The key to understanding of the Bible and of God is the person
of Jesus Christ. No other person in history has affected
mankind as much as Jesus Christ has. No person has been as
much honored and worshipped as Jesus Christ has, and yet at the
same time no person has remained as much a mystery to the human
mind as He has. Many historians have considered Him a great
leader, and many social reformers have considered Him a great
teacher of mankind. Napoleon ranked himself equal with
Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and Charlemagned, but
acknowledged that Jesus was above all of them and belonged to
a different class. The early Marxists denied that He is God,
and Engels even denied that Jesus ever existed. But later
Marxists admitted that attempts to erase Jesus from European
history and culture were fruitless and ridiculous, and that
Jesus is "an example of the most sacred human values."
However, is Jesus of Nazareth merely a great leader, a great teacher, and a model of the most sacred human values? Who is Jesus? This is one of the great questions among men since the birth of Jesus nearly two thousand years ago. The Jews of His day who opposed Him said that He was a mere carpenter from Nazareth, the son of Joseph; they said that He was only a man. Others among the Jews said that He was John the Baptist, or Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. The Gentiles of the past generations have said that He was a religious revolutionary, a great philosopher, a noble moralist, or a sacrificial servant.
One day Jesus earnestly desired to reveal Himself to His disciples, so He took them to a place called Caesarea Philippi, far away from Jerusalem, where the atmosphere of the old Jewish religion filled every man's thought. At Caesarea Philippi He asked His disciples, "Who do men say that the Son of Man is? And they said, Some, John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets" (Matt. 16:13-14).
Then Jesus proceeded to ask them a most pointed question, a question which we all must answer: "But you, who do you say that I am?" (v.15). Only one of Jesus' disciples, Peter, answered by saying, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (v.16). By saying that Jesus was the Son of teh living God, Peter was saying that Christ was God Himself (John 10:30, 33; 5:18; 1:1 20:28; 1 John 5:20; Phil. 2:6; Heb. 1:8). The Lord responded to Peter by saying, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in the heavens" (v.17). We need heavenly revelation to receive the blessing of seeing who Christ really is.
The Gospel of John tells the story of a disciple named Thomas who refused to believe the other disciples when they told him that they had seen Jesus after His resurrection. Thomas said, "Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails and put my finger into the mark of the nails and put my hand into His side, I will by no means believe" (20:25). Eight days later Jesus appeared to the disciples again, and this time Thomas was with them. "Then He said to Thoman, Bring your finger here and see My hands, and bring your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing. Thomas answered and said to Him, My Lord and my God! Jesus said to him, Because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed" (vv. 27-29). Thomas's declaration of belief was that Jesus was his Lord and his God. Jesus' response was that all who believe as Thomas did are blessed.
One of the most important foundations of the Christian faith is the confession that Christ is God. Christ is not just a great man; He is the very God Himself. When one of Christ's disciples, Peter, acknowledged that Christ was the Son of the living God, he was proclaiming one of the greatest mysteries of the universe. The Christian church is founded upon this revelation of the divine person of Christ. Martin Luter, the Protestant reformer, said, "Take hold of Jesus as a man, and you will discover that He is God."
If you want to know who a man is you must ask him. Throughout history no philosopher, religious leader, or sage has dared to claim to be God. Only Jesus said that He is God.
There are many proofs to show
that Christ is God. The first is the way Christ was born on
earth. We know that the way a person is born tells much about
the person's origin. Christ was born of a virgin named Mary
(Matt. 1:18). He was not born through human conception, but
was conceived through the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:20). If He had
been a mere human being, He would have come to earth in the
same way that ll other human beings come. Yet Jesus Christ
came to earth in a way that is different from all human beings.
All human beings are born of human parents, but Jesus came as
a mingling of the Holy Spirit with man. During the past few
hundred years many people have tried to overturn the historical
fact of the virgin birth by saying that such an occurrence is
contrary to scientific law. However, one must realize that
science can explain only natural phenomena. All supernatural
phenomena are inexplicable by science; they are beyond the
realm of scientific inquiry. Surely God, the Creator of the
universe and the Author of all scientific principles, is not
constrained to act within the limits of natural law. It is
most reasonable that God should come to earth in a supernatural
way different from all other mortals.
The fact that Christ was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of a human virgin means two things. First, it means that Jesus bears divinity in His being. A human conception bears the human element, while a divine conception bears the divine element. All humanity bears only the human element. Only Jesus Christ was born with the divine element as well as the human element. This proves that He is the unique God-man.
Second, all human births carry with them the element of sin. But a birth that is different from the natural birth does not bear the human hereditary element of sin. All men are born sinners, but Christ was born a sinless One. He was the sinless God-man - the complete God and the perfect man.
