A very common objection to the Christian belief that Jesus was and is fully divine is based in the understanding that Jesus never claimed to be God. Proponents of this view argue that divinity was not ascribed to Jesus until long after his death. Since the divinity of Jesus as the second member of the Godhead is absolutely essential to the validity of the Christian faith, it would be beneficial to hear from Jesus himself on this issue. So then the question in front of us is: Did Jesus ever claim to be God?
Jesus made eight “I AM” statements in the book of John (Jn. 6:35, 8:12, 58, 10:9-11, 11:25, 14:6, 15:1). In English, this just seems to be a state of being, similar to a statement such as “I am a man.” However, in the original Greek, we find something much more telling. In Greek, the phrase “I AM” is the phrase “ego eimi”, which can literally be translated “I, I AM”; it is an emphasis on who the I is referring to.
Jump back to Exodus 3 when God appeared to Moses in the burning bush. When Moses asked God who he should say sent him, God responded by saying, “ ‘I AM WHO I AM’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel: “I AM has sent me to you.” ’ ”(Ex. 3:14). When Jesus, speaking to his first-century Jewish contemporaries said “I AM ____”, he was essentially saying “I am the I AM and that is why I am _____.” We know that this was a clear statement of the divinity of Jesus because the religious leaders responded to these “I AM” statements by trying to kill Jesus as punishment for blasphemy (Jn. 8:59). When the religious leaders tried to kill Jesus and he asked, “For which of [these good works] are you going to stone me?”, they responded by saying, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God” (Jn. 10:33). Jesus contemporaries understood his claims to be regarding his own divinity; we would do well to recognize it as well.
Son of Man
Jesus favorite term for himself was “Son of Man.” He referred to himself as the Son of Man 30 times in the book of Matthew alone and 52 times in the other three Gospels combined. This has been used by some to suggest that Jesus was only affirming his humanity and thus is evidence that he never claimed to be divine. Those who try to argue this would say that if Jesus claimed to be God, he would have called himself, “Son of God”; however, that is a way of viewing his words through our modern lens. Instead, we need to understand what a first-century Jew would have thought when the words “Son of Man” were spoken.
In the first century Jewish context, the term “Son of God” was a common phrase ascribed to anyone within the Jewish community. Since Jews were the covenantal people of God, those who were a part of the covenantal community were all said to be “sons of God” – This means that had Jesus used the term “Son of God” for himself, he would have been simply making himself the same as everyone around him.
The term “Son of Man”, however, was not used of anyone at the time because it was a term reserved for a very specific figure. We read in the book of Daniel:
“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” – Daniel 7:13-14
The Son of Man from Daniel 7:13-14 is a messianic, divine figure – He is not a mere man. Therefore, when Jesus referred to himself as the “Son of Man”, he was claiming to be the very messianic, divine person referenced in Daniel 7. This is a clear claim affirming his divinity.
Coming on the Clouds in Power
Another claim that Jesus made took place when he was being questioned by the High Priest after being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane (See Matthew 26:47-68). The High Priest demanded an answer from Jesus, saying, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matt. 26:63). Jesus responded, saying, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (v. 64). This claim does not explicitly point to Christ’s divinity, however it is in the High Priest’s response that we see the implied meaning behind it: “Then the high priest tore his robes and said, ‘He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy’ “ (v. 65). Jesus’ statement was blasphemous because to his contemporaries, this was only a statement that God could make; therefore, those who rejected the divinity of Christ saw this as a blasphemous statement.
While Jesus may not have used the exact phrase, “I am God”, he most certainly made the claim that he was God in ways that his contemporaries understood and directly responded to, whether in following him or seeking to kill him. No one has ever walked this earth who had such a polarizing effect on people as Jesus. One of the biggest reasons for this is due to his own claims that he was, in fact, God.
These claims leave us to make a decision: who was Jesus? Since he claimed to be God, he was (to reference C.S. Lewis) either lying, crazy, or he was (and is) God. If he was lying about being God, then he could not have been a good teacher because this would make him a liar. If he was crazy, then we cannot take anything he said seriously. If he really is God, then he demands our commitment and obedience to him. What we cannot be in response to Jesus’ claims is indifferent.
The question that faces you now is this: What are you going to do? Will you believe Jesus’ own words and follow