Why should anyone believe that Jesus Christ was more than another prophet, like those whose deeds are recorded in the Old Testament of the Bible? Are there credible reasons to believe that He was the only actual Son of God?
It is crucial to determine exactly who Jesus Christ was – and still is, if indeed He has been resurrected from death. The reason is that the Bible teaches that trusting in Jesus Christ is the only way for a person to know for certain that he (or she) will have eternal salvation. [For a discussion regarding how to be certain of having eternal salvation, click on “What Must a Person Do to Be Assured of Eternal Salvation?”]
Throughout history, there have been a number of people, in addition to Jesus Christ, who have proclaimed to be the only way to know God and/or to attain eternal life. However, there are valid reasons to believe that Jesus Christ is different than the others.
The major considerations that we will be discussing with regard to this topic are as follows:
- Jesus Christ made claims of deity about Himself.
- Jesus Christ was sinless.
- Jesus Christ performed miracles.
- Jesus Christ was resurrected from death.
- Jesus Christ was regarded as deity by early Christians.
Jesus Christ Made Claims of Deity about Himself
In John 8:58, Jesus Christ proclaimed His eternal existence, when He declared, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” [Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible.]
The key to understanding this verse is the meaning of Jesus when He used the words “I AM.” Many, if not most, scholars associate these two words with the words God used in Exodus 3:14, in which He identified Himself to Moses as “I AM WHO I AM,” and went on to say, “Thus, you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” Therefore, in John 8:58, Christ was asserting that He had no beginning and no end – a claim that only God can legitimately make. If He had wanted to indicate only that He existed before Abraham, He presumably would have used wording such as, “Before Abraham was, I was.”
Another scripture passage in which Jesus Christ proclaims His eternal existence is Revelation 22:13. In this passage, Jesus Christ states, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.”
Jesus Christ also asserted that He had the right to forgive sins, which is something that only God can do. In Mark 2:5b, Jesus tells a paralytic man, “[Y]our sins are forgiven you.” Then, verse 7 provides the reaction of the scribes who were there: “Why does this man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5:20-21 provides a similar account of this incident.) And, in Luke 7:48, Jesus Christ tells a woman who was generally considered to be a flagrant sinner, “Your sins are forgiven.”
In regard to such scriptures, Josh McDowell, a well-known Christian apologist, makes the following comments on page 19 of his book entitled More Than A Carpenter:
[A person] can say, “I forgive you,” but that can be done only by the person who was sinned against. In other words, if you sin against me, I can say, “I forgive you.” But that wasn’t what Christ was doing. . . . [W]e can forgive injuries committed against us, but in no way can anyone forgive sins committed against God except God himself. That is what Jesus did.
Furthermore, Jesus Christ claimed to be the Son of God. In reference to how the Jews reacted to Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath day, John 5:18 states, “[T]he Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.”
In fact, Jesus Christ made a number of assertions that He is God, including His claim in John 10:30 that “I and My Father are one.” A footnote in the NIV Bible says with regard to the word that is translated as one, “The Greek is neuter – ‘one thing,’ not ‘one person.’ The two are one in essence or nature, but they are not identical persons.” [For a discussion regarding whether or not God is one, click on “Do Christians Worship Three Gods.”] Verse 33 makes it clear that the Jews understood that Jesus was claiming to be God when they told Him that that they are going to stone Him “for blasphemy and because you, being a man, make yourself God
Subsequently, in John 14:9b, Jesus declares, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father, so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”
In Mark 14:62, the high priest who is conducting a trial of Jesus Christ, asks Him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” and Jesus replies, “I am.” Then, in verse 64, in response to Jesus’ statement, the high priest exclaims to the others who are trying Jesus, “You have heard the blasphemy!”
Matthew 27:43b notes that those who were mocking Jesus Christ as He was dying on the cross, scoffed that He had said, “I am the Son of God.”
Also, it should be noted that in John 20:28, the Apostle Thomas is not rebuked by Jesus when he refers to Jesus as “My Lord and my God!” If Jesus was not God, then He sinned by accepting the words of Thomas, rather than rebuking him. Thus, Jesus Christ must be a manifestation of the one true God.