The prophet Isaiah spoke of Christ's birth by saying, "For a child is born to us, a son is given to us; and the government is upon His shoulders; and His name will be called...Mighty God, Eternal Father..." (9:6). Approximately seven hundred years before Jesus was born, Isaiah foretold that Jesus would be a child born to us as the mighty God and a son given to us as the eternal Father. The prophet Micah also made a startling prophecy about seven hundred years before the birth of Christ. He said that in the city of Bethlehem there would come forth One who was to be Ruler in Israel, and His goings forth would be "from ancient times, from the days of eternity" (5:2). This prophecy indicates that in eternity past God planned to go forth to enter into humanity. Thus, in the birth of Jesus, God stepped out of eternity into time and entered with His divinity into humanity to become mingled with man. Jesus is the very God mingled with humanity!
When Jesus was born, His name
was called Emmanuel, which means "God with us" (Matt. 1:23).
This is a title which no ordinary mortal could adopt. Jesus
could take on such a name because His coming was God's coming,
and His presence was God with man. None of us can say that we
are "God with man," because we are all merely human. But the
coming of Jesus Christ was the coming of God to man.
His name was also called Jesus, which means "Jehovah the Savior" (Matt. 1:21). Jehovah is God's personal name in the Old Testament. To say that Christ is Jesus is to say that He is Jehovah. He was not ashamed to be called Jehovah the Savior, because He is the very God Himself.
When He lived on the earth,
Jesus was always conscious of the fact that He was God. he
told the Jews, "Before abraham came into being, I am"
(John 8:58). The book of Exodus tells us that the name of God
is I Am (3:14). When Jesus said, "Before Abraham came into
being, I am," the Jews picked up stones to throw at Him
because they knew He was saying that He was God. Jesus as the
great I Am is the eternal, ever-existing God.
He called God "Father" (John 17:1), and He was not ashamed to call Himself the Son of God (Matt. 16:16). No religious leader has ever dared to call himself God. Neither Mohammed cor Confucius nor Socrates nor any great leader ever claimed to be God. But Jesus repeatedly proclaimed Himself to be God. He was put to death because He claimed that He was the Son of God (Matt. 26:63-66). His disciples openly declared that He was God. A person who claims to be God is either a lunatic, a liar, or God. Christ cannot be a lunatic, for His words display wisdom and soberness and have been the foundation of all Western civilization. He is not a liar, for no liar would be willing to sacrifice his own life for his lie. The only possibility left is that He is the very God. Some might admit that Jesus had a high standard of marality, this means that you believe He is not a liar, and you must take His claim of divinity as truth. Jesus repeatedly asserted that He is God. If you admire His morality, you must also recognize His deity.
Napoleon Bonaparte, when confined to the rock of St. Helena, "turned to Count Montholon with the inquiry, 'Can you tell me who Jesus Christ was?' The question being declined, Napoleon said 'Well then, I will tell you. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I myself have founded greate empires...upon force. Jesus alone founded His Empire upon love...I tell you all these were men: none else is like Him; Jesus Christ was more than man...He asks for the human heart: He demands it unconditionally; and forthwith His demand is granted. Wonderful!...All who sincerely believe in Him experience that remarkable supernatural love towards Him...Time, the great destroyer, is powerless to extinguish this sacred flame...This it is which proves to me quite convincingly the divinity of Jesus Christ!'"
Another proof of Christ's deity is the miracles that He performed on earth. One of the learned Jewish teachers of His time, Nicodemus, confessed that no one could perform the miracles that Christ performed unless God was with him (John 3:2). During His three and a half years of ministry He healed lepers (Luke 5:12-13), restored the lame (Matt. 11:5), the dumb (Mark 7:37), and the blind (Matt. 9:27-30), and even raised the dead (John 11:43-44). He cast out demons (Matt. 8:28-32) and quelled the storm (Matt. 8:23-27). He fed five thousand with five loaves and two fish (Matt. 14:15-21). He changed water into wine (John 2:1-11) and walked on the sea (Matt. 14:25). He had power over nature and authority over the demons. He exercised this power and authority to bring in the kingdom of God, and even gave this power and authority to His disciples. Some prophets in the Old Testament were able to perform miracles, but no one was able to perform miracles as Jesus did. Jesus was able to raise the dead to life because He is God and He holds the power of life. He proclaimed that He is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25). He proved Himself to be the Lord over nature and over Satan. The Gospel of John says that these miracles manifest His glory (John 2:11) and prove that He is the Son of God (John 20:30-31).
