Grant Swank
Who is Jesus?
By Grant Swank
October 5, 2010

When it comes to Jesus, born of Mary, there are these choices a person has. Jesus was a first-class liar. Jesus was a charlatan of mega-proportions. Jesus was a crazy person. Jesus was the Messiah, the Christos, The Anointed One, God incarnate.

Take your pick. When it comes to most TV "specials" regarding the personage called "Jesus," they usually top out on Jesus the nice fellow, the prophet, the visionary, the social example, the self-deceived religious fanatic. That, the writers say, is the historical nub of it. All else is religious pie-in-the-sky manufacturing by first century storytellers.

When Albert Schweitzer wrote his doctoral thesis concerning who Jesus was, he concluded Jesus to be a well-intentioned male Jew of the first century who believed himself to be divine, though he was not. It was this Jesus, according to Schweitzer, who earnestly believed that if he gave himself to the ultimate sacrifice of death on a Roman cross, this would usher in the eternal kingdom. Thus was Schweitzer's definition of Jesus — not God but instead a nice Jewish man who lived with his own illusions.

Though Albert Schweitzer was regarded by many in his time as a Christian, he was not really a Christian. He himself knew that. A Christian, according to Scripture, is one who has faith that Jesus is God. Schweitzer did not hold to this. Instead, near the close of his life, Schweitzer joined the Unitarian Society since they permit members to believe whatever they want about doctrine. Therefore, believing Jesus not to be divine fit in quite well with both Schweitzer and Unitarianism. It was a hand-in-glove fit.

When I attended Harvard Divinity School, most of the professors there did not believe Jesus to be divine. They held to a variety of definitions regarding the carpenter from Nazareth. Whatever position was held was all right with the school as long as the faculty held high degrees of learning — whatever added to the academic prestige of Harvard. In other words, biblical exactness did not matter; degrees earned from where mattered — as well as the books and articles published far and wide.

Those who hold that Jesus was a madman don't have much to write about for since a deranged individual is just that, that pretty much settles it. Whatever comes out of his or her mouth is taken by chance and by golly. It may edge on the side of myth and high rhythm. On the other hand, it may be nothing more than babble and crumble. Therefore, if Jesus were a madman, then his talk about the kingdom, angels, miracles and the Father would have sprung from a mind hanging between winds.

Those who hold that Jesus was a charlatan of the first order then play games with the miracle stories. When I sat in the theologically liberal classrooms of Harvard, I was taught the demythologizing of Rudolf Bultmann. That meant that I read about the feeding of thousands with loaves and fishes, only to have that miracle explained away. You see, I was to realize that that was only a religious lesson told to inspire listeners to believe that there's more than what one sees when lunchtime comes. Or something like that. Anyhow, whatever the Bultmann rewriting of history was, I didn't take to it and consequently left it behind me in the dust of theological liberal mumbo jumbo.

Those who hold to Jesus being a liar have a near-criminal type on their hands. In other words, it's not that difficult to dispense with Jesus when concluding that his mouth is filled with deceit. Whatever he says is immediately discounted. Whatever he does isn't believed as fact. And therefore, his life is a wasted one of subterfuge midst smoke and mirrors.

But when one comes to Jesus as God, then one has got hold of the New Testament gospel message. That's what the collection is all about. Jesus came to earth to reveal God in flesh and bones. Therefore, Jesus has a given name being "Jesus" but his divine title is "Messiah" (Hebrew) or "Christos" (Greek) which means "The Anointed One" or the long-awaited divine incarnate personage.

Matthew 2:21, 23 states concerning Jesus the Christ, or Jesus Christ: "And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins. . .'Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel,' which translated means, 'God with us.'"

Jesus Christ then is "God with us." He is God come in human personality. He is deity spilled out in the molding of a mortal, an earth child.

Luke 4:12 states Jesus' words to one who contested Him. In His response to him, He refers to Himself as "God." "And Jesus answered and said to him, 'It is said, You shall not force a test on the Lord your God.'"

Luke 5:20-25 records Jesus referring to Himself as God who can forgive sins. "And seeing their faith, He said, 'Friend, your sins are forgiven you.' And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, 'Who is this man who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?'

"But Jesus, aware of their reasonings, answered and said to them, 'Why are you reasoning in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, "Your sins have been forgiven you" or to say "Rise and walk"? But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, He said to the paralytic, 'I say to you, rise, and take up your stretcher and go home.' And at once he rose up before them, and took up what he had been lying on, and went home, glorifying God."

John 1:1-2, 14 refers to Jesus as the Word with the Word then being God. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. . .And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth."

John 5:18 states: "For this cause therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God."

". . .equal with God." Jesus was intentionally regarding Himself as deity and claiming same in public.

John 10:30 states: "'I and the Father are one.'" Jesus is speaking. He is telling His audience that He, Jesus, reveals the Father — they are "one and the same."

John 16:28 states the words of Jesus: "'I came forth from the Father, and have come into the world; I am leaving the world again, and going to the Father.'"

John 17:5. Jesus prays to the Father, referring to His existence in the godhead prior to the existence to the planet: "'And now, glorify Thou Me together with Thyself, Father, with the glory which I ever had with Thee before the world was.'"

After Jesus' resurrection, disciple Thomas exclaimed that Jesus was God. When Thomas made that witness public, Jesus did not counter his remark but let it stand for Jesus regarded it as truth. John 20:28 reads: "Thomas answered and said to Him, 'My Lord and my God!'"

So then who is Mel Gibson's Jesus in "The Passion of the Christ"? Jesus is God — God become human, the biblical message. For that, Gibson is withstanding much criticism. Why? Not only because there are those who believe Jesus to be a liar or charlatan or madman, surely not divine. But also because the devil is extremely angry that "The Passion" is going to be seen by millions.

They are going to see the biblical truth told in movie venue. They are going to sit before the eternal data — God became mortal to save the repentant souls of their sins, giving them the hope of heaven. Satan does not like that. All the demons of hell do not like that. Therefore, the stir now taking place around this splendid movie.

© Grant Swank


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)

Click to enlarge

Grant Swank

Joseph Grant Swank, Jr., is a pastor at New Hope Church in Windham, Maine... (more)

More by this author