Who is Jesus? Liar, Lunatic, Legend, or Lord? Charles McCallum

April 21, 2017

Celebrating Easter often provides a reminder that Christianity proclaims some pretty unique and significant claims. This is a time each year where Christians celebrate the death, burial, and resurrection of the one they call Lord. Christians celebrate that a man died on a cross to take away their sins, was buried in a grave, and then was resurrected from the dead, walked around and talked to many people after his death, then ascended into heaven from where he will one day return to the earth to bring his people into his kingdom.

For a religion that prides itself on what is known as the Great Commission, which calls believers of Christianity to share their faith in this truth with others – it sure does seem to be quite the unusual story. So unusual in fact that some allege the story to be made up.

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrestles with the unique dilemma regarding the assertion that Jesus was merely a great moral teacher. His argument refuting this claim suggests that Jesus would not have been a good moral teacher without being the Son of God. Lewis concludes “this man either was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse.”[1] His writing on this topic produced a now famous “trilemma” when trying to answer the question – who is Jesus? For Lewis, he determined there must be three possible solutions:

  1. Liar – he was not who he said he was and he knew so.
  2. Lunatic – he was not who he thought he was and he did not know it.
  3. Lord – he was who he said he was and his life, death, and resurrection prove it to be so.

Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, adds a fourth alternative to the question “Who is Jesus?” in his A Theology for the Church, by suggesting some may consider Jesus to be a Legend.

  1. Legend – he was not who others later imagined him to be.

In response to Lewis’s “trilemma,” and then the addition of the possibility of Jesus being a legend, Akin writes:

If Jesus of Nazareth was not the Christ, the fulfillment of the Old Testament promise and prophecy, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world and he knew it, He is a liar of the worst sort; and we should scorn him and ignore him. On the other hand, if he was not who he thought he was, given his tragically deluded self-understanding, we should pity him and dismiss him for a lunatic. It is rather difficult, however, on this position, to explain the remarkable teaching that flowed from his mouth. If he is simply a legend, something of a heroic make-believe character along the lines of the ancient Hercules or Santa Claus, we might admire the biblical stories for their wonderful charm, but we would certainly not view this person as the most significant individual to walk the earth, much less worship him. But if he is Lord, the Son of God, the Messiah, the risen and ascended and exalted King of kings, we are confronted with a completely different decision altogether. (Akin, A Theology for the Church, p. 435-6).

These four options for helping to explain who Jesus is certainly create parameters for helping to determine an answer to the question. However, some may not want to even entertain the question leaving the burden of proof be forced upon the Christian to prove that Jesus exists. This should not intimidate the Christian sharing their faith with someone that does not yet know Jesus as Lord. In fact, the burden of proof should actually fall with the one trying to claim that Jesus is not Lord. In order to consider Jesus as a liar, lunatic, or legend, one has some heavy historical facts that must be explained.

In his commentary on Matthew for the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary series, David Platt comments: “There’s no question, even among the most secular of scholars, that around 2,000 years ago an entirely new religious movement and community were formed – almost overnight. And immediately, hundreds of people started claiming that Jesus rose from the grave, even when it meant they could die for such a claim. A fast-growing movement of people, which now makes up one-third of the world’s population by some estimates, survives as a result.”[2] Take comfort Christian, if you find yourself in an opportunity to share why you believe Jesus is Lord. You are not alone. For someone that does not believe in the resurrection of Jesus, there is a burden of proof for them to provide a convincing explanation for the sudden emergence of the Christian religion. Pray for them through that process, talk with them through the process, and as Charles Haddon Spurgeon declared, “If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our bodies. And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned or unprayed for.”[3]

NOTES

[1] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 52. Lewis writes, “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 a 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 patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. (Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 52).

[2] David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, p. 358.

[3] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Sermon #349, “The Wailing of Risca”

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