What do you think of the Christ? (Matthew 22:42). With this question, Jesus confounded the Parisees of his own day and continues to confound his critics of today. Sooner or later everyone must answer the question: what do I think of Christ?
One is morally obligated to take a position about Christ, because the Lord himself made such extraordinary, world-historical claims about himself. His claims set him apart from all other religious leaders. Others were self-effacing; he was self-advancing. They pointed away from themselves and said, "That is the truth, as I have discovered it; follow that". Christ pointed to himself and said: "I am the truth; follow me". Further, Jesus alone, of all the world's religious founders, claimed to be the very deity he represented. Muhammad did not claim to be Allah; Buddha did not claim to be Brahma; Socrates did not claim to be Zeus; Moses did not claim to be Jehovah. Only Christ claimed to be divine, to be one with the Father who sent him (John 10:30).
Christ claimed to have a unique relationship with God. He did not permit the observation that he was only a son of God, one child among many. He was the son of God, the only begotten son, unique, extraordinary, one of a kind! Even as a lad of twelve in the temple, he was about his heavenly Father's business (Luke 2:49). He said that he and his Father were one (John 10:30).
Probably the boldest assertion Christ ever made about his divinity was to the Jews in John 8:56-59. When Jesus remarked that Abraham rejoiced to see his day, the Jews retorted: "You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?". Jesus replied: "Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I am." The designation, "I am", was a special title in the Jewish tradition reserved for God, alone; it was, indeed, the divine first name, the name God told Moses in Exodus 3:14 to tell the Israelites just before the Exodus from Egypt. By using this title for himself, Jesus made what was to a Jew, the strongest possible claim to deity. It was no wonder that they took up stones to throw at him (verse 59). Later, when Christ was tried before Pilate, his Jewish prosecutors cried: "We have a law, and by that law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God" John 19:7.
Christ also claimed to fulfill the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament.
On one occasion, while reading a passage from Isaiah in his home town of Nazareth, Christ ended the reading by saying: "This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears" Luke 4:21. In other words, Christ said, "Isaiah was writing about me". Imagine how that went over with the folks at home! Luke informs us that his people tried to throw him down the hill for making such a presumptuous statement (verse 29). On another occasion, Christ focused attention on the historical significance of his life and ministry by saying: "Blessed are the eyes which see the things that you see: For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which you see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which you hear, and have not heard them" Luke 10:23-24. To the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Christ affirmed that his ministry had completed everything written about the Messiah in the Old Testament (Luke 24:44).
Finally, Christ assumed functions and claimed prerogatives which only a divine being could have done. He claimed, for instance, to forgive sins (Mark 2:1-12), to teach the truth (Matthew 5:22), to bestow life (John 5:21),and to judge the world at the end of time (Matthew 25:31-46). This last assertion was truly a bold claim; surely only a God could untangle the confused motives of men and peer with unadulterated vision into the tortured wellsprings of human behavior and render an equitable verdict on a man's entire life. Certainly no human being could make such a claim (I Corinthians 4:5). If Christ is to be the world's judge, he must necessarily be divine.
Here briefly are the claims of Jesus Christ, spread out over a ministry of some three years or more. The magnitude of these assertions is only enhanced when we realize that these extraordinary claims were made by one who demanded humility in everyone else! No wonder the Jews of his own day tried to destroy him and some men since have considered him a trifle arrogant.
This charge of arrogance, however, becomes irrelevant if you would consider that Christ did not just make claims. He went on to work miracles to substantiate them (John 14:11). His resurrection, furthermore, established for all time, his divine sonship (Romans 1:4). It is not arrogance when a man claims to be something he in fact really is. Now, if Christ was truly all he claimed to be, then the charge of arrogance is beside the point. The crux of the issue then becomes: did Christ give sufficient evidence to back up his claims? We feel, like Nicodemus, that he did: "Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God; for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him" John 3:2.
Once a honest person is confronted with the claims of Christ in all their magnitude, he can have only three possible choices about Jesus.
1. He can say that the true "historical Jesus" never made these claims at all, but that they were merely attributed to him many years later by his adoring disciples. This position used to be very popular among liberals in the last century, and it is certainly the most convenient and comfortable position to hold about Christ. This view gets Jesus off the hook; he never made such preposterous claims in the first place. Yet, this theory is very difficult to maintain since discoveries in this century have pushed all four gospels into the first century. It is not conceded that the earliest gospel (sometimes thought to be Mark) may have been written as close as fifteen or twenty years after the death of Christ. If this is true, it is very unlikely that such a fraudulent picture of Jesus could have grown up in one or two decades and been circulated as true while most of the eyewitnesses of his life were still around. Most students of the subject, therefore, admit that Jesus made the claims attributed to him in the gospels.
2. You may say that Christ made the claims but they were false. If you take this tack, you must say one of two things: either he was the world's greatest liar, or he was insane or demented. For if Christ made the claims and did not believe them himself, he was the greatest trickster and charlatan the race has yet produced; millions are still suffering from his mischief. Conversely, if Christ made the claims and believed they were true when they were actually false, he becomes a pitiful example of the religious fanatic, the insane but gifted, charismatic rabble-rouser. Neither picture fits well with the fact that Jesus Christ started the most ethical religion the world has ever seen.
3. You clear up a lot of confusion if you simply admit Jesus was everything he claimed to be. In general, the greater a man is, the more he realizes his limitations and the less likely he is to make preposterous claims about himself. But the meaner, smaller, and pettier a man is, the more likely he would be to make pretentious assertions about himself. Christ fits into neither class, he confounds all our categories. Viewed only as a man, he was truly great and belongs with Socrates, Gandhi, Buddha - but then he claimed to be the divine, which none of these men would have done. Only fools like Nero and Caligula would have done that, and Christ does not fit with them. He fits in neither group; he was the greatest of men, yet claimed divinity! The paradox is dissolved only if we agree that his claims were true. If Christ was everything he claimed to be, then our attitude toward him is the greatest question of history. No other issue - whether racism, pollution, population, sex, or dope - ranks in importance with this one. Christ can make us new creatures by his power and give us divine energy to solve all these other problems. Jesus truly spoke to the ages when he asked: "What do you think of the Christ. .