While he was yet speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold, a voice out of the cloud, saying,
“This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him” (Matthew 17:5).
The central claim of the Bible–being the inspired Word of God, guiding men to understanding God and presenting the way in which men should live (2 Timothy 3:16-17)–stands or falls on its claims regarding Jesus of Nazareth. If what the Bible reveals about Jesus of Nazareth is true–that He was the Messiah, the Son of God, who died, was raised again, and is now Lord (Acts 2:36, 1 Corinthians 15:1-7)–then we must accept the Bible for what it claims to be, we must respect Jesus Christ as Lord, and we must follow His precepts if we desire eternal life. If the Bible makes false claims about Jesus of Nazareth, then human beings remain in their sin, people are left without any real hope of knowing about God, and Christians are of all people to be most pitied (1 Corinthians 15:13-19). The importance of our inquiry cannot be overstated. Who did Jesus of Nazareth claim to be, and is the Bible’s account of Him trustworthy?
We can first establish safely that Jesus of Nazareth really existed. Those who claimed to be His disciples went about proclaiming His message, assuming that their audience already knew of Him (Acts 2:22). Stories regarding Him and His teachings were written down by His followers from 20 to 70 years after His death. The Jewish historian Josephus and the Roman historian Tacitus also testify to the existence of the Christians and what they said about Jesus of Nazareth. If we cannot trust all the sources that speak of the existence of Jesus, then we cannot trust that anyone existed in the ancient world!
What did Jesus claim about Himself? Many today are quite content to accept the fact that Jesus really did exist, but they believe like many of the Jews of the first century: He was a prophet, a good man who did some good things and taught good truths, but nothing more (cf. Matthew 16:13-14). Yet Jesus Himself testifies that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and God Himself (Matthew 16:15-17, John 8:58).
It is therefore impossible for Jesus just to be a “good man.” He is either accurate in His claims and represents the Lord of all the living, the Christ of God, one worthy of our honor and worship, or He is a fraud, an egomaniacal charlatan who was guilty of the greatest deceit foisted upon mankind. There can be no middle ground when such claims are put forward!
What shall we say to this? The evidence from the Bible and history would surprise many. Jesus acts in many ways that are consistent with first century Judaism, and everything He says is understandable in that context, and yet what He puts forward regarding Himself and His Kingdom has no parallel at the time. He died an ignominious death that was largely misunderstood, even by His own followers. His disciples, initially dispirited after His death, would later claim to have seen Him raised again, and began to testify to this boldly even to those who killed Jesus (Acts 4). While the message was challenging, no one stepped forward with His body to refute their claims.
His disciples took the message throughout the Roman world, and themselves suffered greatly on account of their belief in Jesus. Despite official and unofficial disapproval and attempts at suppression, Christianity continued to grow exponentially.
No one has yet offered a more viable explanation of the events that occurred in Israel in the first century CE than the story the Bible presents. No other explanation makes sense of all the evidence that is given. Even though it may seem contrary to every principle that humans hold dear, Jesus and Him crucified represents the wisdom of God and the power of God to salvation (1 Corinthians 1:18-25, Romans 1:16).
Jesus’ claims are startling: He is the Messiah, the Son of God, and God Himself. He is now Lord. The Gospels attest to this, and the Gospels indicate that God the Father Himself approves of the Son and desires for all to heed His voice, as indicated in Matthew 17:5. It is not enough to believe that Jesus is a good man; Jesus must be your Savior, or can do nothing for you (John 3:16, 1 Timothy 2:5). Let us serve the risen Lord!