A Response to Bill O’Reilly’s Book “Killing Jesus” – Part 1 – Program 3

By: Dr. Gary Habermas and Dr. Darrell Bock; ©2013
Why did the Romans crucify Jesus? Of what did Pilate judge him to be guilty? Why do historians believe the facts show Jesus really claimed to be the Son of God?

Did Jesus Claim to be the Messiah?

Dr. John Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. We’re talking about the very controversial Bill O’Reilly’s book, Killing Jesus, alright. I’m sure that you’ve heard about it. And we’re talking with two of the leading New Testament scholars in the world, both of whom Bill O’Reilly recommends that we read their books. And today we’re going to talk about the topic in Bill O’Reilly’s books, one of them: Does the historical evidence show that Jesus claimed that He was the Messiah of God? And what does the word “Messiah” mean? Now, Bill O’Reilly is very clear in saying, yeah, Jesus said that He was the Messiah over and over again, and it was one of the reason’s He got killed. We’re going to talk about why was the word “Messiah” a dangerous word, alright.
Now, my guests are Dr. Darrell Bock, one of the leading historical Jesus scholars in our country, one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Gospel of Luke and he is Senior Research Professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary. And then Dr. Gary Habermas, the Distinguished Research Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University who has authored, coauthored or edited more than 60 books.
Darrell, I want to start with you. Take me back to the fact of, how do historians today look at this claim that Jesus said that He was the Messiah? First of all, is there evidence that Jesus said that?
Dr. Darrell Bock: Well, the key evidence that we have that Jesus made messianic claims actually is tied to the cross. The titulus that went over the cross that established the charge of why Jesus was executed for sedition says, “King of the Jews.” So we know He wasn’t crucified merely for claiming to be a prophet, at least as far as Rome was concerned. Now the question is: did Jesus actually take things in this direction? Well, the way Jesus did this more often had to do with the period that He associated Himself with, and then the actions that He performed to show salvation, than Him going around saying, “I am Messiah, I am pretty.” You know, He actually made those public claims very, very rarely because of the ambiguity of the term “Messiah” itself.
“Messiah” means anointed one, but the expectation was the Messiah would either be a transcendent figure who would come from beyond; the Messiah would be a military ruler who would crush the Gentile nations; or, if you were at Qumran, the Messiah was one of two Messiahs, along with the priestly Messiah, who would bring the end. Those were the dominant portraits. And none of them had suffering in them. So Jesus didn’t use the term all that widely because of the misunderstanding that it would introduce. He saved the introduction of the term, generally speaking, for the last part of His ministry when He was pressing things. In the meantime, He showed who He was; and by showing who He was He was indicating what He was about.
Ankerberg: Bill O’Reilly has a long passage about John the Baptist, His meeting with Jesus, and then later John being thrown in jail. And he starts doubting what he had said about Jesus: That He was the Messiah, the Lamb of God, that would take away the sin of the world. All this he seems to have doubted. Talk about what the question was that John asked his disciples to go and ask Jesus, and the significance,… Unscramble the answer that Jesus gave back to him. Would it have made sense to John?
Bock: Yeah, when John is doubting he sends messengers to ask Jesus “Are You the one to come or should we expect another?” I suspect John, being in jail, the fact that you don’t have the evidence of a powerful Messiah who’s going to wipe out the nations, Jesus isn’t building any armies or anything like this, all raised questions in John’s mind. And so he asks Him, “Are You the one to come, and should we expect another?”
Well, interestingly, Jesus doesn’t answer by saying, “Yes, I’m the Messiah. You can write it on the dotted line.” No, what He does, He says, “Go tell John what you see and hear.” And He goes through a list of events: that lepers are cleansed; that the blind see; that the deaf can hear; that the good news is preached to the poor; those kinds of things. Almost all those statements come out of sections of the book of Isaiah where we’re talking about what the end time period is, what God’s going to do when He delivers in what’s called the eschaton, the last period when the final deliverance is coming. So these are end time period events.
Now, we tend to think about the end time as future in relationship to us, but what Jesus is saying is, “No, the end time is associated with Me and My coming.” In fact, what He did in portraying who He was, was to place Himself in the midst of this period. And He’s saying, “You can know who I am by the types of things that I’m doing. I’m doing the stuff that comes with end time deliverance. And end time deliverance comes not only with these events, but with the figure who brings them. That makes Me the Messiah.” That’s the long form of the answer in which He could have simply said, “Yes.”
Ankerberg: Gary, we’re going to talk about, do historians and critical scholars believe that Jesus actually did and performed supernatural miracles? We’re going to do that next week. Right here, though, Jesus says to John, you know, the blind see, the lame are healed, guys that have leprosy,… He goes down this list that are all miracles. Isn’t this evidence in itself that they must have been going on? Otherwise it doesn’t make any sense.
