If you ask the question, “Who is Jesus?” to a dozen people, you most likely will get twenty different answers!
“He’s the greatest man who ever lived.”
“He was a prophet.”
“He was a great teacher.”
“Jesus? I’m not sure; I think he was a wise man, but…who can really say?” “He was the Son of God.”
“Personally, I don’t think he ever existed.” “A philosopher.”
“The Savior of the world.”
“A simple man.” “A complex man.”
Different people, different answers. Does that mean we can never really know who Jesus is? Does every person need to decide individually?
Yes and no. Every individual will be faced with the same decision the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate faced when he asked, “What shall I do with Jesus, the one called the Christ?” (Matthew 27:22, GW). Whatever conclusions we arrive at as individuals, it would be nice to know whether our conclusions are supported by the facts, right?
You now have the opportunity to dig deeper into the question, “Is Jesus the Son of God?” by going through the questions below. And like Pilate, you just might find yourself asking, “what shall I do with Jesus, the one called the Christ?”
The overwhelming majority of reputable scholars consider the historical existence of Jesus an irrefutable fact. There is virtually no doubt that Jesus of Nazareth actually lived in the first century and gained a large following in his lifetime and especially after his death. In fact, a Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, writing in the late first century in Rome, mentioned Jesus of Nazareth in a brief paragraph of his work, Antiquities (Ant. 18:63-64). While many scholars believe there were later insertions to Josephus’s words, virtually no one disputes that Josephus, writing a mere half century after Jesus’ life- time, referred in his history to “Jesus, a wise man…who wrought surprising feats and…won over many Jews and many of the Greeks…condemned [by Pilate] to be crucified…And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.”
References to the historical existence of Jesus are also found in the writings of the first-century Ro- man historian Tacitus (considered one of the most accurate historians of antiquity), Seutonius (chief secretary to the Roman Emperor Hadrian), and Lucian of Samosata (a second-century Greek writer and critic of Christianity), among others. Numerous other sources, both Gentile and Jewish, contain so many references to Jesus and the early Christians that no reasonable seeker after truth can resolutely say that Jesus never existed.
Dr. Luke Timothy Johnson, a New Testament scholar at Emory University, wrote, “Even the most critical historian can confidently assert that a Jew named Jesus worked as a teacher and wonder-worker in Palestine during the reign of Tiberius, was executed by crucifixion under the prefect Pontius Pilate and continued to have followers after his death.”
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Wasn’t Jesus of Nazareth really just a man whose followers later made up the whole “Son of God” thing?
More than a century ago, the efforts of skeptical scholars were enthusiastically directed at disproving the fact that Jesus existed or, failing that, to prove that the written accounts of his life were recorded at least a century after the fact. In the past fifty years, however, these pursuits have been largely derailed by the weight of evidence, both textual and archaeological. Hence, skeptical scholarship has had to move on to new theories.
One of those efforts is the suggestion that, while Jesus existed, he never really claimed to be the Son of God himself; instead his followers invented those claims. There are multiple problems with this hypothesis.
First, the culture of first-century Galilee and Judea placed a high value on the oral tradition, the ability to memorize and accurately repeat large pieces of information. For Jesus’ first disciples to knowingly revise his teachings and claims would have been not unlike a generation of Hindus suddenly develop- ing a taste for beef; it would go against everything they had learned and practiced their entire lives.
Second, the time between the events of Jesus’ lifetime and the recording of the historical accounts was far too short for legends to replace the facts. Few historians dispute that the disciples of Jesus began preaching and writing the story of Jesus soon after the events themselves; in fact, Peter’s Pen- tecost sermon (Acts 2 in the Bible) occurred within fifty days of the resurrection. Research indicates that the written accounts of the resurrection are astoundingly early in origin, possibly within just a few years of the events, especially the creedal statement “that Christ died for our sins, just as the Scrip- tures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the twelve apostles. After that, he was seen by more than five hundred of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died by now. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:3-7, NLT). Dr. Rudolf Pesch, a New Testament authority and professor of the University of Frankfurt in Germany, maintains that the probable source for Mark’s Gospel account of Jesus’ death should be dated to at least 37 A.D., just seven years after the event itself! Professor A.N. Sherwin-White, a professional historian who knows his way around both legend and history, states categorically that such early origins argue against any notion that the resurrection accounts are legendary.
