Christians have always maintained that Jesus is God: fully human, and fully divine. But some have suggested that Jesus never claimed to be God — that Christians misunderstood Jesus and invented this idea after the fact.
Is that true?
The answer to this is clear: the Jesus we meet in the pages of the New Testament is fully convinced that he is God — one in being with Yahweh. Let’s take a fast-paced tour through the gospel passages where this is evident.
In Mark 2:1-12 (and also in Matthew 9:1-8 and Luke 5:17-26), a paralysed man is brought to Jesus. Jesus surprises the gathered crowds — and the man — by seemingly ignoring his physical condition and declaring the man’s sins forgiven.
The scribes and Pharisees are deeply upset at these ‘blasphemies’, asking, “Who can forgive sins but God only?” They are right. Jesus does not challenge their logic: in fact, he immediately heals the man, and he offers this to the Pharisees as proof that “the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins”. The crowd’s response says it all: “They were all amazed, and glorified God, saying, ‘We never saw it on this fashion’.”
In Mark 10:17-18, a rich man comes running to Jesus, kneeling at his feet. He asks, “Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ response is startling: he asks the man why he called Jesus ‘good’ — and clarifies that “There is none good but one, that is, God.”
If we look at this passage on its own, it might seem that Jesus is distancing himself from God. But the Scriptures are emphatic that Jesus is good; that he is flawless and morally perfect (2 Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 4:15, Hebrews 7:26, Hebrews 9:14, 1 Peter 1:19, 1 Peter 2:22, 1 John 3:5). So in fact, here Jesus is claiming to be God — he is effectively asking the rich man, “Do you realise who you’re talking to?” Indeed, either Jesus is just a sinful human like the rest of us, or he is divine.
In Mark 14:53-64, before his crucifixion, Jesus is led away to the high priest, who asks him, “Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus answers with the words ‘I AM’ (έγώ είμι) — echoing Exodus 3:13-14 where God calls himself the ‘I AM’. Jesus continues: “And ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”
Even if we might miss this reference to the Messianic prophecy about the ‘Son of Man’ in Daniel 7:13-14, it doesn’t slip past the high priest. In an outrage, the high priest tears his clothes and says, “What need we any further witnesses? Ye have heard the blasphemy.” And the religious leaders gathered around condemn Jesus as guilty and deserving of death.
In John 3:31-34, Jesus speaks candidly about his own identity. He claims to have been sent by God and given the Spirit without measure. But in verse 31, he says something even more curious: “He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all.” Jesus is referring to himself. Clearly, Jesus sees himself as divine: what else can “from heaven” and “above all” mean?
In John 5:17-23, Jesus makes another grand assertion: “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work”. In other words, he is suggesting that the Father’s work and his is one and the same. Immediately following this, we read that the Jews sought to kill Jesus for “making himself equal with God”. If this was some kind of misunderstanding, Jesus could have cleared it up. Instead, he doubles down, insisting that “All men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father.”
In the quintessential passage on Jesus’ identity, John 8:12-59, a long exchange takes place between Jesus and the Pharisees. Once again, Jesus is identifying with God, and the Pharisees are challenging this claim. “If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also,” Jesus tells them. “Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world.”
This is not well received by the Pharisees, who grow even angrier when Jesus declares that anyone who believes in him will live eternally. “Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead?” they challenge him. Jesus’ reply is stunning: “Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he was glad… Before Abraham was, I AM.”
As we have seen, ‘I AM’ (έγώ είμι) is an unmistakable reference to the voice of God in the burning bush. And once again — in case we have missed the reference — the Pharisees come to our rescue: “They took up stones to cast at him.”
In John 10:22-39, a similar exchange takes place. Jesus boldly asserts, “I and my Father are one” — and once more, we read that “the Jews took up stones again to stone him”. They accuse Jesus of blasphemy, saying, “Thou, being a man, makest thyself God.”
In his defence, Jesus quotes a phrase from Psalm 82:6 — ‘ye are gods’. He reasons that if those who merely received God’s Word by revelation are called ‘gods’ in that Psalm, how much more can that title apply to the ‘Son of God’ — he “whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world”? Again, we know this is indeed a claim to divinity because directly afterwards, “they sought again to take [Jesus]: but he escaped out of their hand”.
In John 14:1-11, Jesus makes a series of audacious statements about his divinity. First, he commands us to believe in him in the same way that we believe in God: “Ye believe in God, believe also in me.” Then he says, “If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also.” If this weren’t enough, he claims that, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father,” and “I am in the Father, and the Father is in me.” Jesus couldn’t be clearer about how he wanted to be understood.
In John 16:28, in another discourse on his identity, Jesus explains to his disciples that, “I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father.”
In John 17:1-5, in Jesus’ prayer to the Father, we read this incredible statement: “Thou [God] hast given him [Jesus, referring to himself] power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.” Giving eternal life is surely a role only God could perform — unless, of course, Jesus is God.
Several verses on, Jesus prays, “O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” In all of Scripture, Jesus alone claims to have existed long before his own birth, before the creation of the world — and claims to share the glory of the Father. How else can these verses be understood?
In John 18:1-6, we have still more evidence of Jesus’ identity. Judas brings a band of officers to arrest Jesus, and Jesus asks them who they are seeking. They answer him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus’ responds with those now-familiar words: “I AM he.” (έγώ είμι). So that the force of Jesus’ answer is not lost on us, John tells us that, “As soon then as [Jesus] had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground.”
‘I AM’ (έγώ είμι) stands as a marker in John’s gospel, pointing us continually to the identity of Jesus. In fact, many commentators suggest that the gospel of John is structured around seven discourses, seven miracles, and seven ‘I AM’ statements, all of which speak to Jesus’ divine attributes and identity:
- “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” — John 6:35
- “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” — John 8:12
- “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.” — John 10:9
- “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” — John 10:11
- “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” — John 11:25
- “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” — John 14:6
- “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.” — John 15:1
Consider two final lines of evidence that Jesus understood himself — and wanted others to accept him as — part of a plural Godhead. The first is that Jesus accepts worship. Throughout Scripture, men and angels reject worship, and when King Herod fails to do so, God strikes him down. But Jesus is different: he happily receives worship from people on multiple occasions.
The second is more subtle, but no less significant. In the Old Testament, when people speak on behalf of God, they are careful to qualify their words with an introduction such as, “The word of the Lord came to me…” New Testament authors are likewise diligent in pointing to Scripture as their authority with such phrases as, “For it is written…”
Jesus, however, appeals to no authority. How did he begin his teachings? “For I say unto you…”
This phrase appears 55 times in the gospel of Matthew alone. And the people listening to Jesus recognise his authority and the truth in his words. As Matthew tells us at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, the people are astonished — “For he taught them as one having authority.” (Matthew 7:28-29). And let us not forget Jesus’ mighty declaration that “Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.” (Mark 13:31).
Did Jesus claim to be God? He couldn’t have been clearer about this fact.