Is Jesus God?
Last Sunday, we talked about the single most important question in life: Is Jesus God?
The following is a summary of the message (which you can listen to here). It is taken from a blog post I made back in 2005.
What did HE think?
A. Titles he called himself
1. Son of Man
While it sounds like a reference to his humanity, it is a bold claim of divinity (see Daniel 7:13-14). By using this title for himself, he was claiming to be the one who brings the kingdom of God and the one to judge mankind.
2. The Messiah (The Christ)
The Hebrew word "Messiah", and the Greek word "Christ" both mean the same thing: Anointed One. It is a singular title such as "The President" or "The King". Using it regarding himself was a direct claim to divinity. He claimed to fulfill the prophesied duties of the Messiah (Luke 4:16-21). He told John the Baptist that he was the Messiah (Matthew 11:1-6). He confirmed Peter's confession that he was the Messiah Matthew 16:13-17). And he claimed the title when he was on trial before the high priest (Matthew 26:63-64).
3. Other Divine Claims
He stated that "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30). He claimed God's name (Yahweh) for himself (John 8:58). And he claimed to be the physical manifestation of the Father (John 14:6-11).
B. He thought of himself as being the Son of God in a unique sense.
Many people believe that Jesus was a "son of God", just like we all are children of God. But his claims and self-understanding show that he regarded that title differently.
1. Calling God "Abba" ("papa" or "daddy")
Out of respect, rabbis never said the name of God (Yahweh). So they were scandalized that the rabbi, Jesus, would not only use that name, but he used the far more familiar name "Abba" to refer to God the Father. It claimed an intimacy with God that none before had dared to imagine. And even though he taught his disciples to pray "our father", he never joined in that prayer, always saying "my father" (see John 20:17).
2. Claimed to possess intimate knowledge of the Father
Jesus referred to himself as being higher than the angels (Mark 13:32). He claimed exclusive sonship, that was different than any other (Matthew 11:27). And he claimed to be the only one who could reveal the Father to men John 14:6).
C. He claimed to act and speak with divine authority
1. He reinterpreted the Law.
All good first century Jews believed that God alone was the author of the Law. And while there were professionals devoted to interpreting and applying it, no one dared change it. In the Sermon on the Mount Matthew 5-7), he reinterpreted the Law to apply to internal thoughts and not merely external actions (adultery/lust, murder/anger, etc).
2. Usage of the word "Amen"
One of Jesus' favorite phrases was "Amen, amen, I say unto you" sometimes translated, "truly, truly I say unto you." In saying this, he was using himself as an authoritative witness to what he's about to say. As opposed to the prophet's phrase, "Thus says the Lord" or the common, "With God as my witness". Jesus was saying, "with ME as my witness".
Jesus believed he had the power over demons. He claimed this power was because of his divinity (Luke 11:20). He believed that he brought the kingdom of God not just to earth, but to the spiritual kingdom as well.
4. Forgiving sins
Only the one sinned against has the power to forgive that sin. Claiming to forgive the sins against someone else is a claim to divinity. This caused controversy because people understood what he was claiming when he told people that their sins were forgiven (Mark 2:1-12).
5. Performing miracles
Jesus was famous for his miraculous works. When asked by whose authority he had the power to do them, he referenced himself (Luke 11:14-20). He also referenced his miracles when people doubted his divinity (John 10:22-39).
6. Power over the eternal destiny of others
He claimed to be the determining factor of one's place before God at the final judgment (Luke 12:8-9).
Again, all of the above is not what committees or tradition or followers said about Jesus. It's what he claimed about himself. Clearly, he thought he was divine.
This leads us to a tough decision, best expressed by C.S. Lewis:
"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about him: "I'm 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...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. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall on your face 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." (Mere Christianity pp. 55-56).
IS JESUS GOD?
What did other people say about him?
A. Other Bible References
1. How his Birth shows his divinity
One of the central doctrines about Christ is the Virgin Birth. This is important because Hebrew theology states that original sin is passed on through the father's "seed" (Greek "sperma"). It is also important because of the prophecy that the Messiah would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14). At his birth, many people understood what this meant, including Herod, the figurehead King of Israel, who tried to kill the infant Jesus because he saw him as a threat. Since Mary was a virgin, the father was the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20). In other words, Jesus had divinity in his DNA.
2. How his Life shows his divinity
He was sinless in life. A fact attested to by no less than 9 Biblical characters: Judas (Matthew 27:3-4).
Pilate's Wife (Matthew 27:19).
Pilate (Matthew 27:24).
The thief on the cross (Luke 23:41).
A Roman centurion (Luke 23:47).
Paul (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Peter (1 Peter 1:19).
John (1 John 3:5).
The author of Hebrews (Hebrews 4:15).
