Book Review: Who is this Man? by John Ortberg

who is this man

Who is this Man? I recently read this book and the author, John Ortberg presented some well-articulated and fascinating facts that the majority of us don’t know. Did you know that when anyone says they want to help others or Pay It Forward that they’re actually modeling Jesus? He was the first and revolutionized the world with radical ideas like “blessed are the meek” and “love your enemies”.

Before he suggested these crazy ideas the prevailing thought was to stomp on the weak and cast off the sick. Zeus didn’t rescue the little children. Achilles never took a humble seat that another might be honored. Poseidon never held his anger when he was wronged. The definition of hero was different. These were the gods and demi-gods of the Greeks and they were the role models of their time. Boys idolized them and women wanted men that were replicas of them. When Jesus lived and when he died he was not the “image” of a god.

So, Who is this Man? You may not know his name, but look around you and the evidence of his work is clear.

He is history’s most familiar figure, yet he is the man no one knows.”

“His impact on the world is immense and non-accidental. From the Dark Ages to Post-Modernity he is the Man who won’t go away. And yet . . .you can miss him in historical lists for many reasons, maybe the most obvious being the way he lived his life. He did not loudly and demonstrably defend his movement in the spirit of a rising political or military leader. He did not lay out a case that history would judge his brand of belief superior in all future books.”

“His life and teaching simply drew people to follow him. He made history by starting in a humble place, in a spirit of love and acceptance, and allowing each person space to respond.”

“His vision of life continues to haunt and challenge humanity. His influence has swept over history bringing inspiration to what has happened in art, science, government, medicine, and education; he has taught humans about dignity, compassion, forgiveness, and hope.”

What I walked away with:

Jesus changes history and does not stop there. When the Roman and Greek gods and demi-gods demanded more praise, Jesus was out and about clothed in humility speaking with those that no one had time for.  His many words of protecting children, the handicap, and sick, who at the time were treated as weak and often discarded, led to what we now call orphanages, hospitals and organizations like the Red Cross and Salvation Army. When he spoke of why God loves us and how to show honor, some listened. From this we have tales and true accounts of men and women sacrificing their lives to help another. We call them heroes and heroins. When we volunteer, we’re emulating his followers. How is all this possible? That one man challenged the cultural of his time and changed the future.

“Famous people often seek to preserve their legacy by having others named for them…today the names of Caesar and Nero are used, if at all, for pizza parlors, dogs, and casinos, while the names in Jesus’ book live on and on.”

Big Questions with Answers straight from the book:

How did Jesus’ impact extended past his death? Those who watched him die would’ve thought all died with him. But his legacy and influence drives on!

“If someone’s legacy will outlast their life, it usually becomes apparent when they die. On the day when Alexander the Great or Caesar Augustus or Napoleon or Socrates or Mohammed died, their reputations were immense. When Jesus died, his tiny failed movement appeared clearly at an end. If there were a kind of “Most Likely to Posthumously Succeed” award given on the day of death to history’s most influential people, Jesus would have come in dead last.”

Human Equality started with Jesus

“The idea of equality of all human beings was not “self-evident” to the ancient world. Aristotle did not think all men were created equal. He wrote that inequality – masters and slavery – was the natural order of things.”

Wolterstorff once said, “the teaching of the Scriptures, clarified and made available to all the world through Jesus, that every human being is made in the image of God, and loved by God.

“The reason every person has great worth, for Jesus, is that every person is loved by God and has bestowed worth.”

His Impact on Humanity

“Jesus insisted that the whole law pointed toward love, and love meant seeing and valuing the worth God had placed in human life.”

“We are never told that Jesus had compassion on someone because they deserved it. It was only because they were in need.”

Jesus changed the world’s perception and value of children.

“Many babies did not grow up at all. In the ancient world, unwanted children were often simply left to die, a practice called “exposure”. The head of the household had the legal right to decide the life or death of other members of the family.”

What in this book is new about Jesus and different from other writings?

“Who Is This Man? is about the impact of Jesus on human history. Most people—including most Christians—simply have no idea of the extent to which we live in a Jesus-impacted world.”

“If you ask what is Jesus’ influence on medicine and compassion. I would suggest that wherever you have an institution of self-giving for the lonely (and for practical welfare of the lonely), schools, hospitals, hospices, orphanages for those who will never be able to repay, this probably has its roots in the movement of Jesus.”

His impact on education for all

“In the Gospel of Mark, the scribes asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 6:5—”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (ESV)—but added the admonition to love God “with all your mind.” Why the addition?”

“Cornelius Plantinga called this the Magna Carta for the Christian intellectual life. To love God with all our minds means we should think about him a lot—be interested in him. It also came to include the thought that “all truth is God’s truth.” This mandate meant monasteries became places of learning that saved classical texts, giving rise to scholarly guilds and eventually universities, and propelled universal literacy movements.”

Aren’t we all experts on who Jesus is?

We talk about Jesus like we’re experts. But are we? The reason I bring this up is not to offend anyone, but to challenge the idea of forming a belief prior to research and making an informed decision.

The majority of what we know about Jesus we’ve heard through someone else, media or the Tele. How many of us have actually studied the bible and historical records? A friend recently told me that Jesus is just another “good” person. My friend has never read the bible, hasn’t read history and formed his opinion from “deep” discussion and conversation with others. In school this wouldn’t pass as a reference. But for life we’re confident in it’s authority.

Who is Jesus? We’re all experts on who him, right? I know I was until I became a Christ Follower, then I learned how little I really knew.

 All quotes are straight from the book.


  1. Very interesting! Seems that even to non-Christians, Christian doctrine is fascinating philosophically and morally.

    • Mike, you might be a thinker just like me. Back in school I took some classes on Greek Mythology and was always fascinated by it. Until reading this book I never realized how narcissistic each god and demi-god was. Now it makes sense why caesars and royalty viewed themselves us better humans.

  2. John,

    That’s a good point on Jesus’ impact on medicine and compassion.

  3. Great post, thanks.

  4. John, nice review. I was looking for comments on this book to support dialogue for a small group that is using this book for a study. As much as I knew, it was eye opening to me how he touched so many aspects of life that we now take for granted. Anyone really interested in seeking the truth would find plenty of reason to take notice.

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