Non-exhaustive answers to hard and relevant questions…
Question: Did Jesus Really Claim To Be God?
Lots of people believe Jesus is God (I am one of them). And lots of people believe He isn’t (Richard Dawkins is one of them). There are plenty of people on my side, and there are plenty of people on his side. One thing is for sure: we aren’t both right. Jesus is either God or He isn’t; there’s no middle ground on this question.
There are a number of authorities to which we can appeal to answer this question. We can appeal to faith, because God has opened our eyes to see the reality and truth that Jesus is God, eternally existent as the Son and equal in nature and essence with the Father and the Spirit. We can appeal to tradition, pointing to a counter-cultural movement that began with an unlikely band of deserters-turned-apostles which grew into the world’s largest religion. Or we can appeal to the Bible, which surely makes the case for the divinity of Jesus.
You will search in vain for an explicit declaration of divinity from Jesus’ lips, at least one that will clearly silence His critics. And this is not cause for alarm: Jesus Himself was intentional about this as He spoke, and God the Spirit was intentional about this as He inspired the writing of the Scriptures. So how can we be sure He is who we claim Him to be?
The claim is there is you’re willing to see it. Or perhaps more accurately, the claim is there if God opens your eyes to see it. We can look at several passages to give us the chance to test our sight.
- In John 8:58, Jesus responds to the religious leaders who are questioning whether or not He considered Himself to be greater than their father, Abraham. Here, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” This may seem innocent enough to us, but the Jews picked up stones to kill Him for this statement, because they heard the connection He made to Exodus 3:14, where God gives His name to Abraham: “I Am Who I Am.”
- In John 10:30, Jesus responds again to the Jewish leaders who are questioning Him. They ask Him: “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly” (vs 24). Jesus answers them: “My Father…is greater than all…[and] I and the Father are one.” This must have created some drama for monotheists who daily recited the Shema: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). And it was: they picked up stones to kill Him once more.
- In John 20:29, Jesus had His best chance to clarify his lack of deity if He wanted to do so. Thomas, who had doubted the risen Christ even after his closest friends told him about Jesus’ appearance to them, finally lays his own eyes on the wounds in Jesus’ hands and side. He says, “My Lord and my God!” (vs 28), and Jesus, rather than correcting him, accepts the statement and makes a teaching point of faith.
Jesus had many opportunities to simply say, “I am God,” but He chose not to. Perhaps this has to do with God’s design: “…their ears can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them” (Matthew 13:15). Whatever the reason, He was nuanced in His responses on purpose, which may lead people like Richard Dawkins into darkness, but He means for us to declare the light of this truth to the world, that God took on flesh to do what we could not do ourselves: pay the price for our sins.
There are many other passages in Scripture that point to Jesus’ divinity. Where else do you see the Bible pointing to Jesus as God?