Who is Jesus Christ?
October 11, 2009
Who is Jesus Christ?
Before you answer that question, let me set the scene. It’s a few minutes past noon in downtown New York City. You’ve walking with a few friends to a favorite lunch spot when a camera crew stops you for a spontaneous interview. To your surprise, their questions have nothing to do with the White House, politics, the economy, or where you stand on health care reform. The interviewer wants to know what you think about Jesus Christ. Who is he?
While you fumble for an answer, the video camera records your discomfort. You weren’t prepared for this, much less dressed for it, and now you’re being quizzed on theology while your friends watch from five feet away. The seconds pass as various answers flash across your mental screen: “A good man. . . The Son of God . . . A Prophet . . . A Galilean rabbi . . . A teacher of God’s Law . . . The Embodiment of God’s Love . . . A Reincarnated Spirit Master . . . The Ultimate Revolutionary . . . The Messiah of Israel . . . Savior . . . A first-century wise man . . . A man just like any other man . . . King of Kings . . . A misunderstood teacher . . . Lord of the Universe . . . A fool who thought he was God’s Son . . . Son of Man . . . A fabrication of the early church.”
Which answer will you give? Before you answer, let me say that you can find people today who will give every one of those answers. Does that surprise you? It’s shouldn’t. After two thousand years, we still wonder about the man called Jesus.
But it’s nothing new. When Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say I am?,” they replied with four different answers (see Matthew 16:13-16). Even when he walked on this earth, people were confused as to his true identity. Some thought he was a prophet, others a great political leader, still others thought he was John the Baptist come back to life.
Even when Jesus walked on this earth, people were confused as to his true identity.
One question with many answers. One man with many faces.
Modern Versions of Jesus
Who is Jesus Christ? And why do we believe in him? As we begin our search for the answers, let’s start by surveying some of the modern versions of Jesus.
The Good Man
We start with this view because it is no doubt the most popular “face” of Jesus. Ask any ten non-religious people on the street who Jesus is and eight of them will say something like, “He was a good man who lived a long time ago.” People who say such things do not pretend to be Bible scholars in any sense of the word nor do they mean to be offensive. They simply are reflecting the common wisdom most of us learned as children: When in doubt, say something nice.
Of all the modern versions of Christ, this one is both the closest to the truth and the deadliest error. Jesus was a good man. Acts 10:38 even says, “He went around doing good,” referring to his miracles. But to stop there is to miss the central truth of his divine personality. He was a good man-yes! But only because he was also the Son of God from heaven who came to be the Savior of the world.
The Misunderstood Rabbi
People who hold this view see Jesus as a talented Jewish teacher who never meant to start a new religion. They see him as a first-century Martin Luther who wanted to reform Judaism, but ended up being crucified for his efforts. Moreover, they don’t believe he rose from the dead, but that his disciples believed he was present with them after his death so the legend of the resurrection arose in order to keep the dream alive.
The Revolutionary Jesus
This view was very popular in the ’60s when left-wing radicals appropriated Jesus as the Messiah who came to overthrow the unjust power structures of his day and to bring in the kingdom through protest and non-violent action. Some theologians even used the image of the Revolutionary Jesus to support the establishment of Marxist governments around the world.
As many people have pointed out, Jesus was indeed a revolutionary, but not in the sense intended by those who used the term. Jesus came to start a revolution of love on planet earth. He wasn’t concerned about overthrowing governments but about overthrowing sin in the human heart.
Jesus came to start a revolution of love on planet earth.
The Ecumenical Christ
This is the option for people who like Jesus but don’t want to worship him exclusively. They lump him together with other notable religious leaders, such as Moses, Confucius, Gandhi, Buddha and Mohammed. Such people have a Mt. Rushmore religion. When they look up, they see four or five faces peering down from heaven. Jesus is one of the faces they see. Pick the one you like and worship him. Many people believe in the Ecumenical Christ because it’s a convenient way to call yourself a Christian and still be open-minded about other options.
After surveying the various answers of modern man, we are still left with the great question of history, “Who is Jesus Christ?” If those answers are wrong, what is the right answer and how can we be sure?
