What Will Jesus Do?
Duncan MacIvor
“What would Jesus do?” This question has become a practically meaningless cliché. It’s not a bad or disrespectful question – in fact, it’s a very good one to ask, provided that it means, “What would Jesus want me to do?” Some people who go for the fad of wearing WWJD wrist beads are genuinely seeking the Lord’s wisdom for moral behavior, or at least as a check on their impulses. Dumber questions people ask include: “What kind of car would Jesus drive?” (If there had been cars in Roman Judea, I’d guess He might have walked or taken the bus.) “Would Jesus be a Democrat or Republican?” (That one arises from both parties.) “If Jesus were alive and in Congress today, how would He vote on [insert issue]?” Frequently, the people who ask such questions presume that Jesus would support their pet causes: gun control, environmental activism, wealth redistribution, gay rights, etc., hoping to shame political opponents into silence. Surely no righteous person could oppose what Jesus would clearly favor. People who actually expect particular answers to such questions typically misunderstand Jesus deeply, and more often than not, they have a badly wrong view of their own relationship to Him. In fact, the more likely one is to invoke Jesus’ blessing on a secular viewpoint, the less likely one is to understand Him correctly. The reason the WWJD question is practically meaningless is that the desired answer depends much more on the questioner than on any objective characteristic of Jesus Himself. In other words, the answer depends on whom or what the questioner believes Jesus to be. Therefore, the real question was asked by Jesus Himself of the disciples, “But who say ye that I am?” (Luke 9.20) Peter answered, “The Christ of God.” People who give other answers either don’t grasp what Peter’s answer actually means, or else they don’t like that answer. In that case, then, what answers would they give? We could make a list of descriptive terms that Jesus indisputably fit at points in His life. As in the Hindu fable of the six blind scholars examining the elephant, we mortals can see bits of Jesus at a time without properly grasping the whole, or even His most important aspects. Just as one blind man felt an ear and declared that the elephant was like a fan, the pacifist reads Jesus’ words of Matthew 5.39 “…whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also,” as evidence that Jesus was also a pacifist, and even a wimp. A bully or a hardened soldier might similarly dismiss Him as too soft. That wimp interpretation might have come as a shock to the moneychangers in the Temple in John’s account. “And when He had made a scourge of small cords, He drove them all out of the Temple… and poured out the changers’ money and overthrew the tables.” (John 2.15) Reading John and the synoptic gospels together, there could have been two such episodes, and John’s story would be the earlier entry on Jesus’ rap sheet. Today we might call that a pattern of behavior. Could this really be the same guy who advocated submission and turning the other cheek? Where did He learn to make whips anyway? What other words could describe the man Jesus? An incomplete list: - Jesus was a carpenter. - Jesus was a homeless man. - Jesus was a great moral teacher. - Jesus was a revolutionary Page 1 of 5
Jesus was a carpenter.

Jesus was a working man for most of His short earthly life.
Carpentry is ancient. Adam’s son Cain built a city (Gen 4.17). Noah and his sons built a wooden ark (Gen 6.14). If you
prefer secular antiquity, the Neolithic Lake Dwellers built villages on raised wooden platforms on Lake Zurich in ancient
Switzerland. Carpentry flourishes today despite a sagging world economy, and it will continue as long as men build
anything out of wood.
Carpentry is honorable. A man can support his family and grow a family business in it. In Bobby Darin’s 1966 hit song “If
I Were a Carpenter” (covered later by many others), the speaker seeks reassurance that his “lady” loves him for himself and
not because he is a songwriter (or lawyer or hedge fund manager), implying that carpenters make less desirable husbands.
That’s humanistic thinking for you. Not everyone is cut out for indoor work without heavy lifting, such as being a Pharisee.
Absolutely anyone in all human history who has ever lived in anything better than a brush pile “gets” carpentry. It’s
I think that Jesus chose to be carpenter (Matthew 13.55, Mark 6.3) because the trade is so universally approachable. By
following His stepfather Joseph into the shop, He established His credentials as a contributing member of society. This
doesn’t mean that Jesus calls His followers to be carpenters, but if He had been an accountant, a soldier, a caravan trader, or
a nobleman, it wouldn’t convey the same message at all.
Most people who enlist Jesus’ aid for advocacy never dwell on this side of Him. They might have preferred Him to be a
social worker. Personally, I’ve always liked the bumper sticker that Jesus’ earthly trade inspired, “My Boss Is a Jewish
Jesus was a homeless man.