Third, the theory that Jesus’ followers wove legends around the historical facts requires us to ignore the track record of the New Testament writers in matters that have since become verifiable. For in- stance, Jesus’ first biographers (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) reported that the Roman governor’s name during Jesus’ trial was Pilate, which early scholars doubted because there was no reference to Pilate outside these early Christian writings—until the discovery in 1961 of a Latin inscription referring to the Roman governor by name. Similarly, the New Testament’s references to geographical locations, Roman and Jewish customs, and political terminology (among other things) have been proven accurate time and again. To presume that scholars and writers with an exemplary track record for accuracy would be involved in legends and fabrications is illogical.
Finally, as Dr. William Lane Craig has written, “It is inexplicable how monotheistic Jews could have attributed divinity to a man they had known, if he never claimed any such things himself. Monotheism (the belief in only one God) is the heart of the Jewish religion, and it would have been blasphemous to say that a human being was God. Yet this is precisely what the earliest Christians did proclaim and believe about Jesus. Such a claim must have been rooted in Jesus’ own teaching.”
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The preponderance of available evidence indicates that Jesus did claim to be the unique Son of God, which meant that he was God himself and that this claim was central to everything else he said and did.
In fact, one of the few unprompted questions Jesus asked his disciples was “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13, NLT), referring to himself. He didn’t ask, “What are people saying about my teachings?” He asked, “Who do people say I am?” According to the historical records of his words and actions reported by eyewitnesses and contemporary historians, Jesus repeatedly asserted or implied that he was the unique Son of God, an assertion that claimed his own deity, which did not go unnoticed by the religious leaders of his day. In fact, that was the very reason they sought to dis- credit and eventually put him to death: “So the Jewish leaders tried all the more to kill him. In addition to disobeying the Sabbath rules by healing and teaching, he had spoken of God as his Father, thereby making himself equal with God” (John 5:18, NLT).
Once, when he told the Jewish leaders, “Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced as he looked forward to my coming. He saw it and was glad” (John 8:56 NLT), his listeners became indignant: “You aren’t even fifty years old, How can you say you have seen Abraham?” (John 8:57, NLT)
Jesus answered, “The truth is, I existed before Abraham was even born!” At that point they picked up stones to kill him. But Jesus hid himself from them and left the Temple (John 8:58, NLT).
On another occasion, when Jesus said that he was “one with the Father,” the Jewish leaders again picked up stones to kill him. When Jesus asked why they wanted to kill him, they retorted, “for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, have made yourself God” (John 10:33, NLT, italics added).
The central issue of Christianity is not, and never has been, the teachings of a man called Jesus, but rather Jesus Christ himself. Throughout the Gospel record, Jesus urged his listeners and followers to believe in him, not just in his teachings (John 3:15, 16; 8:24; 11:25; 12:46; 20:29).
If we accept the evidence that so strongly suggests that Jesus claimed to be God while he lived here on earth, we are faced with two alternative conclusions: either his claims were true or they were false. Either he KNEW his claims were false or he DID NOT KNOW his claims were false.
But if Jesus KNEW his claims were false, and he made them anyway, he would be A LIAR. In that case, you can no longer call Jesus a “good moral teacher” because it is neither good nor moral to lie. Worse than that, if he KNEW his claims to be God were false, and he made them anyway, he would be an unspeakably evil man because he deliberately told others their sins were forgiven when they were not—AND he told them they could trust him for their eternal destiny when they could not.
It’s also possible that if Jesus’ claims were false, he DID NOT KNOW his claims were false. If this was the case, then he would be A LUNATIC, deluded, and not mildly so. Philosopher Peter Kreeft (professor of philosophy at Boston College) wrote, “A measure of your insanity is the size of the gap between what you think you are and what you really are. If I think I am the greatest philosopher in America, I am only an arrogant fool; if I think I am Napoleon, I am probably over the edge; if I think I am a butterfly, I am fully embarked from the sunny shores of sanity. But if I think I am God, I am even more insane, because the gap between anything finite and the infinite God is even greater than the gap between any two finite beings, even a man and a butterfly.”
Could Jesus have been this crazy? He would have to have been if he falsely claimed to be God and DID NOT KNOW that his claims were false.
Such a conclusion however, explodes the boundaries of credibility. If you have read the historical record, you cannot read the calm authority of his commands, the lofty consistency of his character, the wise and practical nature of his teachings, the canny, savvy, clever quality of his dialogues with the religious authorities, the simple yet poetic phrases he used, the insight into human nature he demonstrated, the persuasion he exercised, the grace he exhibited, the presence of mind he retained even in the last moments of his life to say to his close friend, “Take care of my mother” and seriously regard him as demented.
