Did Jesus Christ Ever Specifically Claim He Was God?
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2005|
|One does not need to know Greek or Hebrew to determine who Jesus Christ claimed to be. He claimed to be God Himself. For example, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). His enemies certainly understood what He was claiming!|
How many men and women on earth realize that Jesus Christ is absolutely unique and absolutely original when compared to every other religious figure, prophet, or leader, who has ever lived? How do we know this? In this article we will tell you.
In order to answer the question of who Christ is, we will examine three areas: His claims, His character, and His works.
The Claims of Jesus
One does not need to know Greek or Hebrew to determine who Jesus Christ claimed to be. He claimed to be God Himself. Listen to the statements Jesus made and see if there is any doubt in your mind. He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
If your son or daughter walked into the kitchen one morning and said, “I am the light of the world!,” wouldn’t you think such a declaration was meant in jest? Sure you would. You would laugh and tell your kid to sit down and eat his breakfast. But what if he continued and said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Now what do you do? What if you understood your son to be claiming he actually had the power to bring you back to life and to enable you to live eternally? Wouldn’t you become concerned? Of course you would, because only God has such power and you already know your son or daughter isn’t God. But this is exactly what Jesus said to His hearers (John 11:25).
In fact, in these next statements, notice the emphasis Jesus put on the personal pronouns. He continuously referred men to Himself. He declared, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). He urged, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). He told startled people, “Abraham rejoiced to see My day and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). He said Moses had written about Him and, incredibly, that the remainder of the entire Old Testament bore witness to Him (John 6:46-47, Luke 24:27, 44).
Jesus also said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matt. 22:37-38). Yet He commanded men to love Him in exactly the same way they were to love God. For example, He taught that if a man loved his father or mother or son or daughter more than Him that he could not come and follow Him and be His disciple (Matt. 10:37, cf. John 14:15, 21). He taught that men were to love Him by keeping His commandments just as they loved God by keeping God’s commandments (John 7:16; 14:15, 23-24). Jesus taught that God the Holy Spirit was to bear witness of Him and to glorify Him (John 16:14). He said that when He would be lifted up from the earth—on the cross— that He would draw all men to Himself (John 12:32). He even claimed that He would be the One to send the Holy Spirit (John 15:26).
Jesus said that to know Him was to know God (John 14:7); to see Him was to see God (John 8:19; 14:7); to believe in Him was to believe in God (John 12:44- 45; 14:1); to receive Him was to receive God (Matt. 10:40); to hate Him was to hate God (John 15:23); to honor Him was to honor God (John 5:23). Thus, to deny Him was to deny God (1 John 2:23).
In Mark 2:5-7 Jesus actually claimed He could forgive men’s sins. The religious leaders responded in outrage: “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” More startlingly, in John 11:25-26 He said He could give all men eternal life. In John 5:25-29 and Matthew 25:31-46 He taught that He was coming back at the end of the age and that He alone would sit down and judge the entire world. He would personally raise all the dead and all the nations would be gathered before Him. He would sit on His throne in glory and He would judge and separate men one from another as a shepherd separates his sheep from his goats.
In addition, Jesus actually taught men’s eternal destiny would depend on how they treated Him. He said, “If you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins” (John 8:24). In other words, for a man to be excluded from heaven on the day of judgment all he would have to do is to not have believed in Jesus. On that day Jesus would say, “I never knew you,” and “depart from me…into the eternal fire” (Matt. 7:23; 25:41).
But there is much more. Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). The word “one” in the Greek (hen), according to Greek authority A. T. Robertson, means not just one in the sense of agreement, but that He and God are one essence of being.
In John 10:32 Jesus was about to be stoned for His claims. He asked, “I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?” (John 10:32) And they said, “…because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God” (John 10:33).
In John 5:18 Jesus called God His very own Father. The religious leaders understood the implications of this and “tried all the harder to kill him” because “he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”
The Character of Jesus
But in addition to His claims, what was His character like? Isn’t it interesting that many scholars and skeptics think that Jesus was the humblest, most loving person who ever lived? Some say that Jesus gave us the greatest example ever of a man serving fellow man.
In the Gospels we find common people loved him, too. Even the tax-gatherers and sinners invited Jesus to dine with them. And He gladly accepted their invitation. Yet this man who claimed to be the God of the universe washed the feet of the disciples on the eve of His own crucifixion. What do we do with such a man? His personality was absolutely unique.
In fact, Jesus never did anything wrong. He even challenged His enemies by saying, “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me?” (John 8:46). Would you ever say something like that to your closest friends, let alone your enemies?
From Jesus’s own teachings we pick up the fact that He knew He was different from us. He said, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world” (John 8:23). He said, “I have come down from heaven” (John 6:38). He taught that all other men were sinners (John 15:19). He alone was sinless. Peter described him, “As a lamb without blemish or spot, one who committed no sin and no guile was found on his lips” (1 Pet. 1:19; 2:22). John said of Him, “…and in Him is no sin” (1 John 3:5). All other men were like lost sheep. He had come as the good shepherd to seek and to save them (John 10:1-18). All other men were sick with the disease of sin. He, alone, was the divine physician who had come to heal them (Matt. 9:12; Luke 5:31). All other men were plunged into the moral darkness of this world (John 3:19-20). Yet he was the light of the world (John 8:12). All other men were spiritually dead. He was the bread of life (John 6:48). He, alone, could be their life now and their resurrection hereafter (John 11:24-25).
