This is a seven-part series on why everyone should be a Christian.
Click on the following links (soon to come) to explore the various installments:
(2) The Character of Christ
(5) The Care of Christ
(6) The Condemnation of Christ
(7) The Change to Christ
We resume our study on why everyone should be a Christian.
In part one of this series, I suggested that everyone should be a Christian because of who Christ claimed to be — viz., the master of man, the fulfillment of prophecy, the divine son of God, and the savior and judge of the world. In this and succeeding studies, we’ll examine the evidence that bolsters his claims.
Also in part one, I noted that Jesus’ teaching was exceedingly self-centered. He spoke often about himself — who he was, what his mission was, what he was going to do in the future, etc. In so doing, he insisted upon the following critical points:
(1) That God is real and has revealed himself to us through Jesus (Jn. 14.8-11);
(2) That God cares for us and wants us to live with him forever (Jn. 3.16; Mt. 6.26; Jn. 14.1-3);
(3) That sin has condemned mankind and prevents us from living with the sinless God (Lk. 13.27-28; Jn. 3.19; cf. Rm. 3.9-23);
(4) That God has enacted a plan, through Jesus, by which he can “reconcile the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5.19; cf. Jn. 3.15-21; Mt. 26.28); and
(5) That Jesus will be the one who judges the world righteously and fairly, rejecting those who ignore or deny him, while accepting only those who faithfully follow him — and no other (Lk. 13.3, 5; Mt. 4.17; 11.20-24; 10.32-33, 38; 12.30; 16.24; Mk. 8.38; Jn. 14.6).
These are the astounding claims of Christ. But what about his character?
Consider four words that best describe what Jesus was like.
The Lord’s radical claims are indeed extraordinary. But the way he lived was no less remarkable.
His teaching may have been oriented around himself — for such was what his heavenly father wanted him to say (cf. Jn. 8.28-29) — but his character was all about serving others.
Unlike the arrogant tyrants of this world, Jesus said he “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mt. 20.28; cf. Lk. 22.27).
He washed feet, encouraging his disciples to serve others too (Jn. 13.14). He fed thousands of hungry people out of compassion (Mk. 6.30ff). He healed the diseased (Mt. 8.1-4), the dying (cf. Mt. 8.5-13; Lk. 7.1-10), the sick (Mt. 8.14-15), the demon-possessed (Mt. 8.16-17), the crippled (Mt. 9.1-8), the blind (Mt. 9.27-31), the speechless (Mt. 9.32-34), the deaf (Mk. 7.32ff), and even raised the dead back to life (Mt. 8.18-19, 23-26; Jn. 11.1ff).
He did all these things while rejecting political power (Jn. 6.15; 18.36). Though he and his company were not penniless (cf. Lk. 8.3; Jn. 4.8; 13.29; 19.23-24), he was by no means financially well-off either (Mt. 8.20). Moreover, he often asked recipients of his good deeds not to tell anyone about it (cf. Mt. 8.4; 12.16-19; Mk. 5.43; 7.36). And when he healed others miraculously, he humbly deflected attention away from his supernatural power by commending others for their faith — “your faith has made you well” (Mk. 5.34; 10.52; cf. Mt. 15.28).
Hence, he did not perform these acts of service to accrue earthly fortune, fame, or power. Indeed, by the end of his life, he was utterly deprived of what little of this world’s goods he possessed (Mt. 27.35). Too, he had become a pariah, whom even his friends had betrayed (cf. Mt. 26.14-16), denied (Mt. 26.69-75), and forsaken (Mt. 26.56). He willingly died without fortune, fame, or friends at his side.
This accentuates the profound paradox of Christ. He made exceedingly proud claims, yet he was the humblest of men. He spoke like an egotist, but he lived like an empath. His teaching was self-centered, but his character was self-less.
Jesus is undoubtedly a unique figure in the history of the world. Sure, others have made similar bombastic claims, but they lived like the arrogant people they were. On the other hand, many live humbly, serving others to the point of exhaustion like Jesus (cf. Mk. 6.31), but they do not make the types of self-important claims Jesus made.
