With the influence of Christianity lessening in the West, it is more and more common to find people who think of Jesus as a great moral teacher. They accept much of what Jesus said and did, but reject the claim that the Church has made that Jesus is, in fact, God incarnate–that is, God in the flesh. The problem with rejecting this understanding of Jesus is that one has to reject this very passage of Scripture:
56 Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.’ 57 Then the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ 58 Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.’ 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
John 8:58 makes the claim explicit. Throughout this extended debate with the religious authorities, Jesus had continually referenced God as his Father. Here, in this verse, Jesus appropriates the Divine Name for himself. The name I Am comes from Exodus 3, when Moses met God in the burning bush on Mt. Sinai. From the bush God answers Moses’ question about what name he should tell the Hebrews their God has,
I am who I am. He said further, Thus you shall say to the Israelites, I am has sent me to you (Exodus 3:14).
By Jesus using this name for himself, he told the religious authorities in no uncertain terms that he is God.
Now, many of the people who want to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher will reject this verse, and any of the other verses in the Bible that refer to Jesus as God, as being not true to history. These, they conclude, are later additions to the tradition of Jesus and do not reflect reality.
It is interesting, though, that they will accept the parts of the Bible that will agree with what they want to believe and reject the parts of the Bible that do not agree with them. On what basis will they make the distinction between what to accept and what to reject? Their own beliefs and personal preferences. They already know what they want to believe. Then they go to the Bible and pull out as authentic what agrees with those beliefs and throw out as inauthentic those parts of the Bible that contradict their preconceived notions.
Perhaps the reason why people will more readily accept Jesus as a great moral teacher than as God is because a teacher can be followed, amended, or even ignored if the teaching becomes out-of-date. God must be obeyed. If Jesus is God, then there are actual demands placed on our lives and a true and objective standard of right and wrong that transcends us and our opinions or appeals.
Jesus is so much more than a teacher. Jesus is God.