Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

Vol. 1, No. 2 Page 4 February 1999

Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

In Defense
of Christís Deity

Part 2 of 2
click here for Part 1

By Bert Thompson

 

Choices Regarding Christís Deity

When Jesus was put on trial before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high priest asked: "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" To that question Christ replied simply, "I am" (Mark 14:62).  In view of the exalted nature of such a claim, and its ultimate end results, there are but three possible views one may entertain in reference to Christ's claim of being deity: (1) He was a liar and con-artist; (2) He was a madman; or (3) He was exactly Who He said He was.

In his book, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell titled one chapter: "The Trilemma--Lord, Liar, or Lunatic?" His purpose was to point out that, considering the grandiose nature of Christ's claims, He was either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord.  McDowell introduced his chapter on Christ's deity with a quotation from the famous British apologist of Cambridge University C.S. Lewis, who wrote:

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 and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.  But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to (1952, pp.  40-41).
Was Christ a Liar?

Was Christ a liar? A charlatan? A "messianic manipulator"? Hugh J. Schonfield, in The Passover Plot, claimed that He was all three.  Schonfield suggested that Jesus manipulated His life in such a way as to counterfeit the events described in the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah.  At times, this required "contriving those events when necessary, contending with friends and foes to ensure that the predictions would be fulfilled" (1965, p.  7).  Schonfield charged that Jesus "plotted and schemed with the utmost skill and resourcefulness, sometimes making secret arrangements, taking advantage of every circumstance conducive to the attainment of his objectives" (p.  155).  He further asserted that Jesus even planned to fake His own death on the cross.  Unfortunately, however, Jesus had not counted on having a Roman soldier pierce His side with a spear.  Thus, instead of recovering from His stupor, Jesus died unexpectedly.  On Saturday night, His body was moved to a secret place so that His tomb would be empty on the next day thus leaving the impression of His resurrection and, simultaneously His deity (pp.  161, 165).

But does this reconstruction of the life of Christ ring true? Even if a charlatan could beguile a few followers into believing that he had fulfilled a few of the prophecies (either by coincidence, or by contrivance), how could he possibly fulfill those that were beyond his control? For example, how could an impostor have planned his betrayal price? How could he have known that the money would be used to purchase the potter's field (cf.  Zechariah 11:13, Matthew 27:7)? How could he have known that men would gamble for his clothing (cf.  Psalm 22:17-18, Matthew 27:35-36)? Yet these are just a sampling of the many prophecies over which he would have no control.  Jesus, however, fulfilled every single one of them.

In considering the possibility that Christ was little more than an accomplished liar, renowned biblical historian, Philip Schaff, asked:

How in the name of logic, common sense, and experience, could an impostor that is a deceitful, selfish, depraved man-have invented, and consistently maintained from the beginning to end, the purest and noblest character known in history with the most perfect air of truth and reality? How could he have conceived and successfully carried out a plan of unparalleled beneficence, moral magnitude, and sublimity, and sacrificed his own life for it, in the face of the strongest prejudices of his people and ages? (1913, pp.  94-95).
Further, the question must be asked: What sane man is willing to die for what he knows all along is actually a lie? As McDowell summarized the matter: "Someone who lived as Jesus lived, taught as Jesus taught, and died as Jesus died could not have been a liar" (1972, p.  106).

Was Christ a Lunatic?

Was Jesus merely a psychotic lunatic Who sincerely (albeit mistakenly) viewed Himself as God incarnate? Such a view rarely has been entertained by anyone cognizant of Christ's life and teachings.  Schaff has asked:

