In this age of liberal, political correctness Jesus is often portrayed as another spiritual master like Buddha, a prophet like Mohammed, a great moral teacher like Moses, or just a good man who taught us all to love one another--indeed, a Jesus we can all like and get along with. This, however, is not the Jesus of the New Testament who often offended people and brought down the wrath of the religious and political establishment on Himself. Shouldn’t we, therefore, seek to know who Jesus really is? The question Jesus asked His disciples in Matthew 16:15 is as relative today as it was then. After listening to the disciples tell of the different theories about His identity, Jesus asked, But who do you say that I am?
In Part 1 of this series we showed how Isaiah, 600 years before the birth of the Messiah, spoke of His Deity referring to him as the Might God and the Everlasting Father. Other Old Testament passages also speak of the Deity of the coming Messiah, such as Micah 5:2 which reads, But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.
The goings forth of the Messiah are described by Micah as being from everlasting. “Everlasting” is from the Hebrew word olam, which means continuous, perpetual, and eternal. Here we find the Ruler who will come forth in Bethlehem will have had a previous and eternal preexistence.
Did Jesus fulfill these Old Testament prophecies concerning the Deity of the Messiah? The answer is a resounding, Yes! Both indirectly and directly Jesus claimed to be God and this was clearly understood by both His followers and those who crucified Him. These claims present a stark challenge to the human race that cannot be side-stepped by rhetorical and theological niceties. This is what the Oxford scholar, C. S. Lewis, was referring to when he said,
"I am trying 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 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 . . . or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to" (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 52).
Jesus’ Indirect Claims to Being God
Jesus made indirect claims to Deity by doing things that only God can do, such as forgiving sins. Mark 2:5-7, 10 tells the story of the four individuals who brought their paralytic friend to Jesus for healing. When they could not get near Him because of the crowd, they went up on the roof, removed the tiles, and let their friend down by a rope in front of Jesus. Mark then says, When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you” (Mk. 2:5-7, 10).
Some of the scribes (Biblical scholars) were sitting there and they understood the ramifications of what Jesus said. Mark says they reasoned in their hearts, Why does this man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone? They were right in their assessment that only God can forgive sins; but they were unwilling to even consider that Jesus just might be God Incarnate and that this was why He was forgiving sins.
There are other examples of Jesus forgiving sins with a similar response from the religious leaders. For example, Luke tells about a woman who, in the house of one Simon, anointed Jesus’ feet with an expensive ointment and then wiped His feet with her hair. Jesus then said to her Your sins are forgiven (Luke 7:48). Those who were sitting at the table with Him began to say to themselves, Who is this who even forgives sin? In contemporary terms they were saying, “Who does He think He is--God!”
Jesus also accepted honor and worship reserved only for God. For example, when He calmed the raging storm out on the sea, Matthew says, Then those who were in the boat came and worshipped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God” (Mt. 14:33). On another occasion, a woman of Canaan came to Him desiring healing for her daughter. Matthew says, Then she came and worshipped Him saying, “Lord, help me!” (Mt. 15:25).
When Peter saw the miracle catch of the fishes that was instigated by Jesus’ command to “launch out into the deep,” he came to shore and fell down at Jesus knees, showing him honor that would normally be reserved for God. And after the resurrection when Jesus appeared to Twelve and invited Thomas to put his finger in the holes in His hands and to thrust his hand in the hole in His side, Thomas exclaimed, My Lord, and my God!
In all these incidents Jesus accepted such honor and worship as right and appropriate. In sharp contrast, when the people of Lystra were going to pay homage to Paul and Barnabas after the healing of a crippled man, Paul and Barnabas were horrified and they,
Tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude crying out and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God.
Jesus also made statements that, although not a direct claim to Deity, certainly cannot be applied to a mere mortal. In Mark 13:31, for example, He declared, Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. In John 6:35 He said, I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. In John 11:25 He declared, I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, shall live. As C. S. Lewis pointed out, if the one making these statements is a mere mortal, then he is either a deluded madman or a great deceiver.
Jesus Made Direct Claims Regarding His Deity
In the Gospel of John we have the “I Am” statements of Jesus in which He directly and unambiguously identifies Himself with the God—Yahweh—of the Old Testament. The most common name for God in the Old Testament, and the one that is considered His personal name, is Yahweh.
Yahweh is derived from the Hebrew verb “to be” which was probably originally “hwh.” Hwh was then likely expanded to the four letters of the Tetragrammaton, HHWH, and the vowels added for pronunciation, making it Yahweh.
This is the name by which God revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush when He commissioned Moses to go and bring the people of Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 3:14). When Moses inquired of His name, God replied with the Hebrew verb YHWH, which is translated in our English Bibles as “I Am that I Am,” or simply “I Am.” This name identifies God as the eternally existing one who requires nothing outside of Himself for His existence. He is the great “I Am.”
In John 8:24b we hear Jesus saying, For if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins. It is important to note that “he” is not in the Greek and this is borne out by the fact that it is italicized in both the KJV and the NKJV. Jesus literally says, If you do not believe that I Am, you will die in your sins. The same is true of 8:28 where Jesus literally says, When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I Am . . ..
In 8:58 He becomes even more explicit. In a brief exchange with certain Jews, Jesus says, Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day and he saw it and was glad. Amazed at this saying, the Jews replied, You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham? Jesus replied, Before Abraham was, I AM. They then took up stones to stone Him for He had obviously, in their eyes, blasphemed by making such an obvious identification of Himself with Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament. And such a sin, according to Jewish law, was punishable by death.
On another occasion Jesus said to certain ones, I and My Father are one (John 10:30). In this statement “my” is not in the Greek so He literally says, I and Father are one. Verse 31 says, Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him. Their attempt again to stone Him is probably because they saw His statement as a reference to Deuteronomy 6:4, the basic confession of faith in Judaism, which reads, Hear O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!
When Jesus replied that He had shown them many good works and for which good work were they stoning Him, they replied, For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a man, make Yourself God. It was clear to them that Jesus was again identifying Himself with God.
It is clear that the charge against Jesus for which He was put to death was blasphemy—for identifying Himself with God. When demanded by the high priest to state whether He was the Messiah, the Son of God, Jesus replied, I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven (Mark 14:62). At this statement the high priest tore his clothes (a sign of great horror and distress) and said, What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy! What do you think? And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death.
No Middle Ground
Jesus of course ratified and confirmed all the Old Testament prophecies and His own claims concerning His Deity when, three days later, He arose from the dead. C. S. Lewis was right. Anyone who would make the sort of claims that Jesus made is either a deluded madman or the greatest of deceivers . . . or He is who He said He was—the LORD of glory. This means that there is no middle ground on which to accept Him as just a great moral teacher or a mere human prophet. He did not leave that option. He did not intend to. The only options He left are to either reject His claims, or bow at His feet and confess Him as LORD (Romans 10:9-10).
Yea, Lord, we greet thee,
Born this happy morning;
Jesus, to thee be glory given!
Word of the Father,
Now in flesh appearing!
Oh come let us adore Him,
Oh come let us adore Him,
Oh come let us adore Him,
Christ, the Lord!