Week 9 - Did Jesus Claim to be God?
Did Jesus claim to be God? In order to answer this question, we have to tackle the subject from different perspectives. Many atheists and liberal Christian scholars don’t think that Jesus ever claimed to be God. They note that there are no explicit claims to deity within Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Furthermore, they write off the claims to deity in the book of John, saying that it was written too late.
Recall the “liberal” dates for the writing of the four Gospels up on the board. Liberals say that Mark was written in 70 A.D., Matthew and Luke were written in 80-85 A.D. and John was written 90-95 A.D. These scholars would say that the idea that Jesus is God grew in the telling. The gospels started off with a lower view of Jesus (called a low Christology). This we allegedly see in the book of Mark. But as the later ones were written, they developed a higher view of Jesus, or a “high Christology.” Ultimately, Jesus “became God” by the time John was written.
But is this accurate? There are numerous problems with this view. First, the book of Mark definitely portrays Jesus as God, and does so in the very first chapter. Mark 1 says:
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,
2 just as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“Behold, I am sending My messenger [a]before You,
Who will prepare Your way;
3 The voice of one calling [b]out in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
Make His paths straight!’” (Mark 1:1-3)
This quote merges two Old Testament verses. Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3.
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.
A voice cries:[a]
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
But after this quote, the passage goes on to describe how John the Baptist is preparing the way for Jesus! Therefore, the author of Mark is taking Bible verses about God in the Old Testament, and applying them to Jesus. Since we find this in the introduction to Mark, we know that the author takes the view that Jesus is the Lord, or Yahweh.
But what about Jesus’ claims? There are multiple parts of the book which show Jesus implicitly claiming to be God.
One such example is in Mark 2, where Jesus heals the paralytic.
2 And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. 3 And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. 4 And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. 5 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12 And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” (Mark 2:1-11)
This is pretty straightforward as it stands.
Also in Mark 2, Jesus says that the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. Mark 2:28 says: So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” But who can be “Lord” of the Sabbath unless he himself is the giver of the Sabbath Law? God is the one who gave the Sabbath law. So by claiming to be the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus is implying that he is that very Lord who gave the Sabbath rule.
Mark 4 shows how Jesus calms a raging storm.
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-41)
This hearkens back to Psalm 107:28-29, which says that the Lord is the one who calms the storm of the sea:
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
And He brought them out of their distresses.
29 He caused the storm to be still,
So that the waves [s]of the sea were hushed. (Psalm 107:28-29)
Mark 6, where Jesus walks on the water, is also very significant.
45 Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night[g] he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 51 And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. (Mark 6:45-52)
Notice here that Jesus is walking on the water. This relates to Job 9:8, which says:
who alone stretched out the heavens
and trampled the waves of the sea; (Job 9:8)
Here it says that God alone trampled the waves of the sea. But in Mark, Jesus is walking on the water. It was very windy, so there must’ve been waves as well, which Jesus was walking on.
When he is walking by them, Jesus says “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” The Greek for “it is I” is “ego eimi” which means “I am.” This is the same phrase Jesus uses in John 8:58 when he says: “before Abraham was, I am.” Now, “ego eimi” can just mean “it’s me.” But in John and here, it probably carries a double meaning. Jesus just got done walking on water, which only God can do, and said literally, “take heart, I am. Do not be afraid.”
The passage also says that Jesus meant to pass them by. This is significant, because God passes by Moses in the Old Testament:
And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21 And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. (Exodus 33:19-22).
Each of these three things, by themselves, may only hint at deity. But taken together, they are a powerful image of Jesus taking on God’s very identity, both his name and his role.
Jesus also redefines Old Testament rules.
And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?”[f] (Thus he declared all foods clean.) (Mark 7:18-19)
This is the same concept as being the Lord of the Sabbath. Who can change God’s rules, except God himself?
Jesus also demands complete devotion to himself, something which we would normally reserve for God. Can someone read Mark 8:34-38)
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38)
Jesus is saying that you have to be willing to die for him. But shouldn’t God be the one whom a person must be willing to die for? Furthermore, Jesus says that he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. But in the Old Testament, it says that God does not share his glory with anyone else. As Isaiah 42:8 says:
I am the Lord; that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to carved idols. (Isaiah 42:8)
Mark 10:17 also implies Jesus’ deity in a strong way, even though it doesn’t appear to on the surface.
And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:17-22)
Is Jesus denying that he is good? Even more so, does the author of Mark’s gospel think that Jesus is denying that he is good? Would the Christians reading this back then think that Jesus is denying that he is good? Of course not! Of course Jesus is good! He even calls himself the good shepherd in John 10.
