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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Case for Christianity

Don Stewart :: The Claims of Jesus Christ Considered

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Chapter 7 – The Claims of Jesus Christ Considered

A Look at the Options

We have come to the place in our study where the claims that Jesus Christ makes, as well as the claims others made about Him, must be dealt with. As we will discover in this chapter, there are four possible ways in which to view the claims about Jesus.

One point of view says that He never made the claims; they were legendary. The claims found in the New Testament were not made by Jesus Himself but rather by His disciples who exaggerated His words and deeds. We will find that this is not really an option. Jesus made the claims and these claims must be dealt with.

Next, we will look at the option that He made the claims, and they were not true, and Jesus knew they were not true. This would make Him a liar. We will discover that there is no evidence whatsoever that Jesus lied about anything.

The next option is that Jesus was a lunatic. That is, He made the claims about Himself which are recorded in the New Testament, thought His claims were true, but they were not. Again, we will discover there is no evidence whatsoever that Jesus was insane.

This will bring us to our last option; He is Lord. That is, Jesus actually made the claims that are recorded in the New Testament and His claims are true. This is the only position which makes sense.

However, more is needed. Though believing Jesus is the Lord may be the only sensible way in which to deal with His claims, there has to be some evidence to back up these claims. The next three chapters will document some of that evidence.

The New Testament makes it clear that Jesus Christ claimed to be the only way in which a person can know God. In addition, it says He was God in human flesh who came to earth to show us what God is like, and to die for the sins of the world. Those claims must be dealt with.

As we have seen, the New Testament has been transmitted to us in an accurate manner and the historical events contained in it match up with known reality. Consequently, the New Testament should be considered trustworthy until evidence to the contrary is brought forward. Therefore when we consider the claims of the New Testament with respect to Christ’s identity, we have three possible ways in which we can interpret these claims. They are as follows.

Option 1: The Claims Are Legendary

Jesus never personally made the claims about Himself that are recorded in the New Testament. His own disciples, who wrote the New Testament long after His death, exaggerated His words. This would make the claims of Christ legendary.

Option 2: He Made the Claims but They Are Not True

Jesus did make the claims recorded in the New Testament but His claims were not true. There are two possible options for those who hold this view.

He knew the claims were not true, yet He made them anyway. This would make Him a liar.

He made the claims truly believing He was God. This would make Him a lunatic.

Option 3: He Made the Claims and They Are True

Jesus actually did make the claims about Himself that are recorded in the New Testament, and He was whom He claimed to be: the Lord of the universe.

We shall now consider each of these possibilities.

Possibility 1 – Legend: He Never Made the Claims That Are Recorded in the New Testament

For modern humankind, the favorite way of dealing with the claims of the New Testament regarding Jesus Christ is simply to believe that He never made them. It is asserted that His followers made the claims after many years of their teaching and preaching about Him. Jesus, they argue, was a simple man who had a tremendous impact on His followers. After His death, stories about Him were told and retold. By the time these stories had been committed to writing, Jesus was transformed from a simple Galilean teacher into a miracle worker, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world. Those who believe Jesus never claimed any of these things assert that His well-meaning disciples got caught up in all the excitement around His character, and exaggerated His claims and deeds.

Response to the Legend Hypothesis

Our response to the idea that Jesus never made the claims about Himself, is as follows.

There Was Not Enough Time for Legends to Grow

However, the accusation that Jesus never made the claims about Himself that are recorded in the New Testament, does not square with the facts. We are not dealing with generations but rather with a short period of time between the actual occurrence of the events and their recording. There is strong evidence that three of the four gospels were written within twenty years of the death and resurrection of Jesus. In addition, the earliest letter of the Apostle Paul, First Thessalonians, was also written within twenty years of the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. This is far too short of a time for the claims about Jesus to have been exaggerated to the point where they did not accurately reflect what He actually said and did.

The New Testament Writers Understood the Importance of Firsthand Evidence

The importance of eyewitness testimony was not lost on the New Testament writers who repeatedly appealed to first-hand evidence to substantiate their assertions. For example, one of Jesus’ disciples, John, wrote the following:

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—and the life was manifested, and have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us... (1 John 1:1-2 NASB)

They testified to what they knew was true—because they were there!

There Were Unfriendly Eyewitnesses Around

It must be emphasized that not all of the eyewitnesses to the events in the life of Christ were believers. If the disciples tended to distort the facts, the unbelieving eyewitnesses would have immediately objected to their distortion. Yet we find no such objections.

