The Deity and Authority of Jesus Christ
Orthodox Christianity claims that Jesus of Nazareth was God in human flesh. This doctrine is absolutely essential to true Christianity. If it is true, then Christianity is unique and authoritative. If not, then Christianity does not differ in kind from other religions. This chapter will move from the historical to the theological, from Jesus of Nazareth to Jesus the Son of God.
The basic logic of this apologetic for Christianity is:
- (1) The New Testament is a historically reliable record of the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (see Chapter 16);
- (2) Jesus taught that he was God Incarnate (Chapter 17a);
- (3) Jesus proved to be God Incarnate by fulfilling Old Testament prophecy, by a miraculous life, and by rising from the grave (Chapter 17b). Therefore, Jesus of Nazareth is Deity.
An Examination of the Claims for the Deity of Jesus Christ
We have already shown that the New Testament documents are historically reliable. The New Testament has been confirmed to be accurate not only in its general outline of history but in its specific detail as well. We have noted also that the ear– and eyewitnesses of Christ passed down contemporary accounts of Christ’s words and deeds (Chapter 16).
These words of Jesus were not only memorized but were written down by qualified witnesses (Luke 1:1–3). Furthermore, the New Testament writers made a clear distinction between their words and the words of Jesus (Acts 20:28; I Cor. 7:10, 12; 11:24, 25). Hence, a red–letter edition of the Bible which distinguishes the words of Jesus from those of the authors of the Gospel is a realistic possibility. That is, since there is both proven integrity and accuracy of the New Testament writers, there is consequent historical reliability in their quotations of Jesus.
It is not necessary to assume that the New Testament relates always a word–for–word record of Jesus’ teachings. It will be sufficient to hold that it presents the essence of his teaching on the subject at band. Building on this basis, we will now examine precisely what it was that Jesus claimed with respect to his own origin and nature. Following this we will examine what his most immediate followers taught about his deity.
An Examination of Jesus’ Claims to Be Deity
There are several lines of evidence that prove (whether or not the claim is true) that Jesus did claim to be God. This can be seen from his claims to be the Jehovah of the Old Testament, from his acceptance of the titles of deity, from his messianic claims, from his acceptance of worship, from the implications of many of his actions, from the authority of his commands, and from the reaction of the first century monotheistic Jews to his claims and actions.
Jesus’ Claim to Be Jehovah.
The most forthright claims of Christ to be God are revealed in his identification with the Jehovah of the Old Testament. “Jehovah” (or Yawey) is the spelling given to the tetragrammaton or designation for God (i.e., JHWH, or YHWH) in the Old Testament. This word for God is spelled with all capital letters in the English Old Testament of the King James (1611) and Revised Standard versions (1952), namely, L-O-R-D. The American Standard Version (1901) transliterated it as “Jehovah.” In every case these terms refer to deity.
Unlike the word adonai (usually translated “lord”) which sometimes refers to men (cf. Gen. 18:12) and other times to God, the word LORD (Jehovah) always refers to God. To avoid confusion we will quote here from the ASV Old Testament which uses the term “Jehovah.” For example, “I am Jehovah and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as God Almighty; but by my name Jehovah I was not known to them” (Exod. 6:2, 3). So sacred was this name, JHWH, that devout Jews would not even pronounce it.
Many take the word to mean “underived existence” or “He who is” from the “I AM” of Exodus 3:14, but the meaning of the term is not certain. It is known for sure that Jehovah is the I AM of Exodus 3:14 and that for the Jews he alone is God. Everything else is an idol or false god. Nothing else was to be worshiped or served, nor were sacrifices to be made to them (Exod. 20:5).
Jehovah was a “jealous God” and would not share either his name or his glory with another. Isaiah wrote, “Thus saith Jehovah … I am the first, and I am the last; and besides me there is no God” (44:6). Again, “I am Jehovah, that is my name; and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise unto graven images” (Isa. 42:8; cf. 48:11).
In view of the fact that the Jehovah of the Jewish Old Testament would not give his name, honor, or glory to another, it is little wonder that the words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth drew stones and cries of “blasphemy” from first–century Jews. The very things that the Jehovah of the Old Testament claimed for himself Jesus of Nazareth also claimed, as the following verses reveal: Jesus said “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11), but the Old Testament declared “Jehovah is my shepherd” (Ps. 23:1).
Jesus claimed to be judge of all men and nations (John 5:27 f. and Matt. 25:31 f.) but Joel, quoting Jehovah, wrote: “for there I will sit to judge all the nations round about” (Joel 3:12). Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12) whereas Isaiah says, “Jehovah will be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory” (60:19). Jesus claimed in prayer before the Father to share his eternal glory, saying, “Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made.”
But Isaiah quoted Jehovah vowing, “my glory will I not give to another” (42:8). Jesus spoke of himself as the coming “bridegroom” (Matt. 25:1), which is exactly how Jehovah is depicted in the Old Testament (cf. Isa. 62:5; Hos. 2:16). In the Book of Revelation Jesus is quoted by John as saying, “I am the first and the last” (1:17), which are precisely the words Jehovah used to declare that there was no other God besides himself (Isa. 42:8). The Old Testament declares that “Jehovah is our light” (Ps. 27:1), but Jesus said “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).
Perhaps the strongest and most direct claim of Jesus to be Jehovah occurs in John 8:58 where he said to the Jews, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” The Jews’ reaction left no doubt as to how they understood his claim. They knew he had claimed not only preexistence before Abraham but also equality with God. They promptly picked up stones to stone him (cf. John 8:58 and 10:31–33).
Jesus had clearly claimed to be the “I AM” of Exodus 3:14 that refers to Jehovah alone. The claim was either blasphemy or else an indication of deity. Jesus left no doubt as to which interpretation he wished them to take. This claim to be “I am” is repeated in Mark 14:62 and in John 18:5, 6. In the latter case the effect on those around Christ was dramatic: “they drew back and fell to the ground.”
Jesus’ Claim to Be Equal with God
On numerous occasions Jesus claimed to be equal with God in other ways than assuming the titles of deity. Jesus said to the scribes, “That you may know that the son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins … I say to you [the paralytic], rise, take up your pallet and go home” (Mark 2:10, 11). Jesus had just said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven” (v. 5), to which the outraged scribes retorted, “Why does this man speak thus?
It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (v. 7). Jesus’ claim to be able to forgive sins, the scribes’ understanding of that claim, and Jesus’ healing of the man are all evidence of his authority, and make it clear that Jesus was claiming a power that God alone possessed (cf. Jer. 31:34).
Jesus solemnly claimed another power that God alone possessed, namely, the power to raise and judge the dead: “Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live … and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:25, 29).
Jesus removed all doubt of the intentions of his claim when he added, “For as the Father raised the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will” (v. 21). According to the Old Testament, however, God alone is the giver of life (I Sam. 2:6; Deut. 32:39) and can raise men from the dead (Ps. 2:7).
