Jesus Christ today is the most extraordinary, the most loved and hated, the most widely considered person in all of human history. More songs have been sung to him, more paintings painted of him, and more books written about him, than anyone who has ever lived in the history of the world.
“Vintage Jesus” is a twelve-part sermon series given by Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle in 2006. In 2007 the series was published as a book by Crossway, coauthored with Gerry Breshears. Because it covers the major questions people tend to ask about Jesus, I thought it a fitting series for this blog. As I move through each sermon video, I will be highlighting only a few main ideas, so please, watch the videos and/or read the book for a fuller treatment of the question “Who is Jesus?”
Disclaimer: Mark Driscoll has a somewhat polarizing personality. He’s orthodox in his theology but unorthodox in his preaching style, which is casual and contains humor that sometimes qualifies as crass. (He uses slang expressions and likes to make fun of people.) Even though I don’t endorse everything he says and am particularly turned off by his machismo, I have learned a lot from his teachings over the years. He very clearly asserts and explains the evangelical perspective (or one of them, anyway) on a variety of issues and makes Christian history and theology interesting. Furthermore, he faithfully preaches all of Scripture, even the parts that offend our modern-day sensitivities, and for that I commend him.
The first sermon in the “Vintage Jesus” series addresses the question “Is Jesus God?”, and if so, “Is Jesus the only God?” Driscoll, of course, answers in the affirmative. He focuses on twelve different claims Jesus made during his earthly ministry, each one more extraordinary than the next, that differentiate him from all the other spiritual leaders in the history of the world. He demonstrates that Christians are narrow because Jesus was narrow; his claims to Godhood were singular, exclusive, and still remain unparalleled: I alone am perfect. I alone have the power to forgive sin, and the right to judge it. I alone am the way to heaven. And so on. No wonder they killed him!
Driscoll opens up with some Jesus-inspired quotes by pop culture icons and political and religious figures, ranging from Gandhi to Hitler to Pamela Anderson, but then he lets Jesus speak for himself. If you were a victim of slander, he points out, you’d want the opportunity to tell people who you really are and what you have and have not done and said and believe. We should afford to Jesus that kindness, he says, and so we turn to the Gospels. Some of you might object: How do we know that the four canonical Gospels accurately record what Jesus said and did? Couldn’t Christians have added those bits about Jesus’s divinity later on, for ideological reasons? This is a very good and important question, one on which there is a great breadth of scholarship, but I am going to save it for another series. For now, let’s just work from the assumption that the words attributed to Jesus in the canonical Gospels were really his own.
Back to the question at hand: Did Jesus ever claim to be God?
Here are some time markers:
1:02: Jesus’s life and legacy in brief
4:44: The Jesus of popular culture
12:06: What have well-known figures throughout history said about Jesus?
14:29: What does Jesus say about himself? He says, “I am the only God.” He said this in at least twelve different ways:
16:00: “I came down from heaven.” (John 6:38-66) –> Jesus didn’t just visit heaven; he lived there from eternity.
19:44: “I am more than just a good man.” (Mark 10:17-18; John 5:18)
21:45: “I am the Son of Man.” (Matt. 24:30; 26:64; Mark 13:26; 14:62-64; Luke 21:27; 22:69; Acts 1:9-11; 1 Thess. 4:17; Rev. 1:7, 14:14; cf. Daniel 7:13-14)
25:00: “See my miracles.” (John 10:36b-39; 20:30-31; etc.)
28:18: “I am eternal and cosubstantial with the Father.” (John 8:58-59; 10:30-33; cf. Exodus 3:13-14)
37:37: “I am the Messiah, the Son of God.” (Matthew 26:63-65; Mark 14:61-64)
39:53: “I am sinless.” (John 8:46)
43:07: “I have the power to forgive sin.” (Luke 5:20-21, 7:48; Mark 2:5-12)
45:23: “Pray to me.” (John 14:13-14; 15:7, 16; 16:24)
47:08: “I have the authority to judge sin.” (John 5:22-24)
49:43: “I am the only way to heaven.” (Matt. 7:13-14; John 11:23; 14:6) –> Jesus didn’t just point to the path; he said, “I am the path.”