Fortunately, that is not your last option. The other possibility is to believe that Jesus’ claims were true. And if they were true, Jesus was exactly who he said he was. And that would make him LORD! The Bible says he is “the Word [made] human…full of unfailing love and faithfulness” (John 1:14, NLT), “the visible image of the invisible God [who] existed before God made anything at all and is supreme over all creation” (Colossians 1:15, NLT), the light of men (John 1:4), the Lamb of God (John 1:29), the Alpha and Omega (Rev. 1:8), the Lord of Lords (1 Timothy 6:5), the Messiah (John 1:41), the only God our Savior (Jude 25).
C.S. Lewis put it well, in his classic book, Mere Christianity:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about [Jesus]: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a mad man or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Once our minds confront the data, our hearts are faced with a dilemma, the same dilemma posed by Pilate: “What should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” (Matthew 27:22, NLT)
Who do YOU say that he is? God leaves the choice up to you. You can weigh the facts and consider the alternatives and decide, “Nah…I mean, even if I don’t argue with the evidence…I don’t really wanna give in to it, either.” You can do that. That’s your choice to make.
Or you can make a different choice. You can choose to call out to him in prayer and surrender to him and let him change your life as he has so many others.
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It does seem odd to many that Jesus had to die on a cross for the sins of the world. In order to understand it, however, we must first understand the nature of God, the law of God, and the sinfulness of humanity. Then, our need for a Savior who would die for us will become more apparent.
1. The Nature of God. God is holy; he said repeatedly, “I, the LORD your God, am holy” (Leviticus 19:2, NLT). God is just; the Bible says, “Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is!” (Deuteronomy 32:4, NLT). God is loving; as the Apostle John wrote, “God is love” (1 John 4:8, NLT). God is merciful; the Bible says, “God is…rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4, NLT). When we grasp these things about God’s nature, we are on our way to understanding God’s law:
2. The Law of God. From the very first days of human history, God has made clear what he requires. In the Garden of Eden, he told Adam, “You may freely eat any fruit in the garden except fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat of its fruit, you will surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17, NLT). Adam did not obey, and ever since then, man has been reaping the negative consequences of that choice. Generations later, God gave his law to the nation of Israel in careful detail, including the Ten Commandments. Man has not been successful in obeying these standards either.
3. The Sinfulness of Humanity. From the first orchard thieves in the Garden of Eden down through the ages to you and me, the Bible says that, “No one is good, not even one” (Romans 3:10, NLT) and that “all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3:23, NLT). All of us have failed to meet God’s standard of holiness, justice, love, and mercy. Which leads, both logically and theologically, to the consequences, or wages, of sin.
4. The Wages of Sin. The result of sin is separation from God, removal from the source of life. As Isaiah the prophet wrote, “Your sins have cut you off from God” (Isaiah 59:2, NLT), both in this life and for all eternity. God is our only hope of eternal life. Our sin not only condemns us, it also creates a dilemma for God.
5. The Dilemma of God. The Bible says, “[God] remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself” (2 Timo thy 2:13, NLT). In other words, he cannot be other than he is. Unlike humans, who are sometimes honest and sometimes dishonest, sometimes polite and sometimes rude, sometimes a 34 waist and sometimes a 38, “[God] never changes or casts shifting shadows” (James 1:17, NASB).
6. The Need for Atonement. Because God is holy and cannot tolerate sin; because God is just and can’t just “let us off the hook”; and because God is loving and merciful and longs to forgive us, he arranged for a substitute so that we could avoid the punishment our sins deserve. It was necessary for that substi tute to be sinless because only a sinless sacrifice would satisfy God’s holiness. “Christ…died for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners that he might bring us safely home to God” (1 Peter 3:18, NLT). It was also necessary for that sacrifice to be human or it wouldn’t have satisfied God’s justice. If I owe you $100, and a man comes along and says he’s going to pay off my debt, and gives you $5, you wouldn’t accept that, would you? No, of course not, because it’s not the same as what was owed. “Therefore, it was necessary for Jesus to be in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. He then could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17, NLT). It was likewise necessary for that sacrifice to be divine so as to reflect God’s love and mercy, because “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13, NIV). God didn’t SEND a substitute; he BECAME one, which also may help to explain how Jesus’ sacrifice could atone for the whole world, because an infinite, holy God giving up infinity and suffering death, even for an instant, is an infinitely incalculable sacrifice. And an infinite sacrifice is more than enough to pay for the sins of the whole world.
