Christianity begins and ends with Christ. Without the absolute authority and deity of Jesus of Nazareth, all other points of faith are useless. Jesus is our rock, our foundation. Upon Him alone shall the church find its vigor (Ephesians 2:20-22.) “If [Christ] is not who He said He was, and if He did not do what He said He had come to do, the foundation is undermined and the whole superstructure will collapse. Take Christ from Christianity and you disembowel it; there is practically nothing left…” (Basic Christianity, Stott, 21.) In our evangelism, this truth will be of absolute importance. Therefore, we must equip ourselves to answer those who deny the deity of Jesus, for if this lesson cannot be established, that lost soul will never be saved. “Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ?... Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:22-23.)
But why can we not have God without Jesus? Why is He so important, and what did He claim to offer us that we cannot find anywhere else? To answer these questions, we will begin a study of the claims of Jesus, and how is deity is established not only in the scriptures, but also in His words and deeds. Over the next few weeks, we will examine Christ’s self-centered teaching, His direct claims, and His indirect claims. I hope that these articles will be beneficial to the diligent Christian, as the struggle for souls is a war that rages every day.
His Self-Centered Teaching
One of the most striking features of the preaching of Jesus Christ is that He constantly talks about Himself. This is not to intimate that His teaching is arrogant, boastful, or suspiciously self-promoting. He did not walk through the wilderness of Judea with the intent of proclaiming earthly superiority or glory, nor did He talk about Himself as being anything but what He truly is – the Son of God. Unlike some teachers who constantly refer to themselves as having all the answers, Jesus defines Himself as being the answer. It is not that Christ knows the truth, but that He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6.) Jesus presents Himself in the Gospels as being the door through which we enter eternal life (John 10:7), yet false teachers of all ages only claimed to know the door. This fact sets Jesus apart from all other religious figures and makes Him truly unique.
The theme of self-centered teaching is central to much of our Lord’s ministry. While it is important to know the ways of righteousness in all aspects life, understanding Christ is essential and cannot be dismissed. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins…” (1 Corinthians 15:3.) The subject that is of utmost importance in our preaching should be Jesus. If we have not made Him our primary focus in life, then we have missed the point behind Christianity. If Christ focused His teaching on Himself, how much more ought we who have benefited from the life, death, and resurrection of our Savior focus our minds on Him?
Christ claims to be the “Bread of life” in John 6:48-51. All who desire to find eternal life must choose to partake of the bread that is Jesus. To eat of this bread is to associate oneself with Jesus Christ. We must claim Him as our Savior, reject Him for no reason, live every moment in self discipline and wholly devote our souls to His service.
“I am the Light of the world; he who shall follow Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12.) Like a beacon of hope on the horizon, Christ set Himself up as the guiding light that leads us safely home. In the midst of a world of darkness and sin, Christ opens our eyes to the path of righteousness. It is interesting to consider that this verse offers a view of the Christian life that most people of the world will never understand. In response to the question of finding true happiness in life, those with an earthly mindset would seek fulfillment in wealth, prestige, honor, beauty, or upward social mobility. Interestingly, Elton John performed a song for Princess Diana, referring to her life as a light. But none of those worldly accomplishments matter, for “the light of life” is not found in any earthly measurement of success, but in humble obedience to Christ. The genuinely bright life – the one that will burn brighter and eternally longer than anything imaginable in this world – is the one that is glorified by the light of the Gospel.
In preaching about Himself, Christ claimed to be a divine witness to His own authority. “Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true; for I know where I came from, and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from, or where I am going… I am He who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness of Me” (John 8:14-18). As equal with God in power, Christ had all the power in the world. All authority had been assigned to Him in Heaven and on the earth (Matthew 28:18) for the purpose of administering salvation to all who would come to Him.
