The historical fact of the existence of Jesus of Galilee
is very difficult to dispute. There is more historical evidence for
the existence of this man than for the existence of Abraham Lincoln.
However, his existence isn't the issue that divides Christians
from non-Christian religions and atheism. The real issue under
discussion in this respect is, "Is Jesus God?"
There are several distinctions that must be made; these are four basic
positions concerning Jesus that have been suggested:
Jesus was mere man. Perhaps great, but human and no more than anyone else could be.
Jesus was transcendent man. He was born human but rose above mortality
(this includes the theory that God made Jesus into the Christ).
Jesus was (or is) a god. One of several, having peers.
Jesus is God. The highest, first, and perfect self-existant being.
Starting with the Lewisian trilemma, let's investigate the possibility that Jesus was a mere man.
Matthew 3:17 suggests that there's something supernatural about Jesus.
Other passages build upon the unique position of "Son of God." The accounts of
his life include miracles. But most of all, Jesus claims that he has
ultimate authority, unlimited power, and is the Son of God. If a mere human made
that claim, he would have to either be insane (e.g. "I am Napoleon!") or
a diabolical liar with evil intent to deceive, and following him would
lead only to disaster. So Jesus can not be a mere "good man," because he must
be the kind of liar we would call the devil, an insane person with no grip on
reality, or be supernatural. Reading the words and actions of Christ
will, for most observers, convince one that Jesus was not a lunatic.
Were all these metaphors trying to say that Jesus was beyond natural man,
who achieved a higher supernatural state, but was originally a human?
John 20:28-29 shows someone "in the know" calling Jesus "God." Now throughout
the other books, people may begin to make the same expression to angels
or people, but those people are characteristically told that this agent is a
servant, not God himself (in the notable exception in Acts, the man who
accepted worship was immediately killed by God). Jesus did not decline
the worship. Had he been a good, honest but merely supernatural being, he would
have been obligated to clarify his position. In a few places, Jesus quotes
the Psalms and other letters that quote the Psalms, The term "God" is applied
to the person of Jesus. So again we're stuck with the decision, Jesus can't
be an angel or some supernatural nice guy... if he's not a mere man, he has to be
either a demon or a god.
Lots of people are willing to admit that there are a lot of things they don't
understand about "the way things work." For me, a Jet Engine or Cathode
Ray Tube might as well be magic. People like us may well be willing to admit
Jesus could be a god, but would not approve of the term capital-G "God"
because of the exclusivity. There's a lot out there, you may reason,
why not a pantheon of gods? Some other creatures like Jesus?
John 1:1-3 is a philosophical approach to God. It says that "The Word"
(referring to Jesus) was with God, and he was God. Jesus said that
he was the first and the last, the beginning and the end. In John 8:58,
Jesus makes a claim to have seen events thousands of years ago in
an unbounded now, using the gramatically akward but factually precise
phrase, "Before Abraham was, I am." This was a turn of a phrase as well,
since the name translated as God's name implies this kind of self existence...
So, if there were a bunch of gods, it's reasonable that Jesus would know
them, or at least be aware of them. For him to deny the existence of
other gods and to go further, to state that he's self-extant and the
beginning of all things (including supernatural things) is for him
to claim to be the only most high God.
So Jesus can't be a good human, or an angel, or one in a pantheon. He must
be a bad man, insane, a devil, or God Almighty. I've already suggested that
a reading of the original sources will clear the charge of lunacy, let
me ask you to read those same sources to decide whether he is a bad man,
a bad spirit, or capital-G God.
There's a thousand other resources on the internet, many better than
my brief treatment. There are also mounds of good books. However, there's
as many bad ones that'll just confuse or pollute the issue. I therefore
recommend that earnest seekers find someone they trust to talk to about
these kinds of things. Someone mature, kind, non-judgemental, and
wise. If I don't know you, there's probably someone who would make a better
resource than I. But I'm willing to talk if you'd like.