(Emeritus Professor of Music Arthur Birkby has been on the faculties of Westminster College, the Philadelphia Conservatory, Western Michigan University, the University of Wyoming, and Biblion College & Seminary. In the following article, Dr. Birkby addresses the question that many people ponder this season of the year: just who was this One who was born in the manger so long ago.)
Arguments about one’s religious convictions have been going on for as long as people have been able to communicate with each other. In the book of Job 6:25 one reads, “But what does your arguing prove?”* More often than not, there is no satisfying resolution despite the bickering because matters of faith are often not proved. Furthermore, “faith,” by definition, is unquestioning trust; it can stand alone and has its own virtue.
What will be presented here will not let one easily “off the hook,” so to speak. Anyone who reads words ascribed to Jesus Christ in the Holy Bible, will be “put on the spot” by having to declare that Jesus is indeed the very God Himself, or that He is a liar, deceiver, and charlatan.
When considering the quotations of the Savior as they occur in the four gospels, one cannot have it both ways: that is, if what He says is true, He necessarily must be the divine Creator. Even those who do not embrace Christianity in all of its ramifications will perhaps reluctantly admit that Jesus was likely a good man, a moral, loving person, a great teacher, and an undeniable influence on world history. On the other hand, if what He is quoted as saying is not true, He is asking His followers to believe in a fraud and a liar. And if what He says is falsehood, misinformation, deceit, pie-in-the-sky silliness, or ignorance, Jesus is a hypocrite and an imposter. Under such circumstance, Jesus would not measure up to minimal standards of a decent person. He would lack all credibility.
Why is it that those who hold to no particular religious tenets are unwilling or disinclined to challenge Jesus’ sayings? What would happen today if someone were to say he had the authority on earth to forgive sins, thereby assuring entrance into heaven? (Matthew 9:6). Would he not be the laughing stock of those who heard him? An ultimate decision must be made by any rational person, upon being shown many of Jesus’ declarations. Is He God or a phony?
In the quotes by Jesus that follow, when He uses the term “Son of Man,” He could just as well have said, “I.” “Son of Man” is dealt with in some detail in Merrill F. Unger’s highly respected Bible Dictionary, where it is stated that the term occurs in both Old and New Testaments, and is now theologically associated with Jesus Christ. The Lord used it about eighty times in referring to Himself. “Son of Man” portrays Christ as the Representation of Man. That is, He uses this designation as it relates to His mission, His death and resurrection, and His second advent; and it is in this name that universal judgment is committed to Jesus. The term also implies that, in Jesus, the Old Testament prophecies relating to the coming Messiah find their fulfillment.
“Son of Man” is also found in the book of Ezekiel when captive Israel is assured that God will not forsake her, and that she is only a small portion of humanity about which He is concerned. With the title, “Son of Man,” Ezekiel is chosen, spiritually endowed, and delegated by God. These elements apply also to Messiah; and thus it is that Christ adopts the title for Himself. Whatever other theological implications to the term, “Son of Man,” it is necessary at this time only to recognize that it is naturally and freely used by the Savior to identify Himself.
Now let us consider some of the claims made by Jesus Christ that, if stated by anyone else, would be so utterly outrageous as to warrant immediate condemnation as blasphemy or raving megalomania. Imagine how an ordinary person would react upon hearing someone say, “Everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32).
When Christ said in Matthew 11:5, “[Through Me] the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them,” those who heard these words never denied their truth. Jesus’ miracles were evident to all of His critics. Unlike today’s self-proclaimed healers whose results are selective, hit-and-miss, or bogus, Jesus healed all who came to Him.
Not only does Christ proclaim His Lordship, but He verifies Bible events that many deny as having happened. Such is the case where He says in Matthew 12:40, “For just as Jonah was three days in the belly of the sea monster (He did not say `whale’), so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” In the next verse Jesus puts the “cherry on the sundae,” so to speak, by declaring, “and behold, someone greater than Jonah is here.”
These statements as well as many others to follow occur in other gospel accounts, and need not be repeated here for validation.
After mentioning the Queen of Sheba’s visiting King Solomon to verify his reputation as a mighty ruler, Christ states in Matthew 12:42, “Behold, a greater than Solomon is here.”
