Where the world comes to study the Bible

Chapter Seven The Most Important Question of All

As we have examined some of the predictions of the Old Testament and their dramatic fulfillment in the New Testament we have been drawing closer to the most important question of all. What is the truth about Jesus Christ? Why should Jesus become a sacrifice for the sins of other men? The Bible says that He was sinless, while all other men are sinners. But what does this mean? In what way was He different from other men? Muslims believe that all the great prophets were protected from sin, and so they do not accept the claim for the unique sinlessness of Jesus.

These are serious matters and we must look to the Bible to discover the truth about them. The subject is really far too extensive to be handled in just a short study. To be fair, when seeking an answer to the mystery of the life of Jesus, we should take time and read the four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—in order to become familiar with the facts. However, even a complete knowledge of the facts will not remove the elements of mystery from our minds. Even the disciples of Jesus, who lived with Him and heard His teaching daily, and watched His miracles, and learned to love Him, were often puzzled by what they saw and heard. Jesus was a man, but He was not like other men! No one, not even His most bitter enemies, ever accused Him of sin. Who among you can prove me guilty of any sin? If I am telling you the truth, why don’t you believe me? (John 8:46). Again Pilate went out and said to the Jewish leaders, “Look, I am bringing him out to you, so that you may know that I find no reason for an accusation against him.” (John 19:4). He taught all His followers to confess their sins, but He never confessed sin Himself. But this did not make Him the kind of smug, self-righteous person who is so obnoxious to others. On the contrary, He was called the “Friend of sinners” They loved Him. People of all classes were attracted to Him, rich and poor, wise and simple, men, women and children. As we read the narrative, we notice that often even the worst of sinners were transformed into good and godly people as they came to know Him.

Then there was the problem of His astonishing authority. He taught with authority. They were amazed at his teaching, because he spoke with authority. . . . They were all amazed and began to say to one another, “What’s happening here? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” (Luke 4:32 and 36). He performed miracles with power. He healed blindness, deafness, dumbness and all kinds of sicknesses. He even raised the dead to life. He had power to cast out evil spirits with a word, without incantations. So a report about him spread throughout Syria. People brought to him all who suffered with various illnesses and afflictions, those who had seizures, paralytics, and those possessed by demons, and he healed them. (Matthew 4:24). He claimed to have the power to forgive sins, and He proved it.

What kind of a person is this? Guessing or debating will not help. Millions of people have done this for centuries and gained nothing by it. We must examine the facts as the Bible reveals them to us. Christians are not philosophers who invent theories about God and about religious problems. Christians accept what God has revealed in the Bible even though they cannot understand everything.

The mystery surrounding the character and the work of Jesus Christ is explained in the Bible by the fact that Jesus Christ was God revealed in human form. Jews, Muslims and many others deny this emphatically. To do so, they have to deny historically established facts. The Jewish leaders could not deny the claims or the power of Jesus but they rejected Him and had Him crucified to get rid of Him. So the chief priests and the Pharisees called the council together and said, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many miraculous signs. If we allow him to go on in this way, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away our sanctuary and our nation.” Then one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is more to your advantage to have one man die for the people than for the whole nation to perish.” (Now he did not say this on his own, but because he was high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the Jewish nation, and not for the Jewish nation only, but to gather together into one the children of God who are scattered.) So from that day they planned together to kill him. (John 11:47-53). Now a large crowd of Judeans learned that Jesus was there, and so they came not only because of him but also to see Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to kill Lazarus too, for on account of him many of the Jewish people from Jerusalem were going away and believing in Jesus. (John 12:9-11). Muslims take the view that the New Testament narratives and the Old Testament prophecies concerning Jesus have been deliberately distorted or invented by evil men. Christians do not deny nor do they reject the truth of the claims of Jesus; they accept them. They cannot explain them, nor can they explain them away, but they accept them as part of the mystery surrounding the Person and work of Christ. Let us face up to these strange claims concerning Jesus Christ. What did He claim about Himself?

1. Jesus claimed that He existed eternally.

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, before Abraham came into existence, I am!” (John 8:58). And now, Father, glorify me at your side with the glory I had with you before the world was created (John 17:5).