Hence, in the face of orthodox Jewish belief that God alone could resurrect the dead, Jesus not only boldly proclaimed his ability to bring the dead back but also his right to judge them. The Scriptures, however, reserved for Jehovah the right to judge men (Joel 3:12; Deut. 32:35).
Another way that Jesus made claim to be God was by his statement that all men should “honor the Son, even as they honor the Father,” adding, “he who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father” (John 5:23). In this same category, Jesus exhorted his disciples, “believe in God, believe also in me” (John 14:1). The pretensions of this claim to a monotheistic people were evident. The Jews knew well that no man should claim honor and belief with God. They reacted with stones (John 5:18).
Jesus’ Claim to Be the Messiah-God
The Old Testament foreshadowings of the Messiah also pointed to his deity. Hence, when Jesus claimed to fulfill the Old Testament messianic predictions he thereby also claimed the deity attributed to the Messiah in those passages. For example, the famous Christmas text from Isaiah speaks of the Messiah as the “Mighty God” (9:6). The psalmist wrote of the Messiah, “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever” (from 45:6 A.V., quoted in Heb. 1:8). Psalm 110:1 relates a conversation between the Father and the Son: “Jehovah saith unto my Lord (Adonai), sit thou at my right hand.”
Jesus applied this passage to himself in Matthew 22:43–44. Isaiah the prophet, in a great messianic prophecy, exhorted Israel, “Behold your God” (40:9). Indeed the great messianic passage from Daniel 7:13, quoted by Jesus at his trial before the high priest, is a text implying the deity of the Messiah. In Daniel’s vision, the Son of man (Messiah) is also called the “ancient of days” (7:22), a phrase that is used twice in the same passage to describe God the Father (vv. 9, 13).
When Jesus quoted this passage to the high priest who demanded that Jesus declare whether or not he was Deity, the high priest left no doubt as to how he interpreted Jesus’ claim. “Are you the Christ [Messiah], the Son of the Blessed?” the high priest asked. “And Jesus said, ‘I am; and you will see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.’ ” At this, the high priest tore his garment and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy!” (Mark 14:61–64).
In short, the Old Testament not only predicted the Messiah but also proclaimed him to be God. And when Jesus claimed to be a fulfillment of the Old Testament messianic passages (cf. Luke 24:27, 44; Matt. 26:54), he laid claim to possessing the deity these passages ascribed to the Messiah. Jesus removed all doubts of his intentions by his answer before the high priest at his trial.
Jesus’ Acceptance of Worship
The Old Testament forbids worship of anyone but God (Exod. 20:1–4; Deut. 5:6–9). In the Bible men were not to accept worship (see Acts 14:15) and even angels refused to be worshiped (Rev. 22:8, 9). And yet Jesus received worship on at least nine occasions without rebuking his worshipers. The healed leper worshiped him (Matt. 8:2) and the ruler knelt before him with his petition (Matt. 9:18). After Jesus had stilled the storm, “those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’ “ (Matt. 14:33).
The Canaanite women bowed before Christ in prayer (Matt. 15:25), as did the mother of the sons of Zebedee (Matt. 20:20). Just before Jesus commissioned his followers to disciple all nations, “they worshipped him” (Matt. 28:17). Earlier in the same chapter the women who had just been at the tomb met Jesus “and they came up and took hold of his feet and worshipped him” (v. 9).
Mark writes of the demoniac of the Gerasenes that “when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshipped him” (Mark 5:6) and the blind man said, “ ‘Lord, I believe;’ and he worshipped him” (John 9:38).
Not to rebuke these people who knelt before him, prayed to him, and worshiped him was not only utterly pretentious but it was blasphemous, unless Jesus considered himself to be God. The repetition and the context necessitate the conclusion that Jesus not only accepted but sometimes even elicited worship from the disciples, as he did from Thomas who cried out, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).
The Authority of Jesus’ Commands
Jesus not only accepted the titles and worship due Deity alone but he often placed his words on a par with God’s. “You have heard that it was said to men of old, … But I say unto you …” (Matt. 5:21, 22) is repeated over and over again. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations …” (Matt. 28:18, 19). God had given the Ten Commandments through Moses, but Jesus added, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another” (John 13:34).
Jesus once taught that “till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law” (Matt. 5:18). Later Jesus put his own words on the same level as the Old Testament Law of God, saying, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matt. 24:35). Speaking of those who reject him, Jesus declared, “The word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day” (John 12:48).
In view of his categorical and authoritative pronouncements we are left with but one conclusion: Jesus intended his commands to be on the level with those of God. His words were equally authoritative with God’s words.
Jesus Requested That Men Pray in His Name
Jesus not only asked men to believe in him (John 14:1) and to obey his commandments (John 14:15), but he asked men to pray in his name. “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it,” he said (John 14:13). Again, “if you ask anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:14). Later, Jesus added, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7).
Indeed, Jesus insisted that “no man comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). It is interesting to note in this regard that not only did the disciples of Christ pray in Christ’s name (I Cor. 5:4) but they also prayed to Christ (Acts 7:59). There is no doubt that both Jesus intended and his disciples understood it was Jesus’ name that was to be invoked both before God and as God’s in prayer.
Throughout Jesus’ claims several important points emerge.
First, there is no question that Jesus often accepted and sometimes even encouraged the appellations and attitudes appropriate only for God.
Second, Jesus himself unquestionably affirmed by words and actions these characteristics and prerogatives appropriate only to deity.
Third, the reaction of those around him manifests that they too understood him to be claiming deity. The disciples responded with “you are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16) or “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Unbelievers exclaimed, “Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy!” (Mark 2:7).
When Jesus claimed to be one with the Father, the Jews wanted to stone him, as they said, “for blasphemy; because you, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:33). This they repeated on several occasions (cf. John 5:18; 8:59). The high priest reacted similarly when he heard Christ solemnly swear to his divine origin (Mark 14:62–64). Whatever one may think about the truth or falsity of Christ’s claims, it should be clear to the unbiased observer of the New Testament record that Jesus claimed to be equal to and identical with the Jehovah of the Old Testament.
Some Alleged Counterclaims of Christ
It is sometimes alleged that Jesus denied his equality with God on the basis of the following data:
- Jesus said, “My Father is greater than I” (John 14:28);
- Jesus claimed ignorance of the time of his second coming (Mark 13:32);
- Jesus said that neither he nor anyone else is “good” except God (Mark 10:18);
- Jesus prayed on the cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).
On closer examination, none of these passages is contradictory with Jesus’ evident claims to deity just discussed.
(1) The Father was greater than Jesus in office but not in nature. Jesus claimed equality with God in essence (John 5:18; 10:30); it was only in his function as Son that he was less than the Father.