The Number of Eyewitnesses Was Sufficient

Not only do we have eyewitnesses, the number of eyewitnesses to the events in the life of Christ also argues for their truthfulness. The Apostle Paul said that one of the appearances of Christ after His death was witnessed by over five hundred people. He wrote the following to the Corinthians:

After that, he was seen by more than five hundred of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died by now. (1 Corinthians 15:6 NLT)

Multitudes of people witnessed the miracles of Jesus as well as heard His teachings. They were not isolated events seen only by a select few.

They Lived in a Memory Culture

In addition, the people that lived in the first century relied more upon memory than we do today. Lawyer/theologian John Warwick Montgomery makes an appropriate comment:

We know from the Mishna that it was Jewish custom to memorize a Rabbi’s teaching, for a good pupil was like ‘a plastered cistern that loses not a drop’ [Mishna Aboth II.8]. And we can be sure that the early Church, impressed as it was with Jesus governed itself by this ideal. (John Warwick Montgomery, History and Christianity, Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 1964, pp. 37, 38)

The memorization of Jesus’ teachings, as well as His mighty deeds, would be expected from His audience. They were used to committing to memory the important sayings and deeds of famous teachers.

Jesus Made a Lasting Impression

The extraordinary events of the life of Christ would have made a lasting impression on all of the people who witnessed them. Miracles were not something they were used to seeing. After Jesus healed a paralyzed man, the Bible records the reaction of the people:

Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” (Mark 2:12 NKJV)

We note that they had never seen anything like this event. This miracle of Jesus astounded them. Such a deed would not be soon forgotten.

There Was No Exaggeration in Their Descriptions of Jesus

These reasons refute the idea that the disciples exaggerated Jesus’ claims. The New Testament was composed in such a short time after the events occurred that it would be folly to assume that the writers’ memories were so faulty that neither they, nor the unbelievers, could remember the actual events of the life of Christ—especially because of the miraculous nature of the deeds.

The Writers Had a Biographical Interest in Christ’s Life

It is also evident that the early church had a biographical interest in the life of Jesus Christ. The gospel accounts are filled with specific historical details or allusions to events in Jesus’ ministry. Matthew, for example, records Jesus’ genealogy (chapter 1), and the visit of the Magi to Herod and the slaughter of the innocents (chapter 2). He also gives the events associated with the trial and death of Jesus (chapters 26-27).

In the writings of Luke we also find many historical references. He wrote,

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. (Luke 3:1, 2 NRSV)

In this passage seven different people, and their governmental positions, are listed in order to indicate the time that God’s Word came to John the Baptist. This testifies that the gospel writers were interested in the biographical and historical details of the life of Jesus.

There Was Consistent Testimony by the Disciples

Furthermore, the testimony of the various gospel writers is consistent. They do not disagree among themselves on the fact that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. Their testimony remained consistent throughout their lives.

Theologian John Gerstner makes an appropriate observation:

We note, in the first place, that they had the best possible jury to test their competency—their own contemporaries among whom the events related were said to have taken place. If the writers had been palpably contradicted by the facts, the people to whom they related the facts would have been the very ones to expose them. If they had been misguided zealots the nonzealots to whom they spoke could have spotted in a moment and repudiated it as quickly. If they had garbled the actual events, eyewitnesses in quantity could have testified to the contrary...As a matter of fact, their record went unchallenged. No man called them liars; none controverted their story. Those who did not believe in Jesus did not dispute the claims to his supernatural power. The apostles were imprisoned for speaking about the resurrection of Christ, not, however, on the ground of what they said was untrue, but that it was unsettling the people. They were accused of being heretical, deluded, illegal, un-Jewish, but they were not accused of being inaccurate. And that would have been by far the easiest to prove if it had been thought to be true. (John Gerstner, Reasons For Faith, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953, p. 98)

If their testimony could have been challenged, it would have been. However, they were never accused of lying concerning what they said about Jesus.

The Disciples Were Martyred for Their Testimony

The final evidence of the truthfulness of the disciples’ testimony is that they were martyred for their beliefs. The disciples signed their testimony in their own blood. Certainly, a person might lie for someone else, but will not die for that person or a cause if he believes it to be false. They obviously believed Jesus’ story to be true.

