History reveals that Jesus was arrested, flogged, and crucified by Pontius Pilate, the Roman Prefect of Judaea serving under the Emperor Tiberius. Depending upon the historical documents reviewed, you will deduce that Jesus was executed for one reason or another. The four New Testament accounts of the life and death of Jesus agree that he was killed due to being falsely accused of blasphemy by the Jewish religious leaders who then reported to the Roman authorities that Jesus was leading a revolt of some sort. Christians believe that Jesus was God in human flesh and that He willingly allowed Himself to be executed as a means for mankind to be reconciled to God.
Whatever version of accounts a person chooses to believe has to take into account the historical fact that Jesus was killed for some reason. The Jewish religious leaders, nor the Roman government would have executed a “good moral teacher,” without some sort of provocation. The Jews must have thought Jesus claimed something of Himself beyond what a “good moral teacher,” or simple Rabbi would have said. The Romans must have believed or been told something else as well. What makes the most sense? What did Jesus claim for Himself? Who did He say that He was? There are a number of places in the New Testament documents where Jesus made explicit claims as to His identity.
John 10:28-30 “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”
Mark 2:5-11 Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.” But some of the teachers of religious law who were sitting there thought to themselves, “What is he saying? This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!”
Jesus knew immediately what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you question this in your hearts? Is it easier to say to the paralyzed man ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk’? So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”
The Jewish religious leaders knew what Jesus was claiming when He told the man that his sins were forgiven. Jesus didn't deny it. He didn't say, “No, I didn't mean it that way. What I was saying was...” Instead, He was even more emphatic, saying that as only God could forgive sin, likewise, only God could heal a paralyzed man. He then told them in essence, “I am God! I can heal and I can forgive.”
Jesus also claimed that He was the Good Shepherd, and that His Father commanded Him to give His life for His sheep. He claimed the ability to give up His life and to take it back again.
“The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” John 10:17-18
There are a number of additional passages where Jesus claimed to be God. There are many where He described Himself as “The Son of Man.” As opposed to this being a a mere expression for Jesus humanity, it is actually an exalted title for the coming Savior, or Messiah referred to by the prophet Daniel (Daniel 7) some 600 years before Christ.
Perhaps the most striking claim to me is found in John chapter 8, when Jesus uses the name God called Himself when speaking to Moses in Exodus 3. Moses asks what to tell Pharaoh when asked Who sent him to bring the Israelites out of from their captivity in Egypt.
God replied to Moses, "I Am Who I Am. Say this to the people of Israel: I Am has sent me to you." Exodus 3:14
In an interaction with the Jewish religious leaders, Jesus tells them,
“Your father Abraham rejoiced as he looked forward to my coming. He saw it and was glad.” The people said, “You aren’t even fifty years old. How can you say you have seen Abraham?” Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I am!” At that point they picked up stones to throw at him. But Jesus was hidden from them and left the Temple.
Again, the Jews weren't confused about what Jesus was claiming. They knew exactly what He was saying, and Who He was claiming to be. That's why they picked up stones to try to execute Him. It seems that He must've determined that it wasn't yet time for Him to die. So, whether naturally, or supernaturally, He hid Himself from them.
My intent in today's post is to make it clear that Jesus knew His identity and made it clear. It was for His claimed identity that He was executed. Nothing else makes much sense in my opinion. It is clear that He claimed to be God. What did His other words and deeds reveal about His identity? We will further explore these clues as to the identity of Jesus next time.
When you boil everything down to the essential elements, you are left with the person of Jesus. Who was He? His human life on earth spanned a mere 30-ish years, and yet the impact of that short time on our planet has been without parallel in human history. Why? What was it about Jesus that caused such a stir? As C.S. Lewis famously wrote,
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. . . . Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God. (Mere Christianity, 55-56)
Lewis clearly elucidates the dilemma faced by those trying to figure out, “Who was this Jesus?” We are left with what was termed thetrilemma,by a 19thcentury preacher named John Duncan.
1. Jesus intentionally deceived humanity by conscious fraud.
2. Jesus was, himself, deluded or deceived.
3. Jesus was Divine.
Another possibility exists. There is the possibility that the Jesus we read about in the Biblical narratives are legendary or “made up,” by the writers. When examining the 4 Biblical narratives describing the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we read incredible accounts of things that surely include things that are unusual and hard to believe. However, these accounts also contain things that are messy and don't seem like things that someone trying to create a character would include. For example:
So, we come back to the question of Jesus' identity and it seems that the trilemma gives us our only choices.
Let me know your thoughts.
Each day we go into the world with the opportunity to make an impact. Each person whose paths cross ours matters. Lives intersect for a reason. I believe there is One who directs our steps to these sometimes seemingly random meetings. My goal for these encounters is that I make a difference. That is my desire for those who venture across my blog. I hope you are blessed and it makes a difference for you.