Questions about Jesus Christ: Who Was Jesus?

 

The Nicene Creed (a.d. 325) states the uniform belief of all orthodox Christianity that Christ was fully God and fully Man. All heresies regarding Christ deny one or the other of these. This portion of the chapter will show that Jesus was fully human, claimed to be God, and offered more than adequate evidence to support that claim.

His Humanity

While some have insisted that Jesus was only a man, others have said that He only appeared to be human. In reality, they say, He was a phantom—an apparition with no physical substance—pure Spirit with the illusion of material form. This doctrine is called Docetism. If this is so, then Christ was not really tempted as we are and did not really die because a spirit can do neither of these things. Hence, He was not really “one of us” and cannot be our substitute in atoning for our sins. Also, His resurrection was nothing more than a return to His natural state, and it has no implications for us as to our future. Because of this teaching that Christ’s feet never quite touched the ground, it is necessary to show that Jesus was fully human.

His development

Jesus went through all the normal processes of human development. He was conceived in His mother’s womb by the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:18, 20; Luke 1:34–35). He was born of a woman who had carried Him to full term (2:6–7). He grew up as a normal Boy, developing physically, mentally, and emotionally (v. 40–52). He aged so that while He was in His early thirties the crowd in Jerusalem said, “You are not yet fifty years old” (John 8:57).

His affections

Jesus displayed all of the traits of humanity in His needs. Physically, He hungered (Matt. 4:2), thirsted (John 19:28), became tired (Mark 4:38), and breathed (Luke 23:46) as a human. Emotionally, He expressed sorrow (Matt. 26:38), wonder (Mark 6:6), anger and grief (3:5), and compassion (1:41). He was also tempted to sin, though He did not yield to the temptation (Matt. 4:1–11; Mark 1:12–13; Luke 4:1–13; Heb. 2:18; 4:15). The shortest verse in the Bible speaks profoundly of Jesus’ humanity in His inner life: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).

His death

There is nothing more opposed to the divine nature than death, yet Jesus died a human death. It was witnessed by many people, including John, a small group of women followers, the soldiers, and the mocking crowd (Luke 23:48–49; John 19:25–27). His death was also confirmed by professional executioners of Rome (vv. 32–34). He was buried in accordance with the customs of the time and set in a grave (vv. 38–41). You can’t get more human than that!

His Deity

Jesus made numerous claims to be God. We will examine these claims and the evidence that He gave to support them.

Who did Jesus claim to be?

Claim to be Jehovah (Yahweh)

Jehovah or, more properly, Yahweh is the special name given by God for Himself. In the Hebrew Old Testament, it is written simply as four letters (YHWH) and was considered so holy that a devout Jew would not pronounce it. Those who wrote it would perform a special ceremony first. It is the name revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14, when God said, “I AM WHO I AM,” and the meaning of the name has to do with God’s self-existence. While other titles for God may be used of men (adonai in Gen. 18:12) or false gods (elohim in Deut. 6:14), Yahweh is only used to refer to the one true God. Nothing else was to be worshiped or served (Ex. 20:5), and His name and glory were not to be given to another. Isaiah wrote, “Thus saith [Yahweh] … I am the first, and I am the last; and beside Me there is no God” (44:6, kjv) and, “I am [Yahweh], that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another, neither My praise to graven images” (42:8, kjv).

In light of this, it is no wonder that the Jews picked up stones and accused Jesus of blasphemy when He claimed to be Jehovah. Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11), but the Old Testament said, “[Yahweh] is my shepherd” (Ps. 23:1). Jesus claimed to be the judge of all men (Matt. 25:31ff; John 5:27ff), but the Prophet Joel quotes Yahweh as saying, “For there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations” (Joel 3:12). Jesus prayed, “Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine own Self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was” (John 17:5, kjv). But Yahweh of the Old Testament said, “I will not give My glory to another” (Isa. 42:8). Likewise, Jesus spoke of Himself as the “Bridegroom” (Matt. 25:1) while the Old Testament identifies Yahweh in this way (Isa. 62:5; Hosea 2:16). The risen Christ says, “I am the first and the last” (Rev. 1:17)—precisely the words used by Yahweh in Isaiah 42:8. While the psalmist declares, “[Yahweh] is my light” (Ps. 27:1), Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). Perhaps the strongest claim Jesus made to be Yahweh is in verse 58, where He says, “Before Abraham was born, I AM.” This statement claims not only existence before Abraham, but equality with the “I AM” of Exodus 3:14. The Jews around Him clearly understood His meaning and picked up stones to kill Him for blaspheming (cf. John 8:58; 10:31–33). The same claim is made in Mark 14:62 and John 18:5–6.

Overview of Jesus’ Claims

To be Yahweh—John 8:58

Equality with God—John 5:18

To be Messiah—Mark 14:61–64

Accepts worship—Matthew 28:17

Equal authority with God—Matthew 28:18

Prayer in His name—John 14:13–14

Claim to be equal with God

Jesus claimed to be equal with God in other ways too. He not only assumed the titles of Deity, but claimed for Himself the prerogatives of God. He said to a paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5ff). The scribes correctly responded, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” So, to prove that His claim was not an empty boast He healed the man, offering direct proof that what He had said about forgiving sins was true also.

