Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is Jesus God?

There are only four options for the identity of Jesus Christ. He is either a legend, a liar, a lunatic or He is Lord and God. There is little likelihod that Jesus's claims are legend. There just wasn't enough time for any legendary development of the story to replace what really happened. Also, if the claims Jesus made for Himself are legendary, the early Jewish opponents of Christianity would surely have charged that these claims never happened. Unlike modern skeptics, the rabbis apparently never denied that Jesus made such claims for Himself. Instead, they called Him a liar.

Jesus thought of Himself as divine. According to the various gospel accounts, Jesus believed He had the power to perform miracles and the power to forgive sins. He even claimed, "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30)

Since Jesus claimed to be God, His claims are either true or false. If false, He must have been a liar, deliberately misleading the multitudes. Or, He was a lunatic, sincerely believing Himself to be God, when in reality He was just a man.

Jesus' moral character and His willingness to die for His claim to be God have convinced most people that Jesus was not lying. Jesus' humility and unselfish love, His intelligent communication with the crowds, and His amazing self control and composure amidst the tremendous physical and emotional stress of His betrayal and crucifixion, all point to His contact with reality. Jesus was no lunatic.

Since the evidence shows that He is neither a liar nor a lunatic, then the only other alternative left is that His claim is true. Jesus is Lord and God. And that conclusion is further supported by the remarkable evidence that Jesus rose physically from the grave.

THE PERSON OF CHRIST.
Prof: L.T. JEYACHANDRAN.

We cannot truly appreciate the difficulty in accepting the claim of full Deity for the Person of Christ unless we take the standpoint of the first century Jew. As those brought up in a Christian environment, we think it very strange that Jews (and Muslims) should find it difficult to accept that Jesus Christ is God. We also need to face up to the fact that Jesus is never reported in the gospels as saying, "Hello! I am God!" It is necessary for us to realise that it would be ridiculous to expect to find such an explicit claim to Christ's Deity in the New Testament. There are several reasons for this which would concern us in this essay in which I go beyond what I sought to present in TFT-4.

The statement of Scripture the average Jewish young man or woman was brought up on was Deut.6:4: "Hear O Israel! The LORD our God, the LORD is One". It is in the light of this overwhelming assertion of Jewish monotheism that a claim to divinity by any Jew is to be viewed. What an astonishment it must have caused in the minds of His audience when this Jew Who came 1500 years after Moses claimed (even if indirectly) that He was of the same essence as Jehovah! Jesus, however, delighted more in calling Himself as 'the Son of Man' although it is John who, more than the other evangelists dared to call Him 'the Son of God'. To be sure, the title 'Son of Man' carried with it the overtones of divinity although distinct from God as seen Dan. 7:13,14. As we would have occasion to eventually study, Jesus emphasised His humanity (by the use of this title) as that was more descriptive of the work He had come to complete. But we need to recognise that His work also necessitated His being God. If He had been only human, even His human functions could not have had such eternal implications.

There are many Old Testament prophecies which would indicate that the Messiah in some mysterious way would be both human and divine. We need to be eternally grateful to the ancient Jewish scribes who faithfully copied for us all passages of their scriptures even though they appeared to speak somewhat ambivalently about the strange personage who would be the Messiah. Isaiah would call the future King of the Jews, 'God with us' (7:14) as well as the 'Everlasting Father' (9:6). But it was this same Person Who would be 'despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering' (53:3).

When Jesus challenged the Jews with the paradox of the Messiah being human (son of David) and divine (being addressed as LORD by the same David) (Matt.22:41-45), they were left speechless. Their (and the Muslim's) theology of monotheism did not make room for the possibility that there could be a Person in whom both divinity and humanity could combine without any contradiction. If you had been one of the disciples of Jesus in the first century, you would have struggled with this issue as well. At the same time, you would have had 4 major reasons why you could not have come to any other conclusion than that He was indeed what He claimed to be: God. I list these reasons below for your consideration:

1. His exercise of certain kinds of authority,
2. His self-exclusion from others in a certain kind of way,
3. His rare but unmistakable direct claims,and
4. His resurrection.

We shall look at each one of these aspects in turn.

1. (i) Jesus forgave sins (Mk.2:5-7), a prerogative clearly understood by the Jews to belong only to God. Any usurpation of this authority was tantamount to blasphemy. One needs to appreciate the fact that a Jew was theologically sensitive enough to know blasphemy from rhetorical exaggeration. We see the same expression of surprise at His authoritative teaching (Matt.7:28,29). Even the temple guards feared to apprehend Him citing the unique timbre of His didache (Jn.7:46) - "The most astonishing excuse ever given by a police force for failing to carry out an arrest!" as Archbishop Marcus Loane put it!