(2) Jesus was ignorant of the time of his coming again as man, just as he was ignorant of whether the fig tree had fruit (Matt. 21:19). As man Jesus tired, hungered, and thirsted; but as God he never slumbered nor slept (Ps. 121:4). Jesus the person possessed two distinct natures: one divine nature by which he knew all things and one human nature which was finite in knowledge and grew in wisdom (Luke 2:52).
(3) Upon careful examination Jesus did not deny that he was good or that he was God to the rich young ruler. Rather, Jesus said to him in essence, “Do you realize what you are saying? Are you calling me God?” Jesus’ reply left only two alternatives: either he was good and God or else he was bad and merely human.
(4) Jesus’ prayer on the cross does not imply he is not God. There are other examples of God talking to God (or, better, one person of the Godhead speaking to another person of the Godhead). Psalm 110:1 says, “The LORD said unto my Lord, sit thou at my right hand.” Likewise, in the Old Testament, the LORD sometimes speaks to the Angel of the LORD (cf. Zech. 1:12) who also is deity (cf. Exod. 3:2 f.; Judg. 13:15 f.).
These so-called counterclaims for deity turn out to be not only completely congruous with the uniform claim of Christ to be equal with God, but in at least one case a closer examination of them evidences a covert claim to deity.
The Claim of Jesus’ Disciples That He Was God
It is one thing for a first-century Jew to claim to be God, but it is quite another to get other monotheistic Jews to believe it. Both Jesus and the disciples knew the Jewish Shema very well: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Mark 12:29). Paul stated the Jewish belief well when he wrote, “For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth … yet for us there is one God” (I Cor. 8:5, 6).
Both polytheism and idolatry were abhorrent to a Jew, and yet these first-century Jewish disciples of Jesus found it necessary to attribute deity to Jesus of Nazareth in many ways.
Jesus Was Given the Names of Deity
John called Jesus the “first and the last” (Rev. 1:17; 2:8; 22:13), a title which Jehovah had taken to himself in the Old Testament (Isa. 41:4; 44:6; 48:12). Both Jesus and Jehovah are viewed as the author of eternal words (cf. Matt. 24:35 and Isa. 40:8). The psalmist wrote, “Jehovah is my light” (27:1) but John claimed Jesus was “the true light” (John 1:9).
Likewise, “Jehovah is our rock” is a common appellation of God in the Old Testament (see Ps. 18:2; 95:1), but the disciples call Jesus their “rock” (I Cor. 10:4) or “stone” (I Peter 2:6–8). Jehovah was also a husband or “bridegroom” to Israel (Hos. 2:16; Isa. 62:5), which is how the New Testament relates Christ to his church (Eph. 5:28–33; Rev. 21:2). “Jehovah is my shepherd,” David wrote (Ps. 23:1), Peter called Christ “the chief Shepherd” (I Peter 5:4), and the writer of the Hebrews spoke of Christ as “the great shepherd” (13:20).
Whereas the Old Testament speaks of Jehovah as the forgiver of sins (Jer. 31:34; Ps. 130:4), the apostles boldly proclaim that only in Jesus’ name are sins forgiven (Acts 5:31; Col. 3:13). The Old Testament function of “redeemer” (cf. Hos. 13:14; Ps. 130:7) is in the New Testament given over to Christ (Titus 2:13; Rev. 5:9). The same is true of the title “savior” (Isa. 43:3); Jesus is called “the savior of the world” (John 4:42).
The Old Testament Jehovah jealously guarded his glory, declaring, “I am Jehovah, that is my name; my glory I give to no other” (Isa. 42:8), and yet Paul speaks of Jesus as “the Lord of glory” (I Cor. 2:8). The title of “judge” of mankind was reserved for Jehovah in the Old Testament, but the disciples taught that “Jesus Christ … is to judge the living and the dead” (II Tim. 4:1).
Jesus Was Considered to Be the Messiah-God
Many Old Testament messianic passages make it clear that it is Jehovah who is to be the Messiah. Jehovah is called “king” (Zech. 14:9) and it is the “angel of Jehovah” who will redeem them (Isa. 63:9). Jehovah is the “stone” and yet the Messiah is to be the rejected “stone” (Ps. 118:22). The Messiah is spoken of in the Old Testament as “Lord” when it is written, “Jehovah saith unto my Lord” (Ps. 110:1), a passage which the New Testament writers apply to Christ (Acts 2:34, 35). Isaiah provided a messianic challenge to the Jews, saying, “Behold your God!” (40:9).
Indeed, there is no clearer messianic passage on the deity of Christ than Isaiah 9:6: “For unto us a child is born … and his name will be called ‘Wonderful, counsellor. Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ ” With these predictions the New Testament writers concur, declaring Jesus to be “Emmanuel” (which means, God with us) (Matt. 1:23, from Isa. 7:14). In brief, the Old Testament Messiah was Jehovah and the New Testament writers identify Jesus with the Old Testament Messiah.
One often-overlooked passage in Zechariah says literally in the Hebrew text, “When they look on me [Jehovah speaking] whom they have pierced” (12:10). The New Testament writers do not hesitate to apply this twice to Jesus, thereby affirming the identity of the Jehovah pierced and the Jesus crucified (cf. John 19:37; Rev. 1:7).
In his role as Messiah one day “every knee should bow … and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:11). But the passage from which Paul takes this citation declares: “For I am God, and there is no other.… To me every knee shall bow, and every tongue swear” (Isa. 45:22, 23). The implications of this are strong: Jehovah alone is God and to him every knee shall one day bow. But Paul declares that it is Jesus-Jehovah before whom one day all will bow; they will all confess that “Jesus is Lord (Jehovah) to the glory of God.”
Jesus Was Given Powers Possessed Only by God
The disciples of Christ not only gave him the titles of Jehovah or deity but they also attributed to him powers that only God possesses. The New Testament writers declare that Jesus raised the dead (John 5, 11), and yet the Old Testament declares, “Jehovah killeth, and maketh alive” (I Sam. 2:6; cf. Deut. 32:39).
Isaiah pronounced Jehovah as “the everlasting God … the Creator of the ends of the earth” (4:9) and Jeremiah called him the “former of all things” (10:16); the New Testament writers speak of all things being created through Christ (John 1:2; Col. 1:16). Likewise, for the Jews “who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7; cf. Jer. 31:34); and yet without hesitation the New Testament writers attribute this same power to Jesus (Acts 5:31; 13:38). Such an attribution should remove all reasonable doubt as to whether they believed in the deity of Christ.
The Association of Jesus’ Name with God
The Jehovah of the Old Testament jealously guarded his name and glory; it was utter blasphemy to associate any other name with God’s. And yet without hesitation, the disciples used the name of Jesus in prayer (I Cor. 5:4). On occasion they even prayed directly to Jesus (Acts 7:59). Often in prayers or benedictions, Jesus’ name is used alongside of God the Father’s in such phrases as “grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:3; cf. Eph. 1:2).
