April
24
2023
Author
Reuben Grace
Did Jesus Christ ever really claim to be God?

On the Alpha Course, a popular introduction to the Christian faith, people will sometimes tell me that ‘Jesus never claimed to be God’. Or that he was ‘misunderstood’. They tell me he never claimed to be God, that the belief in his deity only came later from people who never met him, and that he would be horrified people were worshipping him. Still others like to say he was a ‘good teacher’ and a ‘good example’ but was not God.

So, let’s take a look at what Jesus said about himself.

 

  1. A good teacher?

Let’s start with that first point - Jesus as a good teacher. Yes, Jesus did call himself a teacher (John 13:14). He is rightly famous for his moral teaching, which still forms the basis of many of our laws in the western world today. Ideas such as ‘do to others as you would have them do to you’ or to ‘turn the other cheek’ and many more come from the lips of Jesus in his famous Sermon on the Mount. 

But these are not really the main subject of Jesus’ teaching.

His favourite topic to teach about was himself.

In the gospels, the four accounts of Jesus’ life in the Bible, Jesus is forever talking about his unique mission to reveal his Father and to bring people into a new relationship with God.

For example, in one of his longer speeches, in John 6, Jesus claims: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). And Jesus goes on to describe himself in shocking language: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (6:54). In John’s account, Jesus carries on like this for over 500 words, that’s a good side of A4, entirely about himself and what he believed he came to do.

Understandably, after hearing these words “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (John 6:66). It shows the extraordinary claims Jesus was making about himself – with the two main themes of his teaching being that he could give life beyond death and was sent into the world by God. 

So, when people say they think Jesus was a ‘good teacher’, which aspect of his teaching do they mean? If Jesus was wrong about the main theme of his teaching - his divinity - surely he is not a good teacher at all. And his other teachings arguably stand or fall on whether Jesus was who he claimed to be - the Son of God. The famous teachings of the Sermon on the Mount are given to those who have decided to accept his claims and follow him.

One of the striking things about Jesus’ teaching compared to other religious figures is that Jesus presents himself as the solution. As Nicky Gumbel, pioneer of the Alpha Course, explains in one of the sessions, most religious teachers point away from themselves and say: ‘don’t look at me, look at God’, or follow these steps to reach God. Jesus, however, said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). Jesus didn’t point people somewhere else to find God. He invited people to come to him to meet God face to face.

CS Lewis, the Oxford scholar and author of the chronicles of Narnia, summarised the problem with trying to say Jesus was just a ‘good teacher’:

“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 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 patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” (Mere Christianity)

 

  1. A man who claimed to be God

As Lewis points out, Jesus did not just claim to be near God or to be some kind of heavenly messenger. Jesus said to his disciples shortly before his death that to have met him was to have met God. (John 14:9). As one of the Bible writers describes it later, Jesus is the “radiance of God’s glory and the exact imprint of his being” (Hebrews 1:3).

It’s worth pointing out that people in Jesus’ day clearly understood what he was claiming for himself. In John 10 Jesus says: “I and the Father are one” (10:30). At that time the penalty for blasphemy was death by stoning. What do Jesus’ opponents do next? They pick up the nearest stone, because, as they point out, “you, being a man, make yourself God.” (John 10:33).

In fact, this claim to be God is the reason Jesus was crucified. On trial before the high priest, Jesus is asked: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” (Mark 14:60). Jesus’ reply is simple: “I am” before making a claim that he would soon be reigning with God in heaven (Mark 14:62).

Again, his opponents know exactly what Jesus is claiming and don’t believe it for a moment: the high priest recognises this as blasphemy and the court condemns Jesus to death (Mark 14:63-64).

Jesus claimed to be God in a body, but there is evidence beyond his own statements. One of Jesus’ first public appearances was at his baptism in the river Jordan ‘when a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”’ (Mark 1:11). People believed this was the voice of God the Father, revealing Jesus’ identity as God’s Son.

Later Jesus went up a mountain with his followers. Writing to some of the early Christians around 30 years after Jesus lived, the apostle Peter described what he saw and heard:
‘...we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honour and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.’ (2 Peter 1:16-18).

Jesus’ claim to divinity wasn’t invented later by over-enthusiastic followers. It was recognised by people who walked and talked with him. They recognised they only had two options - either it was a lie and he should be ignored or even silenced. Or it was extraordinary, yet true…

 

  1. A resurrection

If the end of the story about Jesus was a man who claimed to be God and died, I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog post. But here I am. Because Jesus' death was not the end of the story. 

The literal, physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus is the historical claim by which the Christian faith stands or falls. If Jesus was resurrected, it vindicates his claim to be the ‘Bread of Life’ who gives his life for the world, to be God in a body. If he wasn’t, then as the Bible itself says, Christians “are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).

The good news is we can examine the historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. I encourage you to do so. It is the best way to put Jesus’ claims to the test. There are many good books on the topic, including Lee Strobel’s A Case for Christ and Frank Morrison’s Who Moved the Stone? which are great places to start.

The resurrection is also important because it highlights the uniqueness of Jesus’ claims. There may be many prophets, gifted teachers or people who claim spiritual insights. And Jesus’ healing miracles were not unique in themselves. Yet no other religious figure or miracle worker came back to life. If it’s true, the resurrection crowns Jesus’ claim to be the unique, unrepeatable Son of God.

The evidence requires a response. Speaking in Athens, the apostle Paul explained how the resurrection of Jesus demands a response from us. Now God “commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has set a day when he is going to judge the world in righteousness by the man [Jesus] he has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31 CSB). 

Jesus’ resurrection, says Paul, is a sign of God’s coming judgement. How will we respond?

 

A verdict?

If you have ever read the gospels, you’ll know when people truly meet Jesus face-to-face they don’t remain neutral. Either they completely reject him or, like Thomas, exclaim “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

Did Jesus claim to be God? I believe he did. At the very least, it’s a claim worth investigating. As Rory Shiner and Peter Orr write in their book The World Next Door: a short guide to the Christian faith: “to flip it the other way, God, it turns out, looks like Jesus. To see him and know him is not to line up behind yet another human teacher who may or may not have had some insights into the deity. It is, rather, to encounter God himself”.

Philosopher John Hick taught all religions have equal value. He conceded, however, that: “If Jesus was indeed God incarnate, Christianity is the only religion founded by God in person and must as such be uniquely superior to all other religions." (p.64).

So why not take eight weeks this spring to explore who Jesus is? We have an Alpha Course starting at Hope Church Sevenoaks on Wednesday 3rd May - we’d love to see you there. It’s a great opportunity to explore and ask questions. No question is too big or too small. There’s no fee and no pressure. Come and explore with us.

For more click on the link below:

https://hope7oaks.churchsuite.com/events/tpc0eede