The Rebuttal Evidence
Many scholars such as those from the Jesus Seminar have said explicitly that they want to rescue the Bible from fundamentalism and free Americans from the ‘naive’ belief that the Jesus of the Bible was the ‘real’ Jesus. They say that the traditional Jesus did not speak to any of the ecological, nuclear, or feminist crisis. This thinking has caused them to believe and even say that we need a new picture of Jesus, one that is relevant for today. One even said, we need a new fiction.’
They say Jesus must be a naturalistic Jesus. In other words, ‘He was an ordinary man like you and me.’ They say, ‘ Maybe he was an extraordinary man, but he was not supernatural. That Jesus and his followers did not see him as God or the Messiah, and didn’t view his death as having any special significance. His crucifixion was unfortunate and untimely, but stories of his resurrection was a way of trying to deal with that reality.’
They rule out the possibility of the supernatural from the beginning, that’s why they get the results they do. One approach taken by naturalistic scholars has been to look for parrells between Jesus and others from ancient history in demonstrating that his claims and deeds were not completely unique. Their goal is to explain away the view that he is one of a kind. Yet, the parallels break down quickly when we look more closely.
For instance, the supernatural life and radical nature of his miracles of Jesus has no parallels in all of Jewish history. We are talking about healing blindness, deafness, leprosy and scoliosis; storms being stopped, people being raised from the dead and many other miracles. The biggest distinction is that he did the miracles on his on authority. This is far beyond any parallels He does give God the Father credit for what he does, but you never find him asking God the Father to do it. Jesus does these miracles in the power of God the Father and they are unparalleled.
History versus Faith
Many people have said that the Jesus whose story is told in the New Testament is not the historical Jesus. They say that historical research cannot possibly discover the real Jesus of faith because he is not rooted in history; therefore he does not symbolize anything. The Nicene Creed does not say, “We wish these things were true.’ It does say that, ‘Jesus Christ was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and the third day he rose from the dead.’
The theological truth is based on historical truth. In Peter’s sermon as recorded in the second chapter of Acts, he stands up, lifts up his voice and reminds the people of Judea and Jerusalem that they were witnesses that all the things that had taken place were not done in secret. He said, “This Jesus hath God raised up, where of we are all witnesses.” Therefore the disciples proclaimed him to be the Son of God.
The Jesus that we talk about is the real Jesus; the historical Jesus as well as the Jesus of faith. This reality causes us to love him. When you love a person, your love goes beyond the facts about that person even though it is rooted in the facts of that person. You can know all the facts about that person and yet not be in love with them. So you see the decision goes beyond the evidence, yet is also based on the evidence. In understanding this premise we realize that having a relationship with Jesus goes far beyond the evidence contained in the historical facts that we know about him and yet it is rooted in those very same facts.
Jesus’ private and public speaking
Jesus did not openly acknowledge himself as God because the Jews of that day had no concept of the Trinity. They only knew the Father, whom they called Yahweh. They did not know of God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. If anyone had said to them I am God, it would have been seen clearly as blasphemy. Therefore, he was careful about what he said publicly. However, when he spoke privately with his disciples that was a different story. Let us look at the relationship he had with his disciples.
Jesus had twelve disciples, yet he was not one of the twelve. He is not part of the group; he is forming the group. In the same way God in creating Israel set up the twelve tribes of Israel, yet he was not part of the group. While Jesus’ relationships one window into his self-understanding; his deeds and miracles offer other insights. He was not like other miracle workers who did amazing things and life moved on as it always had. Jesus’ miracles were a sign of the coming of the Kingdom of God. He said, ‘If I, by the finger of God, cast out demons, then you will know that the Kingdom of God is at hand; that’s what sets Jesus apart from all the rest. He does not see himself as a miracle worker. He sees himself as the one through whom and in whom the promises of God will come to pass.
Here is someone who considered himself to be and to have authority above and beyond that of the Old Testament prophets. He believed that he not only possess divine inspiration, but also the power of direct divine utterance. He introduced the phrase “Abba” when speaking of God the Father. Abba signifies an intimate relationship. It is a personal term that a child would use with a parent. The significance of the term is that Jesus uses it to initiate an intimate relationship that beforehand was unavailable. This leads to the question, “What kind of man can change the terms of relating to God and form a new covenant relationship with God?”
His doing this implies that he had a relationship with God that was unheard of in the Judaism of that time. Jesus is saying that it is only through him that this kind of relationship with the Father is possible. When we assemble the clues from Jesus’ relationships, miracles and words we gain a clearer understanding of his perception of himself as his identity comes into sharp focus. There is ample evidence to conclude that he thought of himself in unique and supreme terms.
