Who is Jesus?
As the avowed skeptic H.G. Wells confessed, “this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.” Therefore, it is crucial in this study to establish a foundational understanding of the inimitability of Christ. We must know who this Jesus is that we’ve put our faith in. After all, no one wants to believe in a lie, right? To begin, we examine C.S. Lewis’ case that he (Jesus) is either a liar, or a lunatic, or the Lord, or— a more recent speculation, a legend.
Lewis invariably came to the conclusion that Jesus is the Lord, the Son of God. However, this was based on the assumption that the New Testament is the sole authority regarding Jesus of Nazareth. As early as the 18th century, scholars have begun to challenge his works, his words, and his person as depicted by the NT authors. Currently, Bart Ehrman, author of Misquoting Jesus, and a group called the Jesus Seminar have been adversarial to Christian scholars, while Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code has given the layman an assumed right to debate Christology.
To add to the confusion, the film Zeitgeist has persuasively placed Jesus in the same category as Osiris or Zeus— a mythological character; all of this is part of the growing “Christ Myth” movement. It doesn’t stop there; there are cults such as the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses who (somewhat) follow the Bible, yet teach heretical views on Christ. The former claiming he is the spirit brother of Satan, and the latter says he is the archangel Michael. Muslims attest that Jesus (Iesa) was a prophet, a slave of Allah, and could not have been the Son of God.
The Baha’i faith holds that Jesus comes from a succession of manifestations of the one God (including Zoroaster, Muhammad, etc.) with Bahá’u’lláh being the universal manifestation. New Age teacher Deepak Chopra has written a book on the Third Jesus, “the cosmic Christ, the spiritual guide whose teaching embraces all humanity, not just the church built in his name.” We have more obscure teachings from groups such as the Black Hebrew Israelites. They purport Jesus was a black man. We also have Catholic renaissance art that portrays Jesus as an Anglo. Wasn’t he Middle Eastern?
In recent years, many men have come and hailed themselves as Jesus’ second coming. José Luis de Jesús Miranda, out of Miami, Florida has now thousands of devout followers in his Growing in Grace Ministry. His goal is to establish the “Government of God” on the earth. The late Yahweh Ben Yahweh, born Hulon Mitchell Jr., had a large following who thought him to be the son of God. Rev. Sun Myung Moon claimed to be sent by God to complete Jesus’ works as in the book of Revelation.
That’s only to name a few of the Messiah claims, but wait- there’s more! Hollywood has also weighed in on the Jesus mystery. In 2008, Jack Black portrayed Christ as condemning of his own followers in a popular skit on Saturday Night Live, “Prop 8: The Musical.” Andrew Fleming’s film Hamlet 2 featured the offbeat musical selection: “Rock Me Sexy Jesus,” depicting Christ as a type of high school heartthrob. Franco Zeffirelli’s epic, Jesus of Nazareth, gave a more sober assessment of Christ’s character. Martin Scorsese, on the other hand, accentuated the humanity of Jesus almost to a fault, implying relations with Mary Magdalene in the film The Last Temptation of Christ.
Are you confused yet? We are just scratching the surface! What about the Gnostic Jesus from the Gospel of Judas, or the mild-mannered host of “Jesus and Pals” from the animated show South Park? What about The Secret author Rhonda Byrne’s Jesus who was in on The Secret all along? There are even preachers in protestant churches who have confounded views of Jesus Christ!
In this age, “we are currently offered Jesus defined as a political change agent, a street-corner Greek preacher, a zealot, a magician, a moralistic prophet, a confused Galilean peasant, a Marxist atheist, or an outright fraud,” and they are all renditions of the one historical Jesus of Nazareth. Now I do not intend now to refute all of these conceptions because it doesn’t take a genius to refute them; many are mere parodies and are self-refuting. Even the scholarly rhetoric of Ehrman and the makers of Zeitgeist have been adequately met by the writings of James White, Lee Strobel, Daniel Wallace, and William Lane Craig, among other dedicated apologists. Numerous volumes of Christology have already been written. I can’t do the matter justice. But I said all of that to say this: “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough” (2 Cor. 11:3-5, NIV).
Now why is there no one to say “I am the Buddha,” or “There is Muhammad, out in the desert”? No one cares to dispute the Zoroaster or lampoon Krishna on national television. Yet like a burgeoning celebrity who for a time can generate a buzz (whether positive or negative) with anything his name is attached to, so it has been with Jesus consistently since the time he came into the world. And like the tabloid rumors surrounding that celebrity, we put up with falsehoods about Jesus easily enough. More than put up with, we drink them down!
Look. Assuming Jesus existed, it is impossible for him to be both the Christian Jesus and the Muslim Jesus, or the Mormon Jesus, or Deepak Chopra’s Jesus, and so on and so on— you get the point. They all contradict each other. One Jesus must be the true Jesus, rendering all the others false. One may argue, “What if no one’s Jesus is the right Jesus?” Fair enough. And just an observation, but that parallels the agnostic argument, “What if no one’s religion is the right religion?” At any rate, you cannot ignore that in Jesus’ name, “millions curse, and in his name that millions pray.” Perhaps Jesus is religion, the binding that ties God to man; that, or an imagination. But in no other case has a fictional character influenced the world so radically, and I refuse to think that now.