There have been legends in the past of mythical gods who said and did things similar — though far from identical — to some of the things Jesus said and did, but there is no evidence they existed (e.g., Dionysus, Krishna, Osiris, etc. [see Butt and Lyons, pp. 37-44]). Indeed, Jesus’ life “is the only life of any ‘savior-god’ that can be (and has been) thoroughly documented” (ibid., p. 63; again, see “Jesus Christ: Real Or Myth”; and see more in part four).
In short, Jesus was the only real human being — documented by unimpeachable eyewitnesses and historians — who demonstrated the highness of God on one hand and the humility of men on the other (cf. Phil. 2.6-8).
So how does Jesus’ humble servitude buttress his claims?
First, his humble manner of life is inconsistent with the reverse theory — i.e., it refutes the notion that Jesus claimed to be deity for sordid reasons (e.g., greed). Arrogant men make such claims to take advantage of their duped followers; but not Jesus. He was “the man for others” (Bonhoeffer, p. 382). Since Jesus’ claims were not made to deceive others and benefit himself, then it is reasonable to believe that he made them out of honesty to serve others.
Second, his humble manner of life is consistent with his claim that he came to earth — not because he needs anything from us — but because he loves us and wanted to benefit us.
Therefore, the evidence of his humble character supports the claims he made. Equally so, it shows that Jesus had no motive to make false claims.
If Jesus’ claims are true, we should expect him to be sinless in character.
Men may claim greatness in many ways — intellectual prowess, physical ability, creativity; etc. But flawlessness is not a characteristic a mere mortal possesses. “To err is human” (Pope, p. 26).
However, “sinless perfection and perfect sinlessness is what we would expect of God incarnate” (Ramm, p. 169). Since that is precisely how Jesus’ eyewitnesses described him (cf. 1 Pt. 1.19; 2.21-22; 1 Jn. 3.5 2 Cor. 5.21; Heb. 4.15; 9.14) — even Jesus described himself as having “no unrighteousness…in him” (Jn. 8.17) — “the hypothesis” that he is God incarnate “and the facts” of his sinless character perfectly “concur” (ibid.).
No arrogant man, humble man, nor even legendary myth ever had eyewitnesses who testified to their moral perfection the way Jesus’ character is documented. Even the exalted gods of ancient myth were morally flawed! Kyle Butt and Eric Lyons, writing about the literary figures who were lionized in the ancient world, reasoned that
“every supposed savior of mankind besides Jesus had an Achilles heel. If any such “savior” existed (other than Jesus) who did not have a vice or a sin, his life certainly cannot be documented historically. And if any savior-god besides Jesus could be documented historically, his life easily could be proven to be laden with sin” (Butt and Lyons, p. 67).
Only Jesus is both historically verifiable and morally flawless! Jesus’ biographical accounts register no slip of the tongue, no misguided deed, no impure thought, nor is there any data to suggest that Jesus ever offered a sacrifice for his sins, nor did he ever confess his sins to others, nor did his prayers contain any request for forgiveness from Heaven. Indeed,
“there is in all his talk no trace of regret or hint of compunction or suggestion of sorrow for shortcoming, or slightest vestige of remorse. He taught other men to think of themselves as sinners, He asserted plainly that the human heart is evil, He told His disciples that every time they prayed they were to pray to be forgiven, but He never speaks or acts as though He Himself has the faintest consciousness of having ever done anything other than what was pleasing to God” (Jefferson, p. 225; cf. John 8.29, 46; Lk. 4.1ff).
Harry Rimmer, in his distinctive style, wrote that the
“life of Jesus depicted an ideal that has never since been achieved. There have been holy and godly men who have astonished the world with the unselfish plane of sacrificial living which they achieved by following the example of Jesus, but none has yet come up to the ideal set by His conduct. Nineteen centuries of more or less constant progress have lifted the levels of living among civilized people by many notable degrees, yet after those long years the life of Christ is still recognized as the perfect moral pattern for all ages and all races. Even the godliest of the saints of Christ who live today cannot walk the highway of holiness which He daily trod. The humanity of Jesus was perfect” (Rimmer, Ch. VII).
Norman Geisler put it like this:
“All men are sinners; God knows it and so do we. If a man lives an impeccable life and offers as the truth about himself that he is God incarnate we must take his claim seriously” (Geisler, p. 344).
Indeed, this sterling combination — his claims of deity and his flawless character — ought to make every reasonable person stop and ponder the case for Jesus.