John’s portrait of Jesus
As we begin to read the gospel of John, we find that he uses superlative and unambiguous language to assert Jesus’ deity. He says, ” In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.” And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”
I believe that Jesus would have no qualms concerning how John portrays and identifies him in this passage of scripture. I also believe that when dealing with the gospel of John, we are dealing with what is a logical picture of what is implicit in understanding the historical Jesus.
Church historian, Jaroslav Pelikan has pointed out that the oldest Christian sermon, the oldest account of a Christian martyr, the oldest pagan report of the church, and the oldest liturgical prayer recorded in 1 Corinthians 16:22, all refer to Jesus as Lord and God. Pelikan said, “Clearly, it was the message of what the church believed and taught that ‘God’ was an appropriate name for Jesus Christ.”
If there were no gospel of John and you read the synoptic gospels, you would still come to this same conclusion. This Jesus, the historical Jesus is also the living Lord. He is still alive and the others are long gone. Here is a man who thought of himself as the Son of God in a unique way and claimed to act and speak with divine authority. He held himself to be a worker of miracles. Here is a man who believed that people’s eternal destiny hinged on whether or not they believed in him.
The evidence for concluding that Jesus intended to stand in the very place of God is ‘absolutely convincing.
The Psychological Evidence
Psychologists don’t just look at what a person says. They look at a person’s emotions to determine if there is any mental deficiency. Deluded people will have misperceptions. They misperceive the actions of other people and accuse them of doing things that they have no intention of ever doing. They get ticked off for no perceivable reason. They are many times out of contact with reality.
In reviewing Jesus: He never showed any inappropriate emotions. He cried at the death of his friend Lazarus, he had a healthy anger at people who were taking advantage of the disadvantaged.
This was appropriate and a righteous reaction against injustice and the blatant mistreatment of people. He was brilliant; he spoke clearly, powerfully and with great eloquence. He had deep and long lasting relationships with people from all walks of life. He loved people, yet he didn’t let his compassion incapacitate him. He always knew what he was doing and where he was going. He maintained his balance and stayed on an even keel even though his lifestyle was demanding.
Even though many Jews thought he was demon possessed and insane as recorded in John 10:20, they were reacting because what Jesus did and the assertions that he made about himself were so far from what they were used to that this is how they viewed him, not because he was truly mentally unbalanced. At the same time others challenged their comments with questions such as, “These are not the words of him that hath a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?” You see, Jesus wasn’t making unsubstantiated claims about himself; he was backing them up with miracles.
Jesus didn’t just claim to be God, he backed it up with astounding demonstrations of power over nature in the quelling of the storm, in amazing healings, with divine insights into people and finally with his own resurrection from the dead. I believe that when Jesus claimed to be God, it was the truth. If it had not been true the Pharisees and Roman authorities would have gladly produced his body if it had remained in the tomb. Since they didn’t, it proves to us that the tomb was empty. It is one thing to claim divinity; it is altogether different to embody all the attributes that make God, God.
Other than an empty grave
There have been speculations that Mary and the disciples went to the wrong grave on the morning of the Resurrection, that they had stolen Jesus’ body so that it would appear that he had risen from the dead as he said he would, that he had not really died but went into a swooning state in which he had appeared to die but was later revived and on and on… Yet his body was placed in the borrowed tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, surely Joseph knew where his own tomb was located.
As far as the stolen body theory goes, the High Priest and the Pharisees had Pontius Pilate place a Roman guard at the opening of the tomb so that it could not be disturbed. No human could have gotten past that watch. Then there is the swooning theory, which does not take into account that a Roman soldier pierced Jesus in his side and water and blood ran down. This alone proves that he was dead.
Eyewitnesses to the Resurrected Jesus
Jesus in his omniscience knew that even in his death and resurrection there would be some who would not believe. A case in point is that of the Apostle Thomas who would not believe unless he could place his finger in the holes in the resurrected Jesus’ hands and thrust his hand into his side. Thomas in answering Jesus as recorded in John 20:28 said, “My Lord and My God.” Thus even an unbelieving Thomas was convinced that Jesus has indeed risen from the dead.
There were over five hundred other witnesses who saw, spoke with and even ate with Jesus following his resurrection. A well-known incident recorded in the scripture is that of the two disciples traveling on the road to Emmaus when all of these things occurred.
After reviewing all the evidence concerning Jesus and his being God, I have come to the same conclusion that I reached some forty-seven years ago – that Jesus is who he says he is, the one and only begotten Son of God. The weight of this historical as well as spiritual truth is such that it compels the unsaved to not only believe, but also receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
The one thing that has stuck with me most during the writing of this paper is the understanding that if one is to be a good counselor, he must believe in his client; at the same time the client must have confidence in his advocate. Jesus has been my Advocate all these many years and now I’m more confident in him than I’ve ever been.