Christians can now renew this once-broken love affair not because time healed the wounds, but because of a person in history who reconciled the two sides. This person, who came into the world 2000 years ago, was called Jesus.
Because of ample historical evidence recording his activities and teachings, nobody denies that Jesus was a historical figure. The most important documents are the four books written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Matthew and John were two of the original twelve disciples of Jesus, Mark was a student of another disciple named Peter, Luke was a doctor. These four books are an important part of the New Testament, collectively known as the Gospels. We will study these four books to find out more about Jesus.
Nobody in history had as many unique characteristics as Jesus. One was the way in which he talked about himself. Every religious leader must define himself, letting others know from where he derives his authority. Some leaders consider themselves pioneers. Others consider themselves fortunate enough to have received a special revelation from God. Jesus said: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”1 “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”2 “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”3
When we read these sentences, it is hard for us to think of Jesus as a humble man. Note that he did not say that he was a teacher showing us to the source of life, but he said that he was the source of life. For other religious leaders, the matter of their identity is only important in so far as it gives them authority. Once their authority is established, their identity bears no relationship with what they teach. The same concept exists in education. On the first day of class, the professor says, “I am Dr. X, and thus I have authority to teach you this subject.” After that, his identity has no influence on the content of the course. He has authority to lead us to the truth, but he is not the truth. Professor Jesus, on the other hand, said, “I will teach you about myself because I am the truth.”
His statement was unusual but not unreasonable. Let us look more closely at what Jesus said about himself.
Jesus, the son of a poor carpenter in Nazareth, claimed that he was the Son of God.
The fact that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God was no small matter. It would not be surprising for a person who has no respect for God to consider himself a “little God.” But to Jesus as well as to the Jews at that time, God was the Almighty and the Creator whose glory was beyond their imagination. By claiming to be God, not only did Jesus imply that he was more “spiritual” than others, but he also elevated himself from the limited to the unlimited, from the mortal created to the immortal creator, from the ever-changing to the immutable, and from the finite to the omniscient and omnipresent.
According to the Jews, Jesus committed the grave sin of blasphemy by claiming to be the Son of God. At that time, it was not uncommon to stone blasphemers to death. John tells us that after Jesus said, “My Father and I are one,” the Jewish leaders in fact did try to stone him. He asked, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” They replied, “We are not stoning you for any of these, but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”4 On another occasion, when the Jewish leaders objected to his healing of the sick on the Sabbath, Jesus responded to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him, not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but also was he calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.5
In a society where even the name Jehovah of God was avoided out of extreme reverence, Jesus demanded that people worship him as God. He said, “He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.”6
According to Jesus, to know him is to know God, to see him is to see God, to believe in him is to believe in God. He was the Son of God, and God revealed himself through him.
Not only did he explicitly claim to be the Son of God, Jesus also said that he had the ability to do things that only God could do. For example, he forgave the sins of others. Mark narrates the following story: “Some men brought their paralytic friend to Jesus to be healed, as he was teaching inside a house. Not being able to get through the crowd, they made an opening in the roof and lowered their friend through it, in front of him. Seeing their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ Some of the teachers of the law thought to themselves, ‘Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming. Who can forgive sins but God alone?’”7
These teachers were right. We can forgive those who sin against us, but no third party besides God can forgive a conflict between two other persons. Furthermore, if the weightiest sin that a person can commit is against God, then who can forgive such a sin but God?
Jesus also said that he has the ability to give life. Life is something that we receive from God and only God can bestow. Yet Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”8 He compares himself to a “spring of water welling up to eternal life.”9 He considers himself a good shepherd. His sheep hear his voice. He knows them and they follow him. “I give them eternal life, they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.”10
He warned us that he would judge the world. “The Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the son.”11 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”12
Not only did Jesus say that he would judge the world, but he made clear that the criteria he used to judge people would not be the way that they treated each other, but their attitude towards him. Those who publicly acknowledged him in this world, he would acknowledge. Those who denied him, he would deny.13 He said, “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesize in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”14 This implies that Jesus professed to know everything and he would judge people according to their real attitude towards him, rather than their outward actions.
He also claimed to be able to satisfy the highest need of humans, a need that money cannot fulfill. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”15
The fact that Jesus made these statements cannot be denied. Furthermore, these statements are not isolated, but play an integral role in his teaching. Therefore we cannot dismiss these claims as being insignificant. If we want to understand him, we must study these claims further.
Many people regard Jesus as a great man, but not as the Son of God. I am afraid that after studying Jesus’ claim of being the Son of God, the two views would violently conflict. In considering his identity, we cannot have such a neutral attitude. His claims must be either true or false. If he truly is the Son of God, then we are obliged to worship him, regardless of his promises to reward us. On the other hand, if his claims are false, Jesus cannot be a great man, but he can only be a liar or a lunatic. We can either worship him or despise him (and prepare to accept the consequences of our path), but we cannot simply regard him as a great man.
To reach a more informed conclusion, let us study other aspects of his life.