The Great Question of History
In order to answer that question, we have to go back to the New Testament because it is the only reliable source of information about Jesus Christ. It’s true that we do have some information about Jesus in extra-biblical sources from the first century, but it is limited and scattered. The only way to get an accurate picture of Jesus is to study the record of his life found in the four gospels. When we do, five important facts emerge that form the answer to history’s greatest question.
Fact #1: Fulfilled Prophecy
Galatians 4:4 uses an unusual phrase to describe the moment of Jesus’ birth. Some translations call it “the fullness of time” (KJV) or “the right time” (NLT). It refers to that one chosen moment in history when God arranged all the circumstances perfectly so that his Son would be born in just the right way at just the right moment at the precisely-chosen location. That phrase also refers to all the circumstances of his life, including his death and resurrection. All of it was perfectly planned by God and predicted in writing before it happened.
The Bible predicted the following about Jesus Christ before he was born:
1. That he would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14).
2. That he would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).
3. That he would be born into the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10).
4. That his ministry would begin in Galilee (Isaiah 9:1).
5. That he would work miracles (Isaiah 35:5, 6).
6. That he would teach in parables (Psalm 78:2).
7. That he would enter Jerusalem on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9).
8. That he would be betrayed by a friend (Psalm 41:9).
9. That he would be sold for 30 pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12).
10. That he would be accused by false witnesses (Psalm 35:11).
11. That he would be wounded and bruised (Isaiah 53:5).
12. That his hands and feet would be pierced (Psalm 22:16).
13. That he would be crucified with thieves (Isaiah 53:12).
14. That his garments would be torn apart and lots cast for them (Psalm 22:18).
15. That his bones would not be broken (Psalm 34:20).
16. That his side would be pierced (Zechariah 12:10).
17. That he would be buried in a rich man’s tomb (Isaiah 53:9).
18. That he would rise from the dead (Psalm 16:10).
These are only a few of the prophecies about Jesus Christ in the Old Testament. This list is striking in the amount of detail surrounding the death of Christ. Even a casual reader must admit that either this is an amazing coincidence or it is the result of divine planning.
God arranged all the circumstances perfectly so that his Son would be born in just the right way at just the right moment at the precisely-chosen location.
Fact #2: Amazing Claims
Here is a fact not often appreciated by the non-religious person. Jesus made absolutely astounding claims concerning himself. In fact, if you catalogue his own words, you must conclude that either he is who he said he was or else he is a liar or a madman. The people who say, “Jesus was a good man-nothing more” have never read the gospels because you could never come to that conclusion if you actually read what Jesus said about himself.
*He claimed to be the Son of God.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16).
*He claimed that the angels obeyed him.
“The Son of Man will send out his angels” (Matthew 13:41).
*He claimed to be the ultimate judge of all men.
“The Father … has entrusted all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22).
*He claimed to possess all power in heaven and on earth.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).
*He claimed the power to forgive sin.
“Friend, your sins are forgiven” (Luke 5:20).
*He claimed that he could raise people from the dead.
“All who are in the grave will hear his voice and come out” (John 5:28).
*He claimed that he could raise himself from the dead.
“I have the authority to lay it down and . . . take it up again” (John 10:18).
*He claimed to be one with God.
“I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).
Jesus made absolutely astounding claims concerning himself.
*He claimed to be the only way to God.
“No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
*He claimed to be the giver of eternal life.
“I give them eternal life” (John 10:28).
Before we go any further, let us note that these are absolutely stupendous claims. What would you do if your neighbor knocked on your door this afternoon and said, “I am God’s Son and I can raise myself from the dead?” I daresay that you would close the door and call the police because anyone who goes around talking like that is likely to be a danger to himself and possibly to others.
But Jesus routinely made such claims about himself. Laugh if you will, but before you dismiss him, consider what he had to say.
Fact #3: Supernatural Power
When John the Baptist was in prison, he sent his disciples to Jesus with a very poignant question, “Are you the one who was to come or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:3). Jesus answered by listing the miracles he had performed: the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the lepers are cleansed, and the dead are raised (v. 5). No one could fake such miracles as that. No religious charlatan could give sight to the blind. Not even the great Houdini could raise the dead. Only the mighty Son of God could work such stupendous miracles.
Let me highlight some of Jesus miracles:
Turned water into wine (John 2:1-11).
Multiplied the loaves and fishes (John 6:1-13).
