- Those who can imagine Jesus saying something like this
- Those who actually know something about Jesus
Perspective: there's only one actual Jesus. You don't get to make up a new one. The only Jesus who is worth discussing, who merits any weight or "pull," is the Jesus we meet in the Gospels. Given that the Gospels are richly-attested first-century material, have a wealth of historical material on this Jesus. Any reluctance to deal with the data of the Gospels, any preference for "Jesuses" fabricated from other (or no) materials, arises from something other than historical concern.
So if we're to talk about any Jesus worth talking about, we will be talking about the Jesus we know from the Gospels, and from the apostolic witness of the rest of the New Testament. Anything anyone says about "Jesus" needs to be checked against Jesus. No matter how heart-warming, no matter how encouraging, no matter how soft and cuddy, no matter how popular — the command "keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21) works out to mean accept no other Jesus than the Jesus of the New Testament (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:1-4).
Therefore, the first time Jesus says "God," we must plug in the backstory. By "God" Jesus means the same God revealed throughout the Old Testament. That "God." The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the God of Creation and Flood; the God of Exodus and Conquest; the God of captivity and return. The God of bloody sacrifices and pictorial Tabernacle. The God of Moses, Solomon, Isaiah, Malachi. That God.
The thought of proposing — much less accepting, much less advocating — another god, in Jesus' name, would have horrified the actual Jesus.
Content. All that being the case — what is the likelihood that this Jesus could have made the statement fabricated above?
Why "zero"? Remember and apply the first two headings.
First, the odds are zero because the Jesus we meet in the New Testament is the living Word of that God (John 1:1, 14), come to earth to expound Him (John 1:18). Because this Jesus claimed an unparalleled intimacy with that God (Matthew 11:27; John 5:17, 19-20; 7:29; 8:55). Jesus' concern was never about how sinners conceived of God, but about how God conceived of Himself — and that self-conception is what He came to declare (John 1:18).
Second, the chances are "zero" because the God of the Old Testament never called people to embrace their own conceptions of "God." Rather, from the start He spoke and showed Himself to man (Genesis 1), moving people to call on His very specific and non-inclusive name (Genesis 4:26b). This God was fiercely condemning of idolatry, which is the embrace of any God other than He (Exodus 20:3-6; 34:13-17; Deuteronomy 4:23-29).
It is inconceivable that that God would perpetuate such inclusive bibble-babble. Since that God is the God Jesus presupposed and proclaimed, it is again inconceivable that Jesus would say anything of the kind.
This truth has many implications, of course. Let's single out two.
The first is the challenging question that played heavily into my own conversion: are we worshiping a god of our own heart's fantasies, on our terms, or are we worshiping the true and living God as He knows and reveals Himself, on His terms?
The second applies to pastors, teachers, leaders, and anyone who would speak for Jesus. Are you as crystal-clear and dogmatic as Jesus is? In asking that, let me be crystal-clear:
- I am not asking if you are being dogmatic that your ideas of God are absolute and unchallengeable; but...
- I am asking if you proclaim Jesus' revelation of God as absolute and unchallengeable.