As the Bible says,
“We are made right in God’s sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done. For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins. For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us. God was being entirely fair and just when he did not punish those who sinned in former times. And he is entirely fair and just in this present time when he declares sinners to be right in his sight because they believe in Jesus.” (Romans 3:22-26, NLT)
“Christ…loved you and gave himself as a sacrifice to take away your sins” (Ephesians 5:2, NLT). That’s why Jesus had to die. It was the only way.
Why was Jesus born? Why did Jesus have to die? These are great questions. This article has probably opened your eyes and mind to what the Bible says about Jesus. Now let’s talk about it via Live Chat.
You may be among those who read the Bible’s accounts of Jesus’ suffering or hear the church’s teachings that “Jesus died for your sins” and say, “But I don’t want anyone to die for my sins. I never asked for that.”
That’s actually part of the mystery and wonder of the Gospel, the story of Jesus and his love for us all. No one asked for him to come to earth and sacrifice himself for our sins. No one could have dreamed that God could love us that much. But that’s what happened. God didn’t require us to ask for such a thing; He just calls on us to accept it.
If you’re still adamant, however, about not wanting someone to die for your sins, God has thought of that, too. He will not force you to accept his offer of salvation through Jesus Christ. He simply says, “Let the thirsty ones come—anyone who wants to. Let them come and drink the water of life without charge” (Revelation 22:17, NLT, italics added). Though Jesus died with you in mind, God grants you the freedom to put his great love for you entirely out of your mind.
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The resurrection is central to Christianity. Dr. Michael Green, Senior Research Fellow at Wycliffe Hall, said, “Christianity does not hold the Resurrection to be one among many tenets of belief. Without faith in the Resurrection, there would be no Christianity at all.”
Can we really believe in the resurrection? We can’t prove it, of course, but it is possible to weigh the evidence, which abounds:
The early publication and spread of the resurrection accounts. Few historians dispute the fact that Jesus’ disciples began preaching the news of his resurrection soon after the event itself; in fact, Peter’s Pentecost sermon (Acts 2) occurred within fifty days of the resurrection. Written accounts of the resurrection are astoundingly early in origin, possibly within just a few years of the event.
The close proximity of the claims to the site of the actual event. Dr. William Lane Craig wrote, “One of the most amazing facts about the early Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection was that it originated in the very city where Jesus was crucified. The Christian faith did not come to exist in some distant city, far from eyewitnesses who knew of Jesus’ death and burial. No, it came into being in the very city where Jesus had been publicly crucified, under the very eyes of its enemies.” In other words, it would have been crazy for the first followers of Jesus to propagate a lie literally around the corner from the location of the empty tomb.
The citation of witnesses who could easily have been checked. At least sixteen individuals are men- tioned by name as witnesses in the various resurrection accounts. This would have been terribly risky if the accounts had been falsified because the witnesses could have been verified. The mention of Joseph of Arimathea as the man who buried Jesus would have been exceedingly dangerous if the accounts had been fraudulent because, as a member of the Sanhedrin (a Jewish “supreme court”), he would have been well known. J. P. Moreland (professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology) wrote, “No one could have invented such a person who did not exist and say he was on the Sanhedrin if such were not the case.”
The citation of women as witnesses. The record of Jesus’ first post-resurrection appearances to women is tremendously significant, since in that culture women were considered invalid witnesses in a court of law. Fabricated accounts would have never named women as the first witnesses.
The obvious lack of cooperation between authors. Many critics have pointed out that the historical accounts of Jesus’ resurrection have a number of baffling differences that, on the surface, are hard to reconcile. But these are actually convincing evidence of their authenticity; they display an ingenuous lack of cooperation, much like eyewitness accounts of any event would display. If the accounts were made up, the authors would have attempted to match their accounts more closely.
The description of the tomb’s location. Any first-century “mythmaker” would have kept the location of Jesus’ tomb a secret to prevent the chance that someone might discover Jesus’ body. He would have reported that the angels had sealed the tomb or carried it off into heaven after the resurrection. Or he would have simply rendered this “fictional” resurrection a “spiritual” one. The Gospel accounts choose none of those routes. They describe the owner of the tomb (Joseph of Arimathea) and its location (“The place of crucifixion was near a garden, where there was a new tomb, never used before,” John 19:41, NLT), and identify Jesus’ resurrection as a bodily one (John 20:27).