Referring to the prophecies in the Old Testament scriptures, Jesus preached about Himself. He came to fulfill all things, and succeeded in accomplishing everything that was assigned Him by God (John 17:4.) He astounded the people around Him by claiming and completing events predicted by the righteous prophets generations beforehand, such as Isaiah 61:1. In Luke 4, Jesus reads this text and claims, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” That Jesus fulfilled prophecies hundreds of years after their pronouncement is undeniable, even to His enemies.
Jesus Christ’s self-centered teaching makes Him unique. He commanded His disciples to never do the same, for it is only appropriate for God Himself to exert and exude such divine confidence. Christ’s teaching may have been primarily about Himself, but that is only because we need to know everything about Him that we can. His example, His wisdom, His love, His meekness, gentleness, unwavering mercy, relentless zeal for God – all of it is meant to lead us to the good life.
His Direct Claims
“Jesus clearly believed Himself to be the Messiah the Old Testament predicted. He had come to establish the kingdom of God foretold by generations of prophets. It is significant that… His first sentence was, ‘The time has been fulfilled; the kingdom of God has drawn near’” (Basic Christianity, John R.W. Stott, 16.) Claiming to be everything the prophecies promised, Jesus’ ministry is colored by this sense of fulfillment. At every stage of His life, we see examples of this theme, affirming His place as the Promised Messiah. Christ not only claimed to be the Savior, though, but also the “Son of God” (Psalm 2:7.) His relationship to the Father was so unique that it could not be categorized with any human relationship. He claims God as “My Father,” and always places Himself in a different class from everybody else. He tells Mary Magdalene in John 20:17, “I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.” The relationship was so distinctive that no person could claim it.
Jesus claims to be the Son of God in this way even from a very young age. At twelve, having been forgotten by His parents and left in Jerusalem, the boy Jesus is found speaking in the Temple. He states, “Did you not know that I would be in My Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49) Later, He claims that He is one with the Father (John 10:30), and “I am in the Father and the Father in me” (John 14:10-11.) What makes these claims so important is their exclusivity. There is no other person but Jesus who could make such boasts and back them up with proof. He spent His earthly ministry proclaiming Himself as the Son of God, and proved such by the witness of miracles, scriptures, and God Himself (John 5:36-40.)
So close is His correlation to God that the following assertions are true:
à To know Him is to know God (John 8:19, John 14:7)
à To see Him is to see God (John 12:45)
à To believe in Him is to believe in God (John 12:44, John 14:1)
à To receive Him is to receive God (Mark 9:37)
à To hate Him is to hate God (John 15:23)
à To honor Him is to honor God (John 5:23)
One of Jesus’ most memorable claims is found in John 8:51-59. “‘Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he will never see death.’ The Jews said to Him, ‘Now we know that You have a demon Abraham died, and the prophets also; and You say, “If anyone keeps My word, he will never taste of death.” Surely You are not greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets died too; whom do You make Yourself out to be?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, “He is our God”; and you have not come to know Him, but I know Him; and if I say that I do not know Him, I will be a liar like you, but I do know Him and keep His word. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.’ So the Jews said to Him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I AM.’ Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.” The direct claim here is that Jesus is equal with God and had existed before the creation of the world. He very precisely places His deity on the same level as the Father’s. We have other scriptures that back this up, such as John 1:1 and Philippians 2:6, which both claim that Christ was equal with God. “Before Abraham was born, I AM” is a striking phrase, similar to what is found in Revelation 1:8. This shows that in a strictly temporal sense, all things being and end in Christ. It was through Him that the world was created, and it will be by Him that it is destroyed. Before the world was, the Father and the Son preexisted together in a way that is wholly incomprehensible to our earthly minds. We cannot conceive of an existence without time, but Christ’s deity transcends time and space.
The Amazing Attitudes of Jesus
To understand the claims of Christ, we should come to realize what motivated Him. Was it greed? Ambition? Wealth? Power? Pity? Part of what makes Jesus so amazing is the way His attitudes reach a status that is far from that of man’s. He lived His life with complete control of His emotions and thoughts, maintaining only those attitudes that most exemplified His perfect divine nature. No person I know has as much control over his or her attitudes as Jesus, for there is no doubt that every living person has let certain sins pass through his mind from time to time, or made rash judgments, or had thoughts of sin in his heart. Nobody but Jesus has complete control of the mind.
