Scripture clearly says that Jesus was and is God. Philippians 2:6-8 says that Jesus was “in very nature God…but made himself nothing,” and was “found in appearance as a man.” Jesus was in very nature God but took on the appearance of a man. Colossians 1:19 says that “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Jesus].” John 1:1,14 says that “The Word [Jesus] was with God and the Word was God…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…” Jesus, who was and is God, became flesh and lived among us. It is hard to see how anything could be stated more clearly. (All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version unless otherwise stated.)
Jesus is “our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). (Also see John 1:18; Hebrews 1:8; 2 Peter 1:1; 1 John 5:20.) Scripture says that Jesus created all things and holds all things together. (See John 1:3; Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 1:2-3.) It says that he is Lord over all things in heaven, on earth and under the earth (Philippians 2:9-11; Ephesians 1:20-23; Colossians 1:17-18). The Father has put everything under him (Hebrews 2:8). Jesus now sits at the right hand of God and lives forever to intercede for us (Roman 8:34; Hebrews 7:25, 10:12). He will come again to judge all men (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10). Jesus is God.
The fact that Jesus is God is essential to Christian belief. It is because he is God that he was able to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Many men have died, sometimes very painfully, for their beliefs, but only Jesus could be our savior and redeemer. “For what the Law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering” (Romans 8:3).
It is sometimes asserted, however, that “Jesus never claimed to be God.” The implication is that the concept that Jesus is God was invented by others. It is true that there is no record in the gospels that, during his earthly ministry, Jesus, in so many words, said, “I am God.” He did not use that particular verbal formula. But I believe that when we examine the things Jesus did say about himself, we can only conclude that Jesus, during his earthly ministry, understood fully that he was God come to earth in human form, and that he was, indeed, “Immanuel,” which means “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).
In this paper I want to examine some of the things Jesus said about himself, and how they were understood while he was alive on earth. I believe that, when fairly read, they require the conclusion that Jesus understood clearly that he was God, sent to earth in human form to be a sin offering for man. First, I want to make three general comments:
There are those who say that the words of Jesus recorded in the gospels and elsewhere in Scripture were not the actual words Jesus spoke, but were attributed to him by people who wrote some time later. I believe that we can have a great deal of confidence that the words of Scripture, including the words of Jesus, are true and authentic.1 Moreover, since the argument is that the words of Jesus, as recorded in Scripture, do not say that he is God, we need to examine that argument in the light of the only record we have of what Jesus said—namely the words of Scripture.
I believe that C.S. Lewis had it exactly right when he wrote, “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him, ‘I am ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was and is the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse.”2
HOW THE JEWISH LEADERS
Before we look at Jesus’ actual words, let us look at how the non-believing Jews, and particularly the Jewish leaders, of his time understood what he said.
The reaction of those whom John calls “the Jews”—that is, those Jews who did not believe in Jesus, and particularly the Jewish religious leaders—was clear and inescapable. They saw him as claiming to be equal to God. They considered that claim as blasphemy. Often they picked up stones to stone him. And eventually they demanded his crucifixion. Some examples follow.
Jesus said, “I and the Father are one. Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him. But Jesus said to them, ‘I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?’ ‘We are not stoning you for any of these’, replied the Jews, ‘but because you, a mere man, claim to be God’” (John 10:30-33).
When Jesus spoke of God as his Father, “the Jews tried all the harder 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 5:18).
At Jesus’ trial before a hastily called, early morning meeting of the Sanhedrin, the High Priest asked him if he was the Christ the Son of God. He acknowledged it, and the Sanhedrin declared him guilty of blasphemy and worthy of death (Matthew 26:63-66). When he was taken before Pontius Pilate, the Roman ruler of Judea, the Jews insisted, “We have a law and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God” (John 19:7).
I submit that the reaction of “the Jews” is absolutely clear. They considered that Jesus claimed to be God, and they insisted that because of that claim he should be executed. Let us now look at Jesus’ own words.
