“Who do men say that I am?” Jesus’ question to the disciples is still a very relevant and disputed question today. Two broad and divided categories can be designated to the responses, “Was he God, or was he man?” The disciples provided these two options: “Some say John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”
The popular opinion of Jesus’ identity was that he was a good man and ethical teacher. I will attempt to show that this is not a viable option given what Jesus claimed about himself. Peter, a disciple of Jesus, then responded with the believer’s confession, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” I will port forth an argument supporting this position. I will present three categories of evidence that indicate that Jesus was God’s Messiah to mankind, His very own Son. For the sake of this blog post remaining brief, I will note the primary piece of evidence In each of these categories.
Some people like to jump straight to the Resurrection when presenting evidence for Jesus’ divine identity. Technically, the Resurrection by itself does not necessarily prove Jesus’ identity. A resurrection could indicate any number of possible conclusions. It is within a particular context that the Resurrection indicates a particular conclusion. That context will be established by my first two categories of evidence, and then Resurrection will be my third and final piece of evidence.
Jesus fulfilled Messianic prophecy
The Old Testament contains prophecies concerning the promised Messiah. There is disagreement over what some of these prophecies were actually saying or if they were even Messianic. Some say that the number of prophecies that Jesus fulfilled was as high as 330. I do not think the actual number is quite that high, but I do believe there are many legitimate Messianic prophecies that Jesus did fulfill. A primary example of this is Isaiah 53. It predicted that the Messiah would die by means of crucifixion as a sin offering for man.
“But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds. We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the Lord has punished Him for the iniquity of us all. (vs. 5-6)”
This Messianic prophecy was recorded at least 500 years prior to the crucifixion of Jesus, and it predicts that the Messiah would die by means of crucifixion in stunning detail. The whole chapter provides an even more explicit and detailed description of the Messiah’s rejection and crucifixion as well as the spiritual implications of the event.
The description of Jesus’ crucifixion in the gospel accounts certainly does fulfill this prophecy, but are those accounts accurate? We can debate over the minor details but the event of Christ’ crucifixion is absolutely historical. Even radically critical scholars such as Bart Ehrman and John Dominic Crossan concede, “that Jesus lived and died by means of crucifixion is a historical fact.” Therefore, the historical fact is that Jesus did indeed fulfill this extremely significant Messianic prophecy.
Some object that this prophecy does not refer to a Messiah but rather to the nation of Israel. This interpretation of Isaiah 53 claims that it is the sufferings of Israel that is depicted. The problem with this objection is that this interpretation did not develop until 1,000 years after the crucifixion of Jesus.
From the time that it was written, this chapter has always been considered Messianic. The authentic understanding throughout Judaism all along was that there would be two Messiahs: A ruling and reigning King and a suffering servant. Is. 53 was always considered the primary example of the suffering servant prophecy. As it turns out, both roles were to be fulfilled in the one Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus’ claims about Himself
In determining what claims are authentic to the historical Jesus, I will only assume that which critical scholars attribute to him. The approach that scholars take is to accept those statements that are prevalent in the gospels but lacking in the rest of Christian literature throughout the early church period. Jesus most often referred to himself as the “Son of Man.” On the other hand, this title is scarcely present in the writings of the Church Fathers. If the early church rarely used this phrase, and Jesus frequently used it, we can undoubtedly attribute it to the historical Jesus.
On the surface, this title seems like a claim to humanity. However, this is actually a reference to Daniel 7: 13-14 which reads, “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”
This description hardly seems like one of mere mortality. This Messianic figure is attributed with authority, glory, and sovereign power. He is worshipped by every ethno-linguistic people group, and he possesses everlasting dominion.
When Jesus commonly referred to himself as the “Son of Man,” he identified himself with that Messianic figure and the description that accompanies it. He specifically quotes the Daniel passage in Mark 14: 62, “and all of you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.” The Jewish audience that Jesus appealed to was well aware of these Messianic overtones which probably explains with the religious leaders accused Jesus of blasphemy.
Jesus’ use of the title “Son of Man” was an overt Messianic claim that included the divine attributes described in the Daniel passage. This claim affirmed the disciples view of Jesus’ identity, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus affirmed his role both as Savior and God. Because he made this radical claim, he left us with only three options: Lord, Liar, or Lunatic. Jesus was either lying about his identity, or he was crazy in thinking so, or he was indeed Lord. Notice that these options exclude the possibility of Jesus being simply a good moral teacher. When Jesus claimed to be the “Son of Man,” was he lying? Was he crazy? Or was he precisely whom he claimed to be?
The facts that have been presented thus far is sufficient to establish a Messianic context in which the Resurrection occurred. In this context, the Resurrection verifies what Jesus claimed about himself as well as what the prophets foretold. The only matter left to determine is did the Resurrection of Jesus actually occur?
Indeed, an extraordinary event such as a resurrection requires ample evidence. This post does not permit such length. I do believe that a cumulative case can be made that demonstrates the historical probability of the Resurrection. In other words, when all of the known historical data is taken into consideration, the Resurrection is the most historically probable explanation of the explanations that have been offered up to date. I will offer one of the key pieces of evidence here.
We know that the Resurrection of Jesus was being proclaimed not too long after the alleged event occurred. Most scholars-both critical & conservative-agree that it was being proclaimed at least 5 years within the event itself, if not sooner. The earliest example we have of the Resurrection claim is found in 1Cor. 15: 3-8. This passage is a creed that Paul incorporated into his letter. This creed predated the writing of the letter itself. Most scholars date the creed to just a few years after the alleged resurrection event occurred.
We can make some simple deductions to arrive at a date no later than 10 years after the Resurrection. We know that 1 Cor. was written at least 55 ad. This is because Paul died no later than 63 ad and the 2 Cor. had to have been written after 1 Cor. but before his death (60 ad?). Paul mentions a previous letter that he wrote to the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 5: 9. Let’s say that he wrote that letter 5 years prior in 50 ad. This means that Paul’s visit to the Corinthians was prior to that. Paul’s intro to this creed in 1 Cor. 15: 3 says, “For I passed on to you…”
This means that Paul proclaimed this creed to the Corinthians during his visit to them which was before his previous written to them. Let’s say that visit occurred 5 yrs in 45 ad. He then says that he passed on to them, “that which he also received.” This means that he received this creed prior to his proclaiming it. Let’s say that occurred 5 years prior to that in 40 ad. It is likely that this creed existed prior to it being proclaimed to Paul. Let’s say that it was developed 5 years prior to that in 35 ad. Keep in mind that an initial proclamation of the Resurrection must have been in circulation prior to it being developed into an official creed which dates the initial proclamation even earlier than the creed.
We are within 2-3 years of the alleged resurrection event. What is the significance of this early dating? It is that the resurrection was being proclaimed shortly after the crucifixion. Thus, Christ’ followers were proclaiming a resurrection so soon that if Jesus body were still in the tomb, it could have been presented and the resurrection claim would have been easily dismissed. Yet, a body was not presented. This means that Jesus’ tomb had to have been empty. What happened to Jesus’ body?
The evidence of the empty tomb is only half the battle. Evidence for a bodily appearance also needs to be presented in order for the resurrection claim to be substantiated. However, all explanations for an empty that deny a bodily appearance do not account for all of the known data that we have. Therefore, the resurrection explanation emerges as the most probable of the known explanations.
This post is far too brief to establish a solid case in support of Peter’s confession. Nevertheless, the brief evidence presented in this post indicates the credibility of his statement , “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Who do you say that He is? And why?
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