In our world of independent thought, we are constantly tempted to place our own spin on everything. We want to have our two cents, our say, or our opinion involved in every discussion. What do we think about politics? Society? Taxes? Our jobs? Our homes? New trends? New neighbors? And, is it not safe to say, religion too? What do you think about the Christ? Is He the son of God, or is He a scam artist, a genuinely good man, a proponent of syncretism or “unity in diversity,” or just Satan incarnate?
No matter how one approaches the subject, though, with every shade of difference between them, there are only two views of Jesus that make a difference. The first view maintains that He was just a man, whether that be impostor, fool, or powerful leader in the history of religious-philosophical giants. “He was a great man, truly wonderful, but only a man, a bright and shining light like John the Baptist, a sensitive tender-hearted patriot and martyr like Jeremiah, an intrepid messenger from the courts of Heaven like Elijah, a beautiful Heraclitus or Socrates, a noble Seneca or Epictetus, a Palestinian Confucius or Buddha, very great, very wonderful, but still a man” (The Fundamentals, Jefferson). The second view “is that He was the Son of God and the Savior of the world. It was only by coming and dwelling in flesh among men that God could demonstrate love to them, and by the demonstration of that love win them unto His own heart” (The Deity of Jesus, Kellems, 15).
Just a good man?
“Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question: ‘What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?’ they said to Him, ‘The son of David’” (Matthew 22:41-42). Notice that Jesus is not afraid of confronting the Pharisees. Rather than always letting them come to Him with questions, He decides that it is time to go to them with a question. Of course, the answer that Jesus was looking for would have forced them to admit that He was the Christ, so it is no wonder that they responded by dismissing the Christ as the son of David, and therefore inferior to him.
What we see here in the answer of the Pharisees is the typical mentality of the person who believes that Jesus was a good man and nothing else. Essentially, when the Pharisees call Jesus the son of David, they are elevating him to a certain extent – good enough to be just below David, the greatest king in Israelite history, and a man after God’s own heart. Surely that is good enough, is it not? Surely Jesus should have been satisfied with this response! How many people get to be just a step below one of the greatest men in history? Yet that is what we do to Jesus when we call Him just a good man. Some will admit that His character was unquestionably pure, His morals right, and His work on earth substantial. They relate Jesus to Mother Theresa or the general of the Salvation Army, or a humanitarian. He was, of all men, one of the best, but nothing else. And people respond this way to Jesus because they hope it will release them from obligation to Him. “If I compromise and admit that Jesus was very good, but not the Son of God, then maybe that will be fine with Him.” But that does not work, for Jesus requires much more of us!
“Then how does David, in the Spirit, call Him ‘Lord,’ saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, until I put Your enemies beneath Your feet”’? If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his son?” (22:43-45). We see Jesus using a hermeneutical method of approaching the scriptures called necessary inference. The assumption is based on only one word in the verse, but even on the basis of a single word Jesus believed in the authority of the scriptures. Some people argue that Christians are Bible worshipers, and that we take too much stock in the written Word. But even Jesus Himself considered the Bible carefully and made arguments from seemingly minute details. The point that He is trying to make is that even King David called the Christ “Lord,” so why did the Pharisees refuse to believe in Him? In the same way, when we try to equate Jesus with some of the “good” people throughout history, we undeniably come across some examples who would be mortified to find out they are coupled with Jesus on equal terms. Some say that Jesus was a great man just like one of our country’s Founding Fathers, but most of those men would be appalled at the debasement of the Savior. Some say that Jesus is like Mother Theresa, but she too would have wept at such a pronouncement. So too would David weep if he knew that the Pharisees placed him above the Mighty King!
In any case, the claim that Jesus was just a good man is self-defeating. If He is not the Son of God, and He is a man with no more deity than you or me, then that makes Him a liar – and a very tremendous one at that! What “really good man” is all that good if he spends his entire life lying, deceiving, and deluding others into thinking that he is divine? We are forced to choose, friends. If Jesus is not the Christ, then there is no compromise, no middle ground. He is either the Son of God or He is the most vile, evil scam artist ever!
A scam artist?
