Thursday, 23 March 2017

Who is Jesus Christ?

Here is an article I wrote on this most important subject.

The evidence

He was truly man
The existence of Jesus of Nazareth is something that is beyond any serious dispute. Historians have a number of criteria they use to establish the historicity of a person or event, and all these criteria are met by Jesus. Consider the following examples:

We have early testimonies
The Gospels were all written within the lifetime of people who would have witnessed the events, and three of the four Gospels were written within 30 years of the alleged events. We have the epistles of Paul in which he refers to the apostles and his personal acquaintance with them, and these epistles were written about 20-30 years after the events were supposed to have taken place. But even more significantly, we have within the writings of Paul examples of confessions (e.g. 1 Corinthians 8:6), hymns (e.g. Philippians 2:5-11) and prayers (e.g. 1 Corinthians 16:22) that were in common usage amongst the Christians, and therefore predate his writings by a considerable period. Of particular significance is a creedal statement found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 which scholars agree Paul received when he met Peter and James, the Lord’s brother (referred to in Galatians 1:18-19) within five years of the death of Christ.

We have exclusive testimonies
That is, we have multiple independent accounts for the life of Jesus. New Testament scholars point out that the information in the Gospels does not come from a single source. In addition to the information in the Gospels, we have information from the Acts and the epistles of the New Testament, as well as sources outside the Bible, such as Josephus, Tacitus, and Pliney the Younger. All these independent sources are talking about the same person and events, which is incomprehensible if He never existed.

We have eyewitness testimonies
The incidental details in the Gospel accounts, the undesigned coincidences between the Gospel accounts and the archaeological confirmation of the Gospel accounts all confirm that the information came from those who were on the scene. There are features that are very prominent in the Gospels that weren’t prominent in the Old Testament nor in the epistles of the New Testament, and thus were obviously not Christian inventions, e.g. the designation ‘the Son of man’, the use of the word ‘Truly’ (or ‘Verily’) at the beginning of a phrase, and the Lord’s emphasis on and descriptions of hell. Also, there are details in the Gospels that would never have been imagined or invented based on the Old Testament Scriptures or New Testament doctrine, e.g. the manner in which He appeared after His resurrection.

We have embarrassing testimonies
There are things that the Gospels record which are difficult to explain, or reflect badly on the apostles and make their message less likely to be believed. These things would never have been invented by the Gospel writers. They testify not only to the historicity of the events but the honesty of the authors – the events were included because they happened, and there is no attempt to explain them away. Examples of these include: the Lord’s brothers didn’t believe in Him; the cowardice and pettiness of the Twelve disciples; the Lord selecting one who would betray Him; the Lord stating He didn’t know the time of His second coming; a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin burying the Lord, while the disciples were nowhere to be seen; women being the ones who discovered His empty tomb. These are just a few of the things we find in the Gospels that made the message harder to swallow – you don’t make those things up.

We have earnest testimonies
The early Christians who claimed to have been with Jesus were prepared to suffer and die for their beliefs. You don’t suffer for something you know to be false.

For these reasons, and many others, the question of Jesus’ existence is settled and the case is closed.

He was truly God
Although Jesus was a real man, He was not a mere man. The Christian belief is that He was none less that God. But why should we believe this?

He claimed it
There is no doubt that the Lord Jesus claimed deity for Himself. Repeatedly, He claimed divine titles and privileges and demanded and accepted that which belongs to God alone.

The question then is, was He right or wrong? If He was wrong He either thought He was right but made a mistake or knew He was wrong and was telling lies. But neither of these two options fits the facts or is remotely possible. If He was mistaken think of the level of delusion – He thought He was equal with God!
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 self-possessed – liable to a radical and most serious delusion concerning His own character and mission? Preposterous imagination! (Philip Schaff, The Person of Christ.)
If He was lying then think of the level of deception. He told people their eternal destiny hinged on their response to Him; He called on people to follow Him no matter the cost. To make this up is wicked, and yet no one who lived the way He lived, loved they way He loved, taught they way He taught and suffered the way He suffered could be an evil person.

We are left with no other option then, He wasn’t wrong – He truly is the Son of God.

His disciples proclaimed it
It’s a popular notion that the doctrine of the deity of Christ was a legendary development that reached full bloom at the Council of Nicaea. Nothing could be further from the truth. As we said earlier, in the very earliest texts of the New Testament we find even earlier traditions, and these proclaim Jesus Christ as God.
The significance of this is that all the first Christians were Jews – they believed that there was only one God and He alone was worthy of worship, and yet these God-fearing Jews were proclaiming this crucified Nazarene to be God and worshipping Him as such. They preached Him as the one way of salvation, the fulfilment of the Covenant given through Moses, and the end of all the sacrifices. There is no way they ever would have uttered such things unless there was overwhelming evidence for their truth. Jesus Christ was condemned by the Sanhedrin for His claim to be God’s Son, and consequently crucified by the Romans. That would have extinguished any notion in the mind of a Jew that His claim was true, but God the Father vindicated Him by raising Him from the dead, and thus He was ‘declared to be the Son of God with power . . . by the resurrection from the dead,’ (Romans 1:4).

The relevance

If Jesus is the Son of God then it shows that God has come to us. We are not left to wonder if God is there, what He is like or if He is interested in us. God has been revealed fully in Christ.

Furthermore, it shows that we can come to God. Jesus didn’t come merely to be a perfect example or a wise teacher. He came to be the great sacrifice for sin. Because God is infinitely holy, sin is an infinite offence and carries an infinite penalty. That means that no finite creature could ever pay it, and that’s why the Son of God had to come. At Calvary He took the punishment we deserved and paid the price we could never pay so that we could be reconciled to God. All who acknowledge the problem of their guilt, and accept Christ as the answer to that problem, will be acquitted and accepted by God. No one else has paid sin’s penalty, and that is why Jesus said, ‘I am the way . . . No one comes to the Father except through Me.’