About six months before his death, in the northern region of Palestine near Caesarea-Philippi, Christ asked his disciples a probing question. “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” Various answers were given—Elijah, Jeremiah, John the Baptizer, or simply “one of the prophets.”
The Lord then inquired: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter responded: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus commended the apostle. The Savior then declared: “[F]lesh and blood hath not revealed it unto you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17).
The principle inherent in this declaration is this: evidence for the identity of Jesus Christ is not grounded in mere human opinion; rather, there are divine demonstrations which establish the character of the Teacher from Galilee. In this study, we will establish that Jesus of Nazareth was the divinely appointed Messiah (so prominently pictured in Old Testament literature), the Son of God.
The Virgin Birth
The New Testament begins with an affirmation of the supernatural birth of Jesus Christ. Both Matthew and Luke argue the case that Christ was conceived miraculously, and that he was born to a virgin whose name was Mary. Consider the following:
- After chronicling the legal genealogy of Jesus through Joseph, Matthew mentions that Joseph was the “husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus” (Matthew 1:16). The pronoun “whom” (Greek hes) is singular number, feminine gender; Joseph is thus excluded “from involvement in the birth of Jesus” (Kent 1962, 931). Too, the verb “begat” is conspicuously missing as a connective between Joseph and Jesus.
- Mary is described as being “betrothed” to Joseph (Matthew 1:18; Luke 1:27), which, according to Jewish custom, demanded chastity (Edersheim 1957, 151).
- The maiden was found to be with child before she and Joseph “came together,” and the conception was by the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18,20; Luke 1:35).
- Upon learning of Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph was “minded to put her away” (Matthew 1:19), which reflects the fact that he knew he was not the father of her child.
- Mary is specifically designated as a “virgin” (Matthew 1:23; Luke 1:27), which was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy uttered seven centuries earlier (Isaiah 7:14).
- Mary was astounded at her pregnancy because she had not “known” a man, i.e., she had never been sexually intimate with anyone (Luke 1:34). Further, Joseph “knew her not” (the verbal tense indicates sustained restraint) until after Christ was born (Matthew 1:25).
There is another point which must be made. As mentioned earlier, Luke has a lengthy section in his Gospel record in which he discusses the birth of Christ, with emphasis upon the fact that Mary was a virgin. This is quite significant since Luke was a physician (Colossians 4:14). He is the last person who would be expected to believe that a virgin could give birth—unless there was compelling evidence for it. Moreover, the matters of which he wrote were “traced accurately” in order that readers of his treatise could know “the certainty” of the positions argued (Luke 1:3,4). He had carefully checked the facts, and he knew that Christ had no earthly father.
Years ago Harry Rimmer wrote a book titled The Magnificence of Jesus. Therein he had a chapter called, “The Psychology of the Virgin Birth,” in which some very interesting observations were made. For example, if Mary’s pregnancy, during her betrothal to Joseph, was not a miracle, then some man was involved. Their sin would have been classified as adultery, punishable by death. And yet, instead of concealing her circumstance, the first thing the Hebrew girl did was journey to Judea where she announced the event to Elizabeth, who was the wife of a Jewish priest! Strange conduct for one in such a precarious position!
Rimmer also noted that Mary stood by the cross and watched her son die the horrible death of crucifixion. What was the charge against Jesus? It was this: “[H]e made himself the son of God” (John 19:7). If Mary knew that Jesus was not the Son of God, but that some man actually was his father, she could have stepped forward, revealed this fact, and saved her son’s life. If she let him endure the agony of Calvary for what she knew to be a lie, then Mary “becomes the most despicable parody on womanhood that degrades the pages of history” (Rimmer 1943, 121).
Finally there is this observation to consider. According to Old Testament law, a person born out of wedlock (especially as a result of adultery; Keil 1978, 413) was forbidden participation in the religious rituals of Israel (Deuteronomy 23:2; see Kalland 1992, 140). Such a one would be excluded from synagogue services and worship in the temple. And yet, Christ, during his public ministry, was frequently involved in such exercises (see Luke 4:16; John 2:14).
Why did his enemies never come forth and bar him from these activities on the ground that he was the illegitimate son of Mary, and they had the proof for this charge? Because there was no such evidence! The Lord’s virgin birth demonstrated that he was the Son of God.