Christ indicated that He was making manifest the words of the Old Testament when He stated in Matthew 13:17, “Many righteous men and prophets desired to see what you see (Messiah), and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”
As in all instances where Christ identifies Himself, He said, “The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:41,42). This is one of numerous references made by Christ to the reality and nature of eternal perdition. Although many people today would like to ignore the actuality of an everlasting hell for unbelievers, there are more references to such eternal damnation by the “gentle” Jesus than from any other person in the Bible.
Predicting His own future that was fulfilled exactly as He averred, one reads in Matthew 17:22,23, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered unto the hands of men; and they will kill Him. And He will be raised on the third day.” When, if ever, has anyone else made such an announcement that has been the essence of belief for millions of people for centuries?
Self-styled prophets, who attempt to persuade their devotees concerning magnificent futures, usually die in ignominy and their adherents have suffered horrible ends. How different will be the destiny of Christ’s disciples to whom He said in Matthew 19:28, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
No other leader of a cult or sect has had the temerity to tell his followers, as Christ did in Matthew 24:9, “They will deliver you to tribulation, and they will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.” It is evident even today that many of the world’s ills and wars are a result of the absolute abhorrence for the name and person of Jesus Christ, and for those who follow Him.
Imagine, if you will, the reaction today to someone’s saying about himself, “The Son of Man will appear in the sky; and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of the sky with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30).
Throughout centuries of history attempts have been made by political as well as religious bodies to quash the Bible. Its very existence has been threatened and acted upon in ways that would surely eradicate any other document from the face of the planet. Yet, the Savior decreed in Matthew 24:35, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.”
And listen to these assurances of the Lord’s ultimate victory: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18), and, “I am with you, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
If advocates and devotees of a personage or a belief system want to portray their leader as having authority, power, or importance, it would seem reasonable to depict him as having plausible capabilities. It would be self-defeating to ascribe attributes to a champion that were clearly unbelievable. Perhaps a skeptic might reluctantly admit to a presumably miraculous healing having occurred. However, the “magic” required to pull off a stunt such as calming a storm at sea goes beyond rationality. Yet, this mighty act is related as a credible event in Mark 4:29 where the Lord commands, “Hush, be still.”
Not surprisingly, there are supposedly Christian churches these days that say Jesus never really asserted that He was divine. Such obstinacy is hard to believe, given the unassailable declaration of Jesus Himself. When asked whether He was the Christ, the Son of God, He gives His answer in Mark 14:62, which reads, “I am; and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
This is not an isolated or obscure mention of Christ’s admitting to being divine. Luke 22:70 relates when asked by the chief priests and scribes whether He, Jesus, was the Son of God, He replied, “Yes, I am.”
Among the many usurpers of divine status who have made outlandish claims about themselves, few indeed have gone so far as to establish their reputations upon being recognized aforetime in the Old Testament. That this was unequivocally declared in behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ occurs in Luke 4:18-21 where He was reading the Scriptures in the synagogue. The passage from Isaiah 61:1,2 stated, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” After reading this passage, Jesus said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
One reads in Luke 11:53 that the religious leaders in high places were hostile to Jesus; and this becomes evident in Luke 7:48 when Jesus forgives sins, and the scribes and Pharisees ask, “Who is this who can forgive sins?”
Often one hears the charge that Christians are arrogant when they say that Jesus is the one and only way into the presence of God. The believer is obligated without compromise to confess the truth found in Luke 10:16, “He who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me.” Similarly, in Luke 10:22,24 Jesus says, “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son.”
Another among the abundant references in which Christ clarifies His exclusive access to God is His saying, “Everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will confess him also before the angels of God; but he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God” (Luke 12:8,9).
Many declarations by Christ are so unequivocal and striking that, despite what may appear to be hyperbole, they are affirmed without compromise. While the Lord was being adulated by the throngs during His triumphal entry into Jerusalem only a few days before His crucifixion, He acknowledged His worthiness to receive worship, when He said, “I tell you, if these became silent, the stones would cry out!” (Luke 19:40).