Dr. Gary Habermas: Indeed, they do walk away. They don’t stay there and go, “And? And?” And Jesus also lists raising the dead there. By the way, this is “Q.” So,…
Ankerberg: And what is “Q” for the people?
Habermas: “Q,” again, is the material that Matthew and Luke use that’s not found in Mark. So it’s one of, I guess we could presume to say, one of the sources that Luke tells us he had knowledge of in Luke 1:1-4. So it’s early. And Jesus is a miracle worker. So until the end of Jesus’ life, the predicted death and resurrection, the final scene, the miracles and the exorcisms were, you could argue, the chief events that would point to His words being true. Darrell earlier said let’s not just look at His teachings, let’s look at His actions. Miracles and exorcisms would have to be right up there, I would say, first in line, as far as His actions that point to Him being somebody special.
Now, you could say, well, there’s a few other people that claim to have done these things too. Well, first of all, the sources aren’t anything like the sources, if close to and so on, as in the New Testament. And secondly, that’s not the end of the act. That’s not all there is; there’s more coming for Jesus.
Ankerberg: Yeah, and for people that are skeptics, one of the reasons you accept this is, first of all, you’ve got early source “Q” before Mark and Luke. And you’ve got the fact of outside attestation in terms of religious and secular writers that are saying Jesus was,… Well, you say it.
Bock: Well, basically what you have is you do have your early sources. You know, Mark and “Q” are your earliest sources. And so you’ve got early sources. You’ve got outside sources that say Jesus was a magician or Jesus was a sorcerer. We’re talking about in the mid second century with Justin Martyr in his debate with the Jew Trypho, magician comes up. And the idea of a sorcerer comes up in the Talmud, in the official rabbinic Jewish material. So these are the outside sources. And all of that seems harsh. I mean, it’s obviously rejection of Jesus to call Him a magician and a sorcerer. What it concedes is also very, very important: There’s something going on that needs explanation.
And so the one category you don’t get is the category critics often raise and that is, it didn’t happen. No, that’s not the way the opponents are dealing with it. The opponents are saying, “Yeah, it happened, and we’ve got to explain it’s coming from somewhere. We don’t think it’s coming from a positive source, so we’re going to attribute a negative source to it.” And so that’s why the miraculous is so important. And, of course, what the miraculous is pointing to, Jesus didn’t heal just to heal. He healed in order to point to what it was about. In fact, I like to call the miracles power points. He’s making points about His power. He’s making points about His authority. And He’s also pointing to what that power points to. So He can cleanse, He can make people hear, He can make people see. And it isn’t just physical hearing and physical seeing; He can make it so people get reconnected to the living God.
Habermas: In fact, the word “miracle,” sign, that particular phrase, there’s a number of New Testament terms, but “sign” means pointer. So miracle doesn’t stand by itself, it points to something beyond itself. And I think the Mark 2 passage we talked about earlier is one of the clearest signs of this—“so that you may know that the teaching is true,” and it’s a very bombastic one at that, “you’re sins are forgiven.” Wow, only God can do that. Stay tuned; now I’ll heal.
Bock: And that comes in a context, Mark 2 comes in a context in which Jesus has tried to dampen the enthusiasm about miracles, because He knows if He makes miracles the story, people will come to Him for healing. And He’s about much more than that. So the paralytic event actually is a pointer to say, “Look, I’m not just about healing.” The paralytic drops down in front of Him, He doesn’t say, “I’m going to heal you.” He says, “Your sins are forgiven,” because His ministry is about the kingdom of God, and it’s about sin. It’s not just about healing people.
Ankerberg: Yeah, I like the fact that you’ve got Jesus actually saying it, and He’s talking about the miracles that He’s doing. And the disciples going back to John accept it, so He must have been doing them. You’ve got the religious leaders accusing Him of doing supernatural things, just by Satan’s power. You’ve got outside sources that are saying, “Yeah, He was known for this.” You’ve got early texts. I mean, you’ve got the whole ball of wax here in terms of answering this question, which is why you think it’s pretty solid evidence.
Bock: That’s right.
Habermas: Early alone is special, because there are no miracle workers reported within a generation of whom we have sources, saying they were miracle workers. The best examples are late. It’s a long time later.
