Jesus of Nazareth is very popular around the world, even among non-Christian religions. Muslims revere Jesus as one of their prophets and apostles. Many Jews believe Jesus was a good teacher. Hindus revere Jesus as one of their “saints.” Buddhists believe Jesus was an enlightened man and wise teacher. Members of the Baha’i faith believe Jesus was a prophet of God. All of these religions claim Jesus as one of their good teachers, but none believe He is God. That’s what so many in the world believe about Jesus.
Even some atheists believe Jesus was a real person who lived in Israel two thousand years ago, but they certainly don’t believe Jesus was God because they don’t believe God exists.
The “Soft” Jesus
Many non-Christians consider Jesus a great “moral” teacher. They read some of what Jesus said and like what they read. Here are some common examples:
Blessed are the meek. Matthew 5:5
Blessed are the merciful. Matthew 5:7
Blessed are the peacemakers. Matthew 5:9
… whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. Matthew 5:39
… do not be like the hypocrites. Matthew 6:16
Judge not, that you be not judged. Matthew 7:1
And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Matthew 7:3
Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them. Matthew 7:12
I desire mercy. Matthew 9:13
If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor. Matthew 19:21
You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22:39
But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return. Luke 6:35
Non-Christians and even some Christians like these and other “soft” sayings of Jesus because they fit their personal worldview and are non-threatening. The fact that most of these and other “moral teachings” of Jesus are pulled out of longer teachings of Jesus without any contextual perspective doesn’t bother most people. It makes them feel good about themselves. They can agree with Jesus without facing the truth about Jesus.
They like the “soft” Jesus because they can manipulate ‘him’ and make ‘him’ into their image. The “soft” Jesus is pliable and easy to use in whatever way they want. People can make the “soft” Jesus into any likeness they want. The problem for them is that the “soft” Jesus is not the “Real” Jesus.
The “Strong” Jesus
The “Jesus” that most non-Christians (and even some people who claim to be Christians) think about doesn’t look anything like the real Jesus of the New Testament. The “strong” Jesus of Nazareth burst on the public scene after facing down Satan in the wilderness. There was nothing soft about how Jesus handled the devil.
And the devil said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.’ But Jesus answered him, saying, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.’ Luke 4:3-4
Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, ‘All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours.’ And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ Luke 4:5-8
Then he brought Him to Jerusalem, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you, To keep you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘It has been said, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’ Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time. Luke 4:9-13
The way Jesus responded to Satan shouldn’t be surprising in light of what the Apostle John wrote:
For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. 1 John 3:8
Jesus came to earth to “destroy” the works of the devil. Does that sound like a “soft” personality to you? Someone who would come from Heaven to earth to destroy Satan’s works sounds like an extremely powerful personality.
What did Jesus of Nazareth say after facing down the devil? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). The word “repent” means “change your mind, change your purpose, change the inner man.” Does that sound like someone who we can manipulate and mold into our image? No! That’s a command from God. Jesus is not “soft.” He is not weak. That is not the Jesus of the Bible.
As we will see in this series, the Jesus of the Bible is the Almighty God. The words of Jesus concerning His Identity and Nature are clear. His audience understood what He meant by what He said:
Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch. Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, ‘How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.’ Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, ‘Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?’ The Jews answered Him, saying, ‘For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.’ John 10:22-33
The Jews who physically heard Jesus teach and preach in Jerusalem knew that Jesus personally identified Himself as God. Even though they had seen his many miracles and heard His powerful preaching, they still saw Him as just a man. They picked up stones to kill Him, which is something ancient Jews did when they heard someone blaspheming God or claiming to be God. When Jesus asked them why they would stone Him for the many good works He had shown them from His Father, they said “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.” They knew exactly what Jesus was saying and they didn’t like what He said. It wasn’t long after this that the Jews did have Jesus killed at the hands of the Romans. However, they were not able to stop Jesus because He rose from the dead and empowered His disciples to continue preaching and teaching His Gospel.
The “True Identify” of Jesus
The true identity of Jesus of Nazareth is at the heart of the problem with both Christians and non-Christians. As we mentioned in the last part of our series, many people who identify as evangelical Christians don’t believe Jesus is the Eternal God. They believe Jesus was God’s first created being and that God assigned Jesus to create the universe and redeem sinful humanity. They view Jesus as powerful and necessary for salvation, but don’t believe He is God. Non-Christians, of course, don’t believe Jesus is God and see no need for redemption from sin.
John the Apostle taught that Jesus is the Word of God and came to earth in flesh:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:1-2, 14
John wrote that whether people believe Jesus is God in the flesh is how we know if they are real Christians or not:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. 1 John 4:1-3
John was right. That is the spirit of Antichrist that is still in the world today. The issue of whether Jesus is Eternal God come in flesh has been a sticking point since the early days of Christianity. You may find it helpful to read a lengthy series we published a few years ago titled “A Reading Plan for Christian Apologists.” The series is available in 32 individual posts from 2016-2018 or in three eBooks published in 2018. As you read through the writings of the Apostolic and Church Fathers, you will find many apologetic responses to people who denied that Jesus was God in the flesh. The early Christian Apologists called those people “heretics” because what they believed and taught was heresy (a teaching contrary to Scripture).
The old heresies about the identity of Jesus (e.g. Arianism, Adoptionism, Apollinarianism, Socianism, Sabellianism, Docetism, Monophysitism, etc) were addressed by the early Church. Some of those same heresies exist today, though under different names. We will look at more recent heresies concerning the identity of Jesus of Nazareth in the next part of series, And Jesus Said.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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