At other times three names are associated in a “trinitarian” formula, such as the command to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). The same association is made in the apostolic benediction, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (II Cor. 13:14). Such association in a monotheistic context is tantamount to claiming deity for the person so associated with God.
Direct Declarations of Jesus’ Deity
Thomas’s pronouncement “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) is more than an exclamation; properly understood in the context of the fourth Gospel it is the climax of the disciple’s progressive understanding of who Jesus really is. In Colossians Paul forthrightly declares Christ to be the one in whom “the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily” (2:9). In Titus Jesus is called “our great God and Savior” (2:13) and the writer of Hebrews addresses Christ thus: “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever” (1:8).
Paul elsewhere speaks of Christ as the “form of God,” a phrase that obviously means of the essence of God, paralleling the phrase “form of man,” which means the essence of man (Phil. 2:5, 8). A similar phrase “the image of God” is used to portray Christ’s deity in the New Testament (Col. 1:15), meaning in this context not only the representation (as it means elsewhere, cf. Gen. 1:26) but the manifestation of God himself.
Hebrews strengthens this description of Christ’s deity, saying that “he reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power” (1:3).
The prologue of John is unequivocal on the subject of Christ’s deity: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). The absence of the definite article “the” does not indicate that this verse should be translated “the Word was a god.” The grammatical construction without the definite article means “the Word was of the essence of God,” which is a strong way to describe his deity.
The New Testament contains many other intimations of Christ’s deity, the strongest of which are those that relate to his being Creator of all things.
Jesus Was Considered the Creator of the Universe
There is no doubt that the Old Testament presents God alone as Creator of the universe (Gen. 1, Isa. 40, Ps. 8). And when the disciples of Christ declare Jesus to be the One through whom all things were created, the conclusion that they were thereby attributing deity to him is unavoidable. John wrote, “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (1:2). Paul said, “All things were created through him and for him” (Col. 1:16) and then added, “and in him all things hold together” (v. 17).
The context of this passage makes it clear that there are no exceptions; Christ is the Creator of all things including all angels and everything visible or invisible (v. 15). Nowhere is it made more clear that Christ is not a creature—angelic or otherwise—than in the relation of angels to him. Since Christ could not be both the Creator of everything and at the same time a creature himself, it is necessary to conclude that he is himself the uncreated Creator of all creation.1
Jesus Was Obeyed and Worshiped by Angels
Jesus received worship from men on at least nine occasions (cf. Matt. 28:17; John 9:38). This he did without ever rebuking the worshiper, and sometimes he seems to have encouraged it (see p. 333). But what removes any lingering doubt that the disciples of Christ believed that he should be worshiped as God is the fact of angelic worship. Jesus is portrayed as “being far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (Eph. 1:21).
Even the demons submitted to his commands (Matt. 8:32). What is more, angels who themselves refused to be worshiped in the Bible (see Rev. 22:8, 9) are presented as worshiping Christ. In an unmistakably lucid affirmation the Book of Hebrews says, “For to what angel did God ever say, ‘Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee’?” And yet “when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him’ ” (1:5, 6). What could be more emphatic; Christ is not an angel but the unique Son of God, and all the angels must worship him.
Whether this view of Christ is correct or not, there should be no doubt that it is what the disciples of Christ taught. Indeed, as was already shown, it is what Jesus thought of himself. He claimed to be all that God is, and his disciples believed it. As C. S. Lewis pointedly observed, in the context of Christ’s claims we are faced with marked alternatives.
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish things 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 a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell.2
The Substantiation of Christ’s Claims to Be God
It is one thing to claim deity and quite another to have the credentials to support that claim. Christ did both. He offered three unique and miraculous facts as evidence of his claim: the fulfillment of prophecy, a uniquely miraculous life, and the resurrection from the dead. All of these are historically provable and unique to Jesus of Nazareth. We will argue, therefore, that Jesus alone claims to be and proves to be God incarnate.
Jesus’ Unique Fulfillment of Prophecy Is Evidence of His Deity
The logic of the argument here is this: a miracle is an act of God that confirms the truth of God associated with it. The miracles associated with Christ’s claim to be God are acts of God that confirm him to be the Son of God. And in Jesus’ case there is a convergence of three great miraculous happenings—prophecy, his sinless life and miraculous deeds, and his resurrection—that lead forthrightly to the conclusion that he alone is the unique Son of God.
There Were Dozens of Predictive Prophecies About Christ in the Old Testament
It should be obvious to any serious student of the New Testament that not every Old Testament Scripture applied to Christ in the New Testament was necessarily understood in its Old Testament context as a prediction. Prophecies such as those that Jesus would be a “Nazarene” (see Matt. 2:23) or that he would flee to Egypt (Matt. 2:15) undoubtedly fall into this category.
On the other hand, there are many Old Testament prophecies that are best understood as applying to the Messiah; and many of these do not make good sense in any other way. In this latter category we will single out the most significant predictive prophecies which Christ fulfilled.
- The Messiah will be born of a woman (Gen. 3:15; cf. Gal. 4:4).
- He would be born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14; cf. Matt. 1:21 f.).
- He would come some 483 years after 444 B.C. (see Dan. 9:24 f.).3
- He will be of the seed of Abraham (Gen. 12:1–3 and 22:18; cf. Matt. 1:1 and Gal. 3:16).
- He will be of the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10; cf. Luke 3:23, 33; Heb. 7:14).
- He will be of the House of David (II Sam. 7:12 f.; cf. Matt 1:1).
- His birthplace will be Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2; cf. Matt. 2:1; Luke 2:4–7).
- He will be anointed by the Holy Spirit (Isa. 11:2; cf. Matt. 3:16, 17).
- He will be heralded by a messenger of the Lord (Isa. 40:3 and Mal. 3:1; cf.Matt. 3:1, 2).
- He will have a ministry of miracles (Isa. 35:5, 6; cf. Matt. 9:35).
- He will cleanse the temple (Mal. 3:1; cf. Matt. 21:12).
- He will be rejected by his Jewish people (Ps. 118:22; cf. I Peter 2:7).
- He will die a humiliating death (Ps. 22 and Isa. 53; cf. Matt. 27) involving:
- rejection by his own people (Isa. 53:3; cf. John 1:10, 11; 7:5, 48)
- silence before his accusers (Isa. 53:7; cf. Matt. 27:12–19)
- being mocked (Ps. 22:7, 8; cf. Matt. 27:31)
- piercing his hands and feet (Ps. 22:16; cf. Luke 23:33)
- being crucified with thieves (Isa. 53:12; cf. Matt. 17:38)
- praying for his persecutors (Isa. 53:12; cf. Luke 23:34)
- piercing of his side (Zech. 12:10; cf. John 19:34)
- buried in a rich man’s tomb (Isa. 53:9; cf. Matt. 27:57–60)
- casting lots for his garments (Ps. 22:18; cf. John 19:23, 24).
