The question of whether or not Jesus of Nazareth really existed is no longer much of a question. The majority of New Testament experts, including both Christian and critical scholars say “yes.” In his book, Forged, scholar Bart Ehrman writes that “[Jesus] certainly existed, as virtually every competent scholar of antiquity, Christian or non-Christian, agrees, based on clear and certain evidence.” This is an extraordinary statement coming from Ehrman, as he is not a Christian. He is an agnostic.
We know the historical existence of Jesus is not a myth; but who exactly was he? Or perhaps we should ask what was he? Some non-Christians teach that he was a great prophet. Many teach that he was a great teacher. The problem is—he didn’t claim to be merely a great prophet or a great teacher. He claimed to be the Christ, the Son of the living God.
If Jesus is not the Son of God he is history’s greatest liar. C.S Lewis in his great work, Mere Christianity, goes even farther saying that if Jesus was not the Lord or a liar then he must have be a lunatic. Scholar Father Robert Barron, in his Catholicism series, says that if Jesus is not who he says he is then “he is not a good man; he is a ‘dangerous, misguided fanatic.’ Jesus…more than any other religious figure compels us to make a choice.” So then, which is it? Lord, liar or lunatic?
It is highly unlikely that Jesus was a liar. Dr. Peter Kreeft and Fr. Ron Tacelli from Boston College point out in their Handbook of Christian Apologetics, “no [biblical] prophecy has ever been disproved, and many have been proved by history.” This includes Jesus’ prophecies of future events like his Resurrection and the fall of Jerusalem. Kreeft and Tacelli also point out that archaeology has never found anything to disprove the claims of the Bible which includes, of course, Jesus’ own claims. This lack of anti-Christian historical and archaeological evidence is great evidence for the reliability of the Bible, both historically and spiritually; and it also points definitively towards Jesus’ authentic honesty and integrity.
Anyone who believes he is God (and is not) surely deserves to be assumed a “lunatic.” The same rule applies to Jesus. But the evidence supporting Jesus’ claims of divinity is striking. First, Jesus fulfilled many Old Testament prophecies and contradicted none. Second, Jesus—a Jew—publicly forgave sins (a “God-only” ability according to the Jews) and, in fact, his forgiveness often resulted in great sinners becoming great saints. St. Matthew is an example. The former tax collector became an apostle and Holy Spirit-inspired Gospel writer. St. Mary Magdalene is another example. Third, Jesus performed public exorcisms. Fourth, he worked great miracles as reported by eyewitnesses. Consider the non-Christian source, the Babylonian Talmud, which even records Jesus as a miracle worker; although Jewish tradition attributes his powers to the devil and not the Divine. But if Jesus’ supernatural powers came from the devil why would he empower Jesus to perform exorcisms? It is clearly not in the devil’s best interests to perform exorcisms on himself. That is about as reasonable as a civil war where opposing armies are in total agreement with each other but fight anyway.
Might I also add a fifth proof for Jesus’ divinity? The Church. Trace all of the historical evidence we have about Christianity to the first century and what do you find? A Church founded by Jesus which includes the Mass, a pope, bishops and priests, confession of sins and other distinctly “Catholic” attributes. Recall the words of Ignatius of Antioch around the year 110 in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans that “wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” And still almost two millenniums later, even despite periods of internal corruption and external persecution, the Catholic Church still stands a billion strong despite several centuries of radical dissent triggered by the Reformation.
According to the PewResearchCenter, about one-third of the world’s population are Christian (Protestant and Catholic) at over two billion. Two thousand years after its foundation! Going back a few years, St. Augustine, in the early 5th century, called the rapidly-spreading worldwide Christian Church a “miracle” because of its persistent failure to self-destruct despite its many challenges through history. Eight centuries later, St. Thomas Aquinas also marveled at the miraculous nature of the seemingly indestructible Church in his great apologetic work, Summa contra gentiles. These things considered, we are led to reasonably conclude in light of all the evidence for and against, that the Church could not possibly be the work of a liar or lunatic. It is and could only be of the one true Lord, Jesus Christ.