Unique Teaching Buttressed by Miracles
Another element of Jesus’ ministry which argues for his divine Sonship is the unique nature of his teaching, undergirded by the signs which he did. Actually, we ought to consider these two matters separately.
The leaders of the Jewish community once sent some of the temple police to arrest Christ. When the officials returned without the Lord, their superiors inquired: “Why didn’t you bring him?” The reply simply was: “Never man so spake” (see John 7:32,46). They were right; the teaching of Jesus was quite in a class by itself.
First, Christ spoke in a very authoritative fashion. When he had completed the Sermon on the Mount, the multitudes were astonished at his teaching: “for he taught them as one having great authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:29). The Jewish rabbis of the first century had memorized vast amounts of “case law,” and many of them relied almost exclusively on past testimony for their teaching (Lightfoot 1979, 159).
But Christ was the authority himself! He was not to be classified as merely “one of the prophets” (Matthew 16:15ff); rather, he spoke with the voice of one who was deity. In the Sermon on the Mount, for example, Jesus repeatedly said: “You have heard that it was said . . . but I say unto you . . .” (Matthew 5:21ff).
Second, the teaching of Jesus was characterized by a freshness, an originality, that made it wonderfully special. Consider, for instance, that principle taught by Christ—commonly called the Golden Rule: “All things therefore whatsoever you would that men should do unto you, even so do you also unto them: for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12). There is nothing like this in the annals of ethics. Barclay, a renowned classical scholar, declared regarding this maxim: "This is something which had never been said before. It is new teaching, and a new view of life and of life’s obligations (1958, 277). The Scottish scholar shows that the Savior’s rule stands head-and-shoulders above the sayings of the Jewish rabbis, the Graeco/Roman philosophers, and the Eastern mystics.
In this connection we should mention that skeptics have made numerous desperate expeditions into the literature of antiquity in their attempts to discover some historical background from which Christ may have borrowed the premises of his teaching. They have searched in vain. Those who wish to explore this matter in greater detail should consult the excellent essay styled “Originality” by Stewart (1909, 285-292). The uniqueness of Jesus’ teaching established him as the Son of God.
Additionally, the Gospel records are punctuated with accounts of the miracles of Christ. Peter declared that the Lord was a man approved of God by means of the mighty works, wonders, and signs which God did through him (Acts 2:22). The expression “mighty works” suggests the divine power involved. “Wonders” hints of the effect (amazement) produced upon the minds of those who observed the miracles (and those who subsequently study them with honesty). The word “signs” points to the purpose of these supernatural deeds—a proposition succinctly expressed at the conclusion of John’s Gospel.
Many other signs therefore did Jesus in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in his name (20:30,31).
What was the purpose of miracles in the New Testament age? The signs were designed to confirm the integrity of the message being proclaimed by the person performing the miracle (cf. Mark 16:17-20; Hebrews 2:3,4). When Christ affirmed, therefore, that he was from heaven (John 6:48-50), that he was the Son of God (Mark 14:62), we are compelled to believe that claim, because of the many signs which he did. The signs authenticated his claims.
The miracles of Christ have been inadvertently acknowledged even by many of his foes—both ancient and modern. Consider some of the testimony in the New Testament. The Pharisees once accused Jesus of casting out demons by Beelzebub. They conceded the deed, but attributed the power to Satan. The Master handily dealt with that spurious argument (Matthew 12:22ff). Satan doesn’t undermine his own work!
As the Lord hung upon the cross, mockers said: “He saved others; himself he cannot save” (Mark 15:31). The term “saved” is an allusion to the healing miracles of Christ. These wonders had made an impact even upon the Savior’s critics (cf. Acts 4:16). Later on, the Jewish Talmud charged that “Jesus of Nazareth . . . practiced magic” (Sanhedrin 43a)—a clear reference to the Savior’s miracles. The Jewish historian Josephus described Christ as “a doer of marvelous deeds” (Antiquities of the Jews 18.3.3), which suggests Jesus’ “reputation as a wonder-worker” (Bruce 1968, 112). For a discussion of the genuineness of this passage, see my essay elsewhere (Jackson 1991, 29-30).
We mentioned William Barclay earlier. For many years Barclay served as a professor at Glasgow University in Scotland. Though he produced some valuable books, Barclay was a very liberal theologian—apparently doubting the very deity of Christ (see Wharton 1979, 288). He attempted to rationalize many of Jesus’ miracles.