Notice that Jesus asks him if he’s kept the commandments. In particular, he asks if he’s kept the commandments related to his behavior towards others. However, the rich man says that he’s done so. Nevertheless, Jesus says that he lacks something. He then tells the rich man to sell his possessions and follow Jesus. But he doesn’t, because he’s rich. Here, Jesus is exposing his idol, namely, how he breaks the first commandment. If money weren’t his idol, he would sell everything and follow Jesus. But instead of God, money is his idol. Notice also that Jesus says that he should sell all his possessions and follow him, not just God. So Jesus is asking for the rich man’s allegiance, over and above the rich man’s money.
Nevertheless, the most dramatic claim to deity can be found at Jesus’ trial.
But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” 62 And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” 63 And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? 64 You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. (Mark 14:61-64)
Jesus says multiple things here. First, Jesus affirms that he is the Christ, and the Son of God. We know this question is authentic, because the High Priest didn’t say “Are you the Christ, the Son of God.” No, like a typical Jew, he was showing respect for God’s name by not saying it.
Second, Jesus claims to be the Son of Man who comes on the clouds of heaven. This is a direct allusion to Daniel 7:
I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
14 And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)
Here it says that everyone will “serve” the Son of Man. This is the same word that’s normally used to refer to serving God or gods in the book of Daniel.
However, Jesus goes even further, saying that he will be “seated at the right hand of Power.” Here he is claiming to be God’s co-regent. This relates to Psalm 110:
The Lord says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.” (Psalm 110:1)
As if all this wasn’t clear, the High Priest’s reaction should make it clear what Jesus meant here. So there, that shows that Jesus claimed to be God in the book of Mark.
Another line of evidence for Jesus’ deity is what the very first Christians called him and thought about him. Remember, Jews were very fierce monotheists. So for them to believe that Jesus is God would take something very big. At the very least, he would’ve had to claim it for himself.
One such example can be found in Romans 10:
9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13)
Here, Paul says that you have to confess that Jesus is “Lord.” But what does he mean by this? He goes on to justify this assertion, by quoting Joel 2:32a. “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” So as proof that one must confess Jesus as Lord, he cites the Old Testament. But the Old Testament verse he uses to prove that is a verse about the Lord God! Here, Paul is unequivocally naming Jesus as Yahweh.
Paul also does this in Philippians 2:5-11.
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,[b] 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[c] being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)
This is regarded to be a song that the early Christians sang during worship.
Isaiah 45, the most monotheistic section in the entire Bible, says this:
“Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.
23 By myself I have sworn;
from my mouth has gone out in righteousness
a word that shall not return:
‘To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear allegiance.’[d] (Isaiah 45:22-23)
This is footnoted, because the Greek translation of the Old Testament which was popular in Jesus’ day, the Septuagint, doesn’t say “shall swear allegiance.” It says “every tongue shall confess to God.” So the Greek version of this says that to the Lord, YHWH, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess. But Paul says this is true of the Lord Jesus. Evidently the early Christians thought so too, since they sang a song about it.
If the early Christians believed Jesus to be God of very God, then surely something must’ve happened, very early, to make them think that. And Jesus claiming to be God is the best explanation of this. Most of these claims are found in the book of John:
18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled,[d] ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ 19 I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. (John 13:18-19)
Jesus is foretelling that someone will betray him. And he says it in advance, so that when it happens, they will believe that Jesus is “I am.” Remember “he” in “I am he” is not in the original language. In Greek, he is saying “ego eimi.”
But what does Isaiah 43:9-10 say in the Septuagint?
9 All the nations are gathered together, and princes shall be gathered out of them: who will declare these things? or who will declare to you things from the beginning? let them bring forth their witnesses, and be justified; and let them hear, and declare the truth.
10 Be ye my witnesses, and I too am a witness, saith the Lord God, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know, and believe, and understand that I am he: before me there was no other God, and after me there shall be none. (Isaiah 43:9-10 Brenton LXX)
The Greek version of this, the Septuagint, just says that “I am,” or “Ego eimi.”
Another famous one is John 8:58
58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
It’s often been said that Jesus is referring to Exodus 3:14 here:
14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”[a] And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
And God spoke to Moses, saying, I am THE BEING; and he said, Thus shall ye say to the children of Israel, THE BEING has sent me to you. (Exodus 3:14 Brenton LXX)
Here, God calls himself “I am who I am.” However, some scholars believe that there is a closer connection to this phrase to the “I am” statements in Isaiah.
Who has wrought and done these things? he has called it who called it from the generations of old; I God, ✡ the first and to all futurity, I AM. (Isaiah 41:4 Brenton LXX)
Be ye my witnesses, and I too am a witness, saith the Lord God, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know, and believe, and understand that I am he: before me there was no other God, and after me there shall be none. (Isaiah 43:10 Brenton LXX)
I am he; and until ye shall have grown old, I am he: I bear you, I have made, and I will *relieve, I will take up and save you. (Isaiah 46:4 Brenton LXX)
Behold, behold that I am he, and there is no god beside me: I kill, and I will make to live: I will smite, and I will heal; and there is none who shall deliver out of my hands. (Deuteronomy 32:39 Brenton LXX)