JESUS SAID HE IS GOD
Jesus is God
On several occasions, Jesus explicitly acknowledged that he is God. After the resurrection Thomas said that he would not believe that Jesus was resurrected unless he could put his fingers in the wounds in Jesus’ hands and sides. A week later Jesus appeared again to his disciples and told Thomas, “‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’” (John 20:27-29).
When Thomas actually saw Jesus standing before him, and touched his wounds, he had a sudden awareness, not just that Jesus had been resurrected, but that Jesus was God. This man, with whom he had traveled, eaten, and talked, for three years was actually God here on earth! Jesus did not correct Thomas’ statement. He acknowledged its truth and commended him for it, in front of the other disciples.
Before Jesus was born, Jesus’ birth was seen as a fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, that “The virgin shall be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel—which means ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23). Now near the end of Jesus’ ministry, Thomas came to the stunning realization that God has indeed been with them.
Jesus made similar statements on three other occasions. A few days before his crucifixion, Jesus prophesied over Jerusalem, that it would be totally destroyed and its people killed (which happened in 70 A.D.). He said, “They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you” (Luke 19:44). What was the time of God’s coming to them? It was the coming of Jesus in human form.
Jesus told some Jewish leaders, “I tell you the truth…before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58). This is a statement that Jesus is eternal, and I shall discuss that aspect of it later. But it is much more than that. God had identified himself to Moses as “I AM” (Exodus 3:14). I believe, as do many scholars, that Jesus was deliberately identifying himself with that designation and saying that he is also God. This is evidently how his hearers understood him, for “they picked up stones to stone him” (John 8:59).
Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). The Jewish religious leaders understood his meaning; they sought to stone him “because you, a mere man, claim to be God” (John 10:33)
On a number of occasions, people worshiped Jesus. (See Matthew 8:2 KJV; 14:33; 15:25 KJV; 28:9,17; John 9:38.) In each case, he accepted the worship. (Compare this with Acts 14:14-18, in which Paul and Barnabas were horrified when men tried to worship them after they had healed a cripple.)
Jesus is the Son of God
Jesus frequently said that he was the Son of God. To us it might not seem clear that that is a claim to be God, although I think a proper understanding of the Trinity shows that to his contemporaries it clearly was such a claim.
Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” [”Son of Man” was one of his names for himself]) They replied that some say John the Baptist, or Elijah, or Jeremiah or one of the prophets. Then he asked “Who do you say I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 16:13-17). On several other occasions, people declared in his presence that he was the Son of God, and he did not question the statement. The disciples said to him, “Truly you are the Son of God” (Matthew 14:33). Martha also said to him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world” (John 11:27). Nathaniel said, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God,” and Jesus commended him for believing (John 1:49-50). The centurion said, “Surely he was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54.) John the Baptist said, “I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God” (John 1:34).
On other occasions, Jesus referred to himself as the Son of God (John 5:25; 10:36; 11:4; 17:1). He also referred to himself as “the Son” in a context that clearly meant that he was the Son of God. For example, in John 5:19-20, referring to himself, he said, “the Son can do nothing by himself; he can only do what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.” (Also see Matthew 24:36; Luke 10:22; John 6:40, 8:36, 14:13.) I suggest that the parable of the tenants (Matthew 21:31-44) is both a prediction of Jesus’ crucifixion and a statement that he is the Son of God.
Twice the voice of God declared of Jesus, in his presence and in the hearing of others, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17; 17:5).
The Jewish religious leaders clearly understood the significance of Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God. They threatened to stone him because “he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18). When Jesus was being examined before a hastily called meeting of the Sanhedrin, the following occurred,
Again, when Jesus was brought before Pontius Pilate, the Roman ruler of Judea, the Jews insisted, “We have a law and according to that law he must die because he claimed to be the Son of God” (John 19:7)
There is a sense in which all who believe in Jesus can be called children of God. He told his disciples to pray, “Our Father” (Matthew 6:9). Scripture says that all who believe in Jesus can become God's adopted children (John 1:12, Romans 8:14, 23). But it is obviously not in this general sense that these Scriptures are speaking, but rather in the sense of a unique relationship. That relationship is clearly expressed in John 3:16 and 3:18, in which Jesus referred to himself as God's “one and only son.” It is in this unique sense that God spoke when he referred to Jesus as his beloved Son. It is in this unique sense that the Jewish leaders understood him when they demanded that he be crucified for claiming to be the Son of God.
