A king, an inventor, or a preacher.
Which do you think would leave the greatest mark on history?
From a purely historical perspective, the most influential man in all of history was actually a traveling preacher.
And his name was Jesus.
Consider this incredible quote from H.G. Wells,
I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.
Historians, philosophers, and world leaders have marveled at the impact Jesus has had on the world.
Here are just 6 ways Jesus’ legacy has changed the world for the better.
1) Women's Rights
Throughout ancient history we see endless examples of women treated inhumanely.
All of a sudden, about 2,000 years ago, we see an incredible movement of women converting to Christianity.
In fact, the early church was so saturated with women that it was often criticized as “a women’s religion”.
What made the difference?
Jesus treated women with dignity, respect, and a pure love that stood in stark contrast to society.
Jesus’ friends and ministry partners were women.
Perhaps the most striking example is that women were the first to witness Jesus after he rose from the dead.
While women were worth less than men in the Roman world, in Jesus’ eyes they were equally valuable having been made in the image of God.
While adulterous husbands who viewed their wives as property and/or playthings were the norm in the Roman world, Christianity demanded that a man be committed to his wife and love her sacrificially.
Jesus’ legacy of uplifting women remains painfully obvious even today.
Sex slavery and discrimination against women run rampant in un-Christianized parts of the world. But in the Western world, women are experiencing the most freedom and privilege ever seen in human history
(While the Western world has become post-Christian, our morals are still rooted in Christian ethics).
If it weren’t for Jesus, society wouldn’t care about women’s rights.
Jesus’ pure, sacrificial love for women has undoubtedly made our planet a better place to live.
2) Human Rights
Today in America, we think basic human rights are common sense.
But that has not always been the case.
The idea that all humans should be treated with dignity was extremely rare before Christianity stepped onto the scene.
Take slavery for example.
While it is true that there were Christians who owned slaves in early America, it was Christians who championed freedom for slaves.
The secular philosophers and leaders of the day said or did little to emancipate slaves. It was Christians like William Wilberforce who lead the charge against slavery.
Even in the civil rights movement of the 60’s, the church was the center of fighting against racism and segregation in society.
Jesus said in Matthew 5:44
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you
You see, Jesus says to love your neighbor and your enemies.
That covers just about everyone.
To care for our fellow man is a very Christian idea rooted in the life and teaching of Jesus himself.
3) Humanitarian Aid
In Luke 14:13 we see Jesus say,
But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,
And the Apostle John says in 1 John 3:17,
But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?
Caring for the poor and needy has been a strong part of Christianity’s legacy since the beginning.
We often see Jesus healing the poor and the outcasts and in the early church they cared for orphans, widows, and the helpless.
Even today, we see that legacy of caring for those in need.
A recent study has shown that up to 75% of all charitable donations in the USA are motivated by faith.
Christians send missionaries and volunteers all over the world to minister to people’s needs both physical and spiritual.
How much life has been spared, diseases treated, and hungry fed because of Jesus?
His impact has been so significant it’s hard to even estimate.
Christians have always been concerned with the mind.
See Jesus’s words in Matthew 22:37,
Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
Literacy in Ireland came as a result of St Patrick’s ministry there.
Nearly all of the first universities in England and America were started by Christians.
It’s ironic that society tries to make Christians look ignorant and uneducated when Christians have done more to inspire education in the modern world than any other group.
The faith Jesus taught was not one of blind leaps in the dark or mind-emptying meditation.
Jesus’ words captivate the senses, the soul, and the mind.
We often take modern science for granted, but did you know it was developed by Christians?
For much of history people saw the world as spirits, demons, and small “g” gods as influencing the forces of nature.
But Christians believe there is one God who made both the world and everything in it (including us).
Medieval Christians were the first to come to the understanding that since God made both the world and mankind, man should be able to experiment with nature and understand it better.
Professor Rodney Stark does an excellent job showing the Christian roots of science in his book For The Glory Of God where he says,
the Scientific Revolution of the sixteenth century was the … result of [Christian scholarship] starting in the eleventh century… Why did real science develop in Europe … and not anywhere else? I find answers to those questions in unique features of Christian theology.
Even the physicist Paul Davies as a non-believer can see how the origin of science is rooted in Christian beliefs. He says,
All the early scientists such as Newton were religious in one way or another. They saw their science as a means of uncovering traces of God’s handiwork in the universe
Francis Bacon, Galileo, Newton, Copernicus, Kepler, Pascal—all these men were inspired by their faith to do science.
While Christians might be a minority in science today, we still have a strong presence.
For example, Francis Collins who led the Human Genome Project is an outspoken follower of Jesus.
The reality is, when we think about all the great achievements of science such as modern medicine and technology, society owes all of these things ultimately to Jesus.
6) Changed Lives
So far we have looked at Jesus’ influence through large scale movements and societal impact.
But perhaps the most poignant example of how Jesus has changed the world for the better comes through seeing personal testimonies.
It’s one thing to see the facts, it’s another to hear someone tell you how Jesus changed their life.
Churches are full of people who can tell you how Jesus changed their life.
Personally, I can tell you that when I first trusted in Jesus as my savior, he completely changed me from the inside out.
I was a new person because Jesus saved me.
If you do not believe in Jesus, I highly encourage you to start listening to people’s stories.
Jesus has changed billions of lives and he can change yours too.
Jesus Changes Everything
17th century historian Philip Schaff said,
This Jesus of Nazareth,
without money and arms, conquered more millions than Alexander, Caesar, Mohammad, and Napoleon;
without science and learning, shed more light on things human and divine than all philosophers and scholars combined;
without the eloquence of schools, He spoke such words of life as were never spoken before or since and produced effects which lie beyond the reach of orator or poet;
without writing a single line, He set more pens in motion, and furnished themes for more sermons, works of art, and songs of praise than the whole army of great men of ancient and modern times.
[Formatting my own]
Jesus is not someone you can ignore.
He is without a doubt the most influential man in human history.
More than that, he is God in flesh.
He has changed the world for the better and his work isn’t done yet.
He wants to change you too.
Will you let him?
See other posts by Tim (Bio below)
Tim is the senior editor for the ABC Voices blog. He is the director of the Michigan Apologetics Network and is the chapter director of Ratio Christi, an apologetics ministry, at Grand Valley State University. Tim, his wife Alexandra, and children MaryKate, Oliver, and Sunny attend Allendale Baptist Church where Tim also works as an assistant pastor. Anyone who meets Tim easily remembers him as the tallest Filipino they've ever met.