I agree with C.S. Lewis that he was either lying, delusional, or the son of God. I have in the back of my mind that there’s a fourth option, that Jesus did not claim all of the things about himself that his disciples and Paul wrote about…maybe that Jesus was glorified after the fact
Chuck Colson uses the Watergate conspiracy as an illustration of the unlikelihood of the disciples and early church leaders of inventing this story. Mr. Colson points out that soon after the Watergate conspiracy began some of the conspirators revealed the truth to save their own hides. Contrast this with the Apostles who (with the exception of John) all went to a martyr’s death because of their claims about Jesus. It is a remarkable thing that someone would surrender his life for the sake of the truth. It is preposterous to think that all of them would go to their deaths for a lie.
The question I have is what would be the motivation for them to invent this Jesus if in reality he was less than what they claimed? Did the lie get them riches or influence? No, it brought them persecution and martyrdom. Was it wishful thinking on their part? If so then they were delusional.
This leads to a further unlikelihood – that of a whole lot of people sharing the same delusion and being willing to die for it. The church in its entirety faced persecution for the first 300 years of its existence. It is hard to imagine that this persecution would be endured for a lie.
In my mind, this whole line of questioning leads to an evaluation of the resurrection. The Apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:5–8 made the following claims:
“and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.
Paul most likely wrote 1 Corinthians in the early 50’s which was approximately 20 years after Jesus’ death. Were he to have penned a lie, there would have been people available to refute the lie. Paul even indicates that many of the 500 witnesses were still alive. Paul’s readers had the means available to verify the truth of these claims.
If you rule out the possibility of resurrection, then the only conclusion you can draw is that either Jesus or his disciples were delusional. If however, you are open to the possibility of Jesus being “declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4), then a cohesiveness of the data can be seen.
If Jesus was delusional and his followers cooked up a legend about him, then he is powerless to save either himself or any part of humanity, noble intentions or no. But, on the other hand, if he is who he said he is, if he was proved to be God through his resurrection, then I have hope that tomorrow can be better than today. I cling to that hope, not despite the facts, but with their support.