The Gospels Can Be Trusted

These reasons are sufficient to trust the gospel portrait of Jesus as given by the New Testament writers. Because of the early dates of the composition and the circulation of the New Testament books, and the evidential and substantiated nature of those books, it is impossible that Jesus never made the unique claims for which Christianity stands: His sacrifice on the cross, His forgiveness of sin, His resurrection from the dead, and His Second Coming.

Thus, if we assume that Jesus truly made the claims attributed to Him in the New Testament, then we are left with two choices—His claims were not true or they were true.

Possibility 2 – Liar or Lunatic: He Made the Claims but They Were Not True

It is possible that Jesus actually made the claims attributed to Him in the New Testament yet His claims were not true. If this is the case then there are two possibilities. The first is that He knew He was not the Son of God yet He lied about His identity. The second option is that Jesus thought He was the Son of God but was deluded.

He Knew the Claims Were Not True: Jesus Would Have Been a Liar

This first option identifies Jesus as a liar. As we have seen, Jesus made some fantastic claims about whom He was. He made Himself out to be the eternal God, the Creator of the universe and humankind’s only Savior. He consistently made these claims during His time here on earth. The question arises, “Is there any evidence that He lied about who He was?”

There Is No Evidence That Jesus Lied about Anything

While it is theoretically possible that Jesus lied about who He was, there is certainly no evidence to suggest it. Everything we know about the character of Jesus testifies that He always told the truth. He underscored the fact that His words were truthful. John records the following:

The Pharisees replied, “You are making false claims about yourself!” Jesus told them, “These claims are valid even though I make them about myself. For I know where I came from and where I am going, but you don’t know this about me...I am one witness, and my Father who sent me is the other.” (John 8:13-14, 18 NLT)

Jesus Himself clearly said,

I am the way, the truth, and the life... (John 14:6b KJV)

The centurion who presided over His crucifixion testified to Jesus’ character. Mark writes,

When the centurion, who was standing right in front of Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39 NASB)

The evidence is that Jesus always told the truth.

Jesus Told the Same Story until the End

If He were a liar, then He was a consistent liar up until the end. He confessed to being the Messiah before His accusers. When Jesus made His confession, He did it while He was under oath. Matthew records,

But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to him, “I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:63, 64 NRSV)

This statement caused the Jews to bring Jesus to Pilate to be crucified. We read in John’s gospel,

The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.” (John 19:7 NKJV)

Even when Jesus went to His death, He never changed His testimony as to His identity.

There Was No Motivation for Jesus to Lie

Furthermore, if one contends that Jesus lied about whom He was, a motive needs to be found for His lying. People lie to gain some advantage but one becomes hard-pressed to see any advantage in Jesus’ lying. What advantage was there to being pressured night and day by the multitudes to perform acts of healing and forgive sin? What advantage was there to being a traveling preacher who had no place to call home?

What advantage was there to being put to death for claiming to be the Son of God, if He knew His claims were not true? He could have been released if He had only denied being the Christ. Why not simply admit that He was not?

Conclusion

Thus the evidence indicates that Jesus Christ did not deliberately lie about who He was or why He came. He consistently told the truth.

He Made the Claims and Thought His Claims Were True: He Was a Lunatic

It is clear that Jesus made astounding claims about Himself. It is also clear that the evidence leads us to believe that He believed His claims were true. There are some who contend that Jesus made the claims and believed them to be true because He was mentally unbalanced.

Response To The Idea That Jesus Was Deranged

We respond to this accusation as follows.

Jesus Did Not Act Insane

From someone deluded or insane, we would expect them to act consistent with insanity. That is, someone insane would do and say insane things. When we look at the life and teachings of Jesus we see anything but insanity.

After Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount the crowd was awed by His teachings. Matthew writes,

After Jesus finished speaking, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, for he taught as one who had real authority—quite unlike the teachers of religious law. (Matthew 7:28, 29 NLT)

On one occasion, the Pharisees sent some of their men to apprehend Jesus. John records what happened:

Some of them wanted to seize Him, but no one laid hands on Him. Then the temple police came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why haven’t you brought Him?” The police answered, “No man ever spoke like this!” (John 7:44-46 HCSB)

The words of Jesus rang clear and true.

Jesus Was Always in Control

Moreover, Jesus handled Himself as one always in control. When He was betrayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, He demonstrated self-control and mastery over the situation. He said,

“Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly? But if I did, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that describe what must happen now?” Then Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I some dangerous criminal, that you have come armed with swords and clubs to arrest me? Why didn’t you arrest me in the Temple? I was there teaching every day. But this is all happening to fulfill the words of the prophets as recorded in the Scriptures.” At that point, all the disciples deserted him and fled. (Matthew 26:53-56 NLT)

Jesus was the Master of every situation.

