Either Lord or Lunatic – An Excerpt from Core Christianity
One doctrine especially core to Christianity concerns the identity of Christ: Is Jesus God?
As C. S. Lewis suggested over a half century ago, we are faced with the choice that either Jesus is Lord or he was a lunatic. March down through the centuries – from modern day to those who witnessed the life of Jesus – and you will see how the answer to this one question shapes how one views the world. In this excerpt from Core Christianity, Michael Horton walks the reader through the claim, the case and how the skeptics respond.
JESUS IS GOD. We know this because of the clear claims he made concerning himself and the fact that he rose from the dead just as he promised. Knowing that Christianity stands or falls with this claim, skeptics have focused all their critical energies on this target. So what is the case, after so many centuries of attack?
It is a fact that Jesus claimed he was God. Liberal scholars have attempted for a few centuries now to disprove this claim, following a course similar to Thomas Jefferson, principal author of America’s Declaration of Independence. Jefferson famously took scissors to the Bible. Whatever fit with what he believed to be universally known by natural reason he passed over, but passages that reported miracles—especially the incarnation, signs, atoning death, and resurrection of Christ—were excised. Liberal scholars have followed a similar course. Though made with more technical sophistication, their conclusions have been no less arbitrary and controlled by their own anti-supernatural prejudices.
In all the Gospels, Jesus claims for himself equality with God. He performs works that are attributable only to God. He claims to be David’s Lord (Matt 22:43–46). He arouses the ire of the religious leaders by forgiving sins, bypassing the temple and its ritual sacrifices. “Who is this who even forgives sins?” they demand (Luke 7:49; cf. Matt 9:6). “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7). In fact, Jesus claims to be “greater than the temple” and even “Lord of the Sabbath” (Matt 12:6, 8; Luke 6:5).
Jesus appropriates the attributes and actions reserved for God alone, including the personal name Yahweh, or I AM (John 1:1; 8:58). In what is called the “Upper Room Discourse” (John 14–16), Jesus reveals the intimate relationship he shares with the Father and the Spirit—a relationship that began before creation. Then in his prayer in John 17, Jesus speaks of “the glory I had with you before the world began” (v. 5). Additionally, Jesus welcomes Thomas’s confession, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28–29). The apostles clearly proclaimed Christ as Yahweh—Israel’s God. Paul says that Jesus has been given “the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:9b–11). Paul’s words there echo an Old Testament prophecy about Yahweh’s sovereign lordship (Isa 45:23).
Elsewhere Paul recalls when the Israelites had put Yahweh to the test in the wilderness centuries before and he identifies the offended party in that incident as Christ (1 Cor 10:9). Paul also writes, “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him” (Col 1:19) and he links the “day of the Lord” with Christ’s return (1 Thess 5:2). In the book of Revelation, Jesus is “the Alpha and the Omega . . . who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty” (1:8). He is “the First and the Last” and “the Living One” who holds “the keys of death and Hades” (1:17–18).
Some say that Jesus never claimed to be the eternal Son of God, but if that were true, then why was he tried by the highest Jewish court on the charge of blasphemy—specifically because “he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18)? There is no instance in which Jesus is said to have rejected this charge. And in that same passage he adds:
The Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the
Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father.
Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who
sent him. Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes
him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has
crossed over from death to life. (5:22–24)
“Yes,” critics retort, “but how do we know that Jesus actually said these things?” There is an easy answer: Whatever Jesus said about himself must have been sufficiently provocative to have led the religious leaders to call for capital punishment—on the charge of blasphemy. It is out of the question that Jewish leaders would have been aroused to commit a respected rabbi to capital punishment for teaching the ethical commands that lay at the heart of their own noble religion. Jesus did not add any new commands to the moral law and when anyone asked what the law required, he simply quoted the Ten Commandments (Luke 18:18–20; see Matt 5:17–20).
In short, the Jesus admired by liberals and skeptics would never have been convicted of blasphemy and crucified. More than anyone, including the religious leaders, he loved Israel’s God and his law. Already then, we are faced with the choice that C. S. Lewis suggested over a half century ago that either Jesus is Lord or he was a lunatic:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing 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. . . . You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. . . . Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.
Who did Jesus think he was? Any answer we give has to explain his being sentenced to death for blasphemy.
Author Michael Horton offers us solid evidence that Jesus was, and is, God. Check out the rest of his arguments here.