There are many viewpoints on who Jesus is.
Muslims believe he was a messenger of God, a great prophet and the promised Messiah come to save mankind. Jews believe he was a good man, but neither prophet nor Messiah. Scientologists have a similar viewpoint. Mormons believe he was the Son of God, brother of the devil, a prophesied prophet, and Messiah. Jehovah’s Witness believe he is Michael the archangel, the first being ever created. Buddhists see him as a teacher sharing very common ideals as their own.
Today, though, I seek to address the Christian viewpoint of Jesus from an apologetic stance. Yes, He was a messenger. Yes, He was Messiah. Yes, He was a prophet. Yes, He was a good man – the only good man, in fact. Yes, He was a teacher. No, He isn’t Michael. Yes, He saved mankind.
But there’s one thing that all of these other religions are missing: Jesus was, is, and will always be God.
I know I seem to reference C.S. Lewis a lot, but I think he makes a pretty solid case in Mere Christianity when he tries to defend the deity of Christ. A man like Jesus cannot be a good moral teacher unless He is God, because Jesus’ claims to deity throughout His life would qualify as leading the people astray and misinforming them, something a good and moral teacher would not do. Lewis also points out that there is a third option: perhaps He is a lunatic, someone crazy enough to think He is God without actually being God. But even here, nobody would go to a lunatic for good moral teachings. This is where we get the “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord” trilemma, one that has stood the test of time (other than the tacking on of a fourth, “Misunderstood” Christ, an argument which doesn’t hold much ground). The thing is, almost each of the above religions hold Jesus as at least a good moral teacher – and thus neither liar nor lunatic – so we deduce that either Christianity is wrong, or else all of the others are.
If you think I’m going to defend Christianity, then you are 100% correct.
Take a step back for me, forsaking all of what you think you know for a second. Zoom out of the picture and look at the story of Jesus from what we could best assume as an objective perspective. If God were to kill a fully righteous man – even if the man willingly sacrificed himself – that would not make things better, as is the claim of Christianity. Christians believe that the death of Christ served as an atonement for all sins, the payment for the iniquity that all men since Adam have brought upon this world (save one, Jesus). By killing this fully righteous man, God would simply be increasing the injustice in the world, not bringing justice. You see, in this scenario, a man who successfully accomplished what no other man had ever done or could ever do would be brutally punished in the place of all those who had failed. One man, in the place of an entire history of mankind. How is that justice? (If this man was nothing but a man, his death could, at most, substitute for one other human being. For one regular old human being to die in the place of billions and billions of people is like slapping Hitler on the wrist for bringing about the Holocaust – or perhaps merely verbally getting onto him -- and calling that "justice.")
I think it best to address this scenario by thinking of it like a judge in a courtroom. For the sake of the analogy I seek to make, assume that the judge is preceding over thirty people who are undeniably, 100% guilty of the crime for which they are being tried. Nevertheless, instead of convicting the thirty guilty people, the judge turns to one innocent man and convicts him instead. Even if the man is willing, this is not justice; surely it would take another thirty people being punished to make the cut even – thirty being punished for the sake of thirty wrongs. It does not make logical sense that one man’s punishment is enough to appease thirty misconducts. That is not equal, and therefore not just.
Now let’s make the scenario more extreme. There are not simply thirty guilty people, but billions, and they are not guilty of only one crime, but thousands, perhaps millions. There are not a handful of innocent people to choose from but only one – he is the only one to successfully follow the law to perfection. How could it be called justice that this one man be punished? (1) This penalty is not severe enough – unless the man could endure billions of deaths, which is impossible for a single man – and (2) the innocent man is being punished for no reason, seemingly purely because he existed. It would be as if the judge waited for one man to do the right thing simply so he could punish him for not falling to iniquity. In this case it would be better to be the guilty man than the innocent one, and doing evil would make more logical sense than doing good, because at least in doing evil you would get away unpunished. See the fallacy there? In this extreme scenario, the justice is even more skewed because God – the Judge – is punishing the only man who ever fully obeyed Him. The man is being punished for following the will of the man in charge of punishing. Those who are disobeyed are set free, while he who obeyed is punished. And while yes, this is the story of the Gospel, it simply does not work if Jesus Christ was only a man. Yes, He could be a man – and He was a man – but He cannot be just a man. And I will get to that in a second.
Before I do that, though, there is something else that needs be addressed. The argument could be made that God is allowed to make an exception to what we define as “justice” in this particular case, since He is God and is therefore entitled to define justice as He sees fit. And, in all honesty, I considered this argument as I developed my point. But, as I considered this, I arrived at the following conclusion: God is Justice and therefore cannot divert from it. This is not a limitation of God’s power, but a mere statement that certain things are impossible, even in omnipotence. God has no choice but to be that which is Good, that which is Love, that which is Beauty, and that which is Just, for if He were to stray from any of those ideals, our ideas of what it means to be good and what it means to love and what it means to be beautiful and what it means to do justice would therefore shift along with Him, since our very conceptions of those traits trace back to Him. He is the source of all things positive, and anything that diverts from that source is sin, a missing of the mark. This is where we get Evil, Fear (for Fear, not Hate, is the opposite of Love), Brokenness, and Injustice. Thus we must define justice as God defines justice, and then recognize that God, even in His omnipotence, cannot stray from that path. (And as we see in the Bible, justice is this: guilt deserves punishment, while innocence deserves freedom.) Therefore we cannot claim that God could simply adjust to another idea of justice, for that is something He is incapable of doing.
