The Bible contains many examples of people whose faith and actions continue to inspire and impact lives centuries later. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore some of the most influential biblical figures who left a legacy that persists to this day.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Moses, David, Mary, Paul and Jesus are some of the most impactful biblical characters whose stories and examples still resonate with people all over the world thousands of years later.
We will dive into the stories of these and other bible characters to understand the origins of their influence and examine specific ways their lives and examples have created a timeless legacy.
Early Life and Calling
Moses was born in Egypt during a time when the Pharaoh had ordered all newborn Hebrew boys to be killed. To save him, Moses’ mother put him in a basket and placed it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile River.
He was found by Pharaoh’s daughter, who took pity on him and raised him as her own son. Though raised in the royal courts, Moses identified with the Hebrew people. One day he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave and Moses intervened, killing the Egyptian.
Fearing punishment, he fled to the land of Midian. There, God appeared to Moses in a burning bush and told him he had been chosen to lead the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt. Moses was 80 years old when he returned to Egypt and confronted Pharaoh, demanding that he let God’s people go.
Leading the Israelites Out of Slavery
Pharaoh refused to let the Hebrew slaves go, so God sent 10 plagues upon Egypt to demonstrate His power. These plagues included turning the Nile River to blood, sending frogs, flies, hail, locusts, and boils, and bringing darkness over the land.
The 10th and worst plague took the lives of all the firstborn sons in Egypt, including Pharaoh’s own child. Finally, Pharaoh relented and ordered Moses to take the Hebrews and leave Egypt. Moses led 600,000 Israelite men, plus women and children, out of slavery.
But Pharaoh soon changed his mind and sent his army after them. As the army approached, the Israelites found themselves trapped between Pharaoh’s chariots and the Red Sea. But God performed a miracle by parting the Red Sea, allowing the Israelites to pass through on dry ground!
When the Egyptian army attempted to follow, the waters rushed back and drowned them. This miraculous escape is remembered every year by Jews in the celebration of Passover.
Receiving the Ten Commandments
After leaving Egypt, Moses led the Israelites into the desert where they wandered for 40 years. At Mount Sinai, God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, establishing the moral and ethical code that has shaped Judeo-Christian civilization for millennia.
The first few commandments focus on a person’s duty toward God (one God, no idols, not taking God’s name in vain). The other commandments outline our duties toward our fellow human beings (honor parents, do not murder, commit adultery, steal or bear false witness).
These laws became the foundation for Israel’s covenant with God and are upheld today as central to living a moral life.
Anointed as Future King
David was the youngest son of Jesse from the tribe of Judah. As a boy, David was anointed by the prophet Samuel to be the future king of Israel, replacing Saul who had disobeyed God (1 Samuel 16:1-13).
Even as a youth, David displayed great courage and faith in God, volunteering to fight the giant Goliath when all of King Saul’s soldiers were afraid (1 Samuel 17:32-37). David’s defeat of Goliath brought him into the service of King Saul as a brave warrior.
However, Saul soon became jealous of David’s military successes and popularity.
When David was still a young shepherd boy, the Israelites were at war with the Philistines. The giant warrior Goliath challenged the Israelites to send out a champion to face him, but no Israelite soldier was brave enough to fight him. David stepped up and volunteered to face Goliath in battle.
Armed only with a slingshot and his faith in God, David defeated the heavily armed and armored Goliath with a single stone to the forehead (1 Samuel 17). David became a hero overnight, demonstrating that courage and faith can overcome what seems like impossible odds.
Psalms and Musical Legacy
David was not only a brave warrior but also a gifted musician and songwriter. He composed many of the Psalms in the Bible, including Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd…”). David was skilled at playing the lyre and would play to soothe King Saul whenever he was tormented by evil spirits (1 Samuel 16:14-23).
As King of Israel, David organized the musicians and singers to perform praises to God at the tabernacle. The Levitical musicians David assembled later provided the foundation for the musicians and singers at the Temple built by David’s son Solomon.
David’s musical legacy of worshipping God with song continues to inspire musicians and songwriters today.
Mary was a young woman living in Nazareth when she received a visit from the angel Gabriel. Gabriel brought astounding news – Mary had found favor with God and would conceive a son by the power of the Holy Spirit.
She would name her son Jesus, and he would reign on the throne of David forever (Luke 1:26-38). Despite the social stigma she may have faced, Mary bravely submitted to God’s plan with faith, saying “I am the Lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38).
Her willing obedience set the stage for the birth of the long-awaited Messiah.
Giving Birth to Jesus
When the time came for Mary to give birth, she and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem. Finding no guest room in the inn, Mary humbly gave birth to Jesus in a stable and laid him in a manger (Luke 2:1-7). This peasant girl from Nazareth became the mother to the Savior of the world.
She treasured all these things in her heart (Luke 2:19). Soon after Jesus’ birth, Mary presented him as her firstborn to be dedicated to the Lord (Luke 2:22-24). She later fled with Joseph and baby Jesus to Egypt seeking safety from Herod (Matthew 2:13-15).