(ii) Jesus exercised power over nature (Mk.4: 39-41). To the Jew, God was the Creator of nature (Gen.1) and He alone was able to subdue it. From the Indian context, it would be good for us to appreciate the fact that the Jew never deified nature to worship it! Nor would he have agreed with the philosophy of the pantheistic green earth movement that we were so one with nature in its divinity that in order to prevent the cutting of a tree, we had to embrace it and express our solidarity with it! The Jew knew that the Creator was distinct from His creation and was well able to exercise His authority over it. The KJV (v.41) rightly expresses the consternation of the disciples - "What manner of man is this..?"

(iii) Jesus accepted worship from others Matt.14:33; Lk.24:52), again unthinkable in the Jewish context. The typical Jewish reaction to worship by fellow-humans can be seen in the attitudes of Peter, Barnabas and Paul in Acts 10:25,26 and 14:14,15. Even angels refused worship from men (Rev.19:10) as that was due to God alone. Jesus, however, had no qualms of conscience when Thomas acknowledged His deity: "My Lord and my God!" (Jn.20:28).

(iv) In Mk.5:6,7, we read that a demon, when commanded by Jesus to come out of a man, acknowledged Jesus to be the 'Son of the Most High God'. Jews clearly recognised evil spirits to be powerful supranatural beings and their confession as to Jesus' deity needed to be taken seriously.

2. What is often neglected in a casual reading of the Gospels is the fact Jesus distanced Himself from other humans in significant ways. The commonly called 'Lord's Prayer' was not, in a very important sense, His prayer at all. Note the introduction to this prayer in Matt.6:9a and Lk.11:2. He told the disciples to pray in this way - "When you pray, say:" He did not say, "Let us pray"! Obviously one sentence in that prayer could not have applied to Him under any condition: "Forgive us our sins..." Did He not challenge His detractors to prove Him guilty of any sin (Jn.8:46)?

Did you notice that in Jn.13:14, Jesus did not ask the disciples to wash His feet although, in a physical sense, His feet must have been as dirty as theirs? Did not this self-exclusion indicate that the foot-washing was a spiritual ministry (Jn.13:8b) of which He stood in no need?

While talking to Mary Magdalene after the resurrection (Jn.20:17) He makes a distinction between His relationship with God and hers - "...to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God"! This is also borne out by a great deal of references in the synoptic gospels to 'My Father' (sometimes in contradistinction to 'your Father' as between Matt.10:29 and 10:32).

When He was addressed as 'Good Teacher!' by the rich young man, Jesus did not directly decline the ascription. Instead, He asked a leading question which would have made any sensitive hearer think, "Is He implying that the adjective in fact rightly applies to Him although the questioner is unaware of it?!" (Mk.10:17,18).

3. Some of the more important of His direct claims have been recorded by John. (In TFT-9, I had suggested that the mystery of the Trinity seemed to have been recognised more by John than the other evangelists. We will return to this point later in this essay.) In 10:30, Jesus claims oneness with the Father. Significantly, John uses the neuter (in the Gk.) rather than the masculine gender for the word one. What is sought to be brought out by this device was that Jesus was not the same Person as the Father but was one in essence with Him. John, in fact had prefaced his Gospel with the full divinity of the Word Who, however, was in some mysterious way also distinct from God (Jn.1:1).

4. The most powerful claim to deity that Christ makes is by the fact that He rose from the dead. The facts regarding the last days and moments of Jesus' life have been recorded by all the evangelists. The reality that the gospels were recorded by them from differing perspectives only confirms the genuineness of the records.(Identical accounts would suggest collusion of witnesses.) The apparent contradictions can be satisfactorily resolved from legal and evidential perspectives as with cases in courts.

The facts which emerge from these documents and which are material to our discussion in this context are

[a] that Jesus really died,
[b] that He was really buried according to Jewish customs,
[c] that the tomb was found empty on the following Sunday with the stone at the mouth rolled away and the grave clothes lying undisturbed, and
[d] that He appeared to people at various times thereafter.

[a] The record of John about the soldier piercing the side of Jesus and the coagulated blood and plasma flowing out should be taken seriously (19:34). Apart from the fact that John was an eyewitness to the death, we need to reckon with the ability of a Roman soldier to distinguish the living from the dead! In v.33, John makes the further observation that Jesus' legs were not broken only because the soldier was sure that death had supervened.

[b] All the four evangelists record the burial with Matthew making the further observation about the posting of the Roman guard. It has sometimes been suggested that the women were mistaken about the tomb when they returned on the Sunday morning. The suggestion itself is preposterous taking into consideration their devotion to Jesus and the care with which they noted where Jesus was buried (Matt.27:61; Mk.15:47; Lk.23:55).

