Most people, Christian or not, are aware of the debate about the identity of Jesus Christ. Most recently the Holy Week 1996 issues of three national news magazines — TIME, Newsweek, US News & World Report — featured Jesus Christ on the cover. The cover stories featured the latest attempts of the self-appointed Jesus Seminar scholars to uncover the “real Jesus” and to define the meaning of His life and deeds. The results were hardly flattering. According to reports the historic Jesus was a “humane teacher” but he did not, for example, walk on water, resist Satan, or raise Lazarus from the dead.
Why don’t they go all the way? Indeed, some do. Rather than granting the Gospel account that Jesus rose from the dead, His body, says one, may have been eaten by dogs, which was a traditional way of disposing of crucified criminals in those days.
Subsequently I have read articles telling of traditional and conservative scholars fighting back. Just out is a book called The Real Jesus: The Mistaken Quest For the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels (I have not read the book, but have seen a lengthy review of it). The author contends that “the conclusions reached by the Jesus Seminar represent the views of a tiny minority of mostly second-rate scholars working at mostly second-rate schools.” He adds that the avowed scholarship “is based on wild speculation and minuscule evidence.”
We are not surprised at such assessments — and yes, we are in sympathy with them. Yet the author’s best argument is his reminder that “Christians do not have faith in this or that scholarly account of the historical Jesus, but in the living Christ raised from the dead. . . .” What he is saying, in other words, is that the identity of Jesus Christ is now, and always has been, a matter of faith, simple faith.
The debate regarding the identity of Jesus has been going on ever since He walked on the earth. One time He asked His disciples: “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am? So they said, Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. He said to them, But who do you say that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus answered and said to him, Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 16:13-17).
Notice, please, how Jesus affirms that any proper identification of Himself as the long-promised and awaited Christ is a heaven-sent revelation. It is not and never has been the product of human (“flesh and blood”) insight, deduction, investigation, or “scholarship.” As the apostle Paul writes: “No one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed (or dead, and eaten by dogs – PGF), and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3).
No doubt books and articles will continue to be written that are critical of Christianity, including ones which question the identity and continued existence of Jesus Christ. So be it. For believers there is finally only one book which matters. That book is the Bible. The Bible is God’s Word. It was written to reveal Christ and impart faith. It was written “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (Jn. 20:31).
Yes, it’s all a matter of faith, simple faith. As Christians down through the centuries have always confessed in each of their universal creeds:
“I believe . . . in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who . . . was crucified, dead, and buried . . . the third day He rose again from the dead. . . . ” (The Apostles’ Creed)
“I believe . . . in one Lord Jesus Christ, who . . . suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures . . .” (The Nicene Creed — A.D. 325)
“For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ . . . who suffered for our salvation . . . rose again the third day from the dead . . . ” (The Athanasian Creed — A. D. 450)
Jesus once asked a troubling question: “When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Lk. 18:8) He was referring to true faith in Himself.
Fellow believers, let us be praying — praying that, in spite of the many enemies and detractors of the faith (sadly, even from “scholars” within the church), many poor and proud sinners may yet be brought to saving faith in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (Jn. 14:6).
–Pastor Paul Fleischer