Is Jesus God? Part 3

What did the people closest to Jesus and those who were opposed to him think that Jesus was saying about himself?

Jesus said to his followers, in no uncertain terms, “You shall worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” (Luke 4:8, quoting Moses Deut. 6:13) Why, then, do Christians have this notion that Jesus was God?

That is the question being addressed in this blog series. The question was introduced in the first piece: Is Jesus God? Part 1. The question is being posed as part of a series of questions, that is being discussed among over 800 churches presently in the Chicago area. (See exploreGod) In the second blog post, Is Jesus God? Part 2, I covered the things Jesus said about himself.

In this third installment on that question, I will review what others said about Jesus in his time, both those who followed him and those who opposed him. The statement Jesus made about worshiping and serving only God is important to consider in light of the claims Jesus made about himself as well as the way other people reacted to Jesus.

Surely Jesus would not deign to suggest that he was God after making such a statement, right? How could his followers be confused about his deity? (If, indeed, there was any confusion.) What did others say about him? And how did they relate to him?

Peter, one of his closest associates during his short public ministry, when Jesus asked, who asked, “Who do you say that I am?” said to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matt. 16:17). After the death of Jesus and his reappearance after his death, Peter told the crowd in Jerusalem, “there is salvation in no one else”. (Acts 4:12) But does that mean Peter thought Jesus was God?

The question is answered clearly in Peter’s second letter in which e Peter refers to Jesus as “our God and Savior” in the opening salutation (2 Peter 1:1) and writes of “entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:11) Peter speaks interchangeably in the letter of the knowledge of God and the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Clearly, Peter was convinced that Jesus was God.

John is another disciple who was part of the inner circle of followers of Jesus. John opens his Gospel with this sweeping introduction:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us….” (John 1:1, 14)

John is talking about Jesus, of course. Jesus is the Word that become flesh. Jesus was in the beginning. Jesus, according to John, was God.

Thomas, also a disciple of Jesus, who was known for his doubt, famously said that he would not believe that Jesus was raised from the dead unless he could put his hand in the wounds that Jesus suffered on the cross. When Jesus presented himself to Thomas for that purpose, Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” (John 2-:28)

Thomas came to the same conclusions as the other that Jesus was God. Significantly, Jesus didn’t correct Thomas when he called him, “My God!”

Remember the affirmation Jesus made of the words of Moses? That we should worship and serve only God. What was the response by Jesus to the words that Thomas spoke about him? “Jesus said to him, “’Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’” (See John 20-26-29)

Thomas isn’t the only person who treated Jesus like God in his presence. There were others, and Jesus didn’t correct them either. The Magi worshiped Jesus. (Matthew 2:11) The disciples in the boat after Jesus calmed the storm worshiped Jesus. (Matthew 14:22-33). The crowd adored Jesus when he entered Jerusalem on a donkey, crying Hosanna, an expression of adoration. (Matthew 21:9; John 12:13) (though they apparently thought he was just a prophet at the time) When Jesus greeted the women as they left the empty tomb, “they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.” (Matthew 28:9)

Jesus never corrected any of them. He never told any or them not to worship him even though he taught them that we should worship only God.

But these are examples of what people said and did who loved Jesus. What about the people who opposed him?

Significantly, the religious leaders who didn’t like Jesus and opposed his teaching also believed that Jesus claimed to be God. In fact, their understanding that Jesus was claiming to be God is exactly why they opposed him.

“[T]he Jews were seeking … to kill [Jesus], because … he was … calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (John 5:18)

When Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I AM”, they picked up stones to stone him for blasphemy. (John 8:56-59) When Jesus said that he and the Father are one, they picked up stones to stone him for blasphemy. (John 10:25-31)

Finally, Paul, who was opposed to Jesus and his ministry early on, persecuting the followers of Christ and imprisoning them, had a dramatic conversion experience in which the risen Jesus came to Paul, and Paul became a believer. Paul’s letters were written early on, maybe even before the Gospels. These are the things Paul says about Jesus:

“For in [Christ] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily….” (Col. 2:9)

{Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created…. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” (Col. 1:15-17)

“God was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.” (1 Timothy 3:16) (a creed)

Paul obviously had a dramatic turnaround in his view of Jesus.

But none of this is written to prove that Jesus was God. I have only traced what Jesus said about himself, what people closest to him said (and how they reacted to him) and what those who opposed him understand him to have said. The question that Jesus posed to Peter remains, “Who do you say that I am?”

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