Over 800 churches in the Chicago area are working through a series of big questions together all at the same time. (See exploreGod) The big question two weeks ago, for instance, was: Why Does God Allow Pain and Suffering? I have addressed the problem of pain before. Not that I have addressed the issue once and for all. I certainly haven’t. Gaining knowledge and understanding is an ongoing process. In that vein, I tackle the question for this week: Is Jesus God?
Not that I (nor anyone) can prove Jesus is God. I don’t suggest that I can, and it isn’t my goal to offer that proof here. Rather, I intend to go through the exercise of following the claims that Jesus and others made about who Jesus was. After all, why would it even be a question whether Jesus is God if neither Jesus nor any of his close associates made that claim?
Before launching into a review of what Jesus and others said about his deity, we should note what he didn’t say. To be perfectly frank, Jesus didn’t not say, “I am God in the flesh” in those exact words or other words directly and expressly making such a claim.
At the same time, Jesus never said, “I am not God”. He never says, “Don’t worship me.”
Jesus is known for the questions he asked. Perhaps, the most significant question he asked is this: “Who do you say that I am?” This series of blog posts is an introduction to that question by looking, first, at the claims Jesus made about himself and then looking at what others said about him.
I have always thought it significant that, when Jesus performed miracles in front of crowds of people, some people believed he was from God, while others thought he was from the devil. Why the difference?
For the record, I believe Jesus considered himself to be God in the flesh, and his closest associates saw him that way as well. Maybe not immediately, but that is where they ended up. Many, however, saw him as just the opposite – the spawn of Satan.
Today we tend to think of him as a “great moral teacher”. Jesus is referenced by each of the major religions for his teaching, and each major religion claims Jesus as their own. We gloss over the radical and controversial nature of the claims Jesus made about himself. For instance, Jesus said, “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” (John 8:19) And on another occasion Jesus said to his close disciples, “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him…. Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:7, 9)
Those are pretty bold claims. What does he mean that we would know God (the Father) if we knew him? What does he mean that to see him is to see God?
Some people take these claims and universalize them, applying them to all people. Can I say, then, that to know me is to know God? To see me is to see God? Would you believe me?
CS Lewis famously makes the point (that he actually got from someone else) that Jesus doesn’t leave us a rational option of believing that he as just a good teacher. If you really look closely at what Jesus said about himself, and do not gloss over it, you can not rationally say that he is a good teacher. The reason is that Jesus made some wild claims about himself. Think about these statements:
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)
“For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:38-40)
The truth is that, if someone made claims like this today, we would view him as a cult leader. We wouldn’t be surprised to learn that his followers were going to drink poison laden Kool-Aid while waiting for a chariot in the sky. As CS Lewis observes, we wouldn’t call such a man a great teacher; we would call him a lunatic or worse, a deceiver.
These are only two short statements in one short passage. What else did Jesus say about himself, and, did he really claim to be God? What did Jesus really mean when He told his followers that people who have seen him have seen the Father? If he claims to be doing the will of the Father, is he saying that he isn’t God?
Even so, he claims to have some divine privilege and authority, even to raise the dead and to give people eternal life. What is he really saying?
In the following blog posts, I will run through many things that Jesus said about himself (in Is Jesus God? Part 2) and many things that the people closest to Jesus said about him (in Is Jesus God? Part 3), and you can be the judge.