Certainly, these scripture passages indicate that Jesus Christ believed Himself to be deity. But, what about the statements He made that He was the Son of Man? On page 140 his book entitled The Son Rises: Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus, William Craig, Ph.D., D.Th., states:
“Son of Man” is often thought to indicate the humanity of Jesus, just as the . . . expression “Son of God” indicates his divinity. In fact, just the opposite is true. The Son of Man was a divine figure in the Old Testament book of Daniel who would come at the end of the world to judge mankind and rule forever. Thus, the claim to be the Son of Man would be in effect a claim to divinity.
[For further discussion of Jesus’ statements that He was the Son of Man, click on “Is Jesus Christ the Only Son of God?”]
Skeptics argue that Jesus was either a liar or a lunatic to make the claims that He made. One of their assertions is that He knew that He was not God, but He deliberately tried to deceive people in this regard.
In this regard, Paul Little says on page 17 of his book entitled Know Why You Believe, “Jesus could hardly be a great moral teacher if, on the most crucial point of his teaching, i.e., his identity, he was a deliberate liar.”
Similarly, Josh McDowell, on pages 104-105 of Evidence That Demands A Verdict, a second book that he wrote, declares,
If, when Jesus made His claims He knew that He was not God, then He was lying. But, if He was a liar, then He was also a hypocrite because He told others to be honest, whatever the cost, while Himself teaching and living a colossal lie.
And, more than that, He was a demon, because He told others to trust Him for their eternal destiny. If He could not back up His claims and knew it, then He was unspeakably evil.
Furthermore, Bernard Ramm, on page 179 of his book entitled Protestant Christian Evidences, says, “If we impugn [i.e., deny] the person of Christ, we must admit that what on the one hand appears to be the holiest, godliest, divinest [sic] man that ever lived is also guilty of the grossest misrepresentation in all of human history.” Therefore, if Jesus Christ lied when He said that He is God, He should not be regarded as good.
In addition, McDowell, on page 105 of Evidence That Demands A Verdict, says that, if Jesus lied about being God, “He would also be a fool, because it was His claims to being God that led to His crucifixion.”
If Jesus was not knowingly lying when He said that He was God (or the Son of God), could He have made such a claim because He was a lunatic?
In response to such a question, Little states on page 18 of his book, “[A]s we look at the life of Christ, we see no evidence of the abnormality and imbalance we find in a deranged person.”
Likewise, McDowell, on page 31 of More Than A Carpenter, says,
[I]n Jesus we don’t observe the abnormalities and imbalance that usually go along with being deranged. His poise and composure would certainly be amazing if he were insane.
In light of the other things we know about Jesus, it’s hard to imagine that he was mentally disturbed. Here is a man who spoke some of the most profound sayings ever recorded.
And on page 62 of his book entitled Set Forth Your Case, Clark Pinnock concludes with regard to this matter, “[T]he skill and depth of his teachings support the case only for his total mental soundness.”
Gary Collins, Ph.D., a well-known psychologist, provides further insights. On pages 146-147 of Lee Strobel’s book The Case For Christ, Collins makes the following statements:
[P]sychologists don’t just look at what a person says. . . . They’ll look at a person’s emotions, because disturbed individuals frequently show inappropriate depression, or they might be vehemently angry, or perhaps they’re plagued with anxiety. But look at Jesus: he never demonstrated inappropriate emotions.
[Some] deluded people will have misperceptions. . . . They’re out of contact with reality. . . . [W]e don’t see this in Jesus. . . .
Or people with psychological difficulties may have thinking disorders – they can’t carry on a logical conversation, they’ll jump to faulty conclusions, they’re irrational. We don’t see this in Jesus. He spoke clearly, powerfully, and eloquently. He was brilliant and had absolutely amazing insights into human nature.
Another sign of mental disturbances is unsuitable behavior, such as . . . being unable to relate socially to others. Jesus’ behavior was quite in line with what would be expected, and he had deep and abiding relationships with a wide variety of people from different walks of life.