More amazing than the miracles
Christ performed are the words that He spoke. He spoke with
authority and life (Matt. 7:28-29; John 6:63). Many great
world leaders have left words of wisdom to posterity, but no
one in history has ever affected as many lives as Christ has
with His words. His words give life to millions and have
caused countless numbers of peole to die an dbe martyred for
Him. Napoleon was able to persuade his soldiers to die for
his cause whne he was alive, but when he died, his cause died
with him. However, two thousand years after Christ's death,
men and women all over the world are still willing to live and
die for Him. His words are quoted in books, libraries,
congress halls, and schools all over the world. His teaching
on morality and human relationships becomes the foundation for
a just an humane society (Matt. 5-7). But the most amazing
part of His teaching was not the wise and moral teachings that
He spoke, but His extraordinary claims about Himself. He said,
"I am the way and the reality and the life" (John 14:6). He
also said, "I am the resurrection" (John 11:25). He told men
that He was the light of the world, and that those who follow
Him will not walk in darkness (John 8:12). He said that He is
the bread of life and that those who eat Him will not hunger
(John 6:35). In fact, we can say that the main part of His
teaching is just concerning Himself. Most religious leaders
teach men doctrines, but the doctrines have nothing to do with
the teachers themselves. For example, Buddhism teaches
concerning reincarnation, but reincarnation has nothinbg to do
with the founder of Buddhism himself. But Christ's teaching
has everything to do with the person of Chrsit. If we take
Christ away, there is no more doctrine to the Christian faith.
The Christian faith is centered on what Christ is. Ther person
of Christ is the doctrine. Without Him, there is no doctrine.
Gandhi could not say that he was the light of the world, nor could Aristotle say that he was the way and the reality and the life. The greatest philosophers of the world can at most say that they point otherse to the way; they can never say that they are the way. But Christ said that He is the way and the reality and the life. One French philosopher once said that if the record of the Gospels were a forgery, the one who forged the records would be qualified to be Christ Himself.
Christ's life on earth was a sinless life. Once a woman caught in adultery was brought before Him. The Jewish law at that time required that everyone caught in the act of adultery was to be stoned to death. The people around Him tried to put Him to the test. He told the crowd that whoever had no sin should cast the first sone at the woman. At such a word, all the people left one after another, beginning with the older ones. In the end, only Jesus remained (John 8:1-11). He was able to chanllenge the others because He Himself is sinless. If He too had sin, He would not have had the boldness to challenge all the others in that way. Among those who were with Him while He was on earth were His mother and brothers in the flesh. None of them challenged His claim to sinlessness. This proves that He is God, for only God can be without sin. The Bible says that when He lived on earth, He was like us in every way, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). When He was taken before the Roman governor, the governor declared that he could not condemn Him for any sin according to the strictest Roman law (Luke 23:4). The thief who was crucified together with Him also declared that He had done nothing wrong (Luke 23:41). Judas, the disciple who betrayed Him, confessed that he had delivered up innocent blood (Matt. 27:4), and the centurion who crucified Him exclaimed, "Certainly this man was righteous" (Luke 23:47). Before His death He was judged and examined by nine groups of people: 1)the elders among the people, 2) the chief priests, 3) the zealous Pharisees, 4) the unbelieving Suduccees, 5) the political Herodians, 6) the legalistic lawyers, 7) the Roman governor Pilate, 8) Herod, and 9) the high priest. Through all these examinations He was proven to be sinless. Christ's sinlessness proves that He is God.
Not only was Christ sinless in Himself, but He was also able to forgive others' sins. Once when a paralytic was brought before Him, He told the sick person, "Take courage, child; your sins are forgiven" (Matt. 9:2). The scribes were indignant at His word because they realized that only God could forgive man's sins, and for Jesus to forgive sins meant that He claimed to be God. He could say such a word because He is indeed God! He has the authority to forgive sins (Matt. 9:6). On another occasion a sinful woman came to Jesus, and Jesus said to her, "Your sins are forgiven" (Luke 7:48). Those who were eating with Him at the same table said among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" (v.49). Christ could forgive sins because He is the very God.
After thirty-three and a half
years on earth, Christ died. His death was an extraordinary
death. It was different from the death of any other man on
earth. All religious leaders die as men and are buried as men.
But Christ died in a way that is different from men. His death
was distinct from ordinary human death in six ways:
First, He foretold His death to His disciples before it took place. He showed His disciples that "He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed and on the third day be raised" (Matt. 16:21). He not only foretold His death but also foretold that He would be raised three days after He died. This shows that His death was not an accidental death at the hands of men, but was a preordained death in the hand of God.