- He will rise from the dead (Ps. 2:7; 16:10; cf. Acts 2:31 and Mark 16:6).
- He will ascend into heaven (Ps. 68:18; cf. Acts 1:9 f.).
- He will sit at the right hand of God (Ps. 110:1; cf. Heb. 1:3).
There are numerous other prophecies about the Messiah that were fulfilled by Jesus but not all of them are clearly predictive. Such include his teaching in parables (Ps. 78:2 and Matt. 13:34), the slaughter of the babies by Herod (Jer. 31:15; cf. Matt. 2:16), his betrayal by Judas (Ps. 41:9; cf. Matt. 10:4), being sold for thirty pieces of silver (Zech. 11:12; cf. Matt. 26:15), being beaten (Isa. 50:6; cf. Matt. 26:67), suffering thirst on the cross (Ps. 69:21; cf. John 19:28), and others. Because these are not clearly predictive in their Old Testament context, we will not use them as part of our argument.
These Old Testament Predictions About Christ Were Made Hundreds of Years in Advance
What is truly amazing about these Old Testament predictions is that there is no way they could be made by “intelligent guesses” or by reading the “trend of the times” or even by “reading minds,” methods used by some present–day forecasters. Even the most liberal critic of the Old Testament admits to the completion of the prophetic books by some four hundred years before Christ and the Book of Daniel by about 167 B.C.4
Although there is good evidence for accepting a more conservative dating view of the eighth century for the earlier prophets and the ninth century for some psalms, let us accept for the sake of argument that these prophecies about Christ came from only the second to the fifth or sixth centuries B.C. What difference does it make if a prophecy is given only two hundred years in advance rather than six hundred years?
Can one with less than divine power make predictions like these four hundred years in advance but not six hundred years ahead? And when there are dozens of these prophecies converging in the lifetime of one man, it becomes nothing less than miraculous.
These Prophecies Were Actually Fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth
This conclusion follows from the facts already established, namely,
- the Old Testament statements about Christ were made hundreds of years before he was born;
- the New Testament is a historically reliable account of Jesus’ life (see Chapter 16);
- the New Testament records these predictions as being fulfilled in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and so forth.
Since the New Testament is historically reliable, we must conclude that all of these things did indeed happen in his life, just as the above-quoted verses indicate they did.
However, the fact that events in the life of Jesus of Nazareth correspond to these predictions does not automatically prove he is the fulfillment of them. There are at least two other possibilities that must be considered:
- they may be merely an accidental concurrence of events in Jesus’ life, or
- Jesus may have deliberately attempted to fake “fulfillment” of them.
Jesus Was Not a Messianic Pretender Deliberately Attempting to “Fulfill” Prophecy
The hypothesis that Jesus was an innocent messianic pretender who deliberately connived to “fulfill” prophecy in his own life has been made popular by Schonfield’s The Passover Plot.5 In the face of the facts, however, this view is nothing but a speculative thesis which knits together the most circumstantial evidence on the loom of the author’s own imagination. There are several factual reasons this hypothesis must be rejected.
First, it does not fit the known character of Christ. He was anything but cunning and deceptive; he was open and honest. Further, such a plot to prove that he was the Messiah would have been anything but “innocent.”6 It would have been a deliberate deception of worldwide–wide messianic importance. The thesis, if proven true, would make Christ out to be a major liar and not even a good man.
Second, the alleged plot to prove Christ was the Messiah does not fit with the facts known about Jesus’ closest disciples. How was it that Jesus could hide from his most intimate friends this intricate plot while allegedly confiding only in the young man, Lazarus, and Joseph of Arimathea? It is implausible that Jesus would pick these men for such a plot to feign death by drugs and pretend to rise again. And the honest character of his disciples is incongruous with the inclusion of them in the alleged plot.
Third, even assuming that Jesus could have cleverly connived this plan concealed from his closest disciples, how then can we explain his sinless and miraculous life (discussed below)? As the Jews said in John 9:16, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs [as opening the eyes of the blind]?” Finally, the messianic–pretender hypothesis is rendered implausible by the nature of many of the prophecies themselves.
There are many prophecies over which Jesus had absolutely no control, including when (Dan. 9), where (Mic. 5:2), how (Isa. 7:14), and from what tribe (Gen. 49:10) or dynasty (II Sam. 7) he would be born. Nor is it plausible to suppose that Jesus could have staged or manipulated the reactions of others to himself, including John’s heralding (Matt. 3), his accuser’s reactions (Matt. 27:12), how the soldiers would cast lots for his garments (John 19:23, 24), and how they would pierce his side with a spear (John 19:34).
Indeed, even Schonfield admits that Jesus’ plot failed when the Romans actually pierced him on the cross. The facts of the matter are that there are many prophecies that Jesus fulfilled over which he had no control and others over which he had virtually no influence. It takes an even bigger miracle to believe that Jesus possessed superhuman manipulative powers to bring about the apparent fulfillment of the Old Testament predictions about the Messiah in his life.
These Prophecies Were Not Accidentally “Fulfilled” in Christ
God makes no mistakes. In a theistic universe where God is in control of the course of events and where God makes predictions hundreds of years in advance about his plan of salvation for the world, an accidental “fulfillment” will not happen. It is virtually inconceivable that God would allow either a total deception in his name or an accidental “fulfillment” in the life of the wrong person. Hence, on the already established grounds that God exists, the chance fulfillment hypothesis is ruled out.
Of course, chance is not ruled out on a strictly logical level but only on moral and theological grounds. It is logically or mathematically possible that all of these prophecies could have converged in the fortuitous events of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. But even here the mathematical odds are staggering. It has been computed by mathematicians that the chances for only 16 prophecies about Christ to come true in Jesus’ life are 1 in 1045.7
For 48 prophecies the chances are an even more amazing 1 in 10157. It is almost impossible to conceive how large a figure this really is. But it is not the logical improbability but the moral impossibility that rules out chance as an explanation. An all–powerful, all–knowing, and all–perfect God will not allow anything to thwart his plans. Predictions made hundreds of years in advance in the name of the true and living theistic God cannot fail.
This God cannot lie and he cannot break a promise (Heb. 6:18), nor is it in accord with his nature that those desiring the truth can be totally deceived (Heb. 11:6; John 7:17).
The Word of God will be fulfilled by an act of God. As the writer of the Hebrews states it, “God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit …” (2:4). If in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, who claimed fulfillment of these predictions about the Messiah made hundreds of years before, there came to pass all that had been prophesied of him, then we must conclude that he indeed is the Messiah.
In short, if Jesus fulfilled the prophecies about the coming Messiah, this fulfillment must be an act of God showing him to be the Son of God.