During His ministry, Jesus lived a homeless lifestyle. In response to a scribe who offered to follow Him, He said, “The
foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head.” (Matthew 8.20)
It has been claimed that Jesus was born to a homeless couple, and Mary has been likened to unwed mothers who bear
children doomed to poverty. Never mind that Mary and Joseph left Nazareth and the carpenter shop in obedience to a
census decree incumbent on everyone who had a tax liability.
Still, I think there were reasons for this aspect of Jesus’ life as well. We don’t identify with homelessness as we do with
carpentry, but we all ought to understand that each of us could lose everything. Even the best fixed and heavily insured
among us could be cast away on a desert island. Whether through financial reverses, mental illness, alcohol or drugs,
disasters, bad choices, or plain bad luck, homelessness is the universal default condition of mankind. It could happen to
anybody in the right circumstances. Look what happened to Job.
If not for this chosen lifestyle, Jesus would have little else in common with muttering vagrants who sleep under bridges and
push stolen shopping carts through urban neighborhoods. But Jesus can say to the most dissipated bum in the gutter, “I’ve
been there. Get up and come unto Me.” The beggar Lazarus must have heard His call. (Luke 16.20 ff.)
As with His life as a carpenter, during His ministry He could not have conveyed the same message if he had been a military
man, a politician, or certainly a scribe or a Pharisee. (Those men were part of the problem.) For that matter, He could not
have remained a carpenter. A successful carpenter is a man of substance. Some people might feel abashed and intimidated
in the presence of an accomplished tradesman. The press of business in the workaday world would distract from His
ministry to the hurting.
For the same reason, Jesus called His closest associates away from their own occupations (fishing, tax collection, etc.).
They had a new job to do, and had to adopt His peripatetic lifestyle.
Jesus’ unencumbered ways have drawn unwarranted comparisons with Buddha and other non-Christian philosophers. The
abstemious behavior of Christian hermits and monks in later centuries was in part conscious imitation of this aspect of
Jesus’ life. But Jesus was not a committed ascetic in this sense, even if He bears a superficial resemblance to bearded men
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wearing robes and sandals who wander around trying to perfect themselves by avoiding meat, wine, and even the company
of women.
Jesus may have spent some nights in fields, but He stayed in people’s houses too. He was visiting somewhere when He
received word of the death of Lazarus the brother of Mary and Martha (and He remained where he was two more days).
(John 11.5) Jesus dined in the houses of rich men, tax collectors, and sinners (Luke 14.1; Matthew 9.10). At the wedding
at Cana, His first miracle turned the water in six 30 gallon stone jars into top quality wine. (John 2.6-9) Should we suppose
He didn’t enjoy some? Women were among His closest associates, so close that the ones coming to embalm their friend
were the first witnesses to His Resurrection. The skeptic’s accusation that Jesus had an erotic relationship with Mary
Magdalene serves to demonstrate the intimacy of their true bond.
Jesus’ homeless lifestyle had its purposes, but I don’t believe those included exemplifying homelessness as a preferred
mode of existence. Instead, I believe He admonishes us to hold loosely to the trappings of this life and be prepared to ditch
them all if they hinder our relationship to Him. God’s material blessings are only on loan to us in the first place.
Jesus was a great moral teacher.

This statement is certainly true. Jesus definitely gave us a lot of precepts for responsible, ethical living, and many of these
have parallels in other ethical traditions. (That should not surprise us; if these precepts are true, they are useful, and non-
Christians would discover them as well.)
Even His rabbinical opponents had to acknowledge His extraordinary command of the Scriptures. When the Pharisee
Nicodemus came to Him one night, he said, “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God…” (John 3.2) Jesus
was a master story teller and an invincible debater. He could enthrall huge crowds.
One surprising thing about Him was that He seemed to come out of nowhere. “Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His
mother called Mary? and His brethren James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?” (Matthew 13.55)
Some people who don’t deny that Jesus was a historical person nevertheless deny His divinity or that He ever intended to
found a religion. Instead they liken Him to (and lump Him with) Socrates, Buddha, or Confucius. (His pacifist image comes
along for the ride.)
Some even speculate that sometime during the “lost years” of His teens and twenties, He journeyed to India to acquire
Eastern wisdom. That’s an interesting idea, but it flies in the face of His seeming ordinariness. Nobody in that world who
had traveled so far and learned so much would be mistaken for a simple village carpenter.
The greatest trouble with viewing Jesus primarily as a teacher is the content of His teaching. If He were only a man,
however gifted as a teacher, the things he taught are unbelievable. I couldn’t put this any better than C.S. Lewis did in Mere
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept
Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who
was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic
— on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your
choice. Either this man was, and is, the
or else a madman or something worse. . but let us not come with any
patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher.