His Teachings Were Not That of a Lunatic

As we search the Scriptures, we find there is nothing in the character of Jesus to cause us to believe Him to be insane. On the contrary, the depth of His teaching and His masterful character testify that He was indeed the Son of God.

Secular psychiatrist, J. T. Fisher, explains it this way:

If you were to take the sum total of all authoritative articles ever written by the most qualified of psychologists and psychiatrists on the subject of mental hygiene—if you were to combine them and refine them and cleave out all the excess verbiage...and if you were to have these unadulterated bits of pure scientific knowledge concisely expressed by the most capable of living poets, you would have an awkward and incomplete summation of the Sermon on the Mount. And it would suffer immeasurably through comparison. For nearly two thousand years the Christian world has been holding in its hands the complete answer to its restless and fruitless yearnings. Here...rests the blueprint for successful human life with optimism, mental health, and contentment. (J. T. Fisher and L. S. Hawley, A Few Buttons Missing, Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1951, p. 273)

The same Jesus, whom some claim was insane when He talked about His identity, is also lauded the world over for His practical teaching concerning mental and spiritual health. Thus this accusation does not make sense.

The well-respected church historian Philip Schaff remarked,

Is such an intellect—clear as the sky, bracing as the mountain air, sharp and penetrating as a sword, thoroughly healthy and vigorous, always ready and always self-possessed—liable to a radical and most serious delusion concerning His own character and mission? Preposterous imagination! (Philip Schaff, The Person of Christ, New York, NY: American Tract Society, 1913, p. 97, 98)

It is indeed preposterous imagination to think that Jesus was somehow deluded.

Was Jesus Merely a Great Prophet?

If Jesus actually made the claims attributed to Him in Scripture, then what are we to make of them? There are those who attempt to sidestep the issue of Jesus’ claims. They contend that He was not God, but neither was He lying or deranged. They usually place Him in the category of a great teacher, perhaps the greatest teacher who ever lived. Some go as far as calling Him a prophet. But they deny He was anything more. They deny He is God.

It Is Not Possible That Jesus Was Only a Great Prophet

The possibility that Jesus was only a great teacher, or a great prophet, does not exist. He clearly claimed to be more than that. Jesus said to the religious leaders,

Jesus answered them, “Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?” The Jews answered Him, saying, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.” (John 10:32, 33 NKJV)

The religious leaders understood the claims Jesus made about Himself.

At the grave of a friend Jesus said,

“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25b, 26 NRSV)

If He were the one whom He claimed to be, then He should be worshiped as God and His teaching diligently followed.

The Choices That People Have

C.S. Lewis pointed out the choices that Jesus has given us. He wrote,

I am trying to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him. ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ This is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, New York: Macmillan Company, 1962, pp. 40, 41)

Jesus clearly claimed to be both God and Savior. If He was not whom He claimed to be then He was either a liar or a madman.

Possibility 3 ” He Is Lord: His Claims Were True

There is one final possibility—Jesus made these claims about Himself and His claims were true—He is, therefore, God Almighty. If this be the case, then each human being, created in His image, must judge and decide either:

  1. To accept Him as Savior and Lord, or
  2. To reject Jesus and His gift of eternal life and peace with God.

The issue is clear: Jesus is not merely another religious figure who gave the world some memorable teachings—He is much more than that.

Conclusion

When the claims of Jesus are considered we are left with three possibilities. Again, they are as follows.

He Never Made the Claims (Legend)

This view does not take into account all the facts surrounding the life and ministry of Jesus. There was too short a period of time for legends about Jesus to arise to the place where all the New Testament writers believed them.

He Made the Claims and They Were Not True (Liar or Lunatic)

This option has Jesus actually making the claims attributed to Him; yet, His claims were not true.

He Could Have Been a Liar

While this is theoretically possible, as we have seen, there is no evidence to support it.

He May Have Been a Lunatic

Again, this is possible in theory, but the facts speak otherwise.

He Made the Claims and They Are True (He Is Lord)

Of the three options this is the only one that makes sense.

Jesus Christ is either Lord of all or not Lord at all! If He is Lord of all then we should expect to find some evidence to back up these claims. Our next chapter begins to examine some of that evidence.

The Main Character of the New Testament ← Prior Section
The Miracles of Jesus Christ Next Section →
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