The Need to Test Jesus' Claims

Even though we accept Jesus by faith, our faith is not a blind leap in the dark. He does not expect us to believe in Him without any assurance that He is worthy of our belief. It would be irresponsible—indeed, crazy—to run obediently after someone who said that He was God, but who gave us no evidence that He was speaking the truth. The true God would certainly be angry with us if we let ourselves be fooled by a false claimant to Godhood. Even someone who announces himself as a special messenger or teacher from God must be regarded with skepticism until he shows that he is not another religious charlatan.

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

1 John 4:1

Most false prophets make no pretense of being more than human. Yet if we should be cautious before listening to someone who calls himself a prophet only, how much more cautious should we be before following someone who calls himself very God!

The difference between Jesus and the many deceivers who have sought cultic adulation is that Jesus welcomes an examination of His truthfulness. Deceivers are always seeking to distract us from the facts. In their own defense they speak double talk and mystification rather than sense. But Jesus is not evasive. He does not grudgingly agree to be examined in the hope that He will be able to dance away from hard questions. Rather, He insists that we examine Him. He keeps throwing into our path compelling evidence of His deity and asking why we do not believe.

Jesus' View of Himself

Early in His ministry, Jesus discussed the nature and scope of the evidence supporting His claim of deity. He began by dismissing His claim as worthless if it were unsubstantiated.

If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.

John 5:31

In other words, if the only evidence for His deity were His own witness—though He gave it with evident sincerity and in plausible words—there is nothing to set Him apart from a mere pretender, and we should not believe Him.

View of John the Baptist

But the evidence for the deity of Jesus is not limited to His self-recommendation. He went on to say,

32 There is another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true.

33 Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth.

34 But I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that ye might be saved.

35 He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light.

John 5:32-35

Here Jesus notices both the value and the inadequacy of human testimony on His behalf. As an influence lifting people from settled unbelief and turning them to look upon the truth, this kind of testimony is useful. Indeed, because the Father has chosen the foolishness of preaching to spread the gospel, most people come to belief in Jesus through the testimony of other people. Therefore, with the aim of securing a fair hearing, Jesus reminded the Jews that He was acknowledged to be the Christ by John the Baptist, a prophet they held in high esteem. Yet He also said that human testimony is worthless for corroborating His witness concerning Himself. After all, how could any finite man declare of his own knowledge that Jesus is an infinite Being? Only someone who is also God can testify authoritatively that Jesus is God, and therefore Jesus calls upon the competent testimony of God the Father, the One He describes as "another that beareth witness of me."

Relation between Faith and Facts

The Father condescends to bear witness in support of Jesus' claim of deity for at least two reasons:

  1. Such witness allows the inquisitive and thoughtful to accept Christ without a nagging sense in their minds that they are committing intellectual suicide—in other words, that they are yielding to an irrational impulse. The Father wants the whole man—body, heart, and mind—to participate willingly in a life of faith.
  2. Such witness allows all believers, though led to Christ by changeable feeling or inconclusive human testimony, to put their faith on the firm and unshakable foundation of good evidence. They must not remain for long like Nathanael, whom Jesus gently chided for his naiveté.

    Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.

    John 1:50

    The counterbalancing truth is stated near the end of John's gospel. When Thomas put aside doubt in the Resurrection because he had seen the wounds in Jesus' flesh, Jesus said,

    Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

    John 20:29

    The two passages together furnish an overview of the relation between faith and facts. The pilgrim walking by faith will, like Nathanael, eventually come to facts showing him undeniably that he is walking in the right direction. Even when he first sets out, he should look for corroborative facts. But he should not expect them to be as dramatic as an actual encounter with the risen Lord. Why? Because his belief in God must not simply be a response of the mind to the force of overwhelming evidence. Rather, it must in large measure be an initiative of the heart, so that his relationship with God will involve loving as well as knowing. Even at the start of his pilgrimage, however, the directive evidence is far better and more compelling than the small sign that so deeply affected Nathanael.
Twofold Witness of the Father

The Father's recommendation of Christ has taken two distinct forms.

36 But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.

37 And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape.

38 And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not.

39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.

John 5:36-39

Besides Jesus Himself, the only witness competent to certify that Jesus is God is another person of the Godhead, and God the Father has vouched for the One presenting Himself as His Son not by speaking or appearing on His behalf before some human tribunal, but by two indirect methods: first, by authorizing His Son to display His divine nature through various works; and secondly, by directing the Holy Spirit to produce prophetic writings that would identify the Son before He actually came. The instrument of the executive order was, in the first case, the Son Himself; in the second case, the Holy Spirit.

In summary, the proof that Jesus is the Christ rests on the convergent testimony of two persons: Jesus Himself and God the Father. The testimony of God the Father exists in two forms: in the Scriptures that speak prophetically of Jesus, and in Jesus' supernatural works. These Scriptures and these works are the two main evidential bases of Christian faith.

Witness of Prophecy

The many foreshadowings of Jesus in the Old Testament vary greatly in forthrightness. Symbolic pictures of His role as prophet, priest, or king are known as "types." Explicit references to events or circumstances of His earthly career are known as "prophecies."

A full enumeration of the types and prophecies that Jesus fulfilled would run into the hundreds. In these lessons, we will present the eight most important prophecies in the order of their fulfillment.

Recognizing that the Lord intended these prophecies to aid and comfort faith, a Christian ought to know them, cherish them, and meditate upon them. He will find that they lift him to a higher appreciation of God's sovereignty in the affairs of men.

For a non-Christian, serious consideration of the prophecies is even more important. Jesus warns,

If ye believe not his writings [that is, the writings of Moses, representative of all the prophets], how shall ye believe my words?

John 5:47

In other words, the prophecies alone are a sufficient rebuttal of the non-Christian's unbelief. Therefore, he must not lightly cast them aside, silencing disquiet within himself by conferring ultimate authority on his own hunches or on the theories of skeptics. Rather, he must examine these prophecies with the care and respect due to evidence bearing on his eternal destiny.

Witness of Jesus' Works

The supernatural works of Christ must be understood in a broad sense. They include not only His miracles, but also His works of divine compassion, His life of unblemished honesty and purity, and His sublime teachings. Also, they extend beyond His own time to succeeding ages. His works since His death on a cross include His resurrection from the dead—a resurrection that He attributed to His own inherent power (John 10:17-18); the subsequent rise of the church through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, who acts as Christ's agent upon the earth to accomplish Christ's will (John 16:7-14); and the transformation of life and character that occurs in every believer, again through the ministry of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 5:17).