If you found this page, you probably know that I am a Christian – a follower of the one Way to God, Jesus Christ. This label – “Christian” – defines who I am. Everything else – “college graduate,” professional titles, “American,” “man,” or even “individual” – is relatively insignificant.
Why is Jesus so important? I believe the answer to that question lies in what He claimed for Himself, and whether or not those claims were true. We can know what He claimed through the Bible. The men who wrote the Bible staked their lives on what they had written, which is one of the many ways we know that the Bible’s account is accurate. Those claims were pretty extraordinary.
C. S. Lewis, the brilliant English scholar and writer of the early twentieth century, in his classic, Mere Christianity, puts it best:
“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg – or he would be the devil of hell. You must take your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.”
This argument, known as the Trilemma, puts our choice plainly, but fairly. Jesus must have been one of three things: our Lord – as he claimed – a raving madman, or a damnable liar.
[Note: The explanation which follows is far from perfect, and is not even formally logical. If you would like to read more on this, I highly recommend Lewis’s own Mere Christianity, Josh McDowell’s More Than a Carpenter, and McDowell’s The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, which also offers a wonderful and logical treatment of many other challenges to the Christian Faith.]
Let’s approach this argument differently. Consider a man walking around the streets of New York City, declaring, “I am the President of the United States.” This is a verifiable claim – he’s either the President or he’s not! It’s also one about which any sane person would know the truth – I, a reasonably sane person, am quite certain that I am not the President.
So, we have two possibilities regarding the truth of this statement: either it is true or it is false. We also have two possibilities regarding the man: he knows whether or not he is telling the truth, or he does not know. This gives four possibilities:
- He really is the President, and he knows it. He’s the President.
- He is not the President, and he knows it. He’s a liar.
- He is not the President, but doesn’t know it. He’s insane.
- He really is the President, but doesn’t know it. He’s lying (at least, he’s saying something he doesn’t believe) and he’s crazy.
Because this claim is verifiable or at least capable of disproof – we could find the real President – and the answer is known by the one making the claim (assuming he’s sane), a sane person who made such claims would either be telling the truth, or telling a flagrant lie. Any other person – that is, anyone who cannot be called “a sane person” – would be insane, by definition.
Back to Jesus: if Jesus made claims that are verifiable or disprovable, to which He would have known the answers, we can apply this rubric, the Trilemma. Did he?
As an example, let’s consider the claim made by Jesus in the biblical passage Luke 24:7: “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.” (“The Son of Man” was a term Jesus consistently used in reference to Himself; all serious scholars agree on this). There are three parts to this claim: (1) he would be handed over, (2) be crucified, and (3) be raised from the dead; he clearly meant this since to be crucified meant to be executed.
We’re only going to deal with the last claim, since the first two could be arranged by anyone with a death wish, but the third could not be performed by anyone lacking divine powers, or at least the support and approval of God. Now, any person who says, “I’m going to come back to life after I’ve died,” is making a pretty incredible claim. More to the point, anyone who says they will do so in a specific amount of time – three days – is claiming to be able to do the humanly impossible!
This claim would be verifiable and subject to disproof. All one would have to do is go sit at the dead person’s tomb; if he came out, he told the truth. If, at the end of the third day, he was still dead, he did not tell the truth. It is also something the claimant would know was true or know was false. That is, he would know if he had the power to fulfill his claim. Afterward – assuming he was not still dead – he certainly would know if he had told the truth or not; it’s hard to be resurrected and fail to notice.
Since Jesus claimed to be able to raise from the dead, then, we have four possibilities:
- He could do it and knew He could do it. He was divine (something He also claimed for Himself many times) and is alive.
- He couldn’t do it and knew he couldn’t do it. He’s a liar (he would also still be dead).
- He couldn’t do it, but believed he could. He was insane (and would also still be dead).
- He could do it, but didn’t know he could – it was a lucky guess, Nostradamus-style. He’s a liar with poor self-awareness (though this case doesn’t really make sense).
As Lewis said, “let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great teacher.” That is not one of our options. So, what is our choice? The evidence for Christ’s resurrection – aside from the Bible’s own accounts – includes logical evidence, forensic evidence, historical evidence, legal evidence, eyewitness testimonies, and more. It is, as countless experts in countless fields have concluded – many while attempting to prove otherwise – the most well-documented fact of the ancient world: better documented than the burning of Rome, the rise and fall of the Pharoahs, or anything in Greek history. It happened. This incredible prediction – “In three days [I] will be raised again” – came true.
So, I’ll leave it to you. Was Jesus of Nazareth our Lord, an abominable liar, or a raving lunatic? You decide. If your conclusion is the same as that of nearly every skeptic in 2,000 years who has tried to test his or her skepticism, you’ll want to keep reading.
If you have questions or feedback on this page, please let me know.