Ankerberg: And we’re going to get into that in the next program. But we’re going to take a break. When we come back I want to take two more things concerning Messiah: what He said in Caesarea Philippi, where He actually seems to ask the guys, “Who do people say that I am?” And Peter says, “Yeah, You’re the Christ,” okay, and “You’re the Messiah.” And I also want to talk about Jesus, how He answered the question when the Jewish leaders at the end of His life put Him on trial there, what they said about Him, or what He told them in terms of what they asked Him, what His answer was. So we’ll talk about this in the context of Messiah. We’re talking about what else could we advise Bill O’Reilly to use in substantiating his case that Jesus did claim that He was the Messiah. Stay tuned. We’ll be back for some more in just a moment.

Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back. What did you think about Bill O’Reilly’s book, Killing Jesus? Have you read it yet? Those of you that have, did you notice what he said about the Messiah? He loads up that term so that the Messiah is this powerful figure who is going to come at the end of time, He’s going to gather the nations, the whole nine yards, the most powerful thing that you could say about the Messiah. That’s part of his definition. And he’s saying Jesus claimed to be that. Now, I’d like to have two of the leading scholars in the world here, Dr. Darrell Bock and Dr. Gary Habermas—that O’Reilly has recommended that we read their books—talk about this word “Messiah” and give us a little bit more of the context of what He’s saying. What does the word mean and how did Jesus use it? How do critical scholars know that Jesus even claimed to be the Messiah, whatever that was?
And two examples: one is what He said at Caesarea Philippi, and again I’m coming back because you studied this for 10 years with a group of international scholars, okay. And then I want you, in terms of when Jesus is put on trial, or you’ve got this kind of hearing about what are the charges that the Jewish leaders could bring against Jesus that they would then bring to Pilate, what Jesus told them about being the Christ. We want to talk about both those things. So first, let’s start with Caesarea Philippi. Jesus seems to bait the guys, the disciples, by saying, “Who do men say that I am,” alright? And then take it from there.
Bock: Yeah, well the confession takes place in the region of Caesarea Philippi. If you go to Israel today and you look at the sheer rock, you’ll see the little niches cut out. This is actually one of the most Greco-Roman locations in Israel. We’ve got temples to the variety of gods here. So the association with Caesarea Philippi as the place where this confession takes place is important. Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do people say I am, or the Son of Man is?” You get variation in the wording, because Jesus is the Son of Man. And the reply, the initial reply is, “Well, one of the prophets, Jeremiah,” etc. So you get, Jesus, the populace thinks You’re one of the prophets. Now prophets are a dime a dozen. There are many different prophets. There’s been prophets all through time. But we’re into the eschaton now. We’re into the time when God’s going to deliver.
So Jesus asks, “Well, who do you say that I am?” And the answer, in three different Gospels goes this way: in Matthew it’s, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And then in Mark it’s, “You are the Christ.” And in Luke it’s, “The Christ of God.” Now, if you strip that away and you say, what do all three versions share as the core answer, the answer is “the Christ.” What’s interesting is that Jesus then goes on; and He doesn’t talk about the Christ, He goes on to talk about the Son of Man, that the Son of Man is going to suffer.
And the importance of the confession is that the disciples recognize that Jesus is the Messiah. There’s only one Messiah; there’s one eschaton; there’s one time to deliver; there’s one Messiah—many prophets, one Messiah. But that Messiah’s going to be different than what they expect. He’s going to suffer. And so Jesus says in Matthew alone, “On this rock I’m going to build My church.” And the point that He’s making is, “With Messiah as the base, I can talk about who I really am. If you understand that I’m one of a kind and not a dime a dozen, you can understand who I am. But I’ve got to tell you who I really am. And who I really am is not just a powerful delivering figure, although that’s part of what the Messiah’s going to be; I’m also going to suffer. And the Son of Man’s going to suffer.”
And when He starts to talk about that the disciples go, “No, no, no, no, that can’t work.” Peter takes Him aside and says, “No, that’s not who the Messiah is.” And Jesus says to Peter, not exactly a compliment, “Get behind Me, Satan” —criterion of embarrassment; you wouldn’t say that to your top leader and make that public unless it really happened. And so we think this all happened. And this is all a chain of events that we can substantiate. So Jesus says He’s one of a kind. He’s the Messiah, in contrast to the prophets. That’s the core of what’s happening in Caesarea Philippi.
Ankerberg: So O’Reilly would be right in saying that the majority of people, when they heard that word, they would think of the all-powerful figure.
Bock: That’s right.
Ankerberg: And Jesus is the one that is saying there’s more to it than that.
Bock: That’s right. And it’s more complicated than you think. And it really takes Jesus the entire journey from that point of the confession all the way to the time He gets to Jerusalem to drive home the fact that He’s going to suffer. Even when He’s at the Last Supper He’s driving home the point that He’s going to suffer. And they’re struggling with it; so much so, that when He’s crucified they think it’s over. And, in fact, they don’t discover otherwise until they discover the empty tomb.
