The Debate Over Jesus

Apologetics 101: Part 5: –Who’s the real Jesus?

This is the fifth in the 10-part series designed to help Christians defend their faith.

The debate over Jesus (audio)

The debate over Jesus (pdf)


Jesus of Nazareth is among the world’s most famous and admired people. has more than 175,000 titles about Him. Google lists about 145 million references to Jesus Christ. The world’s major religions hold a high view of Jesus, although they do not agree on who He is or what He accomplished. For example:

  • Islam teaches that Jesus was a great prophet who lived a sinless life; but He is not the Son of God or Savior.
  • Hinduism teaches that Jesus was an Avatar or incarnation of God, a great spiritual teacher, a guru, or even a major god in the Hindu pantheon of 330 million gods; but He is not unique as the Son of God or Savior.
  • Buddhism tells us Jesus was a teacher who may have possessed Buddha hood or enlightenment; but He is not unique and is not mankind’s Savior.
  • Judaism teaches that Jesus was a humble and insignificant prophet, a reformer who performed good deeds; but He is not the Messiah and certainly not divine.
  • Christianity, of course, professes that Jesus was and is the Son of God, Messiah and Savior, whose death and resurrection paid mankind’s sin debt and provided forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Even so, not all who profess Christianity agree about Jesus’ life and work. Mormons, for example, say Jesus was a man who became a god; and Jehovah’s Witnesses insist that Jesus was Jehovah’s first creation.

The debate over Jesus is nothing new. It raged 2,000 years ago in Israel and involved everyone from John the Baptist to Jesus’ own family members, many of whom did not believe He was the promised Messiah. Jesus was fully aware that His life and ministry produced tension, and He challenged His followers to examine the evidence and decide for themselves.

In Matthew 16:13-17, Jesus asks His disciples two questions. First, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” A loaded question to be sure, since by calling Himself “Son of Man” Jesus is claiming to be both divine and the Messiah (see Dan. 7:13-14). Second, Jesus asks a more pointed question, “Who do you say that I am?” Notice several keys in these verses:

  • There are many opinions about Jesus – all of them good. Some say He is John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. Today, members of every major world religion agree that Jesus is someone to be admired, even followed. But it’s not enough to have a high opinion of Jesus; one must have the right view of Jesus.
  • Peter offers a different answer – and the correct one: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”
  • Jesus acknowledges Peter’s answer as the proper one and states that it was not revealed by human wisdom but “by My Father in Heaven.” Flesh-and-blood opinions about Jesus are subject to error because people are sinful and fallen and prone to mistakes. God the Father, however, is not. He sent Jesus to earth and reveals the Person and work of Christ to human hearts. In fact Jesus made it clear that no one can be saved unless he or she is drawn by the Father to the Son (John 6:44).

Today, we have God’s complete written revelation to us – the Bible – which features convincing evidence that Jesus is who He claimed to be: Messiah, Son of God, Son of Man, Savior, King of kings and Lord of Lords. So let’s go to the evidence in Scripture. We will use the Bible because it records the words of Jesus and features the accounts of eyewitnesses. Some may raise objections to using the Bible instead of other sources but keep in mind:

  • The New Testament is perhaps the most accurate set of ancient documents available to us (see the notes for sessions 2-4);
  • The eyewitnesses wrote their accounts in the presence of hostile witnesses, who could have refuted them if they were wrong, but didn’t.
  • The apostles willingly suffered – and most died – for their testimony.
  • Recent “new” gospels challenging the historical view of Jesus were penned much later (2nd – 4th centuries) and were recognized as false teachings or even forgeries; one has been proven to be a 20th century fraud.

So let’s turn our attention to “In Search of the Real Jesus” (comparison chart). Our premise is that everyone can find the real Jesus by asking three important questions:

1. Who does Jesus say He is?

2. Who do the eyewitnesses say He is?

3. And who do you say He is?

Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips