Many skeptics of Christianity believe that Jesus never claimed to be God. Some claim that nobody believed He was God until long, long after His death. Others argue that Jesus’ own words show that He believed Himself to be simply a man, or only the Son of God and not God Himself. Still others claim that Jesus’ divinity was created by the apostle Paul, and that his teaching and Jesus’ teaching are in conflict. From Jehovah’s Witnesses to Muslims to atheists, a whole bunch of people deny that Jesus is God.
Their confusion is understandable. It’s not a common situation…you know, God becoming human. When we look at Scripture, it’s undeniable that Jesus Himself, and His disciples, and the Jews around Him, understood that He was claiming to be God.
Jesus claimed to be God
Jesus repeatedly called Himself the Son of Man. This refers to a prophecy in Daniel 7, which Jesus quotes directly. The Son of Man is the one whom all will worship, whose reign will last forever, and so on. Remember: religious Jews are fiercely monotheistic…they would never worship anyone who is not God, yet they accept that the Son of Man should be worshipped.
When Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, He wasn’t claiming that He was a created being, or that He was less…He was claiming to be EQUAL with God. The Jewish leaders understood this very well, as we see in John 5:18… For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
John 2:19, Jesus claimed to be able to raise Himself from the dead: Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.
In Luke 6:5, Jesus claimed to be Lord of the Sabbath. Of course, God Himself created the Sabbath.
In John 8:58, Jesus claimed to exist before Abraham, who died 1600 years before He was born: Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am! (see the next part for more on this)
The Jews believed Jesus claimed to be God
In that same passage, some Jews asked Jesus, “Who do you think you are?” Jesus used the phrase “I am.” He used this phrase to describe Himself numerous times. This is the same phrase God used to describe Himself in Exodus 13:14 when Moses was going to confront Pharaoh: I am. How did the Jews respond? They picked up stones to kill Him for saying it because they understood that Jesus was calling Himself God.
At Jesus’ trial, the Jewish leaders insisted, We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.
It was understood that only God could forgive sins, and then, in Luke 5:20, Jesus forgave sins: When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.“
In John 10:30, Jesus was talking about God the Father, and then said, I and the Father are one. Sounds maybe like Jesus was saying they were like-minded, or on the same team or something. That’s not how the Jews heard it, of course…they knew exactly what Jesus meant: Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
The High Priest believed Jesus claimed to be God
In Matthew 26:63, Caiaphas said to Jesus, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” “You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” “He is worthy of death,” they answered. Remember that the Jews believed the Son of Man was divine.
Jesus’ disciples believed Jesus is God
John 1:1 says that Jesus was God.
In John 20:28, Thomas called Jesus God.
In Hebrews 1:8 we read that God called the Son God.
In Acts 20:28, Luke records Paul’s words that God bought the church with His own blood…clearly meaning Jesus.
In 2 Peter 1:1, Peter called Jesus our God and Savior.
In Titus 2:13, Paul calls Jesus our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Do we believe Paul, or Jesus?
This is a seemingly valid question, but one that betrays ignorance of the events outlined in the Bible. After fourteen years of ministry, Paul went to Jerusalem to meet privately with Peter, James, and the other Christian leaders there. He presented to them the gospel that he preached to the Gentiles…to make sure he was on track. They added nothing to his message. Why would the disciples accept what Paul taught as true if he falsely claimed that Jesus is God? No…Paul agreed with Jesus and His disciples, which is why there was never any conflict over him saying that Jesus is God.
I could go on, of course. Without question, Jesus claimed to be God. Without question, those around Him understood exactly what He meant…some followed Him because they believed Him, and others wanted to kill Him – and ultimately succeeded – because they didn’t believe Him.
The most important question at the moment is whether YOU believe Him. Having the facts is important, but not enough by itself…to have peace with God, we must trust Him enough to submit to Him as well.