All in all, I just don’t see signs that Jesus was suffering from any known mental illness.
In fact, it can be argued that Jesus Christ had the perfect blend of personality traits. However, we will not attempt to consider further this particular point of view, since it goes beyond the scope of this discussion.
Jesus Christ Was Sinless
In contrast with the founders of the world’s other major religions, Jesus Christ never sinned, according to everything written about Him. He was not just another good man.
Josh McDowell, on page 119 of Evidence That Demands A Verdict, says,
Throughout the Bible, the inconsistencies of all persons are brought out. None of the great Jewish heroes are presented without blemish. . . . Even in the New Testament, the shortcomings of the apostles are written about in almost every book, and yet nowhere do we find mention of one sin in Christ’s life.
Since Jesus Christ’s inner circle of disciples lived in close contact with Him for approximately three years, their testimony is particularly meaningful. Peter and John were two of the disciples who were closest to Jesus. Although familiarity usually breeds contempt, it was not true with regard to them. In 1 Peter 2:22a, Peter referred to Jesus as He “Who committed no sin. . . .” Likewise, in 1 John 3:5b, John states with regard to Jesus that “in Him there is no sin.”
These statements by Peter and John are particularly significant, since both of them were Jews. Like all other Jews, from the time they were children they were taught Old Testament scriptures stating that all humans are sinful. Nevertheless, they clearly stated that Jesus Christ committed no sin.
John Stott, on page 38 of his book entitled Basic Christianity, states:
[A]lthough we are told of the temptations of Jesus, we hear nothing of his sins. He never confesses his sins or asks for forgiveness, although he tells his disciples to do so. He shows no consciousness of moral failure. He appears to have no feeling of guilt and no sense of estrangement from God.
Despite living closer to God than anyone else has ever been able to do, Jesus Christ was free from all sense of sin. On page 19 of his book, Paul Little says,
This lack of any sense of moral failure on Jesus’ part is astonishing in view of the fact that it is completely contrary to the experience of the saints . . . in all ages. The closer men and women draw to God, the more overwhelmed they are with their own failure, corruption, and shortcoming.
Charles Jefferson believes there is an even better reason for believing that Jesus Christ was sinless. On page 225 of his book entitled The Character of Jesus, Jefferson states, “The best reason we have for believing in the sinlessness of Jesus is the fact that He allowed His dearest friends to think that He was.”
Jesus Christ Performed Miracles
There is much evidence to support the fact that Jesus Christ performed miracles, especially throughout His three-year public ministry. Even early in his public ministry, His miracles were extensive. This is indicated when John the Baptist sent two of his own disciples to ask if Jesus was the Messiah (i.e., Savior). Jesus’ response in Luke 7:22 was: “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised. . . .”
And, Jesus Christ also performed other kinds of miracles. For example, Mark 4:36-39 describes how He stilled a raging storm on the Sea of Galilee, and Matthew 14:15-21 tells how He fed more than 5,000 people, with only five loaves and two fish.
Even the enemies of Jesus Christ did not deny that He was performing miracles. John 11:47-48 indicates that Jesus’ enemies were very concerned about the adverse consequences for themselves if Jesus continued to perform miracles. Nor did non-Christian writers dispute that Jesus had performed miracles. On page 68 of his book entitled The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?, F. F. Bruce states:
[E]arly non-Christian writers who do refer to Jesus at any length do not dispute that He performed miracles. Josephus . . . calls Him a wonderworker; later Jewish references in the rabbinical writings . . . attribute His miracles to sorcery, but do not deny them. . . . Sorcery is also the explanation given by Celsus, the philosophic critic of Christianity in the second century.
Charles Anderson, on page 130 of his book entitled The Historical Jesus: A Continuing Quest, says, “While many . . . references refer to Jesus’ miracles in an unfriendly and derogatory light, the fact that these authors could not dismiss them is evidence that something of an extraordinary character happened.”
Could the healings performed by Jesus Christ have resulted from the power of suggestion (i.e., psychotherapy)? This question is addressed by Collins on page 149 of Strobel’s book, The Case For Christ, as follows:
If you think you’re going to get better, you often do get better. That’s a well-established medical fact. And when people came to Jesus, they believed he could heal them, so he did. But the fact remains: regardless of how he did it, Jesus did heal them.