He had power over nature, demons, sickness, and even death. His miracles prompted his followers to acknowledge his divinity (Mark 4:35-41). His knowledge of what no one could have known led Nathanael to acknowledge his divinity (John 1:47-49).
3. How his Death shows his divinity
Jesus was put to death for blasphemy (Luke 22:66-71). So even his enemies recognized his claims.
Other Biblical authors point out that Jesus' divinity was necessary for his death to mean anything. His death paid the penalty for our sins (Romans 5:8), something no human's death could accomplish.
His death means that there is no more atonement, sacrifice, or works necessary for salvation (Hebrews 9:24-28). Such a payment covers an infinite price, only payable by God himself.
His death was enough to pay for all sin: past, present, and future, and also fulfilled God's necessary justice (1 Peter 3:18).
4. How his Resurrection shows his divinity
This is a bit of a no brainer. If he really did rise from the dead, then he must be more than a mere human. And of course, the resurrection is all over the New Testament. Paul put it best, however, when he said that if the resurrection didn't actually happen, then our faith is "useless" (1 Corinthians 15:12-28). But the good news is that Jesus did conquer death, and that is the basis not only of the proof of his divinity, but of all of Christianity.
5. Other claims
Where was Jesus before Christmas? Both Paul and John say that he was present at creation (John 1:1-3 and Colossians 1:15-20).
We also have further witness that Jesus has the authority to forgive sin (1 John 1:9) and judge our lives (Revelation 21:27).
6. The John 1 Proof
One of the boldest claims to Christ's divinity comes in John chapter 1. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
In these verses, John sets up 2 categories: Things made and things not made. Anything that is in the second group qualifies as God (i.e. an un-created being). John says that Jesus is the one responsible for everything that was made. Logically, he can't be in the first group. Therefore, he is in the second group. An eternal being, not a created one.
B. Other non-Biblical, non-Christian references
1. Josephus (93 AD)
Josephus was a Jewish historian who sought refuge with Rome following the Roman massacre of Jews in 70 AD. In The Antiquities, he wrote, "Ananias convened a meeting of the Sanhedrin and brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus, who was called the Christ." He also wrote that Jesus "was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people who accept the truth gladly." And that, Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified."
2. Tacitus (115 AD)
Tacitus was a Roman historian whose Annals describing the 1st century is invaluable in helping modern historians piece together Roman times. He wrote that, "Nero...inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christ, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome."
3. Pliny the Younger (111 AD)
Pliny was a Roman governor in what is now Turkey. He arrested Christians and tortured them for sport, and often wrote to his friends about them. One such letter included the following: "These Christians met regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately amongst themselves in honor of Christ as if to a god, and also to bind themselves by oath, not for any criminal purpose, but to abstain from theft, robbery, and adultery."
4. Phlegon (137 AD)
Phlegon was a Greek historian who wrote about 1st century events (and had an unfortunate name). One document he wrote stated that, "In the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad [33 AD], there was the greatest eclipse of the sun...it became night in the sixth hour of the day [noon] so that the stars even appeared in the heavens. There was a great earthquake in Bithynia, and many things were overturned in Nicaea." This coincides with the Gospel account of Jesus' death.
7 things we can conclude about Jesus from ancient sources outside the Bible and outside the church:
1. He was a Jewish teacher
2. Many people believed he performed miracles
3. Some people believed he was the Messiah
4. He was rejected by Jewish leaders
5. He was crucified under Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius
6. His followers believed he rose from the dead and spread so quickly that there were multitudes in Rome by 64 AD
7. All kinds of people- men & women, slave & free- met regularly to worship him as God
C. Early church references
1. Ignatius (martyred in 117 AD)
Ignatius was the leader of the church in Antioch. His writings emphasize both the deity and humanity of Jesus. He often wrote to challenge the heresy that Jesus wasn't really human, but only appeared that way. Similar to how Zeus was believed to take human form.
2. Papias (wrote c. 130 AD)
Papias was a disciple of John, and knew the original Apostle very well. His writings verify that Matthew & Mark were indeed the authors of the Gospels that bear their names. He also wrote that John told him that Peter was the source of information for Mark.
3. Polycarp (martyred c. 110 AD)
Polycarp was another disciple of John's who went to his death in the colosseium. His writings verify that John wrote the letters attributed to him. Also that Jesus was fully God, and his resurrection was a physical one.
The point of this post is to show that there is a wealth of information, both in the Bible and outside of the Bible (but still within 100 years of Jesus' death), that confirms the claim of the church: that Jesus is God.
Now, you can conclude that Jesus & his early followers were simply wrong, and that Jesus is not God. But what you cannot conclude is that the doctrine of the divinity of Christ was tacked on 300 years later by a committee. Or that someone can claim to follow Christ and his teachings without affirming that he is God. It is THE teaching.