The Works of Jesus
Now, let’s look at the works Jesus did. Anybody can claim to be God, but if they persist in their delusion, they will probably be institutionalized. But Jesus claimed to be God and actually convinced others it was true. In fact, throughout history the evidence He gave has persuaded millions. What proof did Jesus give that He was God? First, He did miracles no one else ever did. For example, He raised the dead on several occasions in front of many witnesses (e.g., John 11:38-44). Who else in human history ever did this? Second, in the Gospel accounts we find Jesus saying over and over again that He would go to Jerusalem, be murdered on a cross by the authorities, and three days later, He would rise from the dead. He did not merely claim that God would raise Him from the dead; He declared He would raise Himself from the dead (John 2:19-21). No one in history ever made such predictions and fulfilled them.
It is a historical fact that Jesus was crucified. He was nailed to a cross (a spear was even put through His side) and He was pronounced dead by a Roman centurion. Everyone present saw Him die. He was put into a tomb whose location was well known. Expertly trained guards were placed at the sealed tomb to make certain no one could steal the body (Matt. 27:64-66).
But three days later, something incredible happened. So incredible it has perplexed secular historians and has even converted skeptics. The tomb was found empty and the disciples—who didn’t expect a resurrection—were found standing in the very city that had witnessed Jesus’ murder claiming, “Jesus is alive” and “we have seen Him!”
How could the disciples get away with saying the tomb was empty and that they had seen Jesus in Jerusalem? This would have been the worst place to preach if their claims were false. It would have been ridiculous for the apostles to be proclaiming the Resurrection when just a short distance away anybody could check the tomb to see if Jesus’ body was still lying in the grave.
But everyone knew that even the enemies of Jesus, who undoubtedly made a thorough search, could not produce His body. And all the evidence pointed to His resurrection. As a result, more than three thousand Jews believed what the disciples now proclaimed! More amazing still, even “a large number of Jewish priests” believed (Acts 6:7).
No skeptic has ever claimed that Jesus’ body was still in the grave at the very time the apostles were saying they had seen Jesus alive. All agree the tomb was empty. The question that must be answered then is this, “What happened to the body?”
If you think about it, there were only three parties who had any interest in the tomb and the body of Jesus. They were the disciples, the government and the religious leaders. We know that the disciples were cowards and had fled. They never expected Jesus to rise, so they would never have stolen the body to make it appear as if He did.
How about the government? Would Pilate have wanted to steal the body of Jesus? To what purpose? Pilate wanted Him to remain in the tomb. That’s why he sealed the tomb and put a guard there.
What about the Jewish leaders? They, for sure, wanted Jesus’ body to remain in the grave. They were the ones who had asked the government to put the soldiers there. They had no motive to steal the body from the tomb, and every reason to keep it under lock and key in the grave. The last thing they wanted was more trouble from Jesus or His followers. So, if no one had a motive or interest in stealing the body, then what happened to the body?
What changed the apostles from cowards and skeptics into courageous preachers? Tradition tells us that all but one of the apostles was eventually martyred for what he believed. What reason did the apostles give for being willing to die for their beliefs? The disciples said that what changed them was the fact that they had all personally seen Jesus alive after His crucifixion and death.
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul recorded that 500 people saw Jesus alive at the same time. He concluded by pointing out that many of those same people were still alive and could testify to the fact that they had seen Jesus. In addition, Paul claims he personally had witnessed the resurrected Jesus (1 Cor. 15:6). The women as a group also saw Jesus, and the apostles themselves also as a group saw Jesus on at least three separate occasions.
Some people picture that these folks were sitting in a dark room with a small candle burning when suddenly the wind blew out the candle and they all saw Jesus. Anyone would doubt such a scenario. But the historical accounts say the disciples saw Jesus at the Sea of Galilee in the bright morning sun. They could touch Him physically and see it was really Him. Others met Jesus on a busy road where He walked several miles with them, conversing on various subjects. Others saw Him in a crowded room. Some ate dinner with Him. Jesus’ many appearances occurred over a period of 40 days.
The historical credibility and accuracy of these accounts leave us no options. As one critic has said, “It will take far more faith to believe any other theory than what the disciples actually said.” The truth is that virtually every historic fact points to the legitimacy of Christ’s Resurrection from the dead. Indeed, the evidence for it is so strong it would stand cross-examination in a modern court of law.
In all human history, Jesus is the only religious leader who has ever given us proof that He could conquer death. So what will you do with Jesus? God “has set a date when He will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).
- See John Ankerberg, John Weldon, The Facts on Jesus the Messiah (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1993).
- A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1932), Vol. 5, 186.
- Ankerberg and Weldon, Do the Resurrection Accounts Conflict? 154–80.
- Ibid., 107–185.
- Ibid., 18–29, 139.
- Ibid., 170–73.