esus began his public ministry with the bold declaration, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me” (Luke 4:18).* Very soon, the people of Judea knew Jesus as a teacher, a preacher, and a worker of miracles; but they did not fully grasp the identity of the amazing One from Nazareth.
After Jesus had ministered with His disciples for three years, He posed this question to them: “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” (Matt. 16:13).
Jesus already knew what people were saying, but He asked the question as a way of broaching the topic gradually (before quizzing them about their own opinions). They responded by saying some people thought He was John the Baptist; others thought He was Elijah, or Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets.
Just as the people of Judea had a variety of opinions about Jesus, so do people today. To paraphrase Jesus’ question, we might ask, “Who do other religions say Jesus is?” The purpose of this article is to briefly explain how Jesus is viewed in other religions–specifically Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Mormonism, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. We will look at these religions in historical order.
Hinduism does not have a founder but is based on a variety of religious beliefs and customs from ancient India, some of them possibly dating back as much as 4,000 years. The Hindu god is a supreme being that encompasses everything (what scholars call pantheism). However, Hindus also worship thousands of other gods that were created by the supreme god.
Hinduism is a way of life based on moral principles, reincarnation, meditation, and karma. Karma is the law of cause and effect–the belief that we are repaid for our actions, whether they be good or evil. Hinduism also believes no religion can claim the only way to God. Instead, God can be reached through many different paths.
Hinduism teaches that Jesus traveled to India and learned the Hindu traditions and practices; and when He returned to Israel, Jesus became a guru to the Jews. Hindus believe Jesus was a great teacher and that He even did miracles, but they do not believe He died for our sins. Instead, they believe when Jesus died, He became “enlightened” and merged with God like other enlightened Hindus before Him. For Hindus, Jesus is not the Savior, King, or Son of God.
Buddhism is based on the teachings of Gautama Buddha, who lived in India about 500 years before Christ and who modified the teachings of Hinduism. The teachings of Buddha have absolute authority for Buddhists, and they seek to imitate his lifestyle of self-denial, meditation, kindness, compassion, and love of wisdom.
Buddha is not regarded as a god; in fact, Buddhism does not believe in the existence of God or the human soul. Buddha, however, is called “The Enlightened One” and Buddhists are encouraged to have faith in Buddha, who lives on in an eternal state they call nirvana. Buddhists believe if they are faithful to the teachings of Buddha, they can go through a series of deaths and rebirths (reincarnations) until they also reach nirvana.
Buddha lived and died many years before Jesus was born; therefore, he did not speak about Jesus. However, since Buddhists do not believe in the existence of God, it follows that they do not believe Jesus is the Son of God.
Because the teachings of Buddha focus on morals, ethics, and other human concerns, most Buddhists approve of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His other moral teachings. Contemporary Buddhist leaders also appreciate Jesus’ engagement with the poor and outcast as well as His deep spirituality. Thus, for Buddhists, Jesus is no more than a good-hearted and deeply spiritual human teacher.
The religion of Islam was founded by Muhammad, who lived in Arabia about 600 years after the birth of Jesus. Muhammad’s people were called Hanifs, and they believed themselves to be descendants of Ishmael.
In Muhammad’s time, they had come to worship many different Arabian gods. Muhammad became convinced there was only one God–the God of Abraham–so he began to teach his new beliefs and called the teachings Islam. Those who follow Islam are called Muslims.
Muhammad claimed he had a series of revelations given to him by the angel Gabriel, and he recorded those revelations in the Koran. The Koran is Islam’s foundation, and Muslims believe it is infallible. The most fundamental belief of Islam is there is only one God and Muhammad is God’s final and ultimate prophet.
Muslims respect Jesus as a true prophet, but not as great as Muhammad. They also believe Jesus was born of a virgin, performed miracles, and will return to defeat the Antichrist, but they do not believe in the divinity of Jesus. Therefore, Muslims do not accept Jesus as the Son of God or Savior.
Also called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mormonism is a deviation from Christianity that was founded by Joseph Smith in western New York in the 1820s. Smith claimed to have received divine revelations by means of secret golden plates. These revelations, which teach Jesus visited North America, were recorded in The Book of Mormon.
After Smith died in 1844, Brigham Young became the leader of the church, and he led a migration to what is now Utah. Mormon doctrine was expanded considerably by the writings of Young and other leaders who were called prophets. We consider Mormonism to be a cult.
Mormonism calls itself a Christian denomination because it uses the story of Jesus and the language of the New Testament as its foundation. Mormonism, however, has modified the Biblical story in many ways. Mormonism teaches that Jesus and Satan were brothers, that Jesus was a human who became a god (but not equal to Jehovah), and that all humans can become gods. They say Jesus’ death was an atonement, but their way of salvation is centered in works, not in faith.
Jehovah’s Witnesses is another cult that is a departure from Christianity. They use the same language Christians use, but they do not believe in salvation by grace through faith.
Jehovah’s Witnesses originated with the teachings of Charles Taze Russell in the late 1870s, and they have their own translation of the Bible, which denies the deity of Jesus. They believe Jesus is a created being and that only 144,000 people will enter heaven. For everyone else, there is no afterlife, only a state of unconsciousness. Although they teach Jesus’ death was an atonement, they believe salvation is attained through good works, especially works of evangelism that bring others to the Jehovah’s Witnesses church.
How do our beliefs about Jesus stand up against Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Mormonism, and Jehovah’s Witnesses?
Only a few moments after Jesus inquired about the views of the people of Judea, He put His 12 disciples on the spot by asking, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16:15).
Simon Peter spoke up immediately, saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16). Peter confessed Jesus is more than a teacher, more than a prophet, and more than a man; He is the Son of God.
Peter’s confession has been the confession of the Church throughout history, and it continues to by our confession today.
*Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version.Lee Roy Martin was a Church of God pastor for 25 years, and now is a professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, Tenn.). [email protected]