Can Jesus Be Just a Good Teacher?
There are many people of various walks of life and confessions of faith that admire the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. This simple carpenter-turned-itinerant-preacher has captured imaginations and motivated good deeds around the world. And for many people, perhaps even the majority of people in some places, that’s as far as it goes. Jesus was a good guy, an excellent example of how to live and love, and a tragic story of undeserved death.
But there’s a problem with that view of Jesus: he claimed to be God. There are numerous occasions in the Gospel accounts of this type of statement, but none so pronounced as the one in Matthew 16:13-20. In this passage, Peter declares to Jesus, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” The Son of God. Divine. And Jesus doesn’t tell Peter that he somehow has gotten mixed up; rather, he praises him for paying attention to what his “Father in heaven has revealed” to him.
This declaration, then, leaves us with two options: either Jesus is God, or he’s lying. There are then two strains of conclusions from each of those options.
If he’s lying, then he’s either evil or crazy. If he was crazy, he must have been
reallycrazy. As C.S. Lewis so eloquently put it in Mere Christianity, that would put him on the level with someone who thinks he’s a poached egg—he’d have to be crazy to go to the cross for a lie! He did not simply die for some noble cause; he was killed because he claimed to be God. If not for God’s magnificent and daring scheme to rescue humanity from their own rebellion, the cross really would be a senseless tragedy.
Or, if he isn’t God but he isn’t a crazy man either, then he’d have to be evilly inspired to attempt such a grand deception. And if we look at his life and conclude that he wasn’t evil—and I think you’d be hard-pressed to defend that opinion—then we have to look back to the option that he’s God. See, by claiming to be God, he didn’t leave us the option of thinking him merely a good teacher, or a good example, or someone whose life can give us warm fuzzies. Either he’s God, or he’s no good at all. And if he’s God, then you have a choice to make—whether to accept him as God or to reject him—but you can’t just follow the parts of his life that inspire you and ignore the rest, as you might do with any human teacher. If he’s God, he has a call on your life, and you have to decide what you are going to do about it. That is why we tend to relegate him to the status of a “good teacher” in our minds, but whether we accept him or not, he made it perfectly clear who he is.