Something I have repeatedly been told in conversations with those who are not Christian is that Jesus was just a good, moral, Middle Eastern, Jewish teacher, and nothing more. I suppose that’s a possibility… until I actually open the Bible and read any of the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. Given even a cursory glance at them, I find that one cannot possibly make this claim with any intellectual honesty. At this point, you might have already checked out because I mentioned the “Bible.” I would plead with you, however, to actually open yourself up to the reality of something you don’t necessarily agree with… not just a fabrication or exaggerated characterization that is easy to dismiss. Lastly, if you are wondering why I would even argue from a posture of Biblical authority, please take a minute to read PART 1, where I seek to establish that the writers of the Bible claimed the Truth of their message… even stating that if it were found to be false, to consider it all futile. We should evaluate the claims of the Biblical accounts as verifiable evidence. I am not stating the Bible is true by its very nature. I am saying that we all use these accounts when drawing conclusions and knowledge about that time period and the historical figure of Jesus.
It seems that C.S. Lewis’ ‘trilemma’, as written in his book Mere Christianity, is entirely relevant when seeking to respond to the narrative that Jesus was a moral juggernaut only. The excerpt is below:
“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 the 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 with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Lewis, C. S., Mere Christianity, London: Collins, 1952, pp. 54 – 56. (In all editions, this is Bk. II, Ch. 3, “The Shocking Alternative.”)
Some dismiss this notion, stating the Jesus never existed or that he never claimed to be God. I would argue that both of these are fighting an extremely steep uphill battle based on archaeology, scriptural context, and extra-Biblical writings. But let’s allow the scripture to speak for itself. So…
What sort of things did Jesus say?
What response did these statements elicit?
And why on earth would this be the case?
I’ll list just a few, and categorize them, so it makes a little more sense. Keep in mind that this is only a small sampling, but they are key and controversial statements that, when read in context, threw up red flags to the listeners of Jesus’ day… and fly directly in the face of our individualistic Western sensibilities today.
CLAIMS OF DIVINITY
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.
Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”
“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.”
“And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’”
“For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”
“…To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’”
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn
“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
Interesting, right? Even just a small sampling of quotes points clearly to the fact that this man was a raging delusional lunatic… a morally despicable liar, who eventually drove dozens of people to their brutal deaths proclaiming His name… or the SON OF MAN/God in flesh/Eternally existing creator of the Heavens and earth.
Now, you could say that the Gospel writers just made it all up, but then you’re left with the task of explaining this man without using ANY of the writings. And you’re also left explaining away dozens of other widely accepted facts about Jesus and the time period itself, without much supporting text. Namely, the rapid growth of the faith amidst violent and deadly opposition, the apostle’s own deaths upholding what they claimed to have actually seen, the archaeology confirming Jesus’ burial tomb, etc. It’s fairly difficult to form an opinion out of thin air, but we love to try anyway when it’s more convenient than dealing with the actual text.
So… let’s evaluate these statements for a second. Jesus believed he was the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE. He said that NO ONE comes to the father (God) EXCEPT through HIM. He claimed that those who had seen HIM, had seen God. He said the father (God) was actually living in him. He walked around forgiving people’s sins. He affirmed statements about his divinity made by those close to him. And at the same time, Jesus would call people hypocrites. He would tell them that he would be ashamed of them upon greeting at heaven’s gates, and even cast them out! He forced people to choose between loved ones and HIM, saying that he actually came to turn families against each other.
All of that makes me want to sarcastically stand up and say “Bravo, Jesus! You truly are the greatest moral teacher of all eternity!” Maybe I’d start a slow clap or something. Statements like these are bone-chillingly corrupt and deluded if Jesus is not exactly who he claimed to be. I mean, seriously… do we honestly believe that when he made these statements to people, they would’ve reacted completely differently than us? They didn’t, by the way. Many in the Jewish community recognized EXACTLY what he was claiming. They picked up stones to kill him for blasphemy, and eventually plotted and executed a plan resulting in his crucifixion. Yet, today Jesus is almost always highly regarded amongst non-Christians. Christians are encouraged to follow his example, and met with moral outrage for not following it.
Could it be that the famous speeches for which Jesus is widely known are equally as deceptive if He is NOT who he claimed to be? I don’t think we’re ready to throw out all of Jesus claims, though… just the ones that don’t fit into the framework of our Western sensibilities.
I challenge us to dig deeper… to meet the text with intellectual honesty… to even be skeptical enough to put the Gospel writings to the test… but to be even more skeptical of blindly believing things about Jesus without READING the books. As C.S. Lewis puts it, “let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his (Jesus) being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Can we give Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and objective reading and afterward conclude that Jesus was either insane or lying, as opposed to speaking truth? I’ll end with a quote and a parting challenge…
“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; and if you were to combine them and refine them and cleave out the excess verbiage; and if you were to take the whole of the meat and none of the bones; 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 teachings of Christ, particularly the Sermon On The Mount; and it would suffer immeasurably in comparison.”
Dr. James Fischer (psychiatrist), after 50 years of mental health experience…
(Excerpt from A Few buttons Missing – 1951)
Jesus’ message was permeated by TRUTH… even today. So much so, that we still hold him as an enlightened moral teacher, even after considering his more controversial statements about reality. Could it be that Jesus was right? Read the Gospels. Wrestle with them. THEN, come to a conclusion regarding your thoughts about this man from Galilee.
Who was Jesus?
Who did he believe himself to be?