GOOD OR GOD?
Who is Jesus? It’s a question that has been asked for centuries, even since Jesus first appeared on this earth more than 2,000 years ago. And it’s a question that Jesus wants you to ask. He welcomes your curiosity—even your boldness—as you investigate him and the claims he made about himself. Throughout the Bible, we see God meeting people where they are, addressing not only needs but their doubts about him and their lack of trust in him. As the psalmist wrote, “When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope” (Psalm 94:19 NLT).
One of the first questions about Jesus that has to be addressed is whether he was just a good moral teacher or actually the Son of God. We know from historians such as Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, and Flavius Josephus—all non-biblical sources—that Jesus was a real individual who existed in time and space. But people are divided on who exactly Jesus was while on earth. Was he just “a great moral teacher,” as atheists such as Richard Dawkins have claimed—a humanitarian on par with Mother Teresa? Or was he more?
Those who accept Jesus as just a good moral teacher have difficulty in knowing what to do with passages such as Matthew 16:13–19. In this story, Jesus was with his disciples and asked, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13 NIV). Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” to which Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven” (verses 16–17 NIV). Clearly, Jesus was affirming Peter’s answer, and agreeing with him that he, in fact, was God.
Later, we find Jesus making equally bold claims. In John 10:22–32, some of the Jewish leaders asked Jesus to tell him plainly whether he was the Messiah. Jesus responded by saying “I and the Father are one” (verse 30 NIV). Immediately, the Jewish leaders pick up stones to put him to death. They certainly believed that Jesus was stating he was equal with God—for they told Christ they were stoning him “for blasphemy, because . . . you claim to be God” (verse 33 NIV).
As C.S. Lewis once noted, many people say, “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the thing we must not say. . . . He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” Jesus wasn’t crucified for being just a good man. He was ultimately put to death because he claimed to be God. When he had a chance to recant at the end, he didn’t back up or retract any of his statements.
So, who do you say Jesus is? Was he good or actually God? Think about the question in light of his presence in history, the eyewitness accounts telling the story of his miracles and resurrection from the dead, and his own claims to be God. Again, who do you say Jesus is?
How would you describe your understanding of who Jesus is? How has your understanding changed over time? On what is your concept of Jesus based?
What does it mean to you to say that Jesus is God? What difference does it make to declare that he is God?
Why is it important to wrestle with the question of whether Jesus is just good or if he is actually God? How does resolving this question impact your faith in him?