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More Than a Carpenter
By Josh McDowell
Walker Large PrintCopyright © 1995 Josh McDowell
All right reserved.
What Makes Jesus So Different?
Recently I was talking with a group of people in Los Angeles. I asked them, "Who, in your opinion, is Jesus Christ?" The response was that he was a great religious leader. I agree with that. Jesus Christ was a great religious leader. But I believe he was much more.
Men and women down through the ages have been divided over the question, "Who is Jesus?" Why so much conflict over one individual? Why is it that his name, more than the name of any other religious leader, causes irritation? Why is it that you can talk about God and nobody gets upset, but as soon as you mention Jesus, people so often want to stop the conversation? Or they become defensive. I mentioned something about Jesus to a taxicab driver in London, and immediately he said, "I don't like to discuss religion, especially Jesus."
How is Jesus different from other religious leaders? Why don't the names of Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius offend people? The reason is that these others didn't claim to be God, but Jesus did. That is what makes him so different from other religious leaders.
It didn't take long for the people who knew Jesus to realize that he was making astounding claims about himself. It became clear that his own claims were identifying him as more than just a prophet or teacher. He was obviously making claims to deity. He was presenting himself as the only avenue to a relationship with God, the only source of forgiveness for sins, and the only way of salvation.
For many people this is too exclusive, too narrow for them to want to believe. Yet the issue is not what do we want to think or believe, but rather, who did Jesus claim to be?
What do the New Testament documents tell us about this? We often hear the phrase, "the deity of Christ." This means that Jesus Christ is God.
A. H. Strong in his Systematic Theology defines God as the "infinite and perfect spirit in whom all things have their source, support, and end." This definition of God is adequate for all theists, including Muslims and Jews. Theism teaches that God is personal and that the universe was planned and created by him. God sustains and rules it in the present. Christian theism adds an additional note to the above definition: "and who became incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth."
Jesus Christ is actually a name and a title. The name Jesus is derived from the Greek form of the name Jeshua or Joshua meaning "Jehovah-Savior" or "the Lord saves." The title Christ is derived from the Greek word for Messiah (or the Hebrew Mashiach--Daniel 9:26) and means "anointed one." Two offices, king and priest, are involved in the use of the title "Christ." His title affirms Jesus as the promised priest and king of Old Testament prophecies. This affirmation is one of the crucial areas for having a proper understanding about Jesus and Christianity.
The New Testament clearly presents Christ as God. The names applied to Christ in the New Testament are such that they could properly be applied only to one who was God. For example, Jesus is called God in the phrase, "Looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus" [Titus 2:13; compare John 1:1; Hebrews 1:8; Romans 9:5; 1 John 5:20, 21). The Scriptures attribute characteristics to him that can be true only of God. Jesus is presented as being self-existent (John 1:4; 14:6); omnipresent (Matthew 28:20; 18:20); omniscient (John 4:16; 6:64; Matthew 17:22-27); omnipotent (Revelation 1:8; Luke 4:39-55; 7:14, 15; Matthew 8:26, 27); and possessing eternal life (1 John 5:11, 12, 20; John 1:4).
Jesus received honor and worship that only God should receive. In a confrontation with Satan, Jesus said, "It is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only'" (Matthew 4:10). Yet Jesus received worship as God (Matthew 14:33; 28:9) and sometimes even demanded to be worshiped as God (John 5:23; compare Hebrews 1:6; Revelation 5:8-14).
Most of the followers of Jesus were devout Jews who believed in one true God. They were monotheistic to the core, yet they recognized him as God incarnate.
Because of his extensive rabbinical training, Paul would be even less likely to attribute deity to Jesus, to worship a man from Nazareth and call him Lord. But this is exactly what Paul did. He acknowledged the Lamb of God (Jesus) as God when he said, "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:28).
Peter confessed, after Christ asked him who he was: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16). Jesus responded to Peter's confession not by correcting his conclusion but by acknowledging its validity and source: "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 16:17).
Martha, a close friend of Jesus, said to him, "I have believed that You are the Christ [Messiah], the Son of God" (John 11:27). Then there is Nathanael, who didn't think anything good could come out of Nazareth. He acknowledged that Jesus was "the Son of God; You are the King of Israel" (John 1:49).
While Stephen was being stoned, "he called upon the Lord and said, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!'" (Acts 7:59). The writer of Hebrews calls Christ God when he writes, "But of the Son He says, 'Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever'" (Hebrews 1:8). John the Baptist announced the coming of Jesus by saying that "the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, 'Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well-pleased" (Luke 3:22).
Then of course we have the confession of Thomas, better known as "The Doubter." Perhaps he was a graduate student. He said, "I won't believe unless I can put my finger into his nail scars." I identify with Thomas. He said, "Look, not every day does someone raise himself from the dead or claim to be God incarnate. I need evidence." Eight days later, after Thomas chronicled his doubts about Jesus before the other disciples, "Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst, and said, 'Peace be with you.' Then He said to Thomas, 'Reach here your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into My side; and be not unbelieving, but believing.' Thomas answered and said to Him, 'My Lord and my God!' Jesus said to him, 'Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed'" (John 20:26-29). Jesus accepted Thomas's acknowledgment of him as God. He rebuked Thomas for his unbelief, but not for his worship.