The frequent invitations of investigation. According to the historical record, Jesus’ disciples made frequent reference to the evidence, as if to invite investigation (Acts 2:32, 3:15, 13:31; 1 Corinthians 15:3- 6). This was done within a few years of the events themselves; if the resurrection appearances were fiction, the early Christians’ opponents could have conclusively debunked the new religion. William Lillie (Chair of the Department of Biblical Study at the University of Aberdeen) said of the citation (in 1 Corinthians 15) of the resurrected Christ appearing to more than 500 people, “What gives a special authority to the list [of witnesses] as historical evidence is the reference to most of the five hundred brethren being still alive. St. Paul says in effect, ‘If you do not believe me, you can ask them.’”
The martyrdom of the witnesses. History records (and few scholars dispute) that the self-proclaimed witnesses to the resurrection endured persecution, exile, and executions rather than recant their testimony. Lee Strobel pointed out, “People will die for their religious beliefs if they sincerely believe they’re true, but people won’t die for their religious beliefs if they know their beliefs are false. While most people can only have faith that their beliefs are true, the disciples were in a position to know without a doubt whether or not Jesus had risen from the dead. They claimed that they saw him, talked with him, and ate with him. If they weren’t absolutely certain, they wouldn’t have allowed themselves to be tortured to death for proclaiming that the resurrection had happened.”
The birth of the church. For a few hundred first-century Jews to begin a new religion (proclaiming their Nazarene companion of a few years earlier to be God Incarnate) in Jerusalem, the holy city of Judaism where their preaching would unquestionably invite violent persecution from civil and religious authorities would be the height of lunacy, unless, of course, they were doing so in response to a life- changing event that they themselves had witnessed.
The conversion of skeptics. There is virtually no argument among historians that the earliest Christians included Saul of Tarsus and James the brother of Jesus. Saul was a fierce opponent of the first Christians, even to the point of imprisoning and executing some (Acts 22:4); James was one of Jesus’ younger brothers, none of whom believed in Jesus during his lifetime (John 7:5). Yet not only did both of these skeptics become followers of Jesus sometime after his resurrection; they also became influential proponents of Christianity. In fact, even a modern skeptic like New Testament critic Hans Grass admits that the conversion of James the brother of Jesus, who apparently became a Christian some- time after Jesus suffered a degrading death as a criminal on a cross, is a severe obstacle to believing that Christianity is built on a lie.
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Jesus couldn’t have put it any more clearly than when he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, NLT). Doesn’t that seem incredibly narrow and exclusive? Absolutely. Unless, of course, Jesus really is the only way to a relationship with God.
Jesus’ sacrifice is actually the most inclusive act in the history of the universe. Jesus died “so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it” (John 3:16-17, NLT, italics added). He died “once for all” (Hebrews 10:10, NIV). For all. That includes everyone. That includes you
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Expecting to stop sinning before you come to Jesus is like fixing your car before you take it to the mechanic. If we could do it ourselves, we wouldn’t need a Savior. But we can’t do it ourselves. We can’t stop sinning. We can’t make ourselves clean. We can’t get rid of our own guilt.
Using thirst as a metaphor for spiritual longing, Jesus says, “‘Come’…Let the thirsty ones come— anyone who wants to. Let them come and drink the water of life without charge” (Revelation 22:17, NLT). He says, “Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink—even if you have no money! Come…it’s all free!” (Isaiah 55:1, NLT). And he promises, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37, NIV).
Jesus wants you to come with your sin, your problems, your faults, your fears. Give him your future, and he’ll take care of your past.
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Forty days after Jesus’ resurrection, he took his disciples to the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem. After saying goodbye to them, the Bible says, “He was taken up into the sky while they were watching, and he disappeared into a cloud. As they were straining their eyes to see him, two white-robed men suddenly stood there among them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing here staring at the sky? Jesus has been taken away from you into heaven. And someday, just as you saw him go, he will return!’” (Acts 1:9-11, NLT).
The return of Jesus Christ to the earth is a dominant theme of the New Testament. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus comes, God will bring back with Jesus all the Christians who have died…For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the call of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, all the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and remain with him forever. So comfort and encourage each other with these words”.
(1 Thessalonians 4:14, 16-18, NLT).
No one knows exactly when Jesus will return, but Jesus did tell his followers to pay attention (Matthew 24:32) so they wouldn’t be unprepared for his coming. “And then at last,” Jesus said, “the sign of the coming of the Son of Man will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the nations of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man arrive on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send forth his angels with the sound of a mighty trumpet blast, and they will gather together his chosen ones from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven” (Matthew 24:30-31, NLT).
Jesus said He was coming back. This article helps make that case. Do you still have questions? If so, let’s Live Chat about it.
Is Jesus Really God? Let’s talk about it via live chat.