Mary cared for Jesus’ human needs and no doubt had a special bond with her miraculous son.
Her Faith and Example
Throughout Jesus’ life and ministry, Mary supported him despite not always grasping the meaning of his words or actions. She was present at Jesus’ first public miracle, when he turned water into wine at a wedding in Cana (John 2:1-5).
At the crucifixion, Mary suffered tremendously watching her son be mocked, tortured and killed. Yet she remained faithful to the end and witnessed his resurrection as well. Her steadfast trust serves as a model for all believers.
Mary’s humility, devotion and obedience still inspire many worldwide today. God used an ordinary girl from humble means to change history forever through the birth of Jesus. Though initially confused by the cryptic nature of Gabriel’s words, Mary’s response of willingness and submission truly set her apart.
Her ready trust and obedience, despite the vast uncertainties before her, stands as an inspirational example of faith put into action.
Persecuting the Early Church
Paul, originally known as Saul, was an avid persecutor of the early Christian church. As a Pharisee, he viewed the new Jesus movement as a threat to Judaism and zealously imprisoned Christians in Jerusalem.
The book of Acts records him as giving approval for the stoning of Stephen, making “havoc of the church, entering into every house, and hauling off men and women, committing them to prison.” (Acts 8:3).
Paul’s efforts to destroy the fledgling church only served to spread the Gospel outside of Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria, as persecuted believers fled for safety. His misguided zeal later turned into passion for spreading the good news of Christ worldwide.
Conversion on the Road to Damascus
As Saul traveled to Damascus to further persecute followers of Jesus, he encountered a blinding light and heard the voice of Christ, leading to his dramatic conversion. As recorded in Acts 9, Jesus asked Saul “Why are you persecuting me?” With his plans overturned, Saul was blinded and did not eat or drink for three days.
The Lord then spoke to a disciple named Ananias, instructing him to go lay hands on Saul to restore his sight. Ananias initially balked out of understandable fear, but obeyed the Lord’s command. Saul’s blindness was healed, he was filled with the Holy Spirit, and he began immediately preaching in synagogues that Jesus was the Son of God.
Saul’s reputation was known far and wide. The church in Jerusalem was understandably afraid to welcome their former persecutor, but barnabas helped broker trust. Saul used his formidable passion and energy to proclaim Jesus, just as he had previously tried to destroy the church.
Missionary Journeys and Letters
After his conversion, Saul (now called Paul) went on to become a tireless missionary for the Gospel, making three extensive trips around the Mediterranean region to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. He faced dangers, beatings, persecution, and imprisonment, but remained steadfast in his mission.
Paul established churches throughout Asia Minor and preached the Gospel as far as Rome. His missionary travels over ten years impacted people from many nationalities and socioeconomic backgrounds. Beyond his personal travels, Paul wrote 13 New Testament epistles that provide doctrinal foundations for the Christian faith.
These letters comprise nearly one third of the entire New Testament. All authored within 30 years of Jesus’s death and resurrection, they are the earliest Christian documents that we have access to. Paul’s writings on justification by faith, love as the greatest virtue, unity in Christ, and spiritual gifts have established core tenets of Christianity.
Ministry and Teachings
Jesus began his public ministry around the age of 30 when he was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. For about 3 years, Jesus traveled with his 12 disciples teaching large crowds and performing miracles. His teachings focused on loving God and loving your neighbor.
Some of his most famous sermons include the Sermon on the Mount where he gave the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus often taught using parables which were simple stories with a deeper meaning. Through his teachings, Jesus revealed his identity as the Messiah and Son of God.
Death and Resurrection
Jesus was sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate at the demand of the Jewish leaders who accused him of blasphemy. He was mocked, beaten, and crucified on a cross where he died after about 6 hours. His brutal death appeared to extinguish the fledgling Christian movement.
However, 3 days later his tomb was found empty. Over a period of 40 days, Jesus appeared to his disciples very much alive, demonstrating his power over death and fulfilling Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah.
His miraculous resurrection established the foundation for Christianity based on the belief that Jesus is the Son of God who died for sins and conquered death.
Legacy as Savior
Today over 2 billion people around the world identify as Christians, making Jesus the most significant person in history by virtually any measurement. His life and teachings as recorded in the Bible continue to inspire faith, hope, and charity.
His message of divine love and sacrifice provides meaning and purpose. Belief in his atoning death and liberating resurrection offers the promise of salvation and eternal life. Christianity has brought monumental advancements to society including hospitals, universities, and many charitable organizations.
Jesus’ legacy endures because billions accept him as mankind’s spiritual Savior and only hope for reconciliation with God.
The biblical figures we have explored left legacies that continue to shape lives and faith today. From Moses’ leadership to Paul’s missionary zeal, their examples provide timeless lessons in courage, devotion and service that still speak to us.
Ultimately, Jesus’ life, death and resurrection as the Son of God stands above all as the most influential story and legacy, redeeming humanity and changing the course of history forever.