Of course, that doesn’t explain all of Jesus’ healings. Often a psychosomatic healing takes time; Jesus’ healings were spontaneous. . . . And Jesus healed conditions like lifelong blindness and leprosy, for which a psychosomatic explanation isn’t very likely.
On top of that, he brought people back from the dead. . . . Plus you have all of his nature miracles – the calming of the sea, turning water into wine. They defy naturalistic answers.
Some people may ask if science can confirm the miracles performed by Jesus Christ. Webster’s Dictionary defines a miracle as “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.” Since a miracle is extraordinary, it is not something that can be readily duplicated in a science laboratory. Therefore, science should not be expected to either confirm or disprove the possibility of a miracle.
If Jesus Christ really was (and is) God, the Creator of everything that exists, is there any reason to believe that it would not be possible for Him to perform miracles? Charles Anderson, on page 132 of his book, says with regard to Jesus Christ, “If he was God incarnate there would be every reason to expect that he should give evidence of that unique nature by demonstrating his mastery over all facets of his creation.”
Jesus Christ Was Resurrected from Death
If Jesus Christ had been crucified on the cross and died without being resurrected from death, there would not be sufficient reasons to believe that He was anything more than a prophet – perhaps a very special prophet, but no more than that. However, there is much evidence to confirm that He was resurrected from death. Furthermore, Jesus Christ not only was resurrected, but also He predicted that He would be.
James Anderson, on page 17 of his book entitled Christianity: The Witness of History, states,
Jesus Christ was not merely a very good man who could point men to God somewhat more effectively than any other human teacher, but was God incarnate. . . . [The] resurrection must, in light of all he had previously taught, be regarded as a clear authentication . . . of the reality of his deity. . . .
Likewise, on page 21 of his book, Paul Little declares, “Jesus’ supreme credential to authenticate his claim to deity was his resurrection from the dead.”
James Anderson, on page 86 of his book, says,
[T]he true answer to the question why the resurrection was regarded by the early church . . . as the final proof of the deity of Christ, must be found in the nature of the claims which he made during his life and ministry. . . . [I]t is recorded that on a number of different occasions he foretold that he would not only be crucified but would rise again on the third day. . . .
And Clark Pinnock, on page 62 of his book entitled Set Forth Your Case, states,
[In the Old Testament] one of the distinguishing characteristics of the living God over against the false gods was His capacity to announce the future beforehand. . . .
In the New Testament Jesus repeatedly predicts His crucifixion and its outcome in the resurrection. This was to be the ultimate sign with which He would provide men.
Among the scriptures in which Jesus Christ predicted His crucifixion and resurrection are the following:
Matthew 16:21: “From that time, Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.”
Luke 9:22: [Jesus said] “’The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.’”
Matthew 17:9: “Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, ‘Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.’”
Mark 9:9: “Now as they came down from the mountain, He commanded them that they should tell no one the things they had seen, till the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”
Matthew 17:22-23: “Now while they were staying in Galilee, Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up.’”
Matthew 20:17-19: “Then Jesus, going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples aside on the road and said to them, ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again.’”
With regard to Jesus Christ’s predictions of His own resurrection, Wilbur Smith makes the following statements on page 11 of his book entitled Great Certainty in This Hour of World Crises:
[W]hen He said that He himself would rise again from the dead, the third day after He was crucified, He said something that only a fool would dare say . . ., unless He was sure He was going to rise. No founder of any [other] world religion . . . ever dared to say a thing like that.
[For additional evidence supporting the resurrection of Christ, click on “Was Jesus Christ Really Resurrected From Death?”]
Jesus Christ Was Regarded as Deity by Early Christians
On page 139 of The Case For Christ, Strobel summarizes comments made by William Craig by saying that there is “a substantial amount of evidence that within twenty years of the Crucifixion there was a full-blown Christology proclaiming Jesus as God incarnate.”
