“Who do men say that I am?” This is one of the most resounding questions in all of the New Testament. It was asked by Jesus of His disciples. Let’s look at the passage:
When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of man, am?”
So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:13-17).
Peter’s reply omitted some of more choice and less admiring epithets for Jesus that were floating around amongst the Jews during Jesus’ day — blasphemer, false prophet, madman. Today, non-Christian religious groups would add to this list things like:
- “The first creation of God through whom He created all things.” (Jehovah’s Witnesses) “The son of God, the offspring of God and His wife. The brother of Lucifer.” (Mormons)
- “A great prophet, second only to Muhammad.” (Muslims)
- “A great human being who inspires us to love others.” (Liberal Christian Theologians)
- “God the Son, the second Person of the eternal Trinity, fully God and man.” (Trinitarian Christians)
All of these views are contradictory. Thus, two possibilities exists: only one can be right, or they are all wrong. To answer this question we must examine the claims of Jesus and analyze them using logic and reason. By doing so we will come up with four logical possibilities as to the truth of who Jesus was.
C.S. Lewis, who was a professor at Cambridge University and once an agnostic, put it like this:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I am ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. 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 patronizing 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.
In the words of Christian historian and Yale University professor, Kenneth Scott Latourette: “It is not His teachings which make Jesus so remarkable, although these would be enough to give Him distinction. It is a combination of the teachings with the man Himself. The two cannot be separated.”
Jesus According to Jesus
The Gospel accounts of Jesus we can find clues that can help us understand what Jesus thought about Himself. According to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Jesus unequivocally claimed to be God. In fact, no other recognized religious leader in history has ever claimed to be God. Not Moses, Paul, Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius, etc. Jesus Christ is the only exception. Consequently, Jesus is also the only individual in history who has ever convinced a large portion of the world that He is indeed God.
In His final moments, during His own defense hearing, Jesus did not back down from His claims of Deity:
But He kept silent and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked Him, saying to Him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?”
Jesus said, “I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy! What do you think?” And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death (Mark 14:61-64).
Judge Gaynor, the accomplished jurist of the New York bench, in his address upon the trial of Jesus, confirms that blasphemy was the one charge made against Jesus before the Sanhedrin, “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 (John 10:33). Judge Gaynor’s reference is to Jesus’ “making Himself God,” not to what Jesus said about the temple.
Thus during the trial of Jesus, the one question at hand was the identity of Jesus Christ. Who was Jesus?
On a number of occasions Jesus claimed to be equal to the Father:
Jesus answered, . . . “I and My Father are one.” Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, “Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?”
The Jews answered Him, saying, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God” (John 10:25-33).
Here the Jews clearly understood Jesus’ words as a claim to be God. As seen during the trial of Jesus, their response shows that they understood exactly what He meant. There is no question in the minds of those that heard His statement that Jesus was indeed claiming before them that He was God. Thus the Jews regarded Jesus’ words as blasphemy, for which they proceeded to judge Him on the spot by stoning Him in accordance with the Law (Lev. 24:16).
This was not the first time the Jews attempted to stone Jesus because of His claims of Deity. In John 8, Jesus has a conversation with the Jewish religious elites that gets quite heated. From the very beginning of the exchange Jesus is equating Himself with the Father:
Jesus answered and said to them, “Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from and where I am going. You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. And yet if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone, but I am with the Father who sent Me. It is also written in your law that the testimony of two men is true. I am One who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness of Me.”
Then they said to Him, “Where is Your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither Me nor My Father. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also.” These words Jesus spoke in the treasury, as He taught in the temple; and no one laid hands on Him, for His hour had not yet come (John 8:14-20).
In verse 20, John makes the point that “no one laid hands on Him”. The implication here is that John’s readers might be expecting the Jews to take Jesus and accuse Him of blasphemy for equating Himself with God.
Then Jesus said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek Me, and will die in your sin. Where I go you cannot come.”
So the Jews said, “Will He kill Himself, because He says, ‘Where I go you cannot come’?”