2. Jesus claimed to be One with God.

“The Father and I are one” (John 10:30). For this reason the Jewish leaders were trying even harder to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was also calling God his own Father, thus making himself equal with God (John 5:18).

3. Jesus called Himself the “Son of God.”

This was supported by the angel Gabriel. The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). This was admitted even by evil spirits who cried out in fear in His presence. Demons also came out of many, crying out, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them, and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ. (Luke 4:41).

4. Jesus claimed that He came to reveal God.

Jesus replied, “Have I been with you for so long, and you have not known me, Philip? The person who has seen me has seen the Father! How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9).

5. Jesus claimed to have Divine power.

Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20).

6. Jesus claimed to have power to forgive sins.

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven. . . . But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,”—he said to the paralytic—“I tell you, stand up, take your stretcher, and go home.” (Mark 2:5, 10-11).

7. Jesus claimed to be the Final Judge of all men.

Furthermore, the Father does not judge anyone, but has assigned all judgment to the Son (John 5:22). and he has granted the Son authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man (John 5:27).

8. Jesus claimed to have power over life and death.

“I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the one who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned, but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24). “For this is the will of my Father—for everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him to have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40).

9. Jesus claimed the right to accept worship from men.

But she came and bowed down before him and said, “Lord, help me!” “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” he said. “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, your faith is great! Let what you want be done for you.” And her daughter was healed from that hour. (Matthew 15:25-28). Thomas replied to him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

10. Jesus claimed the right to use names for Himself that were used only for God.

This is what the Lord, Israel’s king, says, their protector, the Lord who leads armies: “I am the first and I am the last, there is no God but me” (Isaiah 44:6). When I saw him I fell down at his feet as though I were dead, but he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid! I am the first and the last” (Revelation 1:17).

We could make this list much longer but ten points are adequate. In fact, had Jesus said only one of these ten things, it would be astonishing. In fact it was these very things that did startle and shock His hearers when He said them. There can be no possible doubt that Jesus made these sweeping claims! For us to deny that He ever said them is simply escapism—a refusal to face facts we consider unpleasant. This was why such a storm of argument, debate, and hatred gathered gradually around Jesus until at last the Jews determined to have Him put to death. Of course, if a man of bad character or a man obviously insane had said such things, the people would have ridiculed him or ignored him. But not even His enemies thought Jesus to be evil or insane. Even atheists will usually admit that the character of Jesus was noble and gracious! He is admired as the finest example of love, kindness, compassion, truth, purity and goodness that the world has ever seen. In fact, it was the unique character and the holy life of Jesus, together with the authority of His teaching and the power of His miracles which compelled His followers to believe His extraordinary claims. His disciples lived with Him, heard His teachings, saw His power, and learned to love and trust Him over a period of more than three years. His disciples were Jews who had memorized, as part of their education, those very qualifications of a True Prophet we examined in a previous chapter.

Jesus passed all the tests and proved His claims to be valid. Yet, so astonishing were the facts, even His most intimate disciples did not fully grasp their implications until Jesus was raised from the dead. The facts connected with His death and resurrection, and the confirmation they found of these in the Old Testament predictions, finally convinced them that Jesus was indeed God manifested in human form. The following verses illustrate how the Lord’s apostles expressed their ultimate conviction that His claims to be God in human form were true.

You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross! As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow—in heaven and on earth and under the earth—and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11). These verses teach that Jesus laid aside the attributes of Deity that He might become Man to save us from sin.

He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him—all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers—all things were created through him and for him. He himself is before all things and all things are held together in him. He is the head of the body, the church, as well as the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead, so that he himself may become first in all things. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in the Son and through him to reconcile all things to himself by making peace through the blood of his cross—through him, whether things on earth or things in heaven. (Colossians 1:13-20). These verses show that Jesus, the Son of God, was creator of all, and yet He became the Savior of sinners.

After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world. The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Hebrews 1:1-3). Jesus is here described as being the “representation of his essence” (the original word signifies “character”) of God and that He came as the final messenger to save sinners.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. The Word was with God in the beginning. All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. And the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it. A man came, sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify about the light, so that everyone might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify about the light. The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was created by him, but the world did not recognize him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him. But to all who have received him—those who believe in his name—he has given the right to become God’s children—children not born by human parents or by human desire or a husband’s decision, but by God. Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory—the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father. John testified about him and shouted out, “This one was the one about whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’” For we have all received from his fullness one gracious gift after another. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came about through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known. (John 1:1-18). Jesus was God; He was Creator; He became the Savior.

