In Part 5 of my series responding to Reza Aslan’s NPR interview, I will respond to this statement:
On Jesus being just one of many “Messiahs”
“There were dozens of people who walked through the Holy Land claiming to be the Messiah, curing the sick, exorcising demons, challenging Rome, gathering followers. In a way, there’s nothing unique about what Jesus did. In fact, many of these so-called false Messiahs we know by name. Some of them were even more famous in their own lifetimes than Jesus was. They had more followers than Jesus did. What I’m fascinated by is that out of that dozen or so so-called Messiahs in first-century Palestine, only one of them is still called ‘Messiah.’ “
Reza is right in this assertion and if history is studied, there have been many people who claim to be the Messiah numbering in the hundreds and possibly thousands. Christ himself predicted this: Matthew 24:23-25 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect– if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time.
Aslan tries to prove that Jesus was just one of many but in making this statement, he hurts his own argument. Aslan himself stated that he is unsure how Jesus has remained in the forefront while others who have claimed the messianic title have fallen into obscurity.
The Bible gives a very good answer as to why Jesus is still referred to as Messiah: Acts 5:34-39 “But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin . . . Then he addressed them: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
The Apostle Paul’s teacher-Gamaliel-gives Aslan the answer. Gamaliel himself references people who claim some position of authority and later to have their movements quelled. This has been the pattern from Jesus’ time till now. Modern day cult leaders like David Koresh and Jim Jones also claimed to be a “special person of authority” like those during Jesus’ time, but in the end, were nothing more than false prophets of human origin. Both had their movements end tragically.
Jesus, on the other hand, still has his movement going strong as ever today. His earliest followers refused to recant their faith in him as Lord, accepting punishing deaths. They not only died cruel deaths but many died outside of their hometowns bringing the gospel message of Jesus to far away lands. Matthew was recorded as being martyred in Ethiopia being killed by axe. Peter’s brother Andrew was martyred in Turkey by crucifixion. Mark was dragged to death in Egypt; doubting Thomas died without doubt in India via spear. Peter and Paul both died in Rome, Peter by crucifixion (upside down) and Paul by beheading.
With such violent deaths experienced by many of the leaders who proclaimed Christ as Savior and Messiah after Jesus left the earth, it did not deter people from following. Even today, there are many parts of the world where people die because they believe in Jesus.
Aslan cannot explain why people continue to believe Jesus is the Messiah but Gamaliel makes it crystal clear that if Jesus had human origins, like Aslan claims, his movement would have died out like the hundreds and maybe thousands who have historically claimed messianic titles. The fact that Jesus is still declared by over a billion as Messiah shows that he is of God.