In our last study, we saw that the Apostle Paul’s teaching about the Deity of Jesus Christ never changed during his lengthy ministry. Paul believed and taught that Jesus is God. Now, to what may be the biggest issue facing Christians defending the Faith. Did Jesus claim to be God? Atheists and agnostics, cultists and liberals say that Jesus never claimed to be God – that the doctrine of Deity surrounding Christ was something His followers made up to make the Gospel more appealing to the superstitious masses of the 1st Century. Is that true?
Quick answer – no. Jesus knew He is God and taught His followers and others that He is God. It’s a simple truth, but one that has caused considerable problems for theologians through the centuries. Let’s look for the evidence in the words of Jesus.
Jesus was raised in a Jewish home. He grew up in a Jewish village. He attended a Jewish synagogue. Jesus knew the Hebrew language. He knew the Hebrew Bible. He knew Jewish history. He knew Jewish prophecy concerning the coming of Messiah. He knew what Jews would understand about words and phrases He used during His Ministry on earth. Jesus knew what He was doing when He claimed to be Deity.
Jesus did not ease into His claims to being God. He didn’t develop a good rapport with everyone around Him and slowly drop hints that maybe He was different from everyone else, and maybe, just maybe He was God.
After revealing Himself to John the Baptist, Jesus went into the wilderness for the express purpose of being tested by the devil (Matthew 4:1). Jesus fasted 40 days and nights and was hungry, then Satan came to Him. In each test (Greek – ekpeirazo – an intensive form of peirazo, meaning to test, try, prove), Jesus answered the devil from words in the Hebrew Bible. Here is the exchange from the second test of Satan.
“Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ Jesus said to him, ‘It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God.” Matthew 4:5-7
Who was Satan testing? Jesus. Who did Jesus tell Satan not to test? The Lord your God. What Hebrew reference did Jesus quote in answering Satan? Deuteronomy 6:16 – “You shall not tempt the LORD your God as you tempted Him in Massah.” The context is Moses speaking to the people of Israel in the wilderness about the commandments God had given them. They were to obey God and not go after other gods. Massah is the name Moses gave to the place where the children of Israel tested God by asking, “Is the LORD among us or not?” (Exodus 17:7). Of course God was with His people. That’s why Moses reminded Israel of the lesson of Massah. That is why Jesus chose that Scripture to answer Satan. Jesus is the Lord God and He was with His people, Israel.
After Satan left, angels did attend to the physical needs of Jesus (Matthew 4:11). Then, Jesus went into Galilee and began preaching a message that was similar to the message of John the Baptist – “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) Jesus called several men to follow Him and become His disciples. One of them was Philip. Philip was excited to become a follower of Jesus and told his friend Nathanael about Him. “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” (John 1:45) Nathanael was a bit surprised and said – “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip responded well to his friend – “Come and see.”
Jesus spoke first as He saw Nathanael and Philip walking toward Him – “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!” (John 1:47) Nathanael’s response to Jesus was certainly understandable given the fact he and Jesus had never met – “How do You know me?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’ Nathanael answered and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.’ And He said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” John 1:48-51
This exchange between Jesus and Nathanael is powerful on many levels – one of which is Jesus’ claim to be God at the beginning of His preaching ministry. Nathanael recognized that Jesus was the Son of God and King of Israel. He knew from his training in the Hebrew Scriptures that Jesus was the promised Messiah of Israel. Jesus took Nathanael to another level – “you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” What Jesus said about Himself at that moment was nothing less than the claim to be Deity. We’ll see why in our next study.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
Building Confidence Through Evidence
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”