[COMMENT: Who is Jesus? The various responses below describe some of the typical responses one meets to day - or any day. What say ye? E. Fox]
Larry King Live Explores Life’s Most Perplexing Question.
By Allan Dobras
In a recent airing of the television program, Larry King Live, the host assembled a panel of well-known clergy and secularists to discuss the question, “What Happens After We Die?”
Joining in the panel were John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church
in Southern California and host of “Grace to You” ministry; Father Michael
Manning, Roman Catholic priest, host of the program "The Word in the World;”
Rabbi Marvin Hier, the dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center; Muslim
scholar Dr. Maher Hathout; Mary Ann Williamson, lecturer on spirituality; and
Ellen Johnson, president of American Atheists.
The course of the discussions served to underscore how difficult it is for the world to deal with the reality of the person of Jesus Christ. In today’s modern world, the name of Jesus is unique among all others in that the mere mention of His name can generate a level of hostility and discord so deep that political correctness demands that such utterances be carefully avoided. Jesus prophesied as much in Matthew 24:9 when He spoke about the End Times: “You will be hated by all nations because of My name.”
Nevertheless, no discussion of the afterlife can take place without giving due respect to the name that is above all other names. There are many dead prophets, but only one living Lord, and no matter how much the world would like to ignore Him, all must come to grips with the question, “Who is this Jesus?” The Larry King discussion was no exception. Initially, each panel member was asked to describe his/her particular concept of the afterlife and what one must do to enter the heavenly realm:
John MacArthur: “Well, when you die, you go to one of two places. According to scripture. You go out of the presence of God forever, or you go into the presence of God forever… Depending upon your personal relationship with Jesus Christ, which is according to the Bible the only way to enter heaven.”
Father Manning: “I think we're going to encounter God. I find God the
one that I'm longing for. I'm longing for truth. I'm longing for honesty. I'm
longing for peace. I'm longing for love. And it's very incomplete in this
world. And I believe that moving into heaven into the experience of God will
be the fullness of that.”
Rabbi Hier: “God never destroyed the Garden of Eden and held up the hope
that people who live righteously, with righteous conduct, go to the eternal
world, the world of the soul. And admission to that world is based on
righteous conduct and not based on any specific religion. A righteous person
of any religion and a righteous person who may, in the fact, be
irreligious...[even an atheist] would be granted [heaven] because it is
determined by deeds.”
Dr. Hathout: “It [the spirit] will go through eternity after a process of accountability and judgment. And people will go to heaven in eternity or to face consequences of punishment…like hell. And this depends on the good deeds, on the belief in God, and on the belief on accountability, that every person is responsible and is accountable for what he or she will do during this earthly life.”
Mary Ann Williamson: “I think that only love is real. And we can see it
once we've died. I think that this earth is like a veil of illusion. The
mortal mind obfuscates the spiritual truth, which is the love of God. And I
think that when we die, the veil falls down, the filter is gone, and we're in
that state of pure love, which is God.”
Ellen Johnson: “The atheist accepts the reality that when you die, that is the end. That is it. Therefore when you're living, life is all we can ever know. We can't know death. Death is a nonsense word…The only fulfillment, the only joy, the only happiness you will ever know is right now.”
The above comments illustrate the basic difference between Christianity and all other religious systems: Christianity asks that you accept as a gift what God has already done for you, while all other faiths ask how much good must you do to win ultimate favor with God. From the latter perspective, it seems even the atheist will achieve an unwanted heaven if he/she does enough good deeds.
Although no works-based religion can quantify the amount of good deeds necessary to achieve salvation, it is the singular way to heaven for their faithful. Nevertheless, Christianity is often characterized as “intolerant” for believing the opposite: that no amount of good works is enough, and a person must accept the atoning death of Jesus Christ on the cross as payment for his/her sin in order to be seen as righteous in the eyes of God—a distinction that places Christianity at odds with human wisdom.
With respect to the earlier comment by John MacArthur that the only way to heaven is through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, Larry King was prompted to ask the others, “How do you view Jesus?”
