By Jeff Himmel
There are many people who believe that Jesus was a good man, one of the greatest moral teachers who ever lived, but not the Son of God. Perhaps you have encountered some folks like these. Perhaps you are one. These people agree that Jesus taught principles which are undeniably good and right; but to say that he was God in the flesh is just too much to swallow. They say instead that after his death, Jesus’ followers made him out to be God’s Son, as is evidenced in the things they said and wrote about him.
Was Jesus a good man and nothing more? I believe the Bible, the book that tells his story, can answer that for us. All we need to do is examine Jesus’ own claims not what others said about him, but what he said about himself.
Jesus claimed equality with God. In John 5:17-18, Jesus equated his own work with that of the Father. He professed to be something more than a man: “You are from beneath, I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world” (John 8:23). In fact, Jesus even claimed to be God. During a discussion about the heritage of Abraham, he remarked, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58). His opponents surely recognized “I AM” as the name by which God identified himself when he sent Moses to Egypt (Exod. 3:14). On another occasion Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). If he was just a man, then his words were nothing short of blasphemy!
Jesus claimed power to forgive sins. In front of a large crowd, he said to a paralyzed man, “Your sins are forgiven you” (Lk. 5:20). Jesus wasn’t pardoning this fellow for some personal offense; he was pronouncing forgiveness for all the man’s transgressions against God. This angered the Jewish leaders, who knew that no one but God himself could forgive sins (v. 21). Jesus’ statement would have been laugh-able, had it not been so serious.
Jesus claimed to be the path to salvation. In contrast to many religious philosophers, Jesus bluntly said that only he could bring people into a right relationship with God. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). He claimed to be the sole source of truth in the world: “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12). Very arrogant statements for a mere man!
Jesus claimed sinlessness. He asked his enemies, “Which of you convicts me of sin?” (John 8:46) Jesus professed to have no moral defect. For any ordinary man to do so would be impossible; to say so would be openly hypocritical.
Jesus claimed to be the Christ. God’s prophets had promised Israel a deliverer, his “anointed one.” The Jews called him “Messiah.” Jesus said, “I who speak to you am he” (John 4:26). Many people who heard Jesus believed that he was the prophesied Savior. His closest disciples believed it. When he asked them who they thought he was, Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). Jesus blessed him for saying so. If Jesus was not the Messiah, then he played falsely on the dreams of an entire nation.
Jesus claimed to be atonement for sin. Jesus said that when he died his life would be “a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28), and his blood would be shed for many for the re-mission of sins (Matt. 26:28). He declared that his death would be the sacrifice before God that would make possible the forgiveness of all men’s sins. Imagine a man saying that his life could atone for the wrongs of the whole world! Surely such a man would be a fanatic. Yet Jesus not only said it, but apparently believed it himself, because he willingly died for his claim.
Now, it is not hard to see that if Jesus was nothing more than a man, then none of these statements could possibly be true. That means one of two things: (1) Jesus was a liar. He knew his claims were false, yet continued to deceive people with them. His act has fooled millions into placing their faith in him. (2) Jesus was a madman. He was so deluded that he actually believed these in-credible claims, and even died for them.
If Jesus was either a fraud or a lunatic, then it would be grossly incorrect to call him a great moral teacher. Likewise, if we reject the notion that he was either lying or insane, then only one conclusion remains: he was who he said he was! So to all those who would demote Jesus Christ to the status of “great moral teacher,” I offer the evidence of his claims and the conclusions to which they must lead. And, in the words of C.S. Lewis, I offer this choice: “You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God.”
Guardian of Truth XXXIX: No. 24, p. 8
December 21, 1995