Furthermore, if Jesus was who he claimed to be — viz., the infinitely wise God of the universe — we should expect him to demonstrate an expertise in critical thinking that is without defect. And again, the expectation and the finding align.
As A Lad
At the ripe age of twelve, Jesus traveled to Jerusalem with his parents (Lk. 2.41ff). At the end of that journey, Mary and Joseph found their adolescent child “in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions” (Lk. 2.46). A few points of interest arrest our attention.
First, Jesus had a keen and penetrating mind, enamored by knowledge. When other boys his age might have preferred to play or hunt or fish — or even be on the road heading home with his parents instead of in school — Jesus chose to remain in the place of education.
Second, the word “asking” translates the term eperotao. It is the intensive form of its cognate, erotao, which means to ask “on a footing of equality” (Vine, p. 40). Eperotao involves a more pointed type of question than what a pupil typically solicits — viz., to “interrogate” (Thayer, p. 230).
For example, when Jesus “asked” (eperotao) the scribes and Pharisees: “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy?” (Lk. 6.9), he did so, not because he didn’t know the answer, but to guide them to a sound conclusion — i.e., to teach them.
Hence, Jesus — at the age of twelve! — was gently but firmly helping his teachers grow in their knowledge of the law.
This is why Luke follows the remark about Jesus “asking them questions” by noting that he exhibited both “understanding and answers” (Lk. 2.47). In short, Jesus “was proposing the questions, and solving them in His answers” (Bengel, “Luke 2”). H. Leo Boles put it like this:
“We must think of Jesus even at the age of twelve as being humble and respectful; his questions were not those of a pert and spoiled child, but of a youthful mind…seeking from the lips of age and wisdom a solution of difficulties, which he had already met in meditating upon the law of God” (Boles, p. 70).
Third, “all who heard him” — including the teachers — were “astonished” (existemi—“to drive out of one’s senses…confounded” [Abbott-Smith, pp. 160-161]) by his “understanding and answers.” He not only understood the things his teachers understood, he even enlightened his teachers with answers they themselves never contemplated. Thus, this twelve-year-old boy
“manifested more intelligence...than the ordinary scholar; his degree of intelligence was such that all were astonished at his understanding of the law” (Boles, loc. cit.).
If, as claimed, Jesus was the author of that law (cf. 1 Pt. 1.10-11), then the fact that he understood the law in this way is consistent with that claim. Whereas, if he ever exhibited a lack of understanding of the law, then that claim could easily have been falsified; but it never was.
As An Adult
Jesus’ intellect was no less acute when he came of age. Indeed, Christ was one “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2.3).
First, even Jesus’ critics conceded that he demonstrated a level of wisdom that was not of this world.
When his enemies dispatched their forces to seize Jesus, the arresting officers — doubtless pricked by their conscience — failed to comply, explaining:
“No man ever spoke like this man!” (Jn. 7.46).
Wayne Jackson pointed out that
“the word ‘man’ (anthropos—embracing all humanity) concludes this brief sentence (in the Greek text), and the stress appears to lie on this last word” — “Never so spoke man” — i.e., “The Lord did not teach as an ordinary man” (Jackson, pp. 4-5).
Hence, the officers were suggesting that Jesus’
“words cannot be explained simply on the basis of oratorical brilliance; the message clearly issued from a higher source” (ibid.).
This explains the response of the Pharisees to the officers: “Are you also deceived?” (Jn. 7.47). They knew what the officers were saying!
Thus, Jesus’ claim to have come “down from heaven” is corroborated by the sagacity of his teaching, which — even to his erstwhile enemies — suggested a source “from above” rather than from below (see also Jn 3.31-35; Jn 7.15-16).
Second, the Lord also exhibited mastery in logical argumentation.
(1) For example, through the flawless use of the reductio ad absurdum method — i.e., reducing an opponent’s argument to an absurdity — Jesus showed that the Pharisees’ denouncement of him eating with sinners was logically untenable, for the Pharisees themselves thought they were doctors of the law and of the soul; yet they kept far away from their spiritually sick patients who desperately needed their spiritual care — viz., tax collectors, harlots, etc. (Mt. 9.10-13). What kind of doctor does that? How absurd for a doctor to tend to those who don’t need healing, while running away from those who do!