Jesus didn’t come to teach us the way; He is the Way. He said this Himself: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man
cometh unto the Father but by me.” (John 14.6) No mere teacher would ever say such a thing. This is sometimes called
“Lewis’ trilemma: liar, lunatic, or Lord”. What we most need to realize is that we must choose among these; not choosing
is a choice in itself.
Jesus was a revolutionary.
This label for Jesus is more disputable than the preceding ones, but a case can be made for it. To the extent it really fits
Him, He definitely got an early start. When He was born, He was hailed as a king by the Magi from the East, to the dismay
of King Herod who sought to kill Him. (Matthew 2.16)
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At the end of His life, Pilate wrote “Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews” on a sign fastened to the Cross. (John 19.19)
Clearly, throughout His life, Jesus stirred fear and resentment among the political elite. He wasn’t the first Jew of His era to
be accused (fairly or not) of being a revolutionary and He wouldn’t be the last.
The Jews themselves were looking for a political Messiah who would overthrow the Romans and re-establish the political
kingdom of Israel. The disciples themselves expected that, and even though those hopes were dashed at the Crucifixion,
they had still not abandoned the idea even after Jesus’ Resurrection. Assembled together with the risen Lord, they asked
Him, “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” to which He answered that it was not for them to
know the times or seasons. (Acts 1.6-7)
Counterbalancing His more popular messages of peace and love were His so-called “dark sayings”, such as Matthew 10.34,
“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace but a sword,” and Luke 22.36 (spoken at the
Last Supper) “…he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.”
The former saying refers to the divisions that He predicted to arise among those who would choose Him and those who
would not, but both sayings do seem (superficially) to conflict with John 14.27, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give
unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you,” and Matthew 26.52 “for all they that take the sword shall perish with
the sword.”
Jesus was not a revolutionary in the sense of Samuel Adams, Vladimir Lenin or Fidel Castro any more than He was a
peacenik with flowers in His hair. But those who felt threatened by Him viewed Him that way, and later revolutionaries
may have tried looking to Him for inspiration. Looking closely at Jesus is quite a good thing, actually, but a sufficiently
close examination leads to decidedly non-political conclusions.
So what was Jesus?

Oddly enough, the people who have had the clearest, most complete view of Jesus may have been the Old Testament
prophets who had visions of Him hundreds of years before He was born. They saw the Lord in His totality although they
could not see the gap of time between His first and second comings. Their visions were a continuous whole, and their
prophecies were connected thoughts flowing seamlessly from the earlier time period into the later one. Three well-known
Isaiah 9.6-7: For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his
name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, The everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase
of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom to order it and to
establish it with judgement and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”

Zechariah 9.9-10: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout O daughter of Jerusalem: behold thy King cometh unto thee:
he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass. …and he shall speak
peace unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth.”

Isaiah 61.1-2: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the
brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the
acceptable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn.”
Clearly, the non-italicized portions of these verses refer to aspects of Jesus’ earthly life, and the italicized portions to His
Second Coming and the Millennium to follow. Most interestingly, Jesus Himself, reading from Isaiah 61 in the synagogue
in Nazareth stopped reading at the end of the non-italicized part above, closed the book, sat down, and said, “This day is
this scripture fulfilled in your ears.” (Luke 4.17-21) Jesus Himself understood that not the whole of Isaiah’s prophecy was
fulfilled at that point.
And so today, (as we pray) near the end of history, we can have our own clearer view of the whole Jesus, the God-Man, the
same Word who was with the Father and the Spirit speaking creation into existence. (Gen 1.1-3; John 1.1-3) His divine
nature hasn’t changed but He has added a perfect human nature and a glorified human body to it for the purpose of
becoming our Emmanuel dwelling among us.

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So what would Jesus do?

The better question at this point is what He will do. He’s coming back to reign and He’ll put His enemies under His feet.
What kind of car would He drive? None, of course. If He chooses to leave His throne in Jerusalem to go someplace, He’ll
just go.
What would He say about environmental issues? Not much, maybe. He’ll simply restore the entire ruined earth to its
original perfection during the Millennium and replace the whole thing with a new one in the eons to follow.
How would He vote if He were in Congress? There won’t be any voting or any Congress.
The government will be on the shoulders of the Prince of Peace, remember?
What would He say to those who insist on asking impertinent, agenda-driven questions about what the man Jesus would do
if He were living in our time instead of His own? I suspect He might say, “Why do you ask Me such questions? Look into
your own heart and see your preening self-righteousness, and then repent and come unto Me.”
Duncan MacIvor 2013
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Source: http://www.burundanga.net/upload/WWJD.pdf

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