John wrote his Gospel to encourage belief in Christ. Does the available evidence sustain his claims? As we examine the testimony presented by John, we must weigh it according to reason and then determine the answer. For a possible conclusion, we are left with five alternatives.
Conclusion 1. Jesus never lived, but was a product of the human mind—a figment of the imagination of John and other evangelists who have left records of His life and activities.
Since we are considering John’s presentation of Jesus, this conclusion would mean that both the claims John made for Jesus and the evidence he offered were the product of his own unfounded fancy.
Conclusion 2. Jesus lived, but He was merely a good man, a great teacher, a wise philosopher, and a profound moralist. He possessed a greater and deeper concept of God as Spirit than anyone living before or after Him. Jesus was able by His own greatness and goodness to beget and develop in the minds of His disciples the concept of Himself as presented by John.
Conclusion 3. Jesus was not the Messiah, but as a deeply religious Jew of northern Palestine, He believed that He was. In this confidence and in His thorough knowledge of the Old Covenant, He was able to impress the naive and gullible peasants and village folk of Galilee so much that they, too, came to believe that He was the Christ.
Conclusion 4. Jesus was a shrewd and cunning impostor, able to deceive John and others whom He convinced that He was the Messiah of their expectations. He is, in fact, the archdeceiver of history, for He so completely deceived them that millions since have been deceived and deluded by His imposture.
Conclusion 5. Jesus was what John claimed for Him and what He claimed for Himself: the Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah of prophecy.
When we consider the first of these alternatives, we are faced with questions about John.
Was he great enough to create a character for whom he could make such claims? Was he able to create out of his own imagination the teaching which he ascribed to Jesus? Was he able to create the characters who live in his Gospel and to array their testimony in such a way as to make his book live through the centuries?
Plainly posed, which is the greater wonder: Jesus and the evidence of facts as John presented them, or the creation of such a character as Jesus and the evidence from the imagination of a Galilean fisherman? Reason must determine the answer.
The second alternative is ruled out on the ground of Jesus’ claims. His claims are such that either He was the Christ or He was not a good man. Unless He was who He claimed to be, He was an impostor, a blasphemer, a hypocrite, a deceiver, and a liar. He could not make false claims about Himself and at the same time be a good man.
The third alternative does not explain the empty tomb, the conversion and work of Saul of Tarsus, or the impression of Jesus upon the Gentile world and upon history.
The fourth alternative leaves us with the problem of accepting the greatest concept of God and the greatest system of ethics and morals known to man as the offspring of the world’s greatest fraud, deceiver, and liar. This is an absurdity, for all accept the axiom that a tree bears fruit after its own kind. An evil tree could not have produced such good fruit.
If it can be shown that Jesus was a good man, that He did reveal the world’s loftiest concept of God, and that the system of ethics and morals taught by Him are without flaw, then we are left with only the fifth alternative as one that can be reasonably accepted.
As reason weighs the evidence presented by John, the reader must determine what he will do with Jesus. The book is here: What it says, it says; and it is either fact or fiction. If it is fact, then Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world. If it is fiction, then John perpetrated upon mankind a fraud of gigantic proportions with no known motive for his fraud.