Jesus’ claim to be Son of God is, and was understood to be, a claim to be God.
JESUS DECLARED HIMSELF
One of the charges the Jewish leaders made against Jesus was that he made himself “equal with God” (John 5:18). He did, quite often. He always recognized that, within the Godhead, the Father has primacy, but he often said things that emphasized how like God in power Jesus was. Or he claimed for himself things that Scripture attributed to God. Let me list some examples and allow them to speak for themselves.
ATTRIBUTES OF GODHOOD
Jesus said many things about himself that could only be said about one who is God. Individually, and in their cumulative effect, I think they compel the conclusion that Jesus knew that he was God come to earth.
Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). “All things have been committed to me by my father” (Luke 10:22). “All that belongs to the Father is mine” (John 16:15). Jesus gave his disciples “authority…to overcome all the power of the enemy” (Luke 10:19). John’s gospel says, “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power” (John 13:3). John the Baptist understood this. He said, “The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands” (John 3:35). Jesus is saying that he has all the authority and power that God has. These statements by Jesus confirm what Scripture says about him, that he “is far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:21), that in everything he has the supremacy (Colossians 1:18), and that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:10-11).
Jesus is supreme.
Authority to Judge Mankind
Jesus has authority to judge all men. “The Father…has entrusted all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22). (Also see verse 27.) “A time is coming and has now come when all who are in their graves will hear his [Jesus’] voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28). Jesus said that he will “sit on his throne in heavenly glory” and will judge all people, sending some to “eternal punishment” and others to “eternal life” (Matthew 25:31-46). He said that at the end of the age, “The Son of Man will send out his angels and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:40-43). (Also see Matthew 13:49-50; 7:22-23.)
Source of Salvation and Eternal Life
“My Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life” (John 6:40). “The Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:15). Whoever believes in Jesus Christ “shall not perish but have eternal life…whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:16, 18). “I give them eternal life” (John 10:28). (Also see John 4:13-14; 5:21, 40; 6:27, 54; 10:28.) “You granted [your Son] authority over all people so that he might grant eternal life to all those you have given him” (John 17:2). “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). Jesus came “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).
John the Baptist recognized this when he said of Jesus, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), and “Whoever believes the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (John 3:36). God told Joseph in a dream that Jesus “will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). The angel called him “Savior,” and Simeon called him “salvation” (Luke 2:11, 30). Peter, very shortly after Jesus’ death, said of Jesus, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven and earth given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
No one but God could do this. No man could overcome the curse of sin that resulted from Adam’s fall in the garden. As Paul says, “What the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering” (Romans 8:3).
Authority to Forgive Sins
According to Jewish teaching, only God could forgive sins. Jesus shocked the “teachers of the law” by declaring that “the Son of Man [his name for himself] has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Mark 2:10). (Also see Luke 7:48-49.)
Brought the Kingdom of God to Earth
Jesus’ entire preaching was about the kingdom of God. He began his preaching by declaring, “The time is fulfilled; and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15 KJV). He said, “If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28). It was Jesus’ coming that made the kingdom of God a reality here on earth.
Jesus’ words declare that he lives eternally and has no beginning or ending in time. They confirm his statement in John's vision in the Book of Revelation that he is, “the First and the Last,” and lives forever (Revelation 1:17-18).
Jesus had no beginning. In a prayer the night before he was crucified, Jesus asked the Father to glorify him “with the glory I had with you before the world began” (John 17:5). (Also see John 17:24.) Earlier Jesus had declared, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58 KJV). Jesus was saying that Abraham was born, lived, and died in time, but Jesus is timeless, he always is. This is a confirmation of the statement in John’s gospel that Jesus was “in the beginning,” before the creation of the physical universe (John 1:1-2).