How to Lie
Jesus said in the Bible “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” What is truth? In any context it is in, truth reflects reality. A lie is a perversion of the truth, and a deception is dependent on the truth. Any lie worth believing must at least resemble the truth, and every deception stood upon must contain some element of the truth. This is where we get the understanding that all religions are the same because they share commonalities such as love and faith. No belief system can get off the ground without common sense virtues (though some have gotten by while concealing that they really don’t contain these at all).
Using the example of love, I can demonstrate perversion— we live in a world where lust and love are ambiguous, where consent to self-destruction can be considered kindness. It doesn’t take much but to look at certain relationships around you (perhaps some of your own) to see that this is true. Something like love cannot be left to a postmodern worldview; what a mess that would be!
Now deception in faith is something else. One can fine-tune a doctrine or ideology to achieve the desired outcome, or hypothesis, much like a science experiment. In controlling the intake and selection of truth, they can develop a new truth. (The new truth is still a lie by the way.) Like science, there is an incredible amount of variables, mind-boggling actually. You deal, again, with notions of love, equality, and hope; the disposition of the potential follower; social and political climates; pre-existent orthodoxy, etc. In all this, there must be enough truth present to validate the idea. I, the author, hold that Jesus Christ is the foundation of all spiritual truth and righteousness. Therefore, it is not surprising that the inclusion of Jesus has gained standing in numerous belief systems. The Arabian messenger Muhammad could never have converted the Christians in Medina had he entirely denied Christ. The Bahá’u’lláh would have been an absolute fool to keep Jesus out of his hall of fame of deities. The Dalai Lama conceded that Jesus was “a fully enlightened being,” enlightened to the path of Buddhism no less. Having Jesus endorse The Secret could only help its credibility. Sadly, all these unauthorized endorsements only hurt Jesus’ credibility in the public’s eyes.
For the sake of objectivity— Fred Phelps, a believer in the biblical Jesus, is infamous for his picketing of military funerals and for his rampant hatred of homosexuals, the Jews, the Irish, and the Roman Catholic Church. Martin Luther, the beloved Protestant reformist, later on in his life wrote a treatise called: On the Jews and their Lies, which promoted utter scorn and brutal persecution of all Jewish people.
The problem is we do not physically have Jesus of Nazareth to confirm, “Yes, I approve,” or deny, “No, that’s wrong,” on any of these ideas. All we have is written records of what he supposedly said and did two millennia ago. But what if those accounts are not in line with our case? As Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen deduced in After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90’s, Famous Historical Figures are especially useful to us for two reasons: first, they are invariably dead as a doornail, hence in no position to deny the truth and sue for libel. Second, and more serious, the virtues that make these historic gay figures admirable cannot be gainsaid or dismissed by the public since high school history textbooks have set them in incontrovertible cement.
Kirk and Madsen discovered their cause could be furthered by speculating that historical figures were proponents of said cause, whether they actually were or not. For the Gay Rights Movement, that could mean anyone from Socrates to Eleanor Roosevelt to Abraham Lincoln were really closeted homosexuals.
Now for Jesus and the wide spectrum of different causes that have attached themselves to him, there are no text books to draw upon. He is kept out of public schools. The most reliable witness we have today is the New Testament, which unadulterated contains a message that conflicts with every other religious and secular worldview. How then can this Jesus agree with our cause?
Ironically, for a false Christ to have credibility, the real Christ must be stripped of his, something like a political smear campaign. It is a two-step process.First, the New Testament which testifies that he is the Son of God must be discredited. Magnify every perceived error in it (per Bart Ehrman) and exalt every conflicting testimony as a beacon of long-concealed truth.
Take the Gospel of Judas, which created waves in 2006 when Marvin Meyer’s translation of the Coptic gospel hit shelves. World Magazine noted the backlash: “The National Geographic Society handed anti-Christian forces worldwide a perfect supplement to the biblical skepticism already unleashed in Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code.” In addition to refuting the biblical gospels, the alleged writings of Judas Iscariot ultimately depicted him turning over Jesus as a sacrifice to the demon god Saklas.
Even though “no evidence exists to suggest Judas as a possible author or the account as historically based” and “scholars now agree it is fiction”, the damage has been done. Now the average skeptic has an open room to say “What about the Gospel of Judas? — or all the other books that aren’t in the Bible?” I don’t propose that any ancient works purporting to be Gospel should be ignored— on the contrary, they should be explored. When they’re explored, it doesn’t take long to separate truth from lies. When they aren’t, there is room to assume without knowing for sure. It can be like reading a newspaper headline without reading the actual story behind it and basing your judgment on that alone.