At this point a critic may interject that all these references are from others about Christ, not from Christ about himself. The accusation in the classroom is usually that those at the time of Christ misunderstood him as we are misunderstanding him today. In other words, Jesus really didn't claim to be God.
Well, I think he did, and I believe that the deity of Christ is derived directly from the pages of the New Testament. The references are abundant and their meaning is plain. A businessman who scrutinized the Scriptures to verify whether or not Christ claimed to be God said, "For anyone to read the New Testament and not conclude that Jesus claimed to be divine, he would have to be as blind as a man standing outdoors on a clear day and saying he can't see the sun."
In the Gospel of John we have a confrontation between Jesus and some Jews. It was triggered by Jesus' curing a lame man on the Sabbath and telling him to pick up his pallet and walk. "And for this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath. But He answered them, 'My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.' For this cause therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God" (John 5:16-18).
You might say, "Look, Josh, I can say, 'My father is working until now, and I myself am working.' So what? It doesn't prove anything." Whenever we study a document, we must take into account the language, the culture, and especially the person or persons addressed. In this case, the culture is Jewish and the persons addressed are Jewish religious leaders. Let's see how the Jews understood Jesus' remarks 2,000 years ago in their own culture. "For this cause therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God" (John 5:18). Why such a drastic reaction?
The reason is that Jesus said "my Father," not "our Father," and then added "is working until now." Jesus' use of these two phrases made himself equal with God, on a par with God's activity. The Jews did not refer to God as "my Father." Or if they did, they would qualify the statement with "in heaven." However, Jesus did not do this. He made a claim that the Jews could not misinterpret when he called God "my Father." Jesus also implied that while God was working, he, the Son, was working too. Again, the Jews understood the implication that he was God's Son. As a result of this statement, the Jews' hatred grew. Even though they were seeking, mainly, to persecute him, they then began to desire to kill him.
Not only did Jesus claim equality with God as his Father, but he also asserted that he was one with the Father. During the Feast of the Dedication in Jerusalem, Jesus was approached by some Jewish leaders who asked about his being the Christ. Jesus ended his comments to them by saying, "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30). "The Jews took up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, 'I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?' The Jews answered Him, 'For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God'" (John 10:31-33).
One might wonder why there was such a strong reaction to what Jesus said about being one with the Father. An interesting implication of this phrase arises when the Greek is studied. Greek scholar A. T. Robertson writes that the "one" is neuter, not masculine, in the Greek, and does not indicate one in person or purpose but rather one in "essence or nature." Robertson then adds: "This crisp statement is the climax of Christ's claims about the relation between the Father and himself [the Son]. They stir the Pharisees to uncontrollable anger."
It is evident then that in the minds of those who heard this statement there was no doubt that Jesus claimed he was God. Thus, Leon Morris, principal of Ridley College, Melbourne, writes that "the Jews could regard Jesus' word only as blasphemy, and they proceeded to take the judgment into their own hands. It was laid down in the Law that blasphemy was to be punished by stoning [Lev. 24:16). But these men were not allowing the due processes of law to take their course. They were not preparing an indictment so that the authorities could take the requisite action. In their fury they were preparing to be judges and executioners in one."
Jesus is threatened with stoning for "blasphemy." The Jews definitely understood his teaching but, we may ask, did they stop to consider whether his claims were true or not?
Jesus continuously spoke of himself as one in essence and nature with God. He boldly asserted, "If you knew Me, you would know My Father also" (John 8:19); "He who beholds me beholds the One who sent me" (John 12:45); "He who hates Me, hates My Father also" (John 15:23); "All may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him" (John 5:23); etc. These references certainly indicate that Jesus looked at himself as being more than just a man; rather, he was equal with God. Those who say that Jesus was just closer or more intimate with God than others need to think about his statement, "If you do not honor me as you honor the Father, you dishonor us both."
When I was lecturing in a literature class at the University of West Virginia, a professor interrupted me and said that the only Gospel in which Jesus claimed to be God was John's Gospel and it was the latest one written. He then asserted that Mark, the earliest Gospel, never once mentioned Jesus' claiming to be God. It was obvious this man hadn't read Mark--or hadn't paid much attention to what he read.
In response I turned to Mark's Gospel. There Jesus claimed to be able to forgive sins. "And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, 'My son, your sins are forgiven'" (Mark 2:5; see also Luke 7:48-50). By Jewish law this was something only God could do; Isaiah 43:25 restricts this prerogative to God alone. The scribes asked, "Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?" (Mark 2:7). Jesus then asked which would be easier, to say "Your sins are forgiven"; or to say "Arise and walk"?
According to the Wycliffe Commentary, this is "an unanswerable question. The statements are equally simple to pronounce; but to say either, with accompanying performance, requires divine power. An imposter, of course, in seeking to avoid detection, would find the former easier. Jesus proceeded to heal the illness that men might know that he had authority to deal with its cause." At this he was accused of blasphemy by the religious leaders. Lewis Sperry Chafer writes that "none on earth has either authority or right to forgive sin. None could forgive sin save the One against whom all have sinned. When Christ forgave sin, as He certainly did, He was not exercising a human prerogative. Since none but God can forgive sins, it is conclusively demonstrated that Christ, since He forgave sins, is God."