All of the earmarks of a miracle surround Jesus’ fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.8
- It was an unusual event; the chances were highly improbable;
- it was accompanied by theological truth claims to be the Son of God and the fulfillment of messianic prophecy;
- the event of Christ’s coming brought with it moral good through his teaching, life, and influence;
- the incarnation was not a scientific misfit; it was supernatural but not unnatural.
His miracles not only fit the natural order but they helped the natural order fulfill itself by way of the resurrection. In all these ways the first coming of Christ does indeed qualify as a miracle, that is, as an act of God that confirms the message of God and brings glory to God. And in the case of this particular miracle of the incarnation, it is an act of God that proves Christ to be the unique Son of God. In short, Christ’s claims to be God are confirmed by the miracle of the fulfillment of messianic prophecy in his life and death.
Jesus’ Sinless and Miraculous Life Is Evidence of His Deity
Simply living a sinless life, as difficult as that would be, would not necessarily prove someone is God. However, if someone both claims to be God and offers a sinless life as evidence, that is an entirely different matter. All men are sinners; God knows it and so do we. If a man lives an impeccable life and offers as the truth about himself that he is God incarnated we must at least take his claim seriously. There are some who dare to claim perfection, but few take these claimants seriously, least of all those who know them best.
With Jesus it is quite different; those who knew him best thought the most highly of him. Outsiders cast unsubstantiated allegations at him. “We are not born of fornication [as you were]” (John 8:41), or “he is leading the people astray” (John 7:12). Some even dared to say, “He has a demon, and is mad” (John 10:19). At his “trial” a false accusation brought forth that Jesus had said he would destroy the temple (Mark 14:58), “yet not even so did their testimony agree” (v. 59).
Pilate’s verdict as to Jesus’ alleged crime has been the verdict of history as to his character: “I find no crime in this man” (Luke 23:4). The soldier at the cross exclaimed, “Certainly this man was innocent!” (Luke 23:47) and the dying thief, having earlier derided Christ (Matt. 27:39), came to see that “this man has done nothing wrong” and asked for a place in Jesus’ kingdom (Luke 23:41, 42).
The most significant testimony as to any man’s character comes from those closest to him. From the lips of Jesus’ most intimate friends and disciples who had lived with him for several years at close range came glowing testimonies. Peter called Christ “a lamb without blemish or spot” (I Peter 1:19) and added, “no guile was found on his lips” (2:22). John called him “Jesus Christ the righteous” (I John 2:1; cf. 3:7).
The apostle Paul adds to this testimony the unanimously expressed belief of the first Christians that Jesus “knew no sin” (II Cor. 5:21). And the writer of the Hebrews clearly affirmed that Jesus was tempted like a man “yet without sinning” (4:15). Jesus himself challenged his accusers, saying, “Which of you convicts me of sin?” (John 8:46).
Neither they nor anyone else has successfully pinned a sin on the remarkable and impeccable character of Jesus. This being the case, it is reasonable to conclude that Jesus really was who he claimed to be. For his sinlessness would both testify to the truthfulness of his self–testimony and serve as supporting evidence for it. What mere man can live a consistently sinless life when viewed at such close range?
Jesus’ life was not only sinless but it was miraculous from the beginning. He was born of a virgin (Matt. 1:21 f.; cf. Luke 2:26 f.), he turned water into wine (John 2:7 f.), walked on water (Matt. 14:25), multiplied bread (John 6:11 f.), opened the eyes of the blind (John 9:7 f.), made the lame to walk (Mark 2:3 f.), cast out demons (Mark 3:11 f.), healed the multitudes of all kinds of sicknesses (Matt. 9:35), and even raised the dead to life again on several occasions (see John 4:11).
When asked whether he was the Messiah, he offered his miracles as evidence, saying, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up …” (Matt. 11:4, 5). Miracles of these kinds were accepted by the Jews of Jesus’ day as an evident sign of divine favor on the person performing them. And the special outpouring of messianic miracles was proof that the performer was the Messiah (see Isa. 35:5, 6).
Even the Jews who knew Jesus had healed the blind man asked, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” (John 9:12). The ruler Nicodemus stated the Jewish position well when he acknowledged to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him” (John 3:2). To a first-century monotheistic Jew, miracles such as Christ performed were an obvious indication of divine approval.
But in Christ’s case divine approval is an evidence of Christ’s deity. Just as the voice from heaven at Jesus’ baptism pronounced him to be God’s unique Son (Matt. 3:16, 17), so the outpouring of messianic miracles coupled with the claims of Christ to be Jehovah-Messiah is unmistakable evidence of his true deity. An act of God verifies the message of God given through the one performing the act. And in Christ’s case the message was “I am God; here are the acts of God to prove it.”
Jesus’ Resurrection Is Evidence of His Deity
There is a third miracle or act of God confirming Christ’s claim to deity; it is his resurrection from the dead. This is truly the grand miracle and the greatest of them all. The fact that both the Old Testament and Jesus predicted in advance that he would rise from the dead makes the miracle even that much stronger. Since we have already given the evidence for the reliability of the New Testament eyewitnesses to the events recorded therein (see Chapter 16), it will be necessary here to examine only the testimony itself.
Both Old Testament Prophets and Jesus Predicted the Resurrection
A Jewish monotheist believed that only God can give life (Deut. 32:39; I Sam. 2:6). The Egyptian magicians reduplicated Moses’ wonders until Moses was used of God to turn dust into living gnats, at which miracle they exclaimed, “This is the finger of God” (Exod. 8:19). Only God can create life and only God can bring men back to life, they believed. Hence, in this monotheistic context the most convincing evidence of God is a resurrection from the dead.
What makes Jesus’ resurrection even more amazing is that it was predicted in advance both in the Old Testament and by Jesus. There are two lines of Old Testament argument for the resurrection. First, there are the passages, such as Psalms 2 and 16, that are cited by the New Testament as applying to the resurrection of Christ (cf. Acts 2:27 f. and Heb. 1:5).
It was no doubt passages such as these that Paul used in Jewish synagogues as “he argued with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead” (Acts 17:2, 3). Second, the resurrection of Christ is taught by logical deduction from two Old Testament teachings:
(1) the Messiah will come and die (cf. Isa. 53; Ps. 22) and
(2) the Messiah will have an enduring political reign from Jerusalem (Isa. 9:6; Dan. 2:44; Zech. 13:1 f.). The only way one and the same Messiah can accomplish the actual fulfillment of these two lines of prophecy is by a resurrection from the dead. Jesus died before he could ever begin a reign. Only a resurrection could make the royal prophecies realizable.
On top of these Old Testament predictions of Christ’s resurrection are those he made on several occasions himself. According to John, Jesus predicted his resurrection from his earliest ministry, saying, “Destroy this temple [of my body], and in three days I will raise it up again” (John 2:19, 21). Even in the synoptics Jesus said as early as Matthew 12:40 that “as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
After Peter’s confession Jesus “began to teach them [his disciples] that the Son of man must suffer many things … and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31). Jesus repeated this same prediction again on the way to Jerusalem and the cross (cf. Mark 14:59; Matt. 27:63). Further, Jesus said he would raise himself from the dead. “I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it again” (John 10:18).