Was Jesus the best swindler in the history of mankind? Consider the fact that no other single person aside from Mohammed and Buddha has affected so many billions of people so significantly and so effectively as Jesus of Nazareth. He showed up on the scene, fulfilled prophecies, performed miracles, taught a message to people, and then disappeared, leaving bewildered disciples behind. So was He everything He claimed to be – the giver of life, the Savior – or was He just a good public speaker and a desire for fame and fortune? Those who argue that Jesus was a con artist are basing their arguments on ignorance and nothing else, for there is never any indication in the Bible that Jesus had a desire for money or power. Not to mention that none of Jesus’ detractors were ever able to deride Him based on His moral character. They claimed that He was insane, that He was possessed, and that His disciples were drunk, but they could never question the His genuine belief in the message He was preaching. He always answered His enemies with intelligence, eloquence, and honesty. He never stole from anybody, abused anybody, took advantage of anybody. He was a man of high moral character and it was only because they hated His message that the Jews denied and crucified Him.
If Jesus was just a scam artist, then He displayed none of the qualities of it. 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. He was no Napoleon, Caesar, or Mussolini. “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 could never say the same about himself. 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.
The miracles He performed were not trite little parlor tricks, either. Unlike the scam artists of today, Jesus never had a teleprompter, or a script, or fireworks, a rock band, an expensive white suit, a “1-800” number, or a “free gift” with any donation. He needed no help performing miracles, and He was never exhausted afterward. It was the same Holy Spirit that flowed through the apostles in Acts 3 when they healed the lame man, to which their enemies responded, “For the fact that a noteworthy miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it” (Acts 4:16). There was no question in the minds of Jesus’ enemies that His works were legitimate. He even takes His doubters to task by openly welcoming investigation into His works, saying, “The works which the Father has given to Me to accomplish, the very works that I do, bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me” (John 5:36).
If Jesus was a swindler, then He would have promoted Himself better. But because He was nothing of the sort, He avoided worldly fame and attention to the point that He often commanded the recipients of His miracles to “tell no one.” He does this with the leper of Mark 1:43-44, sternly warning him to tell nobody but the priest at the synagogue.
There are still others who want to believe that Jesus was a great religious thinker and philosopher who taught that all the world should be unified in a happy amalgam of diverse thoughts and opinions. This is called syncretism, which essentially teaches that we are all from the same loving god who has given each of us a path to heaven. We are all going to the same place, but on different courses. It is, therefore, love that bunds us and love that will cover up all of our differences. Was Jesus a syncretic, though? Because this is a mentality that we will encounter more and more as the years go by and it continues to gain headway in mainstream religion. Most notably, adherents to the Baha’i Faith, which teaches that the world needs to be united under one open, diverse religion, will teach this idea strongly.
But this is entirely incongruent with the actual teaching of Jesus, which is hard line and uncompromising. This is why so many have denied Jesus, friends! He does not allow us to argue with Him, compromise with Him, or remain indecisive when it comes to moral decisions. In all of Jesus’ teaching, He emphasized the importance of making firm decisions and the finality of the will of God. Jesus forced people to make up their minds about Him – there was no vacillating with Jesus of Nazareth! Either you accepted what He said or you did not, and He very quickly pronounced judgment against those who denied Him. This may have come as quite a shock to some of His disciples, just as one writer puts it, “His disciples wondered: ‘Why does this whole business about Jesus, His words and deeds, always seem to force people to a cleavage, rather than unite everyone behind Him? Some understand Him and believe; many more do not. It would seem that, since the Kingdom has arrived and the time is fulfilled, the invitation of God should be equally desirable for everyone. Instead, it seems as if He is pushing men to a decisive judgment about Him!’” (Bible Study Textbook: Matthew, Vol. III, Fowler, 120).
Jesus teaches in Matthew 10:34-39 that He would divide families with the sword, the believers and the unbelievers. “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me…” This is not what the syncretic wants to hear! Jesus believes that His Gospel was irreconcilable with other religions, and that when it came to serving Him there would be no half-hearted followers.
Is He the Savior and the Son of God?
So what do you think about the Christ, soul? When compromise is not an option, you must either follow Christ or ignore Him. “He who is not for Me is against Me” (Luke 11:23). If you choose to ride the fence, you are as good as an unbeliever entirely. But if you are convicted, and have considered wisely the evidence of Jesus, then why not confess your belief and take all the steps necessary to be right with God? When asked about what he thinks of the Christ in Matthew 16:15, Peter boldly responds, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”