The identity of Jesus is the central question of all time. On it, hinges the salvation of all men and the fate of the world. But reason tells us He cannot just be a good teacher. Here’s the claim in Christ’s own words. “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18)
“BUT WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM ?”
Despite what the skeptics may claim, Jesus was not ambiguous about just who He claimed to be. Let’s get right to the point and begin with his most direct assertions of divinity. Going back to Exodus God gives His own name as “I AM WHO I AM.” (It is from the Hebrew pronunciation of this name that we get the word Yaweh, the Hebrew term for Lord.) This is the holy name of God. Isaiah 43:11 identifies that name with the Savior. “I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior.” Now Jesus referred to himself in those very words on several occasions. In John 8:58 he is facing a crowd of unbelieving Jews. “ I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born I am.” The crowd understood what he was saying. The use of that term angered them so much that they wanted to stone him. Later John tells us of Christ’s use of the term when he is betrayed and the mob comes to seize him. “I am he,” he declares and the crowd is knocked to the ground by just the power inherent in that statement when expressed by the Son of God. Apparent in the meaning of the term, “I Am,” is the notion of the eternal. That is the intended sense of the term. Again in John we find Christ’s personal confirmation of his claim. “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had before the world began.” He is declaring not only his glory, but also the eternal nature of that glory.
Other assertions of his divinity were laid out in a series of statements in which he assumed the prerogatives of God as laid out in the ancient Scriptures. As far back as Genesis 2:7 it was declared that God was the giver of life. There it was written that it was the “breath of the Lord”, that made man a living being. We find in John 5:21 Jesus’ clear assertion of this power when he states, “…even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.” Later he states that “eternal life” comes from him, and positively affirms “I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 10:28 & 11:25) He also held that he could exercise the godly prerogative to forgive sins. He told a paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” And to answer the objections of the rabbis and establish that prerogative he continued, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” He said to the paralytic, “I tell you, get up, take up your mat and go home.” Even in his assertions of divine authority he was not unaware of the difficulty of belief and provided evidence of his authority.
Other examples abound. In Matthew he spoke of his coming judgement of the nations referred to by the prophet Joel. John 5:27 justifies that claim stating that he was given that “authority to judge because he was the Son of Man.” Elsewhere in John’s account we find that Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd”, and “I am the light of the world,” (John10:11 & 8:12), both referring back to Old Testament passages. The claims of some critics that Jesus was just a great moral teacher but did not see himself as the Son of God are sheer nonsense. As we have seen above, the Gospels were written during the lifetimes of many witnesses to the events described in them. There was no chance for mythmaking. Jesus clearly felt he was, and claimed to be the Messiah, the Son of God. No ‘great moral teacher’ could make such a claim if it were not so. Such a lie would automatically disqualify him as a ‘great moral teacher.’ Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) He is saying, all access to the Father must come through him. The aggregate significance of all these claims taken together is weighty indeed. He was the forgiver of sins, the giver of life, the judge of all the nations, the light of the world, existent for all eternity. If he were wrong about any of these things he would be either hopelessly deluded or a deliberate liar. In either case, not the mettle of some great moral teacher. But he was no liar. He followed those convictions to death.
Looking at the evidence it can be confidently said that Jesus truly believed himself to be the Messiah, the Son of God. But hat of those who knew him the best? Peter, when asked by Jesus, “Who do you say I am?” replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:15-16) No more straightforward answer could be forthcoming. Thomas, seeing him for the first time after his Resurrection called him “My Lord and my God.” (John 20:28) These were no mere words. Both of these apostles paid with their lives for holding to those beliefs. John‟s testimony can be found throughout the Gospel he authored. Paul converted from one whose overriding aim was the persecution of members of the new Christian sect to one who would eventually give his life for the faith. The author of Hebrews called Jesus the “…radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Hebrews 1:3) The Apostles who had lived with him side by side during his lifetime all worshipped him as God, eventually giving their lives for the cause. In Matthew 14:22-32, we have the story of Jesus walking on the water and calming the storm. At the conclusion of that account we are told of Jesus’ companions, “Then those who were in the boat worshipped him saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’”
But it was not just the apostles that bore witness to his divinity. Many of those who saw him preach or felt his healing touch also paid him homage. It would have been anathema for any Jew steeped in the Shema to have worshipped any but the One True God. Yet many saw Jesus as a member of that Godhead and did give him worship. (Significant too, is the fact that unlike his disciples, Jesus accepted it.) It began very early on. The second chapter of Matthew records the successful search of the Magi to find the Christ and worship him. Later we are told a leper came and knelt before him to beg for healing. (Matthew 8:2) A newly healed blind man worshipped him also. (John 9:38) There are many other examples in the Gospel accounts. Perhaps the most compelling, however, is recorded by Matthew. (Matthew 28:16-17) Speaking of the eleven remaining disciples, those same who had lived the better part of three years with him, witnessing all he had done, Matthew writes: “When they saw him they worshipped him; but some doubted” That last little note brings an extra ring of truth to the passage. Of course we can understand the human sense of uncertainty that must have crept in. This after all was the Jesus that they had taken their meals with, at whose side they had traveled the Judean countryside. Yet in the end we know that all these overcame their doubts and gave the most perfect form of worship, the work of their hands and the sacrifice of their lives.[i]
The pattern is beginning to become clear. The ancient Scriptures pointed to the appearance of the Messiah somewhere during the first part of the 1st century. Jesus specifically fit the identity of that Messiah as laid out in the Old Testament. He pointedly claimed that office and was accepted as such by those who knew him best. They saw his very life as a testimony of his holiness. Peter described him as a “lamb without blemish,” and quoting Isaiah 53:9 wrote of him, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was in his mouth.” (1 Peter 1:19 & 2:22) John wrote of his purity in his first epistle. (1John 3:3) Jesus himself challenged his enemies on this very point. “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?” (John 8:46) His question was met only with silence. Even at the trial that eventually condemned him only false and contradictory witnesses could be found. This sinless-ness, this perfected moral character is one of the keystones to the validity of His claims. This is not the pattern of saintly men throughout the ages. The Buddha, Mohammed, Gandhi, Isaiah, the great church saints and others were all overwhelmingly aware of their moral failings once compared with the perfection of the All-Mighty. Yet neither Jesus nor his enemies could ever find fault in his actions. A fitting apostrophe was put on this fact by a Pharisee and member of the Jewish ruling council named Nicodemus. Speaking for more than just himself he told Jesus, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (John 3:2)[ii] [iii]
[i] Norman Geisler & Peter Bocchino, Unshakeable Foundations, Bethany House, Minneapolis, 2001, pg 287-288
[ii] Paul E Little, Know Why You Believe, Chariot Victor, 1999, pg 36
[iii] Norman Geisler & Peter Bocchino, Unshakeable Foundations, Bethany House, Minneapolis, 2001, pg 303-304