Father Manning: “I think there is an important thing as a Christian for
me to understand, in my understanding of Jesus, that although I believe Jesus
is the Son of God and he is the source of salvation of all, I believe that he
can be able to be expressed in ways far beyond what I can understand. And so
for me…[I cannot]…condemn a person who loves the father—a Jew or a Muslim that
loves the father…”
Rabbi Heir: “I would say that Jesus was a great teacher. I do not
believe he was divine. I do not believe he was the Son of God, and I might
add, if Moses would claim to be that he is the Son of God, I would reject that
Dr. Hathout: “I think our stand is almost identical to the rabbi. However, we believe that Jesus Christ is very special in a way because he is born to the Virgin Mary, so…we believe that he is described as the word of God and the spirit from him to the Virgin Mary…But we don't believe he's the Son of God.” [Emphasis added].
Mary Ann Williamson: “I believe that we're all the sons of God. And I believe Jesus was and is a fully actualized -- he was a fully actualized human being who now has the function of helping others, who choose -- who feel he is their way, to help them rise as well…But I was so glad to hear the father say that he had acknowledged as a Christian that there are those who experience that vortex as it were without the name Jesus on it…if they do not proclaim the name Jesus [as a requirement to ‘experience that vortex’], to me that is an incorrect understanding of Jesus himself.”
John MacArthur: “I appreciate what she is saying. The bottom line is that this is an authority issue. The Bible says neither is their salvation in any other name other than Jesus Christ.”
Ellen Johnson: “Well, I'm here to give the reality point of view, I guess. Because the reality is there is not one shred of secular evidence there ever was a Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ and Christianity is a modern religion. And Jesus Christ is a compilation from other gods: Horas, Mithra, who had the same origins, the same death as the mythological Jesus Christ. There is no secular evidence that Jesus Christ, ever existed.”
Thus both Jews and Muslims--each of whom looks to the Old Testament as a primary source for their faith--reject that Jesus was divine or that He was the Son of God, even though His life was a fulfillment of some 300 Old Testament prophesies. The divinity of the Messiah was cited in at least a dozen prophesies including Isaiah 40:3: “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
That the Messiah would be the Son of God is mentioned in at least six prophesies including this familiar quote from Isaiah 9:6: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”
Although both Jews and Muslims do accept Jesus as a “great teacher” or prophet, one would necessarily have to question the mental state of a person who said “I and the Father are one,” predicted His own betrayal and death, and that on the third day He would rise again. C.S. Lewis said it best:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘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 madman 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 with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Spiritualist Mary Ann Williamson believes that Jesus was not divine, but a “fully actualized human being,” who offers a way to rise to heaven for those who think the same way. In the same sense, she believes that “we are all sons of God,” and Heaven awaits everyone in a universalistic state of “pure love,” which she describes as “God.”
Finally, atheist Ellen Johnson cannot surrender to any concept that includes an element of the divine, so she simply rejects the thought that there ever was a Jesus and relegates His story to that of a complete and total fabrication extracted out of ancient mythologies.
Ms. Johnson brushes by the fact that the Bible was written by as many as forty different authors over perhaps1500 years involving 66 books and over 800,000 words. The books of the Bible cover history, prophesy, wisdom, and righteous living, yet all are interconnected with the same message of God’s plan for redemption. The life of Jesus and His ministry as described in the New Testament is the most corroborated and authenticated document of ancient times, which includes many persons, places, and events that have been established in the historical record. But to Ms. Johnson, Jesus never existed, and His life and ministry were little more than a cruel hoax.
According to much of the world, then, Jesus Christ—the Lord of Lords and King of Kings who spoke the universe into existence, and by whose birth we set our calendar—was, at best, a fraud and a charlatan; at worst, He never existed and the entire Biblical story was fabricated.
It is strange, however, that for someone who never existed or was a clever madman who claimed to be God, why do so many fear His name? Why is the mere possession of the Bible a capital offense in many countries in the world? Why, in those same countries, have those who professed allegiance to Jesus as their Savior been subjected to death and persecutions? Why do some go to extraordinary lengths to distance themselves from the Living Lord? The answer can be illustrated by Isaiah’s lament when he came into the presence of God:
"Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty." (Isaiah 6:5)
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