He has no end. In Matthew 28:20, Jesus told his disciples, and by implication all who follow him, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” He said, “Where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them” (Matthew 18:20). He told the Sanhedrin, “From now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God” (Luke 22:69). (Also see John 14:3.)
Jesus also declared that he lives in every believer. “Remain in me and I will remain in you.” “If a man remains in me and I in him he will bear much fruit” (John 15:4-5). (KJV says “abide.”)
Instituted a New Covenant
Jeremiah 31:31 had announced that God would institute a new covenant in which he would write his laws on men’s hearts. At the Last Supper, Jesus declared that the wine “is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). Hebrews, chapters 8 and 9, after referring to Jeremiah’s prophecy, confirm that “Christ is the mediator of a new covenant” (Hebrews 9:15).
Will Come Again in Glory
Jesus told the High Priest, “In the future you will see the Son of Man [his name for himself] sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64). He told his disciples, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory” (Matthew 25:31). He will come “on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory,” and with his angels (Matthew 24:30-31). (Also see Matthew 16:27; Luke 17:24.) He will come to rule and to judge (Matthew 19:28, 25:31).
JESUS CAME DOWN FROM HEAVEN
Jesus constantly emphasized how different he was from other men. He said, “I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father” (John 16:28). He said, repeatedly, that he “came down from heaven” (John 6:38), he “came from God” (John 8:42). (Also see John 6:50, 58; 16:30-31). He often spoke of himself as having been “sent” by God. (See Luke 4:43; John 5:36-38; 6:29). He also said that he was going back to God “I am going to the Father (John 14:12). (Also see John 14:2-3). Clearly, Jesus knew “that he had come from God and was returning to God” (John 13:3).
He emphasized the importance of this difference. He said, “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man” (John 3:13). He told the Jewish religious leaders, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world” ( John 8:23). He said, “No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father” (John 6:46). John the Baptist said of him, “The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth and speaks as one from the earth” (John 3:31).
Jesus’ claim to be totally unique, unlike any other human, fits in well with his claim to be God.
JESUS IS THE SOURCE OF ETERNAL GIFTS
Jesus said, “I am…the life” (John 14:6). “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). (KJV says “more abundantly.”) This is a promise, not only of future life, but of a full life on this earth. He referred to himself as “he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33).
“I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace” (John 16:33). “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27).
“I have told you this that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy…Your joy will be complete” (John 16:22, 24).
“I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). “I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40).
The Holy Spirit
“Whoever believes in me…streams of living water will flow from within him” (John 7:38-39). Jesus will send us the Holy Spirit (John 15:26; 16:7; 20:22).
“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). Our spiritual freedom comes from continuing in Jesus’ words (John 8:31-32 KJV).
“While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5). (Also see John 3:19; 8:12.) “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness” (John 12:46).
“If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
The Only Way to the Father
Jesus declared that he is the only way to the Father. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He said that he is the gate for the sheep, and that anyone who does not enter in by the gate is a thief and a robber (John 10:1, 7, 9). (Also see Luke 10:22.)
In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus told us to enter through the narrow gate and travel on the narrow road that leads to eternal life, and to avoid the wide gate and road that lead to “destruction.” Reading that passage together with those cited in the previous paragraph, it is clear that Jesus is the narrow gate and the narrow road that lead to life with God.
There is more. Jesus said many amazing things about himself. But I think what I have written should be sufficient to show that Jesus knew who he was, and that he knew that he was God who came to earth in human form to save mankind from their sins. To try to make him anything less is to deny the Scriptural record.
1. See James Morrisson, Standing Firm in the Faith, (Lincoln, Nebraska: iUniverse, 2004), chapter 2, pp.31-37.
2. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: MacMillan, 1952), pp. 55-56.
3. KJV translates this “Thou has said,” which is a literal translation of the Greek. From what I have read I believe that, in Jesus’ time, this would be understood as saying, “It is as you have said” and that the NIV is an accurate translation of Jesus’ meaning. This, certainly, is how the High Priest and the Sanhedrin took it.