Again, identifying Himself as the subject of Old Testament Scripture, Christ quotes Psalm 118:22 by stating in Luke 20:17,18, “What then is this that is written: `The stone which the builders rejected, This became the chief cornerstone? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.'”
Recognizing His being the essential topic of the Old Testament, Jesus cites another relevant passage from Isaiah 53:12, saying, “For I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, `And I was numbered with transgressors’; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment” (Luke 22:37).
Yet another citing in which Christ identifies Himself in Old Testament Scriptures is found in Luke 24:44 where He says, “All things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
The Lord gives an answer to those who deny His bodily resurrection following the Crucifixion, when they concoct dubious hallucination theories or some other ephemeral pretext. Luke 24:39 quotes Jesus as saying, “See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”
The issue of whether heaven is a real place rather than a state of being or some other identity, and what characterizes it, is put to rest when one reads John 3:13: “No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.”
Emphasizing His direct association with God and His heaven, Jesus also stated in John 6:46, “Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father.”
For those who throughout the ages, and even now, yearn for the appearance of the Messiah, their longings are put to rest when Jesus says about Himself to the woman at the well in John 4:26, “I who speak to you am He.”
The Lordship of Jesus Christ can hardly be more unambiguous than that found in John 5:37,39 where one finds, “The Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me. You seek the Scriptures because you think in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me.”
True Christians should be the first to acknowledge that they, like everyone else, are sinful human beings who required regeneration and forgiveness, which is available through the blood sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. Entrance into blissful realms in heaven is not dependent upon one’s morals, behavior, works, heredity, or any other factor.
Evidence that true believers in Christ Jesus as Savior have a personal relationship with Him is verified by this declaration in John 6:40 which says, “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone that beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” Now, that’s personal!
One of the generalities that pervade the minds of many people is that they are essentially “good,” and that everybody is a child of God. This notion is seriously flawed by Christ’s telling the religious elite in His day that, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father” (John 8:44). John 8:24 states, “Unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”
Even the so-called “do-gooders” of Christ’s era recognized their sinfulness, as evidenced by their strict regulations regarding temple worship and the offering of sacrifices for atonement. With this in view, it is astounding that the religious leaders were unable to respond to Jesus’ question in John 8:46, “Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak the truth, why do you not believe me?”
When confronted by the religious rulers, Jesus infuriated them by His series of assertions as recorded in John 8:51, 8:56, and 8:58. “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he will never see death. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad. Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was born, I AM.” The religious experts of that time recognized that the term, “I AM,” was synonymous with Jehovah.
Does anyone think for a moment that Jesus and His betrayer, Judas Iscariot, were in collusion when Jesus in John 13:18 quoted Psalm 41:9 which states, “I know the ones I have chosen; but it is as the Scripture may be fulfilled, `He who eats my bread has lifted up his heel against Me?'”
Further evidence that Christ was omniscient becomes obvious in John 13:19 where He comments, “From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He.”
Finally, one of the most touching elements in Christian doctrine is described by Christ in His “High Priestly Prayer” documented in John 17:5. Jesus is clearly identifiable as the inimitable personage of being One with God Almighty, and existing from all eternity as He prays, “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” No beginning, no ending. Christ was from eternity past, and ever shall be for eternity future. This is the essence of infinity!
At the outset of this essay it was postulated that anyone reading it would find it difficult to arrive at a middle-of-the-road decision concerning the Scriptures contained therein. These are some options: 1) All of the writers of the Old and New Testaments were complicit in managing to avoid errors and contradictions throughout the Scriptures. 2) Jesus must of necessity be fraudulent in order to make the bizarre statements attributed to Him. Most of the statements here would have no credence whatsoever if they were made by any mere mortal being. 3) Jesus, being God, cannot lie; and no one except an omnipotent Deity could make such statements. Choosing option 1) or 2) will assure an unequivocal eternity of abject misery, gloom, wretchedness, and desperation with no reprieve forevermore. Selecting 3) guarantees an eternity of bliss with the loving, omnipotent Creator of the universe. Are there other viable alternatives?
Dr. Birkby will be happy to respond to any question you might have regarding his comments in this article. You can write him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
* All Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Version.