Second, His death was an exact fulfillment of the prophecies concerning the Messiah foretold by the prophets hundreds of years before. in the Old Testament, Psalm 22:15-18 describes the scene at Christ's death: "My strength is dried up like a shard, an dmy tongue is stuck to my jaws; you have put me in the dust of death. For dogs surround me; a congregation of evildoers encloses me; they pierce my hands and feet. I count all my bones; they look, they stare at me. They divide my garments to themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots." This is a vivid description of the way the Messiah was to die. if we read the record of the Gospels, we find that this was exactly the way Christ died. When Christ was hanging on the cross. His hands and feet were indeed pierced. The dehydration caused by the drainage of blood and water would surely have caused his tongue to stick to His jaws and His bones to stand out. Matthew 27:35 says that when the soldiers had crucified Christ, "they divided His garments among themselves, casting lots," a literal fulfillment of the words of the Old Testament prophecy.
Third, the time and the way Christ died was foreshadowed hundreds of years before in the types of the Old Testament. In Exodus 12 the record of the Feast of the Passover tells us that a lamb was to be prepared for the feast (vv. 3, 5-6). This lamb was to be without blemish and was to be examined for four days before the Passover. It was to be killed on the fourteenth day of the month on a wooden stick in the shape of a cross. This is a full portrayal of the way Christ died on the cross. Before He was put on the cross, He was examined by the Jews and the Gentiles six times and was found to be without fault. His death fell also on the fourteenth day of the month, the day of the Passover (Mark 14:12-17; John 18:28).
Fourth, when Christ died He said, "It is finished!" (John 19:30). When an ordinary human bing dies, it is the end of his career. No matter how great a person is, once he leaves the world, his work is over. But the death of Christ was not the end of Christ; rather, it was the capstone to His work. Death signaled not the termination of His career but the very culmination of His achievements. Such a death is surely not an ordinary death, but a death that has great significance and points to great achievements.
Fifth, Christ's death set off supernatural events,
which reflects the supernatural nature of His death. The death
of martals is the death of sinners for their own sins; but the
death of Christ is the death of God in humanity for sinners.
As such, it was an extraordinary death. When Christ died,
darkness fell over all the land at noon. The earth was shaken
and the rocks were split. The tombs were opened, and many dead
bodies were raised (Matt. 27:45, 51-53). Who in history ever
died in such a way? The phenomenon was so dreadful that the
centurion and those with him guarding Jesus became greatly
frightened and said, "Truly this was the Son of God"
(Matt. 27:54). Creation shook in fear and trembling because
it was the Creator who had died on the cross.
Sixth, the Bible says that Christ died as the Substitute for all sinners (1 Pet. 3:18) and offered Himself to God as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world (John 1:29; 1 John 2:2). While Christ was hanging on the cross, God placed the sins of the world on Him and considered Him the unique sinner dying vicariously on behalf of all men (2 Cor. 5:14). No ordinary human being, even if he were sinless, would be qualified to be the substitute for all men an dbear the sins of the entire world. Only a man could die for men and for men's sins, an donly God is great enough to embrace all men and bear the enormous weight of the world's sins. Thus, the One who died for sinners and their sins must be a God-man, the very God mingled with the genuine man. This is Jesus Christ our Savior.
Finally, the eternal efficacy of Christ's redemptive death is a proof that Christ is God. The efficacy of Christ's death is eternal, without limit in space or in time. Christ's efficacious death is applied to every believer, regardless of space and time. Christ's vicarious death accomplished an eternal redemption for us (Heb. 9;12, 14). If Christ had died as a mere man, the effectiveness of His death would not be eternal. Only God is eternal, and only what is accomplished by God can have an eternal effect. The blood Christ shed on the cross for us was not only the blood of Jesus the man but also the blood of the Son of God (1 John 1:7), even God's "own blood" (Acts 20:28). Therefore, it can cleanse us from every sin. The limit of its cleansing power is as great as the limit of our sins. The fact that Christ died as a genuine man qualifies Him to shed His blood to redeem us as men, and the fact that Christ is also God secures the eternal effectiveness of His redemption on our behalf. Thus, the eternal efficacy of Christ's redemptive death is sure proof that He is the very God.