First, Jesus was completely devoid of worldly ambition. Compared to other men, He had no intention of conquering the world (for it is His to begin with [Colossians 1:16]) or becoming any kind of earthly king. “When therefore the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, ‘This is of a truth the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus therefore perceiving that they were intending to take Him by force, to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone” (John 6:14-15). Even when a crown was offered to Him, He rejected it strongly. Alexander the Great and Napoleon could never say the same about themselves. The wealthiest men of the industrial age could not, either. In the same way, worldly ambition has motivated countless individuals – some to be sure are ambitious for good ends, while others diligently seek evil ends. In any case, Jesus had none of these worldly ambitions. He never owned vast tracts of land, or held public office, or campaigned for any political changes. The closest He ever came to a crown was that cursed strand of thorns placed on His head in shame.
Second, Jesus never expressed doubt on any subject. What an amazing attitude that would be today in our society of vacillation and irresolution! The most applauded mindset now is that of the agnostic, who claims that we can know nothing for certain. But this indecisiveness is only abhorrent to Jesus, who never gave in on anything He said – He never restated His sayings to make them softer, nor did He concede for even a moment that His wisdom was faulty. To Christ there were no mysteries, no secrets, no topics too difficult to handle, no problems too convoluted to answer. He spoke as One who possessed all truth (Matthew 7:29). He never needed anything to strengthen His arguments but His own moral standard and His own testimony. There was no appeal to empty human philosophy or science to strengthen His arguments – just the resolute nature of everything He said. No matter how difficult His statements were, He never apologized for them or blushed because of their harshness. Consider, for example, the way Jesus handles Himself as He discusses the difficult concepts in John 6. Of the statement that believers would have to partake of His body and blood, the listeners state, “‘This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?’ But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, ‘Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you should behold the Son of Man ascending where He was before?’” (John 6:60-62) He never backs down from His assertion that His disciples would need to eat His flesh and drink His blood – they, of course, do not understand yet that it is figurative language – and even pushes them further by claiming that He would one day ascend into heaven. Furthermore, throughout Matthew 19-22, Jesus answers every question posed to Him by the crafty Jewish leaders of the day, and that without uncomplicated teaching. Do we approach Biblical ideas in the same way? Do we stand strong for the truth, no matter what others may think?
Finally, Jesus was entirely free from prejudice and hatred. Only the God of this world, the Almighty, and the Creator could have maintained such an even distribution of His love. In spite of the fact that He was surrounded by the Jewish prejudices of the day, He consistently treated all people with love and kindness, offering the truth to all who would listen. He had no aversion to openly discussing concepts with women, even those of the most despised race of the Samaritans (John 4). He often lauded the repentance of the dregs of society, like harlots and tax collectors. He freely taught the Gospel to Gentiles, and even healed many of them miraculously. He commanded His disciples to preach salvation to all people (Matthew 28:18-20), without reference to race, gender, language, or nationality. In Christ, all people become equal, and there is no hatred in the walls of the Lord’s church. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
Christ is our Savior, and He calls to all people. He asks for the obedience of each individual soul, never requiring more than we are capable of accomplishing. If you know that you are sin, then it is time to put it behind you. It is time to stop rebelling against the light; it is time to put away the wickedness of hidden sins, of blatant rebellion, of abusive treatment of weaker individuals. There will be no amnesty for sinners on that great and terrible day of judgment (Matthew 25:46). There will be no mercy for the blasphemer and the cruel false teacher, who leads so many weak souls astray in his apostasy. If you have heard the message this day and believe in it; if you are willing to confess that belief (Romans 10:9-10); if you desire to change your life and “bring forth fruits in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8); and if you will be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins (Mark 16:16); you can be saved this very day.