One of the great “mysteries” of Christianity is the dual divinity and humanity of Jesus the Christ. The New Testament is quite forward in teaching that Jesus was no less than the Creator God given flesh.
The apostle John, some sixty years or so after the death, burial and resurrection of Christ begins his gospel thusly: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.”
The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews, describes Jesus as the “express image,” or “exact imprint” of God’s nature (cf. Hebrews 1:2) by which the writer is using a phrase that denotes what we would call, in the vernacular, a “carbon copy.” It is as if one were making an imprint of a key, or a coin, in order to mold out more, exactly the same. That is what Jesus is to God the Father, the writer is saying: a divine being drawn from the exact same mold. Thus later, speaking of Jesus, the Son, the same writer says, “Your throne, oh God, is forever and ever.” (cf. Hebrews 1:8). In a similar manner, the apostle Paul, writing to the Philippians, says that equality with God was not something Jesus had to steal, for, the apostle is suggesting, it was His already, from the beginning. (cf. Philippians 2:6)
It is clear, the early Christians, led by the apostles, clearly taught that Jesus was God.
But, say some, that was just what others said about Jesus; Jesus never made such claims of Himself. Within a certain subset of the population, this idea seems popular: that Jesus was just a wise man; that others took His teachings and made Him out to be a God, when all Jesus want was for people to be good to each other.
As is often the case with such claims, they sound intriguing to those that want to believe them, but they are not, in fact, in harmony with the known facts. When we look at the actual words of Jesus, quoted in the Gospels, we find that it was Jesus who taught His followers that He was God, and that it was not some idea others added on to His doctrines years and years later.
In fact, Jesus was, one might say, rather unapologetic in His claims of Divinity.
Granted, Jesus rarely came out and said, “I am God.” But He frequently, and purposefully assigned to Himself the aspects of Godhood. And He did so in order to lead others into a realization about His divine nature.
Consider, for example, His claim to forgive sins. A paralytic man was brought to Jesus by the man’s friends, who opened up a hole in the roof to let him down, avoiding the crowds. Jesus, before He healed the man, verbally forgave the man’s sins; leading His critics to wonder why He was giving Himself a right that belonged only to God. They were right in their understanding of the issue, but wrong in their understanding of Jesus. Jesus then healed the man as proof that He also had the power of forgiveness of sins. (cf. Mark 2:1-12)
In a similar manner, when Jesus spoke of Judgment Day – that day when all men will have to stand before God and give an account of their deeds, both good and bad. Jesus always described the scene with Himself on the throne, handing out judgments. He taught for instance, “when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” (Matthew 25:31-32) “Son of Man, was, of course, a title Jesus used of Himself quite often. Likewise, Jesus taught that it would be He, Himself who said to the wicked: “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:23)
Though Jesus was routinely circumspect in His claims of Divinity, His adversaries understood what He was saying, that He was making Himself out to be equal to God (cf. John 5:18). But Jesus was not always so circumspect. On at least one occasion He purposely took upon Himself the name of God, saying of Himself, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:58).
Jesus pointedly claimed Himself to be God. As someone has once said, understanding this, one must conclude, not that Jesus was just some nice guy who was taken out of context, but rather that He was either a liar, or a lunatic, or else He was telling the truth and should be worshipped as Lord.
Considering that He rose from the dead three days after being buried, His followers have always reasoned that it was not unreasonable to take His unapologetic claims at divinity at face value, accepting them fully as the truth.
If you would like to learn more about this Jesus, who claimed so boldly to be God, the church of Christ invites you to study and worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions, please share them with us through our website: chapelhillchurchofchrist.org.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.