Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and atheists often argue, “Jesus never claimed to be God.” They assert that Christians have corrupted or misinterpreted the New Testament, or they reject the Bible outright.
But for those willing to consider the eyewitness testimony of the New Testament writers, and the convincing evidence that their words are accurately preserved, we may point our unbelieving friends to seven ways that Jesus does, in fact, claim deity.
First, Jesus calls Himself God. In John 8:58 He tells the religious leaders, “I assure you: Before Abraham was, I am.” These words hark back to Exodus 3 where God reveals Himself to Moses in the burning bush as I AM, or YHWH. The Jewish leaders clearly understand Jesus’ declaration of deity.
Second, Jesus claims equality with God. In John 10:30 He states, “The Father and I are one.” His frequent reference to God as Father – especially by the intimate Aramaic term Abba, or Father dearest – rankles the religious leaders. John writes, “This is why the Jews began trying all the more to kill Him … He was even calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:18).
In His high priestly prayer, Jesus anticipates once again sharing the glory He had with the Father before the world existed (John 17:5). This is a telling claim, for the Old Testament makes it clear that God does not share His glory with anyone (Isa. 42:8, 48:11).
Also note that more than four dozen times Jesus calls Himself the Son of Man – a term that illuminates the Messiah’s deity (Daniel 7:13-14).
Third, Jesus receives worship. After Jesus’ resurrection, Thomas examines Jesus’ hands and side and declares, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Jesus commits blasphemy if He receives Thomas’ worship unless He really is God. Similarly, when Peter declares Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of the living God, Jesus’ reaction is not to correct Him but to affirm the truth of Peter’s statement (Matt. 16:13-17).
Fourth, Jesus forgives sins. When He tells a paralytic man, “Son, your sins are forgiven,” the scribes immediately think, “Why does He speak like this? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Jesus exposes their private thoughts and demonstrates His authority to forgive sins by healing the paralyzed man (see Mark 2:1-12).
Fifth, Jesus teaches with divine authority. In John 8 the Pharisees say to Him, “You are testifying about Yourself. Your testimony is not valid.” Jesus responds, “My judgment is true because I am not alone, but I and the Father who sent Me judge together. Even in your law it is written that the witness of two men is valid. I am the One who testifies about Myself, and the Father who sent Me testifies about Me” (see John 8:13-20).
Sixth, Jesus affirms the apostles’ statements of His deity. He promises the apostles that the Holy Spirit will guide them into all truth and bring to their minds the things He says and does. In effect, He confirms what they write later. For example, John calls Jesus God and says He is the Creator who took on human flesh (John 1:1-3, 14). Paul tells us that in Jesus the fullness of deity dwells bodily (Col. 2:9); that He added to His deity sinless humanity (Phil. 2:5-11); and that He is the Creator (Col. 1:15-16). The writer of Hebrews records the deity of Jesus (Heb. 1:1-4).
Seventh, Jesus fulfills the attributes unique to God. In John 16:30 His disciples exclaim, “Now we know that you know everything” (omniscience). In Matt. 28:20 Jesus assures His followers He is with them always (omnipresence). And in Matt. 28:18 He claims all authority (omnipotence). In addition, He is eternal (John 1:1), immutable (Heb. 13:8), and the judge of all people (John 5:22). Even the Father calls Jesus God (Heb. 1:8).
Finally, the names used to portray God in the Old Testament – Alpha and Omega, Lord, Savior, King, Judge, Light, Rock, Redeemer, Shepherd, Creator – are applied to Jesus in the New Testament.
This column first appeared Nov. 5, 2013, in The Pathway, the news journal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.