53:08: “I am supreme over everyone and everything.” (Matthew 28:18)
55:32: Conclusion: “Who do you say that I am?”
Here are some key ideas from the video.
All religions are not the same because all religions do not teach the same thing about Jesus. Only Christianity teaches that Jesus is God. (8:30)
- Emergent Christianity: Jesus is a good man, but not the God-man.
- Watchtower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses): Jesus is the archangel Michael.
- Mormonism: Jesus is a polygamist man who is the half-brother of Lucifer and who became one of many gods.
- Unitarian Universalism: Jesus is a nice, sweet guy who wants to take everyone to heaven.
- New Age Movement: “Jesus is a state of consciousness that we can all aspire to.”—Deepak Chopra
- Scientology: Jesus is an implant forced upon a thetan about a million years ago.
- Baha’i Faith: Jesus is a manifestation of God inferior to Muhammad and Bahaullah.
- Buddhism: Jesus is not God, but he’s an enlightened man.
- Christian Science: “Jesus Christ is not God.”—Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures 361:11-13
- Hinduism: Jesus is one of many incarnations of God.
- Islam: Jesus is a prophet who is lesser than Muhammad.
Christianity is the only religion whose founder claimed to be God. (35:58) Abraham, Muhammad, Joseph Smith, and others claimed to have seen or spoken to God, but Jesus claimed to be God.
If Jesus is not God, then he is one of the most evil men in history. (46:16, 57:27) “If Jesus is telling people that their sins can be forgiven and they can’t be forgiven, and people are dying in hope and faith, trusting in him, and he’s a liar, then he’s really not a good man; he’s an evil man. He’s a conman. . . . And all the people today—a few billion on Earth—who pray to him are not praying to a good man who told us nice things. If he’s not God, we are wasting our time and wasting our breath and wasting our hope, and Jesus Christ is a despicable and deplorable and disgusting person, who has pulled the biggest con in the history of the world.”
Driscoll cites the well-known Lewis Trilemma from Mere Christianity:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. . . . Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.
Jesus was either a lunatic, a liar, or Lord—those are our only three options, Lewis says. If you don’t buy into the “Lord” option, then the only possible explanations of why Jesus claimed to be Lord when he really wasn’t are that either (1) he was lying, or (2) he really thought that he was—he was crazy. Since what we know of his character is not consistent with either charge (liar or lunatic), “Lord” seems the only logical choice for us to make regarding his identity.
“Since Jesus said he is the only God, it is inconceivable that one simultaneously could be a faithful follower of Jesus and a practicing devotee of any religion but Christianity.”
Jesus wasn’t killed because he fed homeless guys and told cute stories; he was killed because he claimed to be God. (52:11) Jesus was executed on charges of blasphemy. Everyone understood his claims unambiguously. For example, his statement “I and my Father are one” was not taken in the abstract sense to signify merely a unity of purpose or mission—no, his hearers understood exactly what he was saying, for in response “they picked up stones to stone him” (John 10:30-31). When Jesus asked what crime they wanted to stone him for, they said, “for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
When he called himself the “Son of Man,” he was not referencing the fact that he was human, but on the contrary—that he was divine. Six hundred years before the birth of Jesus, Daniel saw a vision of the “Son of Man”—a title that Jesus used for himself on several occasions. This “Son of Man” was given authority, glory, and sovereign power—all attributes of God—and all peoples and nations worshipped him. The Jews instantly made this association . . . and they picked up stones to stone him.
When on another occasion Jesus said that “before Abraham was, I am,” the Jews again picked up stones to stone him (John 8:58-59), because they knew it as a reference to God’s revelation of himself to Moses in the burning bush by the same name—“I am.”
And these are just three examples.
Jesus clearly said he was God. What do you say, and why?
I shared this video with my small group last year, and these are some of the questions we discussed in relation to it: Why is Jesus so famous? What makes him different from other spiritual teachers? What did people think of him in his own day? Has public opinion changed at all since then? What aspects of his character do people tend to embrace these days? Ignore? What was I taught about Jesus as a child? How have my views of him changed since then, if at all?
If you value this conversation, keep it going in the comment field below!