People are confused about who Jesus is. Many people believe that Jesus was merely a wise teacher – maybe even the wisest of teachers. Some Christians even believe this to be true.
But what does the Bible say? Who did Jesus say he was? This is the topic of this post.
Who Is the Real Jesus?
Other religions try to hijack Jesus. What do I mean by that? They speak of him in their holy books and stake a claim on who he is and what his purpose was. They don’t believe in the real Jesus, but by disseminating their ideas about him – ideas of a false Jesus – people become confused about who Jesus really is. They don’t often go to the source, the Bible (written by people who knew Jesus) and they have no idea who Jesus claims to be.
Some people, who believe that Jesus never claimed to be God, have challenged me to find where he made this claim in the Bible.
I have written another post called 7 Reasons to Believe in Jesus that talks about other kinds of evidence for believing in Jesus, particularly that he is the Son of God, but the purpose of this post is to uncover who Jesus, himself, said that he was.
Jesus’ Claims to Deity
Jesus claimed deity, to be God himself, in several different ways:
1. Jesus Referred to Himself as the Son of Man
Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man sixty-nine times in the New Testament. The term “Son of Man” is straight from the Minor Prophets (the prophetic books of the Bible) and the book of Daniel, which is used to refer to God Incarnate – God in human form who is given the authority to rule over all nations for all of eternity (Daniel 7:13-14).
In Daniel 7, the passage makes a distinction between Ancient of Days and Son of Man. This distinction supports the idea that the Ancient of Days is God the Father, and the Son of Man is God the Son – the first and second persons of the Trinity. Daniel describes a future reality when a human reign will be taken over by a divine reign in which the Son of Man succeeds in this final reign.
Luke 5:24 says, ‘“But I want you to know that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”’ (NIV)
Mark 14:62 says ‘”I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”’ (NIV)
2. Jesus Made Several Profound “I AM” Statements
The term I AM referring to God appears over 300 times in the Bible. In Exodus 3:14, when Moses asked God who he should say sent him, God told Moses ‘I AM WHO I AM’.
When God revealed himself to the patriarchs of the Old Testament, it was often associated with a newly revealed name or title for God. This title, revealed to Moses, said something very important about God – that he has no equal. God simply is – there was never a time that God did not exist, or a time when he will cease to exist. God is unchanging. It tells us that God is completely independent; that he doesn’t rely on anything for life or existence (John 5:26).
I AM is the divine title that Jesus took upon himself – clearly identifying himself with the God that spoke to Moses, the One and Only true God.
The book of John recorded Jesus make 7 I AM statements:
- John 8:24 – “That is why I said that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I AM who I claim to be, you will die in your sins.” (NLT)
- John 8:28 – ‘So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man on the cross, then you will understand d that I AM he.”’ (NLT)
- John 8:58 – ‘Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I AM!”’ (NLT)
- John 13:19 – “I tell you now before it happens, so that when it does happens you will believe that I AM WHO I AM” (NIV)
- John 18:4-6 – ‘Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”. “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.” (NIV). Jesus referred to himself as I AM again in verse 8.
3. Jesus Understood Himself to be the Son of God, Expressed in a Parable
In Mark 12:1-8, Jesus tells the parable of the wicked tenants of the vineyard.
In this parable, a landlord planted a vineyard, rented it to tenant farmers and moved to another place. At harvest time, the absentee landlord sent one of his servant to collect some of the harvest, but the tenants seized him, beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. The landlord then sent servant after servant, and each one was either beaten or even killed.
The Landlord had one person left to send – a son whom he loved. He sent him thinking they would respect his son, but the tenants took him, killed him, and threw him out into the vineyard, hoping to take his inheritance.
Jesus then reminded the chief priests and teachers of the Scripture that said, ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’ (Psalms 12:11; 118:22-23).
This angered the chief priests, and they looked for a way to arrest him because they knew the truths that Jesus was claiming.
The absentee landlord is God, the servants being sent out were the prophets of the Old Testament, and the son sent at the end, is the one and only Son of God – Jesus. The tenants represent the people of Israel. Jesus is the One and Only Son of the Father sent out as the final messenger and Savior.
4. Jesus Directly Claimed to be the Son of God
Not only is there evidence that Jesus understood that he was the Son of God, but Jesus also declared himself to be the Son of God. Here is one such passage:
Matthew 11:27 says, “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (NIV)
Since Jesus was referring to himself as the Son, this is another self-focused statement from Jesus. He was proclaiming that only he had a true relationship with God the Father, and that God the Father could only be known through him, the Son.
There is an important difference between the way that we know God the Father, and the way that Jesus knows him. We know God the Father because he stoops low to make himself known to us. God the Son and God the Father, however, are one – completely equal in nature.
Jesus also tells us that no one can truly know God unless he chooses to reveal him to us. Jesus was claiming to be the absolute revelation of God – the Son of God.
A Common Criticism
A common argument people raise against these passages as proof that Jesus claimed to be God, is the fact that Jesus used symbolic titles for God such as Son of Man and I AM. These titles may not be immediately clear to the modern reader, however it was unquestionably evident to the Israelites, who wanted to kill him because of this claim.
In addition, Jesus followers knew with absolute certainty who Jesus claimed to be, and it was this claim that they believed and followed, even to their deaths.
Jesus claim to deity becomes absolute clear when you read the Bible, verse after verse – far more verses than I’ve listed in this post. You will recognize that Jesus understood himself to be the Son of God and made the declaration that he was God.
C.S. Lewis accurately said,
“A man who was merely a man and said the sorts of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he is 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 at his feet 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.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity).
On Guard by William Lane Craig. Dr. Craig offers this rich training manual for defending the Christian faith. This book will help Christians stand their ground and defend their faith with reason and precision. You will not only discover what Christians believe, but why we believe it. Being on guard with the truth has the power to change lives forever.