Another prerogative that Jesus claimed was the power to raise and judge the dead: “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear shall live … and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds, to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment” (John 5:25–29). He removed all doubt about His meaning when He added, “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes” (v. 21). But the Old Testament clearly taught that only God was the giver of life (1 Sam. 2:6; Deut. 32:39); the One to raise the dead (1 Sam. 2:6; Ps. 49:15) and the only Judge (Joel 3:12; Deut. 32:35). Jesus boldly assumed for Himself powers that only God has.

But Jesus also claimed that He should be honored as God. He said that all men should “honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father” (John 5:23). The Jews listening knew that no one should claim to be equal with God in this way, and again they sought to kill Him (v. 18).

What Is Messiah?

The word Messiah comes from the Hebrew word meaning “Anointed One.” In a general sense, the word is used of Cyrus the Persian (Isa. 45:1) and the king of Israel (1 Sam. 26:11). After the death of David, Israel began looking for a king like him because of the promise of 2 Samuel 7:12–16. But prophecies of a coming Saviour/Prophet/King go back as far as Genesis 3:15 and Deuteronomy 18. Many passages describe the coming King. He is said to be of David’s seed (Jer. 33), and born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). His acts are to include making the blind see, releasing captives, and proclaiming the Gospel (Isa. 61:1). His kingdom is described in Zechariah 9 and 12. In the period between the Testaments, two ideas of Messiah arose: one political, one spiritual. Both were expected to be found in the same Person.

Claim to be Messiah-God

The teaching of the Old Testament is clear that the coming Messiah who would deliver Israel would be God Himself. When Jesus claimed to be that Messiah, He was also claiming to be God. For example, the famous Christmas text (Isa. 9:6) calls the Messiah, “Mighty God, the everlasting Father.” The psalmist wrote of Messiah, “Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever” (Ps. 45:6; cf. Heb. 1:8). Psalm 110:1 records a conversation between the Father and the Son: “[Yahweh] says to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand.’ ” Jesus applied this passage to Himself in Matthew 22:43–44. In the great messianic prophecy of Daniel 7, the Son of man is called the “Ancient of Days” (v. 22), a phrase used twice in the same passage of God the Father (vv. 9, 13). Throughout His ministry, the title Son of man was Jesus’ favorite way of referring to Himself, making clear illusion to this passage. But Jesus also quoted it directly at His trial before the high priest. When asked, “Are You the Christ [Greek for Messiah], the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus responded, “I am; and you shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” At this, the high priest tore his robe and said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy!” (Mark 14:61–64) There was no doubt that in claiming to be Messiah, Jesus also claimed to be God.

Claim by accepting worship

The Old Testament forbids worshiping anyone other than God (Ex. 20:1–5; Deut. 5:6–9). The New Testament agrees, showing that men refused worship (Acts 14:15) as did angels (Rev. 22:8–9). But Jesus accepted worship on numerous occasions. A healed leper worshiped Him (Matt. 8:2), and a ruler knelt before Him with a request (9:18). After He stilled the storm, “those who were in the boat worshiped Him saying, ‘Truly You are the Son of God’ ” (14:33, niv). A group of Canaanite women (15:25), the mother of James and John (20:20), the Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5:6), all worshiped Jesus without one word of rebuke (cf. Rev. 22:8–9). A blind man said, “ ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshiped Him” (John 9:38). But Christ also elicited worship in some cases, as when Thomas saw the risen Christ and cried out, “My Lord and my God!” (20:28) This could only be done by a Person who seriously considered Himself to be God.

Claim to equal authority with God

Jesus also put His words on a par with God’s. “You have heard that the ancients were told.… But I say to you” (Matt. 5:21–22) is repeated over and over again. “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (28:18–19). God had given the Ten Commandments to Moses, but Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another” (John 13:34). Jesus said, “Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law” (Matt. 5:18), but later Jesus said of His own words, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away” (24:35). Speaking of those who reject Him, Jesus said, “The word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day” (John 12:48). There is no question that Jesus expected His words to have equal authority with God’s declarations in the Old Testament.

Claim by requesting prayer in His name

Jesus not only asked men to believe in Him and obey His commandments, but also He asked them to pray in His name. “Whatever you ask in My name, that I will do.… If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:13–14). “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you” (15:7). Jesus even insisted, “No one comes to the Father, but through Me” (14:6). In response to this the disciples not only prayed in Jesus’ name (1 Cor. 5:4), but prayed to Christ (Acts 7:59). Jesus certainly intended that His name be invoked both before God and as God in prayer.

So Jesus claimed to be God in several ways. He claimed equality with God in prerogatives, honor, worship, and authority. He claimed to be Yahweh of the Old Testament by applying truths about Yahweh to Himself and by claiming to be the promised Messiah. Finally, He claimed to be the only way to approach God in prayer and requested prayer to Himself as God. The reactions of the Jews around Him show that they clearly understood these things to be blasphemous claims for a mere man to make. Any unbiased observer studying this historically reliable record of Jesus’ teaching must agree that He claimed to be equal with Yahweh of the Old Testament.[1]


[1] Geisler, N. L., & Brooks, R. M. (1990). When skeptics ask (pp. 103–110). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

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