Could it be, however, that belief in the deity of Jesus Christ has arisen as a result of legend, rather than from eyewitness accounts of His teachings? Paul Little, on page 18 of his book, provides the following response to this question:
The problem with the legend theory is the discoveries of modern archaeology. It has been conclusively shown that the four biographies of Christ were written within the lifetime of contemporaries of Christ. . . . For a mere legend about Christ, in the form of the Gospel, to have gained the circulation and to have had the impact it had, without one shred of basis in fact, is incredible. For this to have happened would be as fantastic as for someone in our own time to write a biography of the late Franklin Delano Roosevelt and in it say he claimed to be God . . . and to have risen from the dead. Such a story is so wild it would never get off the ground because there are still too many people around who knew Roosevelt. The legend theory does not hold water in the light of the early date of the Gospel manuscripts.
[For a more thorough discussion of the reliability of the Gospel writings, click on “Is The Bible Reliable?”]
So, which scriptures indicate that early Christians believed that Jesus Christ was – and is – divine? Matthew 16:15-16 is perhaps the most famous scripture in this regard. In response to Jesus Christ’s question, “Who do you say that I am?” the apostle Peter answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Not only did Jesus not rebuke Peter for his answer, but Jesus commended him.
Another well known scripture regarding an apostle’s declaration of Jesus’ deity is John 20:28. In this verse, Thomas, who had previously expressed unbelief that Jesus had been resurrected from death, sees the resurrected Jesus in person and declares Him to be “my Lord and my God!”
And, the writer of the book of John, who probably was the disciple John, leaves little doubt that he believed that Jesus Christ is divine. John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Then, John 1:14-15 asserts,
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John [the Baptist] bore witness of Him and cried out saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’”
Given the statements that “the Word was God,” and “the Word became flesh,” and “John [the Baptist] bore witness of him,” it is obvious that the disciple John was trying to make it clear that Jesus Christ is divine.
In addition, Paul, whose writings were among the earliest of those included in the New Testament, alludes to the deity of Jesus Christ. Especially because of Paul’s training to become a rabbi, it would have been difficult to convince him that anyone other than God Himself was divine. However, the following scripture passages, all of which are believed to have been written by Paul, indicate that he became convinced that Jesus Christ was divine:
Romans 9:5: Jesus Christ is “the eternally blessed God.”
Philippians 2:9-11: “God also has highly exalted Him [Jesus Christ] and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Colossians 1:15-16a: “He [Jesus Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth. . . .”
Colossians 2:9: “For in Him [Jesus Christ] dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.”
Titus 2:13: Jesus Christ is “our great God and Savior.”
And, as previously indicated, while Jesus Christ was on earth, He was God incarnate. One of the verses that support this position is Matthew 1:23, the first part of which quotes the following passage from Isaiah 7:14: “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”
The reference to God in the Matthew 1:23 passage is a translation of the Greek word theos, which Strong’s Concordance says “was appropriated by Jews and retained by Christians to denote ‘the one true God.’” Thus, in this verse, when it was said that the baby that Mary would bear would be called “God with us,” the meaning was that the baby (i.e., Jesus Christ) would be the one true God in human form, and He would reside for a period of time on earth among other humans.
Also, since Jesus Christ is the Word and the Word is God, Jesus Christ must be a member of the Holy Trinity of God, which is comprised of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. [For a discussion of the Holy Trinity of God, click on “Do Christians Worship Three Gods?”]
Jesus Christ did not make irresponsible claims of deity about Himself. Proof of the validity of His claims included His sinless life, the various miracles that He performed, and His resurrection from death. Furthermore, those who knew Him best – His inner circle of disciples – became convinced that He was divine.
On page 107 of Evidence That Demands A Verdict, Josh McDowell states, “Who you decide Jesus Christ is must not be an idle intellectual exercise. You cannot put Him on the shelf as a great moral teacher. That is not a valid option. He is either a liar, a lunatic or the Lord. You must make a choice.”
Similarly, C. S. Lewis makes the following statements on page 56 of his book entitled Mere Christianity:
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 . . . or else he would be the Devil of Hell. . . . 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.