Now in view of the prediction of the resurrection, the event is given special confirming significance. Karl Popper argued that whenever a “risky prediction” is fulfilled, it counts as confirmation of the hypothesis which comes with it.9 If so, what could be a riskier prediction than a resurrection; and hence, what could have greater confirmational force than the resurrection of Christ? If a man would not accept a predicted resurrection as evidence of a truth claim, then he has an unfalsifiable bias against the truth (cf. Luke 16:31).
Jesus Actually Died on the Cross and Was Buried in Joseph’s Tomb
Before it can be established that Jesus really rose from the grave it must be established that he actually died. The Koran declares that Jesus did not die on the cross but that he feigned death (Surah IV: 157). Some skeptics have adopted a “swoon theory” wherein Jesus appeared dead but was revived later in the tomb. Along with this can be categorized the “drug” hypothesis that Jesus was only doped and appeared dead but that he recovered later.
Against any such view that Christ did not really die the following evidence can be offered.
(1) Jesus refused to take the common pain–killing drug offered crucifixion victims (Mark 15:23). He was later given only a small nonintoxicating amount of some cheap wine to quench his thirst (Mark 15:36). There is no evidence that Jesus was drugged; both the obvious agony and death cry do not befit a man who is drugged.
(2) The heavy loss of blood indicates Jesus was dead. He had five wounds and was on the cross from nine in the morning (cf. Mark 15:25) until just before sunset (Mark 15:42).
(3) Jesus was heard to have uttered a death cry by those standing by (John 19:30).
(4) When pierced in the side by the soldiers “blood and water” flowed out (John 19:34); and this is an indisputable medical sign of death, indicating that the red and white blood corpuscles had separated.10
(5) The experienced Roman soldiers examined Jesus and pronounced him dead without even breaking his legs to hasten death as was their usual practice (John 19:33).
(6) Jesus was hurriedly embalmed in about one hundred pounds of spices and bandages and laid in a guarded tomb (John 19:39–40). Even if he had resuscitated, he could not have rolled back the heavy stone, overcome the guards, and escaped (Matt. 27:60).
(7) Further, Pilate inquired to make sure that Jesus was dead before he gave the body to Joseph of Arimathea for burial.
(8) After all this, if Jesus were somehow miraculously still alive, his appearances would have been more those of a resuscitated wretch than of a resurrected and triumphant Savior. It would scarcely have transformed the disciples, led to the conversion of thousands a few weeks later, or ultimately turned the world upside down.
(9) The undisturbed appearance of the grave clothes—apparently like an empty cocoon (John 20:7)—is further indication that he was dead. Otherwise, why were the grave clothes undisturbed if there had not been a miraculous rising through them? If it was a mere physical resuscitation or revival of a swooned or drugged body, then Christ would have had to break out of the grave clothes.
But since he simply rose through them, it would indicate that he was really dead and rose to a glorified body that could move through grave clothes as it could walk through closed doors (John 20:19 f.). The cumulative weight of the above evidence, particularly the firm medical evidence of “blood and water,” places the evidence for Christ’s death beyond the shadow of doubt. In fact, there is more evidence that Jesus died than there is that most important people from the ancient world ever lived.
Jesus Bodily Rose from the Dead
There are many alternate explanations for the resurrection of Christ, but none of them satisfy the facts of the case.11 The only reasonable explanation for the missing body, the many appearances, the transformed disciples, and the amazing origin and spread of Christianity is the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from Joseph’s tomb.
- Joseph Did Not Remove the Body
It is unreasonable to suppose that Joseph removed the body of Jesus. When could he have done it? If in the dark with torches, he could have been seen. If in the morning at dawn, the women were already there (Luke 24:1). Further, what motive would Joseph have to remove the body? Certainly this was not to keep the disciples from stealing it, since Luke claims that he himself was a disciple of Christ (Luke 23:50–51). And if he were not a disciple, then he could have produced the body and squelched the false story of the resurrection.
Furthermore, Joseph was a pious man and would not have removed the body on the sabbath (see Luke 23:50–56). And by the next day the guard was placed at the tomb (Matt. 27:62–66). What is more, where could Joseph have taken the body? It was never found despite the fact that almost two months elapsed before the disciples began preaching the resurrection. This was plenty of time to expose the fraud, if it were one.
The truth of the matter is that the character of Joseph, the anxiety of the Jewish leaders, and the inability of anyone to find any corpse of Jesus are strong negative arguments against this hypothesis. On top of this, there is the overwhelming positive evidence of the many resurrection appearances of Christ. If Joseph stole the body, how can some ten different appearances to a total of over five hundred people be explained?
- Roman or Jewish Authorities Did Not Remove the Body of Jesus
The hypothesis that the authorities took the body is completely untenable. If the authorities had the body, they could have easily produced it and disproven the Christian claims. This they would have been more than happy to do, as is evidenced by the manner in which Christians were challenged and persecuted from the very beginning (see Acts 4, 5, 7).
Furthermore, it is ridiculous to suppose that the authorities took the body and then turned around and blamed the disciples for stealing it (Matt. 28:11–15). The fact that the consistent attitude of authorities toward the disciples was one of resistance not refutation is a strong indication of the reality of the resurrection of Christ. Finally, neither does the view that the authorities took the body explain the many unquestioned appearances of Christ to hundreds of disciples.
- The Disciples Did Not Steal the Body of Jesus
The allegation that the disciples stole the body of Christ is a derogation of their character as honest men. It is also inconsistent with their unimaginative minds; they were not clever plotters. Even Schonfield looks to someone else to fit his clever plot thesis. The disciples were fearful men who had fled the scene for fear of being caught (Mark 14:50).
Furthermore, the tomb was heavily guarded (Matt. 27:64). And the story of the guards that the body was stolen is highly implausible, since they were not reprimanded for falling asleep on duty. This hypothesis, if true, would make out the disciples to be the most pious frauds that ever lived. We would have to believe, contrary to psychological fact, that they died for what they knew to be false, and that they were transformed from cowards to courageous men in a few weeks by a deceptive plot that enabled them to turn the known world upside down.
It is hardly more miraculous to believe in the resurrection itself than to believe this highly unlikely hypothesis.
- The Women Did Not Make a Mistake at the Tomb
Some have suggested that the women went to the wrong tomb while it was yet dark and that, seeing it empty, they reported that Jesus had risen. This position, too, is untenable. If it was so dark, why was the gardener already working (John 20:15)? If they went to the wrong tomb, why did not the authorities go to the right tomb, produce the body of Jesus, and disprove the disciples’ claim?