Many additional verses point to the same essential facts concerning Jesus. Let us summarize these facts. The Old Testament predictions said that the Messiah was God. The New Testament narrative contains His own claims to be God. The apostles believed Jesus to be God. The teachings and the miracles, the life and the character, the death and the resurrection of Jesus all point in the same direction. Jesus Christ was God manifested in human form to save us.

In view of such an array of facts, why do so many people still violently reject this claim? There is a reason for this. If Jesus is “Son of God,” then what about the basic doctrine of the Unity of God, held loyally by Jews and Muslims? Remember, Christians are just as staunchly monotheistic as Jews and Muslims; they firmly believe that God is One. However, they hold also to the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity for God has revealed Himself as One Trinity, Father-Son-Holy Spirit, Three-in-one God. There is a mystery about this concept of God which we shall now try to explain. Christians did not invent this belief nor did they choose it because they thought it was a “better” concept of what God is like! Christians accept the idea of the Trinity because this is the only way to account for the mystery of the Godhead.

The doctrine of the Trinity is not (as some people ignorantly suppose) that God + Jesus + Holy Spirit = three Gods. Such a teaching would indeed be an attack upon the Unity of God. The doctrine of the Trinity is that from all eternity God has existed in a Three-fold Oneness, which owing to the limitations of human thought and language must be described as Father-Son-Spirit = God Almighty. To put it another way, Jews, Muslims and others accept a Unitarian Concept of Absolute Unity, while Christians accept a Trinitarian Concept of Compound Unity. This concept is not as difficult to grasp as it appears. It can be demonstrated by a very simple diagram, as follows:

(One-dimensional unity)

One square
(Two-dimensional unity)

One cube
(Three-dimensional unity)

A cube is obviously three-dimensional, yet it is still one object! This illustration helps us understand the Bible description of an Almighty God who is immeasurably greater than Man, His creature. It is far more satisfying to our faith and our reason to conceive of Him as a Perfect, Infinite Three-in-one Fullness than to conceive of Him as an Abstract Unity. Thus when this Almighty God willed to reveal Himself to sinful mankind, He chose to do so in human form, Jesus (God the Son) revealing God the Father by the power of God the Holy Spirit. Please note that no Christian, anywhere or at any time, has ever believed that the Trinity consists of God—Virgin Mary—Jesus, as many Muslims think!

The Bible does not teach that a person must understand the mystery of the Trinity before he or she can be saved from sin. Jesus plainly taught that no man can possibly understand the mystery of the “Father” and the “Son,” but that when a sinner comes to Jesus Christ in sincere faith, Jesus reveals the truth about the Father to him. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son decides to reveal him (Matthew 11:27).

The apostles also taught in this same practical way. They never attempted to formulate a “doctrine of the Trinity” but they did teach the necessity of knowing God through Jesus Christ. Read the following extracts from their preaching: Peter said to them, “Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far away, as many as the Lord our God will call to himself” (Acts 2:38-39). The God of our forefathers raised up Jesus, whom you seized and killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses of these events, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him (Acts 5:30-32). But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked intently toward heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look!” he said. “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:55-56). Notice how the apostles explained that through personal faith and trust in Jesus as Savior, the Holy Spirit came into their lives, and this made fellowship with God a reality. Or in other words, salvation from sin is the work of One God, who can only be understood fully through the three-fold revelation of His character as Father-Son-Spirit. This truth is not grasped mentally, but it is made real in an experiential oneness with this Almighty loving God and Savior.

Faith in Christ does not create a conflict of loyalties. A pagan might worship three gods who compete for his worship but the Father the Son and the Spirit are not like that. They are one God. Faith in Christ brings us into an experience of living relationship with a God of love and grace who has taken away the barrier of our sin. Faith in Christ brings us into vital union with God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit, the one Eternal God of love and truth.

Jesus said, Now this is eternal life—that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent (John 17:3).

Do you know God, or is He to you the Great Unknowable, Impersonal Creator?

Related Topics: Christology