatments than the so-called Jefferson Bible, in which President Thomas Jefferson literally took scissors to the pages of the Gospels and cut the miracles out. The resulting Jesus was a talking head, a teacher, a dispenser of gnostic truths.
Peter, on the contrary, emphasized the acts of Jesus. Jesus healed the sick, exorcized the demonized, died for sinners, and conquered death by his resurrection. Of course he taught as well. Peter knew that. But his précis of Jesus’ ministry focused on the deeds, for they were the deeds of God.
That brings us, second, to the theology. God stood behind Jesus’ acts. He “accredited” Jesus to his contemporaries (and to us) “by miracles, wonders and signs.” In fact, he “did” them. God “raised” Jesus from the dead. And, most controversially, he arranged for Jesus’ capture and crucifixion according to his “set purpose and foreknowledge.”
Modern philosophers typically fall into one of two mutually exclusive categories: determinists, who say that individual choice is determined by large impersonal forces; and existentialists, who say that there is no reality beyond what the individual chooses. Christians reject them both. We believe that a personal God guides the choices of human individuals toward his appointed ends without thereby robbing them of moral freedom and responsibility. How God does this is a mystery. That he does so is a biblical truth beyond dispute.
The whole bent of modernism is to squeeze God out of life, to claim that he plays no role in the world. Peter’s sermon is a prophetic refutation of that tendency. God is active in the world. He has a plan for it. Enacting that plan was—and is—the purpose of Jesus Christ.