It’s often said by Muslims and others that Jesus never claimed to be God. Is this true?
At the very heart of Christianity, is the truth that Jesus is the second person of the Trinity who came to Earth and took on flesh, lived a perfect life and died on the cross for our sins, for our redemption, for our justification. Part of this that entails Jesus being God, so this raises the question: If Jesus was God, did he ever say that he was God? Well, for this, we need to turn to scripture.
The first passage we’ll look at is John 8:58. Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, before Abraham came into existence, I AM.” Well, what’s going on here? Jesus, you’ve got some bad grammar — “Before Abraham, I am.” Okay, what’s going on there?
This takes us all the way back to Exodus 3:14. God said to Moses, “I AM that I AM,” and he said, “You must say to the Israelites, I AM has sent me to you.” When Jesus says “before Abraham came into existence I AM,” that this would not have been lost on the Jewish listeners of the day. They would have understood that he was claiming to be the “I AM” from the Old Testament who the Jews understood to be God, that Father, that figure, that person, and that being.
We know they understood what he meant because they picked up stones to stone him right after this. While we might not understand on first reading that Jesus is claiming to be God, the Jews certainly did because they wanted to kill him. We see another example of this in John 10:30. Jesus says, “The Father and I are one.” Again, the Jewish leaders picked up rocks to stone him to death. Jesus said to them, “I’ve shown you many good deeds from the Father. For which one of them are you going to stone me?” It seems slightly sarcastic but it gets a very good response from them, at least one that’s helpful for us.
The Jewish leaders replied, “We’re not going to stone you for a good deed but for blasphemy, because you, a man, are claiming to be God.” They understood that when Jesus said, “The Father and I are one,” he was claiming to be God. They also understood when he said “Before Abraham, I AM,” that once again he was claiming to be God.
Now, there is a fundamental problem that exists in the New Testament as to how to say that Jesus is God without saying Jesus is the Father. You’ll see Paul in many places go to great lengths to affirm the deity of Christ without coming right out and saying Jesus is God.
In fact, I don’t think there is a passage that says Jesus is God, because here’s how that would have been understood in that day. In Greek, the word used for God is “ho theos.” Literally, The God, but it just gets translated as God, and they understood that God to be one person and one being, and they understood that person to be the Father. If Jesus comes along and says, “I am ho theos.” They are going to hear “Jesus is the Father”, which is incorrect actually, but it’s also confusing. It’s the same thing as if I were to say, “Brian is Phil.” You would probably reply, “no, you’re not. You’re Brian and he’s Phil.”
What we really see here, is Jesus trying — or, you might say he wasn’t “trying”, since, on one level they understood what he meant — to come up with a different way to say that he is: divine, he is co-equal with the Father, He is God, without saying he is the Father. It might take some time for you to wrap your mind around that. There’s a really interesting passage in Romans 8 where Paul uses “God”, “Jesus”, and “the Spirit” in parallel ways to reinforce the fact that they are all God, although they are all distinct persons.
The Christian belief, as expressed in the Trinity, is not that there are three gods. It’s not that there are three beings who are God. It’s that there is one being who is God who exists in three co-equal, co-eternal persons. The answer to our question, did Jesus claim to be God: Most certainly. But Jesus did not claim to be the Father. A very interesting point of note in John 14:6, he makes a very exclusive claim about himself. He said, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” What we see here is, Jesus as God is saying he is the gatekeeper, he is the sole path by which someone can come to the Father, can come to salvation. It is ultimately through Christ. It is through none other.
We shouldn’t expect salvation to be found in any other name, if indeed Jesus is God. It couldn’t be found in the name of Allah or in the name of Buddha or Ganesh or any other lower case “g”, god. If Jesus were indeed God, then he, it stands to reason, would be the sole means to salvation, to peace with God.
It’s important to be able to point to some passages where Jesus did claim to be God. This does come up. People say, “Well, he never claimed to be God. He just thought he was a good prophet or a good moral teacher, and people just called him Rabbi,” and that’s true, all of those things did happen.
He was a prophet, he was a good moral teacher, and people did call him Rabbi. However, all of that is meaningless in all practical ways unless he was also God, because Jesus claimed to be God, so he can’t just be a good moral teacher. If you’re a good teacher, you don’t teach things that are false, and certainly you don’t get the largest things wrong. If Jesus claimed to be God and wasn’t, he’s not a good teacher, he’s a horrible teacher. As C.S. Lewis said, You really have three options. He can either be Lord like he claimed to be: he can be God. He can be a lunatic: he can just be crazy and be deluded into thinking he’s God, or he’s a liar. The third option is, he knew he wasn’t God, and he said he was God anyways, which doesn’t make a lot of sense because he was ultimately willing to die for that claim.
Pilate gives him the opportunity to recant and Jesus says basically, “Well, it is as you say.” He did claim to be the king of the Jews. The only option that really makes sense out of the Lord, liar, lunatic options is Lord, and we see indeed Jesus claimed the title of Lord for himself and the Jews understood, even if we don’t today when we read those verses at first blush, because they wanted to kill him for it. I hope you’re now a little more prepared to defend Christ’s own claim to deity. We always need to be ready to defend what we believe and defend the hope we have in Christ and our reasons for it, and as always, I hope to see you next week for Unapologetic.