Similarly, Jesus refuted the accusation that he was casting out demons by the power of Satan, as if Satan were trying to reduce his power and destroy himself (Mt. 12.24-26). Ridiculous!
(2) Furthermore, this mere Galilean carpenter skillfully employed deductive reasoning. Using this method of argument, for example, Jesus proved that he — as deity — had the authority to remit sins (Mt 9.5-7; Mk. 2.8-12; Lk. 5.22-26).
On another occasion, he devastated his detractors — who denied any notion of life after death — by proving that Moses taught the resurrection doctrine (Mt. 22.23-33; Mk. 12.18-27; Lk. 20.27-40). Perceiving the soundness of his argument, the Sadducees were “silenced” (Mt. 22.34).
And with the same type of argument, he also proved that by casting out demons — again, not by Satan (per above); thus, by the power of God — he was “surely” ushering in “the kingdom of God” (Mt. 12.28), a conclusion his enemies simply could not escape and for which the people of the crowd praised him (cf. Lk. 11.20, 27).
(3) Jesus also frequently used ad hominem (“to the man”) logic — not to prove a proposition but to expose an inconsistency in an opponent’s criticism.
In the same exchange, for instance, Jesus pointed out that if exorcism is a Satanic exercise, then what does that say about the Pharisees’ own “sons” (disciples/cohorts), who also attempted to cast out demons (Mt. 12.27), albeit unsuccessfully (cf. Acts 19.11ff)? Jesus is effectively asking them: Which is it? Is exorcism achieved by the power of God or by the power of Satan? If by Satan, they were admitting to working with Satan! And if by God, then why were Jesus’ demon-possessed patients restored perfectly whole, while theirs were not? Who, then, was really working with God; and who was not? Hence, what proves too much proves nothing.
Likewise, the Pharisees often criticized Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. Yet, Jesus’ actions actually honored the law of God (cf. Hos. 6.6) — and here’s the thing: The Pharisees themselves knew it on some level! How do we know that?
Jesus pointed out that the Pharisees themselves do good on the Sabbath too — for their animals! If their “ox or donkey” fell into a ditch on the Sabbath, they would not hesitate to help them out (Lk. 14.1-5). So in a way, Jesus agreed with the Pharisees on this point in action — it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. Sadly, the Pharisees didn’t agree with themselves.
In short, he asked: Is it right to criticize me for doing that which you yourselves agree is right to do?
And this was their reply: “ ” (Lk. 14.6).
(4) A fortiori (“from the stronger”) reasoning was perhaps the Lord’s favorite method of argument, which expresses a conclusion for which there is stronger evidence than for a previously accepted one.
In his exchange with the Pharisees over healing on the Sabbath, Jesus reasoned like this: Every single Pharisee “releases” their “ox or donkey” from the stall and leads it away to get a drink of water on the Sabbath, thus doing good for them. Well, since that is so, then surely it is also lawful to “release” a woman — who is much more valuable than a beast — from her eighteen-year infirmity on the Sabbath too (Lk. 13.10-16)! This argument thoroughly “shamed” his “adversaries,” and the crowds perceived both the force of his logic and the glory of his power to heal (Lk. 13.17).
Likewise, returning to the accusation that Jesus cast out demons by the power of Satan, Jesus employed a fortiori reasoning to refute the charge (Lk 11.21-22). If men of the world invade a strong man’s home and exert physical force over him to snatch away his possessions, and if we recognize that they could not be in league with each other in light of such antagonistic action, then it should be all the more obvious that, when Jesus exerted spiritual force to plunder Satan’s house (the demon-possessed individuals), he certainly could not be in league with Satan, as his enemies had senselessly alleged (cf. Lk. 11.15)!
The logical soundness of the Lord was immaculate.
Finally, Jesus also demonstrated a flawless knowledge of the Scriptures.
His enemies — many of whom were “experts in the law” (Lk. 7.30, NIV) — never could trip him up, though they often tried (cf. Mt. 22.15ff).
For example, the Jewish leaders correctly taught that the messiah would be a descendant of David. However, they falsely believed that the messiah would be an earthly king just like David, but no more than that.