Secondly, his followers must be buried as backwards fanatics, immoral hypocrites, condemning bigots, violent despots, or all of the above. Regrettably, there have been numerous ministers whose conduct has made for a blemish on the reputation of Jesus Christ. One I’ve already mentioned, Pastor Fred Phelps, has created a false stigma around Christian evangelists with his highly publicized marches. As a street preacher, many have mistaken me for one of those “God hates fags” preachers. I’m not, and I want to remind you that Phelps’ church, Westboro Baptist in Topeka, Kansas, has only 70 members, 61 of whom are related to Phelps. They do not represent the 42% of Americans who attend church regularly. Furthermore, his radical views are not upheld by the [orthodox interpretation of] the Bible, the historical Church, or the teachings of Jesus Christ.
In the case of John Hinckley Jr., who shot Ronald Reagan in 1981, his obsessions with Jodie Foster as well as J.D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye are well documented. In no ways is the credibility of either Foster or Salinger tarnished by the reproach of Hinckley. Why, then, has Jesus become a disobliging caricature in the public eye? With Jesus of Nazareth becoming among the most heralded figures in world history, it was inevitable that a few bad eggs would claim to be one of his own. Rather than regarding each man as accountable for his own actions, the brunt of the blame has largely fallen on Christ himself. He is no longer defined by reality, but by speculation and unqualified spokesmen.
This gives people permission to formulate their own Christ. They reason that the “Bible is corrupt and the Christians are way off”, but they want a sense of spirituality, a form of godliness. They now have free range to dictate a Christ to their liking. You ask them what they believe about Jesus, and you get a different answer from each one. It doesn’t always begin so flippantly; some people actually seek earnestly. They simply don’t find Jesus in any church they attend. In no Christian self-help book or television ministry can Christ be found. The New Testament Jesus gives a message of love, peace, forgiveness, and acceptance. They find only backbiting, hypocrisy, and more treachery than in some secular institutions. The power of unmet expectations can crush a man. They begin to echo the sentiment of Gandhi: “your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Disillusioned, they decide that Jesus cannot be Lord.
If Jesus is not Lord, then there is no consequence to dismissing his words— he’s not real. They may scoff at his harder sayings. “He sounds like a cult leader! Jesus would never say that!” The cross may very well have been a metaphor for life’s struggles, and the resurrection an illustration of perseverance. “It couldn’t have been literal, why would anyone have to die for my sins? That’s barbaric!”
It seems New Agers will accept Jesus the didactic teacher and not Jesus: Judge of the living and the dead. Muslims will accept Jesus the Messiah and not Jesus the Son of God. Even some professing Christians will accept Jesus the Savior, and not Jesus the Lord. Hence, the greatest numbers of false Christs exist in the minds of men.
God of the Christians
For the sake of brevity, we’ll narrow our study down to one Jesus; John the Beloved’s Jesus who said concerning himself, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” This is he who the Christians have worshipped for ages, of whom Pliny the Younger observed: “They sang in alternate verse a hymn to Christ as to a god.” Lucian of Samosota wrote of this phenomenon: “The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day— the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account.” Mind you, these were secular historians.
The Church Fathers, save for a few rapscallions, converged on Christ’s deity—Paul’s disciple Clement called Christ “the Scepter of the Majesty of God.” Ignatius, a disciple of John, wrote, “Our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived of the virgin Mary according to the dispensation of God…” These men who were mentored by the first Apostles held firmly to the doctrine of his divinity. Most of these witnesses predate the Council of Nicea by over 300 years. I don’t write this to try to convince you of Jesus’ deity; that’s not something I can personally do. I bring them into account to drive home the fact that Christians worship Jesus! They believe he is God! They always have and always will! Over 69,000,000 Christians have been slaughtered on account of this testimony and would not recant! Please explain to them that Jesus was “a good man who helped a lot of people.”
“Christian” was a derogatory term coined by Greeks in Antioch, to say these people were imitators of this man they call Christ. (Gentiles, at large, only knew Christos as a name, unaware of anything concerning the Jewish Messiah.) So Christians are to be following in Jesus’ example; regardless if they do or not, they’re supposed to.
To summate: Christians hold his words as authoritative, his life as the high standard of human conduct and faith in him as absolutely essential. You cannot be a Christian unless you believe these things; there is no way around it. With that, Christians must also believe in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, heaven and hell, and telling everyone about Jesus. This has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, but it goes hand in hand in believing Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
If he was not, then his death would be numbered along with tens of thousands crucified by the Romans and would have been insignificant outside of its immediate context. If he was not, then most of his teaching would have been considered malarkey and would have to be highly allegorized to hold any relevancy in this modern age. If he was not, then his following would have been extinguished before long, like the others who came and went and were thought to be the hope of Israel.
But none of the above has been the case for Jesus. Christians in every age have found sufficient reason to call Jesus both Lord and God. “Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
I realize that I may not have answered any of the objections you had about Jesus. I may have only raised more questions. Good, that’s great!
I feel ignorance is one of our biggest enemies. Christians may be accused of blind faith and Liberals of blind skepticism. At any rate, I hope to have whetted your palate for the truth! And truth, I remind you, is rooted in reality, not opinion. It won’t always be the most accommodating or politically correct, but it’s there and you can’t wish it away.
Photo credit: Fr. Stephen, MSC (Creative Commons)