Walked on water (Matthew 14:22-32).
Opened the eyes of the blind (John 9).
Made the lame walk (Matthew 9:1-8).
Cast out demons (Mark 5:1-20).
Stilled a raging storm (Mark 4:35-41).
Healed an invalid (John 5:5-17).
Cleansed 10 lepers (Luke 17:11-19).
Raised the dead (John 11:17-44).
Only the mighty Son of God could work such stupendous miracles. </h6 class=”pullquote”>
Anyone can claim to work miracles. But only Jesus can do it! His life was marked by miraculous power, which is exactly what you would expect from the Son of God.
Fact #4: The Empty Tomb
This of course is the ultimate proof. It is also the ultimate question-Did Jesus really rise from the dead? If he did, then he really was the Son of God. If he didn’t, then he’s not the Son of God. In fact, if he didn’t, he’s not even a good man but the world’s greater faker. And we are fools for following him.
Therefore, I invite you to study the gospels with an unprejudiced mind and come to your own conclusions. Read the resurrection accounts in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24 and John 20. Check out 1 Corinthians 15. When you do, I believe you will find the following four statements to be absolutely true:
1. Jesus was really dead.
2. Jesus was buried in a tomb on Friday evening.
3. The tomb was empty on Sunday morning.
4. Jesus appeared to his disciples after the resurrection, alive from the dead.
In the years following the French Revolution, there was a great turning away from Christianity. A man named La Revilliere concocted a new religion that he fancied to be superior to Christianity. Unfortunately he had trouble gaining converts. So he went to the great diplomat Charles de Tallyrand for help. His advice was simple: To ensure success for your new religion, all you need to do is have yourself crucified and then rise again from the dead on the third day.
His religion disappeared because he was unable to follow Talleyrand’s advice. Only one person ever has-Jesus our Lord. The story of his death and resurrection is perhaps the single, best-attested fact of ancient history.
If you don’t really believe that Jesus rose from the dead, you’re not a Christian in the true sense of the term. </h6 class=”pullquote”>
Recently I read Christopher Buckley’s moving memoir of the death of his mother and father called Losing Mum and Pup. He father, William F. Buckley, was well-known for his staunch Catholic faith and for his spirited defense of Christianity in general. Years earlier Christopher had jettisoned his faith. Speaking of one poignant moment during his father’s final year, he writes that he hesitated to bring up anything religious because it would likely make for a painful discussion:
This was not the moment to break what remained of his heart by telling him that although I greatly admired the teachings of Jesus, I had long ago stopped believing that he had risen from the dead; it’s an honest enough doubt, really, but one that undercuts the supernatural aspect of Christianity (pp. 146-147).
Christopher Buckley is exactly right. Deny the resurrection and you’ve removed the supernatural heart of the Christian faith. If you don’t really believe that Jesus rose from the dead, you’re not a Christian in the true sense of the term. The entire Christian faith hangs on this one fact: Jesus rose from the dead-literally, physically, bodily, visibly. It is the testimony of the empty tomb that forever sets Jesus Christ apart from all other religious leaders.
They are dead. He is alive today.
Fact #5: Transformed Lives
Before you make a final decision about Jesus, there is one additional fact to consider. When Jesus left this earth 2000 years ago, he left behind a few hundred disciples in Israel. That’s all he had to show for his time on earth.
Today over two billion people bear his name. That tiny band of followers has spread to every nation on every continent. Thousands more join the ranks every single day. To put matters in perspective, more people have come to Christ in the last generation than in the previous 2000 years.
John Lennon is dead, Jerry Garcia is dead, Michael Jackson is dead, Karl Marx is dead, Napoleon is dead. But Jesus Christ is alive!
History shows that Jesus Christ continues to change lives 20 centuries after he walked the dusty roads of Galilee and braved the narrow cobblestone streets of Jerusalem. Yet today he is the single most influential person in all human history. John Lennon is dead, Jerry Garcia is dead, Michael Jackson is dead, Karl Marx is dead, Napoleon is dead. But Jesus Christ is alive!
Listen to the words of Napoleon Bonaparte after he was exiled. As he contemplated his exploits in Europe versus the legacy of Jesus, he came to this stunning conclusion:
I know men, and I tell you that Jesus Christ is not mere man. Between him and every other person in the world, there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and myself founded great empires; but upon what did the creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded his empire upon love, and to this very day millions would die for him.