That being said, I must now address the necessity of Jesus being not only a man, but more than a man. Of course, He needed to become a man so as to experience the temptations and overcome them, to feel the pains that we feel and the longings that tug at us so that He could push beyond them, to succeed at that which all of us have failed. If He had not done this, then justice would once again be lost, for if He was only God and not a man, than surely He who has never experienced our pain would be incapable of being an accurate substitute for the guilty. That is like taking an innocent child with no worldly experience and throwing him into the penitentiary in place of a mass murderer and calling it justice.
But still, what of those who do not agree that Jesus is God? No one disputes that He was a man, so it is this last piece of the puzzle that I must linger on for the longest. Let us return to our scenario with the judge ruling over the trial – the extreme scenario, with billions of guilty people and only one innocent. In a scenario such as this, we have already proved the injustice of punishing the innocent man, so we see that the judge is only left with one choice: he must willingly volunteer himself as the substitution. This guarantees that it isn’t out of obligation (for of course the innocent man would have willingly offered himself, since he always is aligned with the judge’s will, hence his innocence) but out of love; the judge sees the guilty and realizes that he alone can save them. To condemn an innocent man would be unjust, but to willingly take the punishment upon himself… that is much closer to justice. To make the scenario even more extreme once again, we must realize that there are in fact zero innocent people and all are guilty. The only innocent one is the judge himself, and thus he is the only one capable of taking on the punishment of the masses.
And I know what you are thinking: “David, if the judge volunteers himself, then you still face the same problem as you did with the single innocent man! He is but one man, and his death alone could not successfully account for billions of iniquities. That is not an even balance, and therefore not justice.”
And I would agree with you, for that is my point exactly.
You see, this is the point I have been getting at all along: We have at last arrived at the conclusion that the judge is the only possible solution to paying penalty for this crime, but the solution falls flat when you realize that the judge is but a man, and therefore his death could only be enough to save one other man, not billions. In order for this justice to account for all the guilty present within the courtroom, the judge must be more than a man – a "man" so as to have the experience and overcome it, but "more than a man" so that his death can count for more than one of the guilty. He has to be so much more than a man that he can take all of their places, in fact, an entity so great that his death and his death alone was enough to save every single guilty person to have walked the face of the earth. You can run this scenario through your mind again and again and again, but the only way that this is achievable is if the judge somehow had a relationship to each and every guilty member in the courtroom, a common denominator that draws them all back to them.
He must be their Creator.
He must be their God.
Do you see my point? The only possible way for one man’s death to account for the death of all who are guilty is if that one man was God and if those who were guilty recognized that man as God, thus falling under the shadow of His protection, including themselves amongst that common denominator. How else could He account for every last individual?
Still, we reach a problem. All because this man is God does not tell us why He would bother dying for these people. What have they done for Him other than blatantly disobey His Law again and again and again? If they had obeyed Him, none of this would be an issue, so why should He bother dying in the place of those who got themselves into their own sticky situation?
The answer is simple: Grace. You see, this man, while the Creator of each of these people, evidently has a more personal relationship than we at first thought. Not only does He draw them together as Creator, but He apparently loves them enough to die for them…
Like the love of a Father.
So here we see that Jesus must be one with the Father. And if they have a Spirit, it must be shared. Father, Son, Spirit. Three in one. This is the only possible way in which justice can be served, because if the Father and Son are not one, than the Son would be only Creator and thus not obligated to save those who rejected Him.
To conclude my argument, let me present you with this:
- If God is real, He must be just.
- If God is just, He must punish all evil.
- The punishment of one normal man cannot cover the punishment of many.
- The only thing worthy of covering an entire history of evil is the thing that has been there to witness it all.
- Thus, only two things are capable of being a worthy penance: either the world itself, or its Creator. One must die.
That is the beautiful thing. We all deserve death and this world deserves destruction, and God, as a Just Being, would be fully justified at bringing about such a conclusion – we see that in the above five points. But the thing is, He willingly chose to be the sacrifice, choosing our salvation over our destruction, our undeserved life over the death we deserved. This is a testament that God must be loving, loving like a Father to a child – and thus the Father and Son, while separate, must be one. Think of the words of Christ shortly before His arrest: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21).
God died for us to give us a second chance, for He is a just God and it was, in His eyes, the better of two options. Either we died or He died, either we get what we deserved or He took it upon Himself.
If you’ve never recognized this love, I plead with you to give it some thought. Recognize God as Good, as Love, as Beauty, and as Just, and remember that His banner over you is a beautiful thing called “Grace.” Bask in His glory and let it seep into your veins, recognize Jesus as not only Savior but as Lord, the God of Creation having come to save you. It is the best decision you will ever make.