The most wonderful thing about Christ is not only the way He died. but that He did not remain in death. He was in the grave for less that seventy-two hours. On the third day Christ rose from the grave (Matt. 28:1-6). This is a historical fact which no historian can overturn. He resurrected with a body and appeared to his disciples many times for forty days (1 Cor. 15:4-7; Acts 1:3). Many modern critics have dismissed the resurrection as a myth or a story that the early disciples fabricated. But the fact that so many witnesses saw Christ after His resurrection, and the fact that their encounter with the resurrected Christ brought about profound changes in their lives, are strong proof that the resurrection is not a fabrication. Before Christ's resurrection the disciples were fearful and disheartened; Peter even denied the Lord three times (Luke 22:54-62). After His resurrection the same group of people became bold and aggressive. Peter was the first one to stand up at Pentecost to preach to more than three thousand people (Acts 2:14). No fabrication can produce such a life-transforming change; nor could the disciples have been in any kind of religious hallucination, because all of them spoke soberly and behaved responsibly. The early chruch was not a community of self-deceived lunatics but a body of proper, upright, and sober-minded believers. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the greatest historical fact in the history of mankind. It changes the course of human history and opens the way for man to have a new life in Christ.
Almost two thousand years have
passed since the Lord Jesus Christ resurrected. During the
past two thousand years the history of mankind has proved that
nothing can destroy or remove this Christ from His place in the
world. Kings and empires have come and passed away. The Roman
Empire that was once the pride of ancient civilization has
crumbled to pieces, but the little Jesus of Nazareth who it
persecuted has triumphed and remained. Forty days after His
resurrection Christ ascended to the right hand of God
(Acts 1:9; 2:33-36). Today He is the King of kings and the
Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16). He is God, and He rules over the
whole world. Great monarchs and imperial dynasties have built
monuments and edifices to their memory, only to see them
falling to pieces through the eyes of their posterity. But
the name of Christ has remained, and His cross has shined
through the ages with ever-increasing glory. Kings and
conquerors have instituted calendars to commemorate their
reigns, but the only calendar that has remained is the
calendar of Christ. Today, in the East and in the West, from
the most industrialized nation to the most backward country,
everyone uses the universal calendar, the calendar of Christ.
Without realizing it, the whole world is acknowledging that
Christ is the only Monarch and the supreme Ruler.
Today, all world events are in Christ's hands. He is the real Administrator of the universe (Rev. 1:5). He has not allowed evil to perpetuate, and He has not left mankind to his own destiny. Behind the great wheel of human history is Christ's own omnipotent hand.
When the Jews killed Jesus, they thought that the disciples who surrounded Him would be dispersed in a short time. Little did they expect that in less than two months the situation would be completely turned and thousands would be converted to Christ. The Roman Empire despised the little communities of Christians and thought that its mighty imperial power could squash such a feeble movement in no time. Little did it realize that in less than four centuries the followers of Jesus the Nazarene would spread over its entire domain like wildfire, even to the point of swallowing up the Empire itself. The communists seventy-five years ago proclaimed that Christianity would die within that generation. Little did they expect that Christians all over the world would multiply by the thousands and millions, even right within their own atheistic countries. Today in Russia, in China, and in America, millions of Christians are testifying to the faith that they have found in Jesus Christ. Every day thousands of people are turning to Christ and are committing their lives to Christ. The Christian faith is not dead. On the contrary, it is more alive than at any other time is history. All this once again proves that Jesus Christ is God and that He lives forever.
A Christian is not a person who
believes in a dead religion. He is a person who believes in a
living Savior. Jesus Christ died two thousand years ago, but
today He is alive and lives forever (Rev. 1:18). When a person
calls on His name and believes in Him (Rom. 10:9), christ as
the living Spirit enters into such a one and changes his life.
Mohammed died, and his tomb is still in Mecca. Alexander the
Great died and is still lying in his tomb. All the great world
leaders died and are lying in their tombs or mausoleums. But
Jesus Christ lives; His tomb is empty and He is living within
millions of His believers. If you call on Alexander the Great,
you will receive no response, because he is dead. But if you
call on Jesus, He will come into you and will change your life.
He will turn your emptiness into reality, your darkness into
light, your weakness into strength, your fear into courage, and
your sorrow into joy. All who call on the name of the Lord
Jesus will surely be saved (Rom. 10:13).
One day Christ will appear again on this earth and will set up His heavenly kingdom on earth (Rev. 11:15). The Bible says that heaven is waiting for that day to come (Acts 3:21). But today you can experience Him by believing in Him. If you open your heart to Him, He will come into you to set up His kingdom within you. You will be brought out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light (Col. 1:13). Christ will be your new life within (Col. 3:4), and you will be a new person in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).
This article is taken from a series of gospel messages
given in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia in 1992. They have
been instrumental in bringing over 7,000 people to the knowledge
of God, the Bible, and the Christian salvation.
The entire series comprises six articles with the following topics: 1) The Bible, 2) There Is God, 3) Christ Is God, 4) Christ Is Spirit and Life, 5) Christ's Redemption and Salvation, and 6) The Meaning of Human Life.