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! (1913, pp. 97-98).
Would a raving lunatic teach that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us? Would a lunatic teach that we should pray for our enemies? Would a lunatic teach that we should "turn the other cheek," and then set an example of exactly how to do that--even unto death? Would a lunatic present an ethical/moral code like the one found within the text of the Sermon on the Mount? Hardly! Lunacy of the sort ascribed to Christ by His detractors does not produce such genius.  Schaff wrote:
Self-deception in a matter so momentous, and with an intellect in all respects so clear and so sound, is equally out of the question.  How could He be an enthusiast or a madman who never lost the even balance of His mind, who sailed serenely over all the troubles and persecutions, as the sun above the clouds, who always returned the wisest answer to tempting questions, who carnally and deliberately predicted His death on the cross, His resurrection on the third day, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the founding of His Church, the destruction of Jerusalem--predictions which have been literally fulfilled? A character so original, so completely so uniformly consistent, so perfect, so human and yet so high above all human greatness, can be neither a fraud nor a fiction.  The poet, as has been well said, would be in this case greater than the hero.  It would take more than a Jesus to invent a Jesus (1910, p. 109).
Was Christ Deity?

If Jesus was not a liar or a lunatic, then the questions Jesus asked the Pharisees still remain: "What think ye of the Christ? Whose son is He?" Was Jesus in fact, exactly Who He claimed to be? Was He God incarnate? The evidence suggests that He was.

Evidence For The Deity Of Christ

In Mark 10, an account is recorded concerning a rich young ruler who, in speaking to Christ, addressed Him as "Good Teacher." Upon hearing this reference, Jesus asked the man: "Why callest thou me good? None is good, save one, even God" (Mark 10:17).

Was Christ suggesting that His countryman's loyalty was misplaced, and that He was unworthy of being called "good" (in the sense that ultimately only God merits such a designation)? No.  In fact, Christ was suggesting that He was worthy of the appellation.  He wanted the ruler to understand the significance of the title he had used.  R.C. Foster paraphrased Jesus' response as follows: "Do you know the meaning of this word you apply to me and which you use so freely? There is none good save God; if you apply that term to me, and you understand what you mean, you affirm that I am God" (1971, p. 1022).

What evidence establishes Christ's deity? Among other things, it includes Christ's fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, His confirmation of His Sonship via the miracles He performed, His crucifixion and subsequent resurrection, and His post-resurrection appearances.

Fulfillment of O.T. Prophecies

Scholars have documented over 300 messianic prophecies in the Old Testament (Lockyer, 1973, p.  21).  From Genesis through Malachi, the history of Jesus is foretold in minute detail.  Bible critics who wish to disprove Christ's deity must refute fulfilled prophecy.  To accomplish this, one would have to contend that Jesus did not fulfill the prophecies genuinely, but only appeared to fulfill them.  Yet with over 300 prophecies relating to Christ none of which can be dismissed flippantly--this is an impossible task.

Could Christ have fulfilled 300+ prophetic utterances by chance? P.W Stoner and R.C.  Newman selected just eight specific prophecies, and calculated the probability of one man fulfilling all of them.  Their conclusion was that 1 man in 1017 could do it (1971, p. 106).  The probability that a single man could fulfill--by chance--all of the prophecies relating to Christ and His ministry would be practically incalculable, and the idea that a single man did so would be utterly absurd.

Performance of Genuine Miracles

Christ also backed up His claims by working miracles.  Throughout history, God had empowered other people to perform miracles.  But while their miracles confirmed they were servants of God, Jesus' miracles were intended to prove that He is God (John 10:37-38; cf.  John 20: 30-31).

While in prison, John the Baptizer sent his followers to ask Jesus: "Art thou he that cometh, or look we for another?" (Matthew 11:3).  Jesus' response was: "Go and tell John . . . the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good tidings preached to them" (Matthew 11:4-5).  Over seven hundred years earlier, Isaiah had predicted that those very things would be done by the Messiah ( Isaiah 35:5-6; 61:1 ).  Jesus was not saying simply: "Look at all the good things I am doing." Rather, He was saying: "I am the One doing exactly what the Coming One is supposed to do!"

