- Many people believe Jesus was given a “divine promotion” after his crucifixion that he never claimed for himself.
- Contrary to that belief, the dramatic explosion of devotion to Jesus points back to his teachings as the source.
- The New Testament record affirms that Jesus was believed to be the Messiah and that Jesus’ followers trusted in him, prayed to him and worshiped him as such.
- Jesus made multiple claims to equality with the Father, and he never sought to change the perceptions of his listeners.
- Jesus predicted that all his claims would be proven by his death and resurrection.
- The beginning of this chapter is quite interesting as Mittelberg takes time to describe how followers of Siddhartha Gautama, otherwise know as the Buddha, was transformed from a “spiritual guide with unique insights and wisdom” into a movement that became a major world religion.
- Gautama did not want to be considered as a divine person, in fact, he was actually not interested in discussing the existence of God at all, but many Buddhists today treat the Buddha as deity and worship him as such.
- The belief that Jesus was just a good teacher has been around a long time. Thomas Jefferson notoriously cut up a copy of the New Testament to remove all references to Jesus’ miracles or his divinity. Many people take this approach today.
- Muslims claim he was a great prophet, but assert he would never claim to be the Son of God.
- Jews consider him a great teacher, but certainly NOT the Messiah.
- Even some who profess to be Christians gravitate toward this position—this is a dangerous and slippery slope.
An Explosion of Devotion to Jesus
- The common claim today is that belief in Jesus as a unique, divine person evolved over the first three centuries, not while eyewitnesses were still alive. Yet as it turns out, the best historical scholarship shows that simply is not the case.
- First of all, every New Testament writer refers to Jesus as the “Christ,” or Messiah; they were proclaiming that Jesus was the preeminent Priest-King sent by God to fulfill his promises.
- Second and Third, the earliest and the latest New Testament authors alike use the most exalted titles and divine honors for Jesus; there was consistency.
Here’s the key point to remember: there never was a time when the earliest community of followers of Jesus did not regard him as far, far more than a good teacher.
Just who did Jesus think he was?
- Jesus referred to himself as “the Son of Man” eighty-two times in the four Gospels (even more than the “Christ”).
- This refers back to Daniel 7:13-14, where Daniels foresees “one like a son of man” being given all power and dominion.
Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”
62 “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
- This couples the title, “Son of Man” with the prophecy in Daniel and the frequent occurrences in the New Testament.
- The reaction of the Pharisees confirms Jesus’ claim.
- There are numerous examples of Jesus’ adding to the teaching with “but I say…”
- What’s interesting is that in all these cases Jesus had ample opportunity to clear up any misunderstandings about what he was really saying, but he did not. Instead he reinforced his claim to be the Son of God, true deity, and equal in nature to God the Father.
Evidence that Jesus’ claims are true
- Just what was it the convinced Jesus’ followers he was the Messiah?
- His death, which no one disputes, provides convincing evidence. But it was his resurrection that changed everything.
- Christianity did no begin with a group of people trying to remember and follow Jesus’ teachings, it began with the belief that God resurrected him from the dead.
- Jesus told them in advance that he would die and then be resurrected by God
Reasons for believing the reality of the resurrection
Three facts to conclude that the Resurrection is an actual historical event:
- No responsible historian denies that Jesus died on a Roman cross
- The tomb in which Jesus’ body had been buried was found empty
- People had experiences that thy were convinced were encounters with Jesus
Tips for Talking About This Issue
- Remember that many opinions are based on incomplete information as well as fictional sources such as novels, movies and TV shows. Encourage them to take time to look into these matters, even to read the Gospels as a starting point.
- Beyond the Bible, here are some good books to consider:
- The Case for Christ, Lee Strobel
- The Case for the Real Jesus, Lee Strobel
- More than a Carpenter, Josh and Sean McDowell
- Choosing Your Faith…In a World of Spiritual Options, Mark Mittelberg
- Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ, Robert M. Bowman Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski.
- Remember the Gospels are at the very least a reliable historical record about the life and teachings of Jesus. Our friends can respect and learn from the Gospel report without first having to decide whether the Gospels are the inspired Word of God.
- Even if our friends are skeptical, it’s good to encourage them to keep an open mind and even to approach this with a simple prayer.
- It’s important to remember, and to impress gently upon our friends, that if Jesus is who he claimed to be, then understanding and embracing what he taught is a really big deal.
Questions for discussion
- What did you believe about Jesus as you grew up? Have your views changed? If so, why?
- What is the most convincing evidence for you that Jesus truly is the Son of God, deity incarnate in humanity?
- What are the most serious challenges you’ve heard to the teaching that Jesus really is God in human flesh? What did you do (or can you do) to address those challenges and bolster your own confidence?
- How might your answer to the previous question prepare you to help your friends understand the reality of who Jesus is?
- Imagine you’re in a conversation with a friend who, after some discussion, finally acknowledges that Jesus seems to be more than a man and probably is the Son of God. What could you say next to help your friend take steps toward actually receiving Christ at as his or her own Savior?