And He said to them, “You are from beneath; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:21-24).
Again Jesus claims equal status with the One, True God of the Hebrews. Notice the word “He”. In most Bibles the word He in this passage is italicized which means that it is not in the original Greek, but added by the translators to help English speakers better understand the passage. Therefore a literal rendering of Jesus statement is, “[I]f you do not believe that I am, you will die in your sins.” Keep this in mind as we continue through the passage:
Then they said to Him, “Who are You?”
And Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been saying to you from the beginning. I have many things to say and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I heard from Him.” They did not understand that He spoke to them of the Father. Then Jesus said to them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things. And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him” (John 8:25-29).
As Jesus continues to make claims of His deity by again saying “I am”, the conversation begins to heat up. In the next few verses Jesus accuses the Jewish leaders of being liars and children of the devil. The Jews essentially call Jesus a bastard (referring to the controversy surrounding His birth and the miracle of His incarnation) and accuse Him of being possessed by a demon. The elevating intensity of the conversation is apparent as it approaches a climactic moment when Jesus says:
“Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by (John 8:58-59).
Finally, the Jews decided that they have heard enough and they attempt to take matters into their own hands in a very literal sense. Jesus is quite obviously claiming equality with God and is therefore guilty of blasphemy. But what’s the big deal about Jesus saying “I AM”? If you remember back to the burning bush episode in Exodus 3, this is the title that God uses to identify Himself to Moses. So by saying the words, “I AM” Jesus was using the very same title that God used when Moses asked who God was. When Jesus said “I AM”, He was going all the way back to the burning bush and claiming that He was the God that brought them out of Egypt. This was an incredible claim! Because the Jews could not accept this claim they tried to kill Him, and they eventually would succeed.
Liar, Lunatic, Legend, or Lord
If those accounts are true, Jesus left no other option. Either His claim is true or false.
If this claim was false, then there are only two alternatives. He either knew it to be false, or He did not know it was false.
If Jesus knew it was false, He was intentionally misleading people and is therefore a liar. If this is the case, Jesus is not God as Christians claim. Nor is He a good man as Buddhists claim. And He is definitely not a prophet of Allah as the Muslims claim. He is nothing more that a deceiver that misled thousands of people during His lifetime. However, this cannot be the case because of the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most verifiable events of Jesus life. In I Corinthians 15, Paul states that there were hundreds of eyewitnesses that saw Jesus alive after His resurrection, and Paul specifically mentions that many of the eyewitnesses were still alive at the time of Paul’s writing of the letter to the Corinthians. In other words, they didn’t have to take Paul’s word for it, they could go ask them.
If Jesus did not know it was false yet still believed it to be true, He was Himself misled and therefore a lunatic. However, if Jesus was insane, a lot of other people around Him were also crazy. Many times in his gospel account, John mentions that people believed on Jesus because of the miracles He performed. If Jesus was not God, those miracles did not happen. If they did not happen, how do we account for all of those people that believed on Jesus because of the miracles? They too must have been certifiably insane! Therefore, the lunatic possibility does not explain the life of Jesus.
The legend possibility is not often mentioned, and was not part of C. S. Lewis’ original argument. This is a relatively new position and states that the Jesus never made the claim to be God, or that Jesus never really lived at all. This historicity of Jesus Christ is so well established that this position is rarely used and when it is, it is very easily disputed. Even the staunchest of atheists accept that Jesus was a genuine historical figure that lived and walked on the earth and did make claims of His deity.
If Jesus’ claim of deity is true, the only other possibility is that He is Lord. As we have demonstrated, based upon the evidence, this is the most logical conclusion to which a person can arrive, and this is the conclusion to which C. S. Lewis came.
I would further suggest, that anyone that does not come to this same conclusion is either a liar, in that they are lying to themselves, a lunatic, in that they are crazy to reject the evidence that so obviously points to Jesus Christ as Lord, or they desire to be their own lord and refuse to bow their knee to the Lord of lords. They would do well to accept the fact now because one day, every knee is going to bow, and every tongue is going to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.