When Peter addressed the very people who had put Jesus to death, he reminded them that Christ's unique identity had been proved ". . . by mighty works and wonders and signs which God did by him in the midst of you, even as ye yourselves know" (Acts 2:22).  The key phrase here is "even as ye yourselves know." The Jews had witnessed Christ's miracles occurring among them on practically a daily basis.  And, unlike the pseudo-miracles allegedly performed by today's "spiritualists," Jesus' miracles were feats that truly defied naturalistic explanation.  In the presence of many witnesses, the Nazarene not only gave sight to the blind, healed lepers, fed thousands from a handful of food, and made the lame to walk, but also calmed turbulent seas and raised the dead! Although not overly eager to admit it, Jesus' critics often were brought face-to-face with the truth that no one could do what Jesus did unless God was with Him (John 3:2; see also John 9).

The Resurrection, and Post Resurrection Appearances

Likely, however, the most impressive miracle involving Jesus was His resurrection.  In agreement with Old Testament prophecy, and just as He had promised, Christ came forth from the tomb three days after His brutal crucifixion (Matthew 16:21; 27:63; 28:1-8).  His resurrection was witnessed by soldiers who had been appointed to guard His tomb.  In the end, these soldiers had to be bribed to change their story so that the Jewish leaders would not lose credibility, and to prevent the Jewish people from recognizing their true Messiah (Matthew 28:11-15).  It is a matter of history that Christ's tomb was empty on that Sunday morning almost 2,000 years ago.  If Jesus were not raised from the dead, how came His guarded and sealed tomb to be empty?

That Christ had been raised from the dead was witnessed by many different types of people: the soldiers who guarded His tomb; the women who came early in the morning to anoint Him with spices; eleven apostles; and more than 500 other witnesses (1 Corinthians 15:4-8).  When they saw the living, breathing Jesus--days after His death--they had concrete proof that He was Who He claimed to be all along! Even his detractors could not deny successfully the fact, and significance, of the empty tomb.

Thousands of people go annually to the graves of the founders of the Buddhist and Muslim religions to pay homage.  Yet Christians do not pay homage at the grave of Christ--for the simple fact that the tomb is empty.  A dead Savior is no good! For those who accept, and act upon, the evidence for Christ's deity provided by the resurrection, life is meaningful, rich, and full (see Paul's discussion in 1 Corinthians 15).  For those who reject the resurrection, the vacant tomb will stand forever as eternity's greatest mystery, and one day will serve as their silent judge.

Conclusion

Who is Jesus of Nazareth? He had no formal rabbinical training (John 7:15).  He possessed no material wealth (Luke 9:58; 2 Corinthians 8:9).  Yet, through His teachings, He turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6).  Clearly, as the evidence documents, He was, and is, both the Son of Man and the Son of God.  He lived, and died, to redeem fallen mankind.  He gave Himself a ransom (Matthew 20:28).  He is God, Who predates, and will outlast, time itself (Philippians 2:5-11).

References

Foster, R.C.  (1971), Studies in the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).

Jackson, Wayne (1979), "Isaiah 53: The Messiah," Great Chapters in The Bible, ed.  Thomas F.  Eaves (Knoxville, TN: East Tennessee School of Preaching and Missions).

Jackson, Wayne (1997), "Daniel's Prophecy of the `Seventy Weeks'," Reason & Revelation, 17:49-53.

Lewis, C.S.  (1952), Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan).

Lockyer, Herbert (1973), All the Messianic Prophecies of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).

McDowell, Josh (1972), Evidence That Demands a Verdict (San Bernardino, CA: Campus Crusade for Christ).

McGarvey, J.W (1875), The New Testament Commentary: Matthew and Mark  (Delight, AR: Gospel Light).

Robertson, A.T.  (1932), Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman).

Schaff, Philip (1910), History of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman).

Schaff, Philip (1913), The Person of Christ  (New York: American Tract Society).

Schonfield, Hugh J.  (1965), The Passover Plot (New York: Bantam).

Solomon, David (1972), "Procurator," Encyclopaedia Judaica, ed. Cecil Roth (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing).

Stoner, Peter W and Robert C. Newman (1968), Science Speaks (Chicago, IL: Moody).


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