Jesus’ distinct claims of being God eliminate the popular ploy of skeptics who regard Him as just a good moral man or a prophet who said a lot of profound things.
The trouble is, many people nod their heads in agreement and never see the fallacy of such reasoning. Why can’t He just be a good man or teacher and leave it at that ?
Let’s look at Jesus’ Claim To Be God
C. S. Lewis, who was a professor at Cambridge University and once an agnostic, understood this issue clearly.
He wrote: “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.’ 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 a 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.”
Then Lewis added: “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 up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Jesus claimed to be God. He didn’t leave any other option open. His claim must be either true or false, so it is something that should be given serious consideration.
Jesus’ question to His disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15) has several alternatives.
Suppose that His claim to be God was false. If it was false, then we have only two alternatives.
- He either knew it was false (a liar) or
- He didn’t know it was false (meaning He thought He was God when He was not, i.e. a lunatic).
Let’s consider each one separately.
Was He a Liar?
If, when Jesus made His claims, He knew that He was not God, then He was lying and deliberately deceiving His followers.
But if He was a liar, then He was also a hypocrite because He told others to be honest, whatever the cost, while He himself taught and lived a colossal lie.
More than that, He was a demon, because He told others to trust Him for their eternal destiny. If He couldn’t back up His claims and knew it, then He was unspeakably evil.
Last, He would also be a fool because it was His claims to being God that led to His crucifixion.
Many will say that Jesus was a good moral teacher. Let’s be realistic. How could He be a great moral teacher and knowingly mislead people at the most important point of His teaching ‑- His own identity? You would have to conclude logically that He was a deliberate liar.
This view of Jesus, however doesn’t coincide with what we know either of Him or the results of His life and teachings and miracles (which could not have been performed by a mere liar)
Was He a Lunatic?
If it is inconceivable for Jesus to be a liar, then couldn’t He actually have thought Himself to be God, but been mistaken? After all, it’s possible to be both sincere and wrong.
But we must remember that for someone to think himself God, especially in a fiercely monotheistic culture, and then to tell others that their eternal destiny depended on believing in him, is no light flight of fantasy but the thoughts of a lunatic in the fullest sense.
Was Jesus Christ such a person?
Someone who believes he is God sounds like someone today believing himself Napoleon. He would be deluded and self‑deceived, and probably he would be locked up so he wouldn’t hurt himself or anyone else.
Yet in Jesus we don’t observe the abnormalities and imbalance that usually go along with being deranged. His poise and composure would certainly be amazing if He were insane.
Noyes and Kolb, in a medical text, describe the schizophrenic as a person who is more autistic than realistic. The schizophrenic desires to escape from the world of reality. Let’s face it; claiming to be God would certainly be a retreat from reality.
In light of the other things we know about Jesus, it’s hard to imagine that He was mentally disturbed. Here is a man who spoke some of the most profound sayings ever recorded. His instructions have liberated many individuals from mental bondage.
Clark H. Pinnock asks: “Was He deluded about His greatness, a paranoid, an unintentional deceiver, a schizophrenic? Again, the skill and depth of His teachings support the case only for His total mental soundness. If only we were as sane as He!”
A student at a California university told me that his psychology professor had said in class that “all he has to do is pick up the Bible and read portions of Christ’s teaching to many of his patients. That’s all the counseling they need.”
Psychiatrist J. T. Fisher states: “If you were to take the sum total of all authoritative articles ever written by the most qualified of psychologists and psychiatrists on the subject of mental hygiene ‑ if you were to combine them and refine them, and cleave out the excess verbiage – if you were to take the whole of the meat and none of the parsley, and if you were to have these unadulterated bits of pure scientific knowledge concisely expressed by the most capable of living poets, you would have an awkward and incomplete summation of the Sermon on the Mount. And it would suffer immeasurably through comparison. For nearly 2,000 years the Christian world has been holding in its hands the complete answer to its restless and fruitless yearnings. Here … rests the blueprint for successful human life with optimism, mental health, and contentment.”
C. S. Lewis writes: “The historical difficulty of giving for the life, sayings and influence of Jesus any explanation that is not harder than the Christian explanation is very great. The discrepancy between the depth and sanity … of His moral teaching and the rampant megalomania which must lie behind His theological teaching unless He is indeed God has never been satisfactorily explained. Hence the non‑Christian hypotheses succeed one another with the restless fertility of bewilderment.”
Not only was the life He lived inconsistent with that of a lunatic, but once again, we come back to the miracles performed, which no degree of lunacy can accomplish.
Ok… the first two options now hopefully measured, weighed and discarded … we come to that last option, that 99% of people hearing with avoid as if their life depended on it (ironically, their life really does depend on it)
Was He Lord?
If one cannot personally conclude that Jesus was a liar or a lunatic, The only other alternative is that He was the Christ, the Son of God, as He claimed.
Lets summarize this as if discussing it with people. By and large, this is how they respond. They usually tell me that Jesus was a moral, upright, religious leader, a good man, or some kind of prophet. I then share with them the claims Jesus made about Himself and then this material on the trilemma (liar, lunatic, or Lord).
When I ask if they believe Jesus was a liar, there is a sharp “No!”
Then I ask, “Do you believe He was a lunatic?” The reply is, “Of course not.”
“Do you believe He is Lord?”
Before I can get a breath in edgewise, there is a resounding, “Absolutely not.”
Yet one has only so many choices.
The issue with these 3 alternatives is not which is possible, for it is obvious that all 3 are possible. Rather, the question is, “Which is most probable?” (in light of this information)
Who you decide Jesus Christ is must not be an idle intellectual exercise. You cannot put Him on the shelf as a great moral teacher. That is not a valid option.
He is either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord and God. You must make a choice (and these are the only three choices available within the confines of logic).
The evidence is clearly in favor of Jesus being the Lord. Most people, however, reject this evidence because they don’t want to face up to the responsibility/implications of calling Him Lord.
Which of the three choices is most logical and obvious to you ?
- A Ready Defense by Josh McDowell.
- Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.