Today’s post is an excerpt from a book: The Life, A Portrait of Jesus, by J.John & Chris Walley, p.181-185. This is the best arguement I have seen, explaining who Jesus claimed to be and the importance of making a decision about him. I recommend you read the book.
Jesus’ claims are so awesome and significant that they cannot simply be ignored or overlooked. If Jesus was, in some way, God come to earth, and if our eternal happiness does depend on us giving him our total loyalty, then we are faced with an issue that is without any doubt the most important thing in the world.
Equally, if the claims of Jesus to be God’s unique and supreme intervention into our world are to be rejected with any intellectual honesty, then some alternative explanation for them must be found. Yet the alternatives are very limited. One assessment of Jesus sixty years ago by C.S.Lewis was that because of Jesus’ claims, there were only two alternatives to him being Lord: he was either a liar or a lunatic. With the passage of time, we might extend and rephrase those alternatives: Jesus was either mythical, misunderstood, mistaken, mentally disturbed or someone who misled his followers.
Was Jesus mythical?
This first alternative is an attempt to duck the challenge. This ‘escape route’ from the claims of Jesus assumes the gospels are unreliable and that the divine figure they portray is fictional. Yet the gospels show none of the hallmarks of myth; they are understated and matter-of-fact accounts and the evidence that Jesus considered himself much more than a man is so diverse (the direct and indirect claims, the titles, the actions) and, above all, so consistent, that it seems far more probable that the figure they portray is authentic.
To maintain such a view a hard question has to be answered: how did such a mythical Jesus arise? How did a belief that ‘Jesus was a good man’ so rapidly evolve into ‘Jesus was God’? There are no remotely similar parallels for this sort of development elsewhere and none at all in Judaism.
Was Jesus misunderstood?
This second alternative suggests that, in reality, Jesus never claimed to be God. Rather, his disciples spectacularly misinterpreted what he said and turned his claim to be a faithful prophet of God into that of being an incarnation of God. This view might have some merit if Jesus’ claim to be divine rested on one single statement; but given that he presented his claims in so many different ways it seems hard to maintain. It is difficult to believe that Jesus’ disciples were so stunningly incompetent that they consistently and repeatedly misunderstood what he said on one of the most fundamental issues of his teaching. The charge of ineptitude can also be extended to the leaders of the early church, for never thinking to check whether the disciples had got it all wrong.
Was Jesus mistaken?
A third alternative is that it was Jesus himself who was wrong. On this view, Jesus genuinely thought he was God but, in reality, was sadly mistaken about his own identity. This would mean, however, that far from Jesus being a reliable and authoritative interpreter of the Law, he was breaking the First Commandment – ‘you shall have no other gods before me’ – in a most breathtaking and blasphemous way. The implications of this view are devastating: if Jesus was wrong about this most fundamental issue, then nothing else that he said can be trusted. If he was wrong here, Jesus was not even a reliable teacher.
Was Jesus mentally disturbed?
Another alternative is that Jesus suffered from a delusional psychological disorder. So, for example, the writer George Bernard Shaw considered that Jesus must have suffered from megalomania. Such an explanation has one slight merit: it admits Jesus did make astonishing claims about himself. Yet there is little else to support it. In the gospels, Jesus does not come over as the slightest bit delusional or disturbed.
To hold this view required you to believe that the greatest moral influence the world has ever seen was a man who was mentally disturbed. That conclusion is so bizarre and unsettling that few people have felt comfortable even considering it.
Did Jesus mislead his followers?
A final alternative is that in making his claims, Jesus deliberately misled his followers: he lied to them. Yet it is hard to imagine any motive for Jesus wanting to mislead people in this way’ far from leading to fame or fortune, his claims merely led to his death. And the charge of lying hardly seems consistent with everything else that we know of Jesus, including the fact that he started many of his statements by saying ‘Truly, I say to you…’ To pretend to be God and to accept the worship and praise of devout followers, while you knew you were as human as they were, would be an extraordinary act of deception. To say that it seems out of character with the author of the Sermon on the Mount is an understatement!
Jesus made extraordinary claims that he was God. If those claims are true then they have awesome and life-changing implications. In Jesus, every search for God comes to its end. In him is found everything that our hearts truly desire and that our lives really need.
There are alternative explanations for the claims that Jesus made. Yet none of those explanations is without serious flaws. A Christian could easily say that it takes much less faith to believe that Jesus made his claims to be God because that’s who he was, than to believe the alternatives. One of Sherlock Holmes’ comments to Watson is helpful here: ‘It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.’
One event that we will look at later and that is crucial to Jesus’ claims is the Resurrection. If Jesus did rise from the dead, then all his claims are confirmed as true.
Finally, simply saying ‘I believe Jesus is God’ does not exhaust the significance of Jesus’ identity. It is too easy to limit the idea that Jesus is the divine Son of God to some theoretical test-question that identifies true Christianity. Yet to be a Christian does not mean to obey a doctrine or recite a creed, it is to live within a transforming relationship with Jesus. The reality is that the idea that Jesus is God is a truth that should sustain us every day. Jesus was not just the Royal Rescuer, Loving Leader, Perfect Provider and Suffering Servant for his people two thousand years ago: he is all those things for us today.