C.S. Lewis on Jesus
And so we return to the foundational question. It is sometimes said this way: “When I look at Jesus, I see the greatest moral teacher the world has ever known. He may or he may not be the Son of God-to me that doesn’t matter-what’s important is that I recognize and follow his moral teachings.” Is such a view compatible with the New Testament picture of Jesus Christ? Does it present him as a great moral teacher or as the ultimate example for mankind?
In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis considers this very common viewpoint and concludes his chapter “The Shocking Alternative” with these penetrating words:
I am trying here 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.” That 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. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him or kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
If you are still unsure about Jesus, let me encourage you to pick up the New Testament and read it for yourself. You don’t have to take my word for it. If what I am saying is true, then the facts ought to be self-evident to any intelligent man or woman. Please don’t make a final decision about Jesus without checking things out for yourself. Pick any one of the four gospels-Matthew, Mark, Luke or John-and read the story of Jesus for yourself. Make notes. Ask questions as you read. Before you render your final verdict, please take the time to check every verse for yourself. Study the evidence on your own. Then make up your mind about Jesus Christ.
If you are still unsure about Jesus, let me encourage you to pick up the New Testament and read it for yourself.
Recently the Washington Post “On Faith” section sponsored a discussion called The Case for God based on a question from Karen Armstrong who asked, “What is the best ‘case for God’ to present to a skeptic or non-believer or to an open-minded seeker, or to a person of faith?” That’s a fairly broad question, and the answers came from an equally broad cross-section of thinkers, including theologians, atheists, New Age author Deepok Chopra, and Rabbi David Wolpe. All the essays are worth reading, but the shortest one came from the famed New Testament scholar (and Bishop of Durham) N. T. Wright. I reproduce his answer in full: “Beauty, justice, and above all Jesus.” That’s just six words, but they say all that needs to be said. The appearance of beauty and the desire for justice points us to a Creator greater than ourselves. And then there is Jesus who remains the central figure of history. In fact we divide all of history by the date of his birth: B.C. and A.D. He remains the most compelling personality ever to walk on planet earth.
Jesus remains the central figure of history.
I close by reminding you that after Jesus had asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” he made the question more personal, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:13-16). When Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16), he uttered the words that became the foundation of the worldwide Christian movement. That in one short sentence is what Christians believe about Jesus. We confess one revolutionary truth-that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of the living God.
In short we believe something special about someone special.
*We believe that a man once walked this earth who was like no other man who ever lived.
*He said things no other man has ever said.
*He did things no other man has ever done.
*He made claims for himself which, if they are not true, brand him as history’s greatest fraud.
*He gathered around himself a group of men who believed his claims.
*He predicted his own death . . . and then he predicted his own resurrection.
*He made good on all his claims.
*After He left, his followers took his message and spread it around the earth.
-And for 2,000 years countless men and women have believed that this man was indeed the Son of the living God. And they have staked their lives upon it.
*That man is Jesus of Nazareth.
*That is what Christians believe.
Where do you stand? You don’t have to answer out loud, but you’ve got to answer.
Who is Jesus Christ? A good man? A great teacher? A revolutionary leader? Or is he the Christ, the Son of the Living God?
Think about this amazing man who lived 2000 years ago. Who was he? Who is he? What do you say? Your eternal destiny hangs on your answer. May God open your eyes to see Jesus as the Son of God, and may the Holy Spirit grant you faith to believe in him. Amen.
Questions to Consider
1. How do you account for the continuing popularity of Jesus Christ?
2. Define “Mt. Rushmore” religion. What’s wrong with it?
3. How would unbelievers answer the claims of Christ as presented in this message?
4. Why is it impossible to believe that Jesus was only a good teacher or a good man and nothing more?
5. Do you believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Why or why not?
6. If someone were to ask you, “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” how would you answer that question?
Scriptures to Ponder
Additional Material from the Keep Believing website
Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? A debate between Craig and Crossan
Jesus Under Fire by Michael Wilkins
The Historical Jesus by Gary Habermas
The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel
More Than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell
Jesus According to Scripture by Darrell Bock
The Fundamentals, ed. by R. A. Torrey