Jesus Christ of Nazareth is a one of the most important, if not the most important figure in the history of mankind. His name is being mentioned in every corner of the globe. Men, women, and children adore him while others extol his great teachings. Authors, commentators, and researchers either love him or hate him but still the same effect is seen all over the world his popularity knows no bounds. Yet controversy surrounds his name and there are many questions that require answers. The answers to the following questions are of particular interest to his followers, admirers and even his detractors. These questions are listed as follows:
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- Can one understand the full significance of Jesus without being a Christian?
- Can one admire and learn important things from him without believing he is the Son of God?
- Which feature of Jesus’ life and/or teaching(s) is difficult even impossible to understand unless one does believe he is the Son of God?
Significance of His Claim
With regards to the above-mentioned questions there is one common denominator between all three and this is the key concept “Son of God”; it is Jesus’ most significant claim and therefore everything hinges on this proclamation. This means that if this claim is proven to be false then Jesus will be reduced as a mere man with the exception of course that he had great ideas on how to solve the problems of the world. If he is not the Son of God then at best he can be considered one of the most intelligent man who ever walked this planet but he should not deserve the praise and adoration of millions of devout Christians all over the world.
From a Jewish perspective, if it can be proven that he lied or was mistaken in his claim that he was the Son of God then the worst thing that can happen to him is to be treated as an erring Jew deserving of punishment. Jews may not agree that it was proper to crucify him but they would certainly agree that he had to be punished for breaking the laws of God. If it can be proven that he was not the Son of God then Jesus’ fan base will significantly shrink; he will lose the support, admiration and worship of the Christians.
Son of God
Without the use of a Bible dictionary or any other sophisticated theological books one can still understand the meaning of the term “Son of God.” It simply means that there is God the Father and God the Son. Moreover, using the information that can be gleaned from the Book of John in the Holy Bible, Son of God can also be understood as God becoming man and thus God dwelling in close proximity with human beings by becoming one of them. In any case by making the claim that he is the Son of God, Jesus was actually saying that he is equal with God or that He is God.
Before going any further it must first be established that Jesus indeed made the claim that he is the Son of God. This was achieved in three ways:
- the followers and disciples of Jesus Christ as well as certain evil spirits made the proclamation that Jesus was the Son of God and this proclamation was made within hearing distance of others. When Jesus did not rebuke them then this is tantamount to acknowledging what they had proposed previously;
- the High Priest asked him if he was the Son of God and in this regard Jesus answered in the affirmative;
- there were certain experts in the Jewish law who perfectly understood what Jesus was claiming – that he was declaring he is God and of equal importance with God of the Jews.
The evidence for the first assertion can be found in the following statement when demons had an interesting conversation with him and they said, “What do you want with us, Son of God? they shouted. Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” The evidence for the second assertion can be found in the following verses:
Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, ‘Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?’ But Jesus remained silent.
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The high priest said to him, ‘I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.’ ‘Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied.’
Finally, the evidence for the third assertion can be found in the following verses:
So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
So what then? For the Jews and Christians alike Jesus claim runs counter to their basic beliefs which is monotheism. In the beginning when the world was created there was only one God not two, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” In a study of the lives of their two most important patriarchs of Judaism Abraham and Moses made a covenant with one person and not two. In the case of Abraham, “The LORD had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you’”. There is only one LORD.
In the experience of Moses, this is what the Bible said, “The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.” It was made clear that in the mind of the Jews there is only one God. But in order to be sure there is a need for a visual representation of the person that these patriarchs referred to as LORD. This will be seen in Ezekiel when God revealed himself to the prophet not only through a loud booming voice but through a highly visual method:
Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man … Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.
This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.
All of the above-mentioned experiences and visions are consistent with the monotheistic faith of the Jewish people. This has been central to their faith as seen by the primary commandment handed down from generation to generation and it says:
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God.
There is absolutely no way that the Jews will fool around with the first commandment. They take it so seriously that breaking this law is akin to committing a heinous crime and hence it was justified for them to kill someone in violation of this commandment. If Jesus will be found to guilty of making the false claim that he is the Son of God then there are two major implications. Firstly, the Jews will condemn him as a heretic and thousands of years ago they already succeeded in punishing him for this crime.
The second major implication of a false claim is that the Christian faith will crumble because it will be discovered that they are not only worshipping a mere man but more importantly they had built the foundation of their church on the words and teachings of a man who had committed a grave sin and that is to influence countless numbers of people to worship him instead of the one true God. Furthermore, the hope of Christianity is based on the fact that Jesus had no sin and thus he was the perfect sacrifice as well as the perfect high priest who can bridge the gap between man and God, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” If he was a mere man and a sinner then the whole world according to Christian teachings is still in the dark and like the Jews still waiting for the Messiah to come. Thus, it is impossible to be a follower of Christ without first resolving this issue.
In the beginning of this study it was pointed out that the continued success of Christianity and the immense popularity of Jesus Christ can only be sustained if the followers, worshippers, and admirers of Jesus can resolve the issue regarding his claim that he is the Son of God. It is not the scope of this paper to prove if Jesus was indeed the Son of God but suffice it to say that Christians all over the world had no problem accepting this fact. This leads to three significant conclusions:
- Even if the Jews will not believe that Jesus is the Son of God, this will have no bearing on the faith of millions of Christians all over the world.
- On the other hand it is imperative for a Christian to believe and be assured that Jesus is the Son of God in order to fully grasp and appreciate his teachings.
- For an individual who did not grow up in a monotheistic faith e.g. Hindus there is no problem if Jesus is the Son of God or not. They will continue to admire his teachings especially those that can be found in the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew.
Based on the preceding discussion a general conclusion can be made, that the issue regarding the veracity of the claim that Jesus is the Son of God will only affect those who are brought up in a monotheistic faith – those who believe that there is only one God. The Christians had the burden to prove that Jesus is indeed the Son of God or else they are all guilty of idolatry and the foundation of their faith will crumble. The Jews and the Muslims on the other hand had the burden to disprove that Jesus is the Son of God because if they will not be able to do that then they must worship him and be converted to Christianity. But for those who are used to worshipping multiple gods like the Hindu devotees in India they can benefit from the teaching of Christ without having to believe that he is the Son of God.
Holy Bible, New International Version. International Bible Society. Michigan. Zondervan Publsihing, 1984.