[c] All the evangelists agree that the stone was found rolled away and the tomb was empty. It may interest us to keep in mind that in Jewish male-dominated society, women-witnesses were considered a legal embarrassment. The honesty of the evangelists comes through clearly in their unanimous record in this respect and their disavowal to make any emendation to their account so that it would be socially more acceptable. Peter and John make their way to the tomb to verify Mary's story but are stunned by the evidence into belief (Jn.20:5-8)! It is of much theological interest to contrast the details accompanying the resurrection of Jesus with those at the resuscitation of Lazarus (Jn.11:39,44). In the latter case, the grave-stone had to be rolled away and the man literally loosed from the linen strips which so tightly bound him. In the case of Jesus, however, His glorified body could materialise through the clothes and the stone, leaving them mute witnesses to the most momentous event in the history of the universe! Jesus thus is seen to come into a new quality of life which can only be described as physico-spiritual.

[d] Paul would also rule out the possibility of hallucination on the part of the witnesses by citing several unconnected post-resurrection appearances (I Cor.15:4-8). It would have meant no great effort to the Romans to have located the body if the disciples had indeed stolen it. It is also important that in all the insinuation and persecution that follow the preaching of the gospel, there is never a hint of a suggestion that the apostles were preaching a lie regarding the resurrection! No wonder Paul could conclude that the resurrection confirmed the belief that Jesus was indeed the Son of God (Rom.1:4).

What shall we say about the Person of Christ in the light of these startling facts? Pressed with the reality of the claims and works of Jesus, we are forced to reevaluate the last discourse of Jesus recorded by John as it pertains to the Trinity (chs.14-17). There is the unmistakable distinction in the Personalities of the Son and the Father while maintaining the equality of the Son with the Father. The Person of the Holy Spirit is introduced as proceeding from the Father in the Name of the Son (14:26) and is obviously co-equal with Them. But, as I have pointed out in TFT-9 (p.3), the Three Members of the Trinity are known by Their unique Self-effacement. This relationality is part of the ontological interdependence and reciprocity of the Three Persons of the Trinity: how They were only what They were by virtue of Their interrelation and interanimation, so that for God to be did not involve an absolute simplicity but a Unity deriving from a dynamic Plurality of Persons (Colin E.Gunton, The One, the Three and the Many, Cambridge University Press, 1998 reprint, p.152). It is difficult to separate the Oneness of the Being of God from the Three-ness of the Personalities of the Godhead. It would appear to follow that in eternity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit share a dynamic mutual reciprocity, interpenetration and interanimation, a patristic concept termed perichoresis (Ibid., p.163). As Gregory of Nazianzus put it, "No sooner do I conceive of the One than I am illumined by the splendour of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish Them than I am carried back to the One." (Quoted in ibid.,p.149). Jesus' claim to full deity (cf. Col.2:9) stands validated only because of Plurality within the Godhead. In other words, the Incarnation would not have been theologically and actually possible if God were not a Trinity!

The other Judaeo-Christian doctrine underlying the Incarnation concerns the constitution of the human race. We were made in the image of God - significantly, Gen.1:26 (Let Us..........and let them...) speaks of plurality and relationality as part of the imago Dei) - and therefore are a subset of God. God the Son could therefore lay aside voluntarily His additional dimensions in order to become human (Phil.2:6,7). The contrast between the Incarnation of Jesus and the stories in many of the world's cultures and traditions of gods becoming human or animal (e.g. avatars) is striking. (See allusions to this in TFT-4, p.1, col.1 and TFT-5, p.4, col.1). Jesus' full deity and full humanity can be combined without philosophical contradiction because the two entities are not mutually exclusive - God could become Man without, in essence, ceasing to be God. It would not be like a mixture of calcium and magnesium which, though similar in some ways are mutually exclusive in their chemistry!

Seriously, these two doctrines are contained in nascent form in the first chapter of the Jewish (and the Christian) Bible. The real communication involved in the creative act presupposes a plurality in the Persons of the Godhead. Similarly, the crowning aspect of creation is that of Godlike beings - humankind. Shorn of these cardinal inputs, Islam comes to tragically mistake the Person of Christ. The case of the Jew is more poignant - although he had these doctrines in his Bible, he was unable to recognise the One in Whom alone they became empirically understandable. What of us Christians? What should be our response? Worship, of course - in the words of Graham Kendrick:

Meekness and majesty, manhood and deity
In perfect harmony, the Man Who is God;
Lord of eternity, dwells in humanity,
Kneels in humility and washes our feet!

O what a mystery!
Meekness and majesty - Bow down and worship
For this is your God!

- L.T. JEYACHANDRAN
Director (Ministries)
RZIM-Life Focus Society.

1 Is Jesus God?
2 Can Christianity be proved?
3 Is The Bible really word of God?
4 What so special about Christianity?
5 What about all the war and suffering caused by Christians?
6 If my good deeds outweigh my bad deeds can I still reach Heaven?
7 What happens to those who’ve never heard of Jesus?
8 If God is so good why does he allow evil to exist?
9 Truth and tolerance, what does Christ require?

 
 
     
 

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