Ankerberg: Alright, and Gary, let’s go back to, now Jesus is taken by the religious leaders in Mark 14, and He’s brought in before the Sanhedrin. And the fact is they start asking Him questions. They’re hunting for a reason, a crime, that they can accuse Him of and put Him to death. And they’ve got to then take that claim, that crime, and they’ve got to sell it to Pilate over here. And they asked Him the question, you know, under oath, “Are You the Christ [the Messiah], the Son of the Blessed One,” Son of God. And Jesus said, “I am.” And then He says, “You shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with glory, sitting at the right hand of God.” So what does all of that mean? Now, He’s got Messiah in there, but He’s also got it with some other things.
Habermas: Yeah, one thing to put it into a little bit of context, I think it’s important to see that at that point in the interrogation, just previously a number of witnesses had come. And the text says they were false witnesses. They were making things up. Their stories weren’t hanging together well. And of course the most prominent thing there is “He said if you pull down the temple He’ll build it up in three days.” But nothing’s sticking. And I think of it as the high priest is saying, “Alright, we’re not doing a really good job yet. We’ve not really brought this argument together.” And it’s almost like he steps up to Jesus and he goes, “You guys get out of here. We’ve got enough witnesses.” “It’s me and You, mano-a-mano, okay. I’m just going to get this straight. I’m tired of this other stuff, riff, raff. Here it is, Are You the Christ? Read my lips, the Son of the Blessed One?” And He says, “Ego eimi.”
Now, maybe he’s sitting there thinking, maybe Caiaphas is sitting there thinking, “We could go in different directions with this, but I’ve really got, I’ve got Him on the run here. I’ve really got…. It’s a little debate and I’m beating this guy. These other guys lost. I’m getting in there.” And Jesus just goes on and volunteers: “Yes, I’m the Christ; yes, I’m the Messiah; yes, I’m the Son of the Blessed One. And henceforth you’ll see the Son of Man coming on the clouds, and seated at the right hand of God.” So I think Caiaphas gets more than what he wants. It’s like, well, alright, leave it to me. All you guys leave. I’ve got Him cornered here. And Jesus just walks into the trap. And Caiaphas thinks he’s got Him.
Ankerberg: Why does he think he got Him?
Habermas: Well, I think the blasphemy means not just, “We got what we want here,” but I think it’s back to—this is the way I look at it—this mano-a-mano thing, “Right here, I got Him. I got Him. You guys go out in the countryside and you keep getting slaughtered by Him. That’s why I’m the high priest and you’re not. We’re going to solve this deal right here.” It’s like walking off the set after a debate or something. You know, it’s like, “Okay, it’s over.” I think he thought he had Him treed, so to speak; he had Him cornered. He got everything he wanted: Ego eimi to Messiah, and Son of God. But as Jesus unpacks it, Son of Man coming on the clouds, which is used only of God, or the gods, and it means coming in judgment too, we should add, a little bit offensive. But especially, most commentators I think, Darrell among them, most commentators seem to think that the key comment there is “seated at the right hand of God.” That does not have the ambiguity that some of the rest of them have. Because in 1 Enoch, “seated at the right hand of God” comes right after, right directly after that is, “They worshiped Him.”
Ankerberg: Darrell.
Bock: It’s very, very important that they get this right. They’re only going to get one case to take to Pilate. If they fail, if they fail in taking this case to Pilate, then the Romans have exonerated Jesus. So their inability to get that charge on the temple nailed down; they’re nervous. The high priest steps in. And when he gets a confession, “Yes, I am the Messiah, the Son of God,” they can translate that charge—even though it’s blasphemy to the Jewish leadership—they can translate that charge into a political charge that Pilate has to deal with. So the whole sequence makes sense.
Here’s the other thing that’s the curve ball in the whole deal: the person whose testimony sent Jesus to the cross is Jesus. That’s how committed He was to going to the cross. That’s how committed He was to His death. We wouldn’t have gotten there without Jesus speaking up and saying, “I am.”
Ankerberg: But with those verses where He said, “I’m going to suffer, I’m going to be killed,” He always included, “and I will rise again on the third day.”
Bock: And it says the disciples never got that part; never got that far.
Ankerberg: And we’re going to talk about that as we go along here, but we’ve got: Jesus did claim to be the Son of God; Jesus did claim to be the Messiah. But I want to look at the next question that’s in Bill O’Reilly’s book: Did Jesus actually perform supernatural miracles while He was living? And how do critical scholars look at the supernatural? How do you interpret the evidence? So, folks, that’s what we’re going to talk about next week. I hope that you’ll join us.


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