The Jesus Movement: From Failure to Phenomenon

Regis Nicoll
Regis Nicoll

By all immediate measures, Jesus’ ministry was a total failure. But it wasn’t for lack of effort or commitment.

At the prime of life, Jesus left his carpentry bench in Nazareth for the dusty roads of Palestine. For three years He promoted His brand, wowing crowds with miracles and captivating them with teaching. On more than one occasion He drew thousands to a remote place to see Him and hear Him. He invested Himself in the training of twelve handpicked men to carry His message to the world. But despite all of His good intentions and effort, at the time of His death, His following numbered scarcely more than one hundred individuals.

Worse, at the end of His ministry, one of his trainees betrayed Him, another vigorously denied Him, and the rest abandoned Him, leaving a handful of women to stand by and mourn as life oozed out of His scourged and nail-pierced body.

When the stone was rolled over the mouth of the tomb, Jesus was just one more in the parade of misguided leaders whose visionary movements failed to outlive them. Or so it seemed. Within two months after His death, something extraordinary happened: The Jesus Movement didn’t wither and collapse, it flourished.

Numbers and impact

Within the span of a few weeks, the small band of deserters regrouped and their ranks began to swell—first to 3000, then to 5000 (including women, their number was probably close to 10,000)—despite sustained opposition from detractors. And for 2000 years their ranks have continued to increase, making Christianity the world’s largest religion with over 2 billion adherents and counting.

But it is more than numbers that make Christianity a singular phenomenon: Against every other movement, ideology, and belief system, the culture-shaping impact of Christianity is unequaled. In fact, Christianity is the seed from which Western civilization sprang up and blossomed.

It was the belief in an intelligible universe populated with intelligent beings whom the Creator entrusted to care for, manage, and enrich His handiwork, that enabled the shift from astrology and alchemy to modern science. Christian notions about equality, freedom, and man as divinely endowed being led to the Western rule of law. Sacrificial love, as taught and modeled by Jesus, inspired the establishment of the first hospitals, orphanages, and charities. And believers who took their faith into the public square, rather than leave it at the doorstep of the church, became the vanguard of the great social movements of abolition, suffrage, and civil rights.

If that doesn’t strike you as strange, it should. Continue reading here.

Originally published March 08, 2013.

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