For instance, Peter was once questioned by tax authorities as to whether the Lord paid the temple tribute. Subsequently, the Savior instructed his apostle to cast a hook into the sea of Galilee. The first fish caught would have a coin in its mouth, and with that Peter was to pay the temple fee for the both of them (Matthew 17:24-27). Barclay contended that the story was not to be taken with “bald and crude literalism.” Rather, this was simply a dramatic way of informing Peter that he was to get busy and go to work. He would thus be able to catch fish, sell them, and pay his tax bill! This scholar treated other New Testament accounts of the Lord’s miracles in a similarly outrageous fashion.
I mention that to make this point. In spite of his modernistic approach, not even Barclay could wholly rationalize the signs which Jesus performed. In one of his works he wrote:
[N]atural explanations can be found for some of [Jesus’] miracles. But the miraculous element in the gospels remains. That is not to say that we are bound to accept every story as it stands in the most literal way; but no criticism can alter the fact that Jesus performed deeds which can only be described as miraculous works (1975, 14).
The honest student is forced to concede that the miracles of Christ confirmed his claim of being the Son of God.
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the very foundation of the Christian faith. If the Lord was not raised from the dead, as the gospel affirms, the religion of Christ is a hoax (1 Corinthians 15:4,14-19).
In logic there is a principle called the law of the excluded middle. It suggests that a thing either is or it is not. With reference to the resurrection, it may be applied as follows: Christ’s body was either raised, or it was not raised. Modernism asserts that it was not literally raised. Instead, it is alleged that the “resurrection” was merely a “symbol” for the fact that Jesus, after his death, “lived on,” by virtue of his influence in the lives of his followers.
But if Christ’s body is still in a Jerusalem tomb, there must be some rational explanation as to why it was never produced as the disciples began proclaiming that their Lord had been resurrected (cf. Acts 2:24,32; 3:15,26; 4:10,33; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30,33-34; 17:31). It will not do to argue that the location of the grave was forgotten.
The Jewish rulers, with authorization from Pilate, purposely had the tomb entrance “sealed,” and placed it under guard so as to prevent the later claim that the body was raised (Matthew 27:62-65). Unquestionably records were kept of such legal transactions. What good is a seal if no one remembers where it was placed? Did each of the guards forget where the tomb was located? Besides that, the sepulchre belonged to a wealthy member of the Jewish council (Matthew 27:57-60; Mark 15:43). Was a gravesite of such magnitude so easily misplaced? There is no reason to assume that the tomb could not have been found as the disciples commenced preaching the doctrine of Jesus’ triumph over the grave.
On the other hand, once it is granted that the body is missing, the question is paramount: what happened to it? Actually, there are but three logical possibilities.
- The Lord’s enemies took it.
- The disciples removed it.
- It was raised by the power of God.
Let us momentarily reflect upon each of these views.
Is it possible that the enemies of Jesus took his body? That makes no sense at all, because on Pentecost, and subsequent thereto, the apostles boldly declared that Jesus was raised from the dead. The opponents of the Master, if they took the body, could simply have produced the corpse—at which point the Christian cause would have died, never to be revived.
Could it have been the case that the Lord’s disciples confiscated their Teacher’s remains, and then buried them at some secret site? This theory is equally untenable. The primitive Christians were willing to endure all manner of abuse—even violent death—rather than surrender their testimony that the Son of God was raised from the dead.
It is conceded that sometimes deluded fanatics will sacrifice their lives for the cause in which they believe (e.g., as in the Jonestown mass suicide). On the other hand, it is not the case that multitudes are willing to die for what they know is a lie. Such is in glaring contrast to the very fabric of human nature.
The truth is, the only proposition that makes any sense at all is the fact that Jesus was actually raised from the dead. That is the only way to account for the incredible success of Christianity. Every effect must have an adequate cause. Something happened that turned a band of fearful, disappointed disciples (who initially believed the cause was lost when Jesus died) into an army of brave men and women who turned the ancient world upside down with the gospel (Acts 17:6). The resurrection of Jesus from the dead clearly establishes the fact that he is the Christ, the Son of God.
The Christian’s conviction regarding Jesus Christ is grounded in solid evidence, not human speculation.