This concept of forgiveness bothered me for quite awhile because I didn't understand it. One day in a philosophy class, answering a question about the deity of Christ, I quoted the above verses from Mark. A graduate assistant challenged my conclusion that Christ's forgiveness demonstrated his deity. He said that he could forgive someone and that wouldn't demonstrate he was claiming to be God. As I pondered what the graduate assistant was saying, it struck me why the religious leaders reacted against Christ. Yes, one can say, "I forgive you," but that can be done only by the person who was sinned against. In other words, if you sin against me, I can say, "I forgive you." But that wasn't what Christ was doing. The paralytic had sinned against God the Father and then Jesus, under his own authority, said, "Your sins are forgiven." Yes, we can forgive injuries committed against us, but in no way can anyone forgive sins committed against God except God himself. That is what Jesus did.
No wonder the Jews reacted when a carpenter from Nazareth made such a bold claim. This power of Jesus to forgive sin is a startling example of his exercising a prerogative that belongs to God alone.
Also in the Gospel of Mark we have the trial of Jesus (14:60-64). Those trial proceedings are one of the clearest references to Jesus' claims of deity. "And the high priest arose and came forward and questioned Jesus, saying, 'Do You make no answer to what these men are testifying against You?' But He kept silent, and made no answer. Again the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, 'Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?' And Jesus said, 'I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.' And tearing his clothes, the high priest said, 'What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?' And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death."
At first Jesus wouldn't answer, so the high priest put him under oath. Being under oath Jesus had to answer (and I'm so glad he did). He responded to the question, "Are You the Christ, the son of the Blessed One?" by saying "I am."
An analysis of Christ's testimony shows that he claimed to be (1) the Son of the Blessed One (God); (2) the One who would sit at the right hand of power, and (3) the Son of Man who would come on the clouds of heaven. Each of the affirmations is distinctively messianic. The cumulative effect of all three is significant. The Sanhedrin, the Jewish court, caught all three points, and the high priest responded by tearing his garments and saying, "What further need do we have of witnesses?" They had finally heard it from him themselves. He was convicted by the words of his own mouth.
Robert Anderson points out: "No confirmatory evidence is more convincing than that of hostile witnesses, and the fact that the Lord laid claim to Deity is incontestably established by the action of His enemies. We must remember that the Jews were not a tribe of ignorant savages, but a highly cultured and intensely religious people; and it was upon this very charge that, without a dissenting voice, His death was decreed by the Sanhedrin--their great national Council, composed of the most eminent of their religious leaders, including men of the type of Gamaliel and his great pupil, Saul of Tarsus."
It is clear, then, that this is the testimony Jesus wanted to bear about himself. We also see that the Jews understood his reply as a claim to his being God. There were two alternatives to be faced then; that his assertions were blasphemy, or that he was God. His judges saw the issue clearly--so clearly, in fact, that they crucified him and then taunted him because "He trusted in God ... for He said, 'I am the Son of God'" (Matthew 27:43).
H. B. Swete explains the significance of the high priest tearing his garment: "The law forbade the High Priest to rend his garment in private troubles (Leviticus 10:6; 21:10), but when acting as a judge, he was required by custom to express in this way his horror of any blasphemy uttered in his presence. The relief of the embarrassed judge is manifest. If trustworthy evidence was not forthcoming, the necessity for it had now been superseded: the Prisoner had incriminated Himself."
We begin to see that this was no ordinary trial, as lawyer Irwin Linton brings out: "Unique among criminal trials is this one in which not the actions but the identity of the accused is the issue. The criminal charge laid against Christ, the confession or testimony or, rather, act in presence of the court, on which He was convicted, the interrogation by the Roman governor and the inscription and proclamation on His cross at the time of execution all are concerned with the one question of Christ's real identity and dignity. 'What think ye of Christ? Whose son is he?'"
Judge Gaynor, the accomplished jurist of the New York bench, in his address on the trial of Jesus, takes the position that blasphemy was the one charge made against him before the Sanhedrin. He says: "It is plain from each of the gospel narratives, that the alleged crime for which Jesus was tried and convicted was blasphemy: ... Jesus had been claiming supernatural power, which in a human being was blasphemy" (citing John 10:33). (Gaynor's reference is to Jesus' "making himself God," not to what he said about the Temple.)
In most trials, people are tried for what they have done, but this was not true of Christ's. Jesus was tried for who he was.
The trial of Jesus ought to be sufficient to demonstrate convincingly that he confessed his divinity. His judges witness to that. But also, on the day of his crucifixion, his enemies acknowledged that he claimed to be God come in the flesh. "In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him, and saying, 'He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we shall believe in Him. He trusts in God; let Him deliver Him now, if He takes pleasure in Him; for He said, "I am the son of God"'" (Matthew 27:41-43).
Excerpted from More Than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell Copyright © 1995 by Josh McDowell.
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