Further, why is it that Peter later made the same “mistake” in broad daylight (John 20:6)? How is it that both the women and Peter saw the empty grave clothes, if they were at the wrong tomb? Finally, how can we account for the numerous subsequent appearances of Christ to others in broad daylight over a forty-day period (Acts 1:3)?
- It Is Not True That the Tomb Was Never Visited
It has been suggested that almost two months went by before the disciples proclaimed the resurrection and that their belief was based on spiritual appearances to them, but that no one ever really visited the tomb to verify a bodily resurrection. This hypothesis is contradicted by a host of facts, most of which have already been discussed.
First of all, the Gospels clearly indicate that several people did visit the tomb at different times (Matt. 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20). Furthermore, the repeated bodily appearances of Christ belie this theory. In addition, if the disciples had not visited the tomb the authorities could have done so and refuted the claim of the resurrection. But instead of refuting it, the authorities resisted it.
Likewise, this theory would not account for the miraculous transformation of the disciples, nor for the conversion of thousands of people in the very city in which it occurred only a few weeks after it occurred (Acts 2:41).
- The Bodily Resurrection of Christ Is Confirmed by Many Proofs
The only plausible explanation of the data available is that Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, really died and was buried for three days in Joseph’s tomb, and miraculously came back to life again, permanently and bodily vacating the tomb.
The physical or bodily nature of the resurrection is proven by the fact that Jesus was “seen” by over five hundred people (I Cor. 15:1 f.), that he claimed to “have flesh and bones” (Luke 24:39), that he ate fish to prove he was physical (Luke 24:42, 43), and that he challenged the doubters to look at his wounds—“handle me, and see” (Luke 24:39).
Doubting Thomas was challenged thus: “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put your hand, and place it in my side” (John 20:27). John, who recorded this event, wrote later of Christ: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, … this life was made manifest …” (I John 1:1, 2).
The repeated contact with the bodily Christ after the resurrection by ear, eye, and touch leaves only one conclusion—they were in physical contact with a bodily resurrected Jesus of Nazareth.
We have already discussed elsewhere the nature and number of the eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ (see Chapter 16). We will simply summarize the evidence here that places the experiences beyond illusion, delusion, and reasonable doubt.
- Jesus was seen by a sufficient number of people—over five hundred (I Cor. 15:5)—to verify the reality of the event;
- this was spread over a sufficiently long period of time—forty days (Acts 1:3)—to prove that it was not an anomalous single occurrence;
- he was seen on a sufficiently large number of different occasions—about ten—to provide ample independent testimony as to his reality;
- Jesus appeared for a sufficiently long enough duration each time to make the identity unquestionable. For instance, he walked and talked with some, eating in their home with them (Luke 24:28 f.); he fished and ate breakfast with others (John 21:1 f.); and he stayed long enough on occasions to teach them concerning the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3), and to perform more indisputable miracles for them (Acts 1:3; cf. John 20:30).
- Finally, the witnesses were sufficiently skeptical of his appearances to eliminate the possibility of hallucination (John 20:25; cf. Matt. 28:17). The nature of such testimony places the reality of Christ’s resurrection beyond reasonable doubt.
Summary and Conclusion
On the basis of the historical reliability of the New Testament, we can be sure that we possess the essence of the teachings of Christ about himself. In view of the messianic prophecies Jesus fulfilled, the titles of deity he applied to himself, and the worship he accepted, as well as the other claims to deity Christ made, we must conclude that Jesus thought of himself as God Incarnate in human form. An examination of his disciples’ beliefs about him reveals that they too taught that he was equal with and identical to God.
Jesus not only claimed deity but he provided a unique and threefold proof that he was truly the person he claimed to be. He miraculously fulfilled dozens of prophecies made hundreds of years before his birth; he lived a sinless and miracle–filled life, and he died and rose triumphantly and bodily out of the grave. This convergence of three lines of the miraculous in one man—Jesus of Nazareth—confirms his claims to be the unique Son of God. Jesus alone claimed and proved to be deity.
We are now in a position to answer another of David Hume’s objections to miracles. Hume argued that all religions present miracles in support of their truth claims; hence, no religion can appeal to miracles since their claims are mutually self-canceling. Now we can see this is not true. Only Christianity has a triune concurrence of unique miracles in the person and claims of Christ.
Hence, we may argue two things: first, only Christianity is true; and second, all other religions (based as they are on similar sub-Christian evidence) are false, since they are mutually self-canceling. This argument for the truth of Christianity will stand unless a similar or unique miraculous concurrence can be historically verified for another religion.
One very important consequence follows from the conclusion that Christ is God, namely, his divine authority. As we will see in the next chapter, whatever Christ taught comes to us as the word of God. And since God cannot lie or teach what is false (Heb. 6:18; John 17:17), it will follow that whatever Jesus taught is true. It is from this point that we will be able to leave the Bible as a historical document which verifies who Jesus claimed and proved to be and show that the Bible is more than a historical document. The Bible is what Jesus taught it to be, namely, the authoritative Word of God.
SELECT READINGS FOR CHAPTER SEVENTEEN
- Anderson, J. N. D. Christianity: The Witness of History.
- Bushnell, Horace. The Supernaturalness of Christ.
- Montgomery, John W. History and Christianity.
- Morison, Frank. Who Moved the Stone?
- Payne, J. Barton. An Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy.
- Stoner, Peter. Science Speaks.
- Tenney, Merrill C. The Reality of the Resurrection.
- Warfield, B. B. The Lord of Glory.
- Yamauchi, Edwin. “Passover Plot or Easter Triumph?”, in Christianity for the Tough-Minded, John W. Montgomery, ed.
1 In view of the clear teaching that Christ is Creator and not creature, the Arian misinterpretations of phrases like Christ is “firstborn” (Col. 1:15) or “beginning” of creation (Rev. 3:14) are wrong. Christ is “firstborn” in the sense of being the unique (not created) Son of God. Christ is first over creation, not first in it. Likewise, Christ is subordinate to God the Father (I Cor. 15:28) as his “head” (I Cor. 11:3) not in nature but in office or function as Son.
2 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, pp. 55, 56.
3 See Harold Hoehner, “Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ: Part II,” in Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 131 (Jan.–March 1974), no. 521, pp. 41–54.
4 See S. R. Driver, An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament, p. 497.
5 H. J. Schonfield, The Passover Plot.
6 For a definitive critique of Schonfield’s The Passover Plot see Edwin M. Yamauchi’s “Passover Plot or Easter Triumph?” in John W. Montgomery, Christianity for the Tough–Minded, pp. 261–71.
7 See Peter W. Stoner, Science Speaks, p. 108.
8 See Chapter 14 for further definition of a miracle.
9 See Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations, p. 36.
10 The medical evidence of Christ’s death has been substantiated by the work of physicians. Compare Dr. Stroud, On the Physiological Cause of Christ’s Death.
11 Many skeptics have become Christians after examining the evidence for the resurrection of Christ. One of the most convincing books by a converted skeptic is that of Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone?