The Jesus Trilemma

Truth

I recently had the opportunity to write a brief apologetics resource for Need Him Ministries, which has been my employer since January. The mission of the ministry is to share the Gospel with anyone who reaches out via telephone, online chat, or text in response to one of our advertisements. The topics we address vary greatly between individuals, but one question that is a continual concern for many (especially Muslims) is the topic of Jesus’ deity, the focus of my article.

I’ve shared it below in the hope that it would be both an encouragement to you personally and a tool to sharpen your sharing of Christ with others.

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Since the beginning of the church, one of the most pressing questions facing Christianity is whether or not Jesus is actually God. Because of his influence and the prominent mark his life left upon the world, every major worldview has an explanation for Jesus’ existence. While it may establish some common ground in conversations concerning Jesus, it’s important to note that nearly all other religions fundamentally deny that Jesus was God. Instead, they paint him as an inspiring and noble moral teacher whose words unfortunately cast too many ripples against the prevailing views of his day and consequently resulted in his untimely death.

Observably, such a view poses critical problems for Christianity. If Jesus is nothing more than a mere man, Christians are to be pitied above all people because our faith is in vain (1 Cor. 15:19). Fortunately, this is not the case. In his work, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis offers a firm challenge to the view of Jesus as a good moral teacher:

“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. 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.”

Simply put, Lewis offers three interpretive options by which to view Jesus – he was a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord. A serious consideration of the Bible’s teaching regarding Jesus disqualifies the option of believing he was only an honorable, yet fully human, teacher of good morals. In order to flesh this out, let’s consider four important biblical points in connection to Jesus’ divinity:

1. Jesus forgave sin

In addition to his many miracles and compassionate healings, Jesus clearly believed that he possessed the ability to forgive sin (Mk. 2:5; Lk. 5:20; 7:48). Anyone can forgive someone who has harmed him or her personally, but only God has the authority to forgive those who have sinned against another. The reason for this is because all sin is ultimately an offense against God himself because it is a violation of his created order. When Jesus declared sinners as forgiven, he did so in such a way as to give the impression that he was the primary target of the offense, consequently inciting charges of blasphemy for claiming an ability solely possessed by God. Of course, this claim to such authority would make perfect sense if Jesus were in fact God. The only way to consider these statements as honorable incidences throughout Jesus’ ministry is to rightly conclude that he is God made flesh. If Jesus was only a man, then he was either a liar or a lunatic for claiming powers only God possesses.

2. Jesus accepted worship from others

The New Testament offers numerous examples of individuals worshiping Jesus, especially those who witnessed his healing and miraculous powers (Matt. 14:33; 28:9; Lk. 24:52; Jn. 9:38). More importantly, his disciples worshiped Jesus. Thomas, after seeing the physical wounds of the resurrected Christ cried out, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn. 20:28). Jesus repeatedly taught that worshiping anyone/anything over God was idolatry (Matt. 22:37). Personally accepting worship from those who followed him would have been deceptively cruel, immoral, and manipulative unless Jesus was in fact God in the flesh.

3. Jesus rose from the dead

All of the hope offered by Christianity hinges on one important reality – the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If there was no resurrection, then Jesus could not have been God. Instead, he would have been another imposter claiming to be the Messiah for personal gain. However, Scripture teaches that Christ did rise from the dead two days after being buried in a tomb sealed by a large rock and watched carefully by a Roman guard. In addition, he appeared to over 500 witnesses (1 Cor. 15:6) prior to his ascension into Heaven. In the years following, many of those same witnesses willingly surrendered themselves to horrific deaths after refusing to recant their belief in the resurrected Christ. Evidence for the resurrection is substantial both inside and outside of the Bible and offers tremendous support for the deity of Jesus.

4. If Jesus wasn’t God, the New Testament is incoherent

On a broader level, the New Testament as a whole universally portrays Jesus as God. He is described as being God from the beginning (Jn. 1:1); the exact imprint of God’s nature (Heb. 1:3a); the Christ (1 Jn. 2:22); the form of God (Phil. 2:6); the creator and sustainer of the universe (Heb. 1:3b); the visible image of the Father (Col. 1:15); and an equal member of the Trinity (Matt. 3:16-17; 28:19). The men who penned these words walked and talked with the Jesus they describe. Denying the deity of Christ plunges the New Testament into confusion and severely twists the picture of Jesus presented in the Gospels.

While anyone can (and many do) deny that Jesus is God, no one can rightfully claim that he was only a man in light of how Scripture describes him. Jesus’ life and teachings do not allow for such a conclusion. He was either a liar, a lunatic, or he was exactly who he claimed to be – the Son of God made flesh who offered up his life as a substitutionary sacrifice for sinners; the One to whom every knee will bow and every tongue confess; the Christ through whom salvation is offered as a gift received by grace through faith in Jesus.

*Photo by Dave (CC)
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