In Matthew 22.41-45, after the Pharisees and Sadducees were again unsuccessful in their efforts to stymie the Lord, Jesus turned the tables around on them and went on the attack. “What do you think about the Christ,” Jesus asked. “Whose Son is He?” When they correctly replied, the “Son of David,” Jesus then quoted David’s words in Psalm 110.1, which the Pharisees conceded was about the messiah:
“The LORD said to my Lord, ’Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool’.”
Christ then asked: If your assumption is true, and the messiah really is nothing more than a descendant of David, then why did David address his son as his “Lord”?
His point was this: This psalm proves that the messiah would be higher in rank than even the greatest earthly king in Israel’s history. If David regarded him as “my Lord,” then the messiah must be considerably more than a mere descendant of David.
After this irresistible explanation of the Scriptures, “no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare question Him anymore” (Mt. 22.46).
Of course, anyone can string a few good arguments together. Being a good debater and a sound thinker doesn’t automatically make one God incarnate!
But the point is this: Jesus’ unblemished debate record and his acute reasoning skills are consistent with his claims of deity. Indeed, no one can disqualify his claim on the grounds of his intellectual character.
The English skeptic John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), assessing Jesus’ “life and sayings,” noted that
“there is a stamp of personal originality combined with profundity of insight, which must place the prophet of Nazareth, even in the estimation of those who have no belief in his inspiration, in the very first rank of men of sublime genius of whom our species can boast” (Mill, p. 254).
Philip Schaff graphically puts the Lord’s intellect in the exalted place it deserves to be:
“This Jesus of Nazareth, without money and arms, conquered more millions than Alexander, Caesar, Mohammed, and Napoleon; without science and learning, he shed more light on things human and divine than all philosophers and scholars combined; without the eloquence of schools, he spoke such words of life as were never spoken before or since and produced effects which lie beyond the reach of orator or poet; without writing a single line, he set more pens in motion, and furnished themes for more sermons, orations, discussions, learned volumes, works of art, and songs of praise, than the whole army of great men of ancient and modern times” (Schaff, p. 33).
When all of the checkboxes of his character are marked, his claims of deity still stand irrefutable.
Finally, many of the pioneers of the world’s leading religions passed from this life in a relatively peaceful fashion, surrounded by their disciples bidding their farewells.
Moses died at 120, when “his eyes were not dim nor his natural vigor diminished” (Deut. 34.7).
Siddhartha Gautama — the Buddha — “died at the age of eighty in Kushinagara, after ingesting a tainted piece of either mushroom or pork” (Brown, 2000).
The Chinese philosopher Confucius perished in his early seventies “from natural causes” (Wikipedia).
Muhammad, despite years of war and bloodshed, lived into his sixties (Zawadi).
None of them ever claimed that they could give their lives “a ransom” to save the world (Mt. 20.28; cf. Jn. 3.14-16). Jesus alone — the least deserving of death — offered himself as a sacrifice for man.
“I lay down My life for the sheep,” he said (Jn. 10.15). Indeed, “I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself” (Jn. 10.17-18).
He predicted his betrayal (Jn. 13.18-30), arrest (Lk. 9.44), conviction, torture, death, and resurrection (Mk. 10.33-34; cf. Mt. 16.21; Lk. 9.21-22). Even knowing these things in advance, he did not work to evade them. After all, this was the climatic thing he came to do (cf. Jn. 12.27)!
Once again, then, the claim that he came to earth to “give his life a ransom” for humanity is perfectly consistent with his actions. He was neither lying nor blustering. He voluntarily made the ultimate sacrifice, evincing that his character was not driven by personal gain, but by the highest form of love there is (cf. Jn. 15.13).
Jesus claimed to be the master of man; and he compels us to serve him by first serving us.
He claimed to be the fulfillment of prophecy; and he sinlessly fulfilled not only the prophecies of God, but every word God had commanded in the Law of Moses.
He claimed to be the divine son of God; and he exhibited a level of wisdom that was not of this world.
He claimed to be the savior and judge of the world; and he willingly gave himself up as a sacrifice for the sins of humanity.
In short, each of the astounding claims of Christ is corroborated by his character. And his character was consistent with the character of deity.
Nevertheless, as compelling as this evidence is, there is much more to examine. Next, we’ll explore the external evidence that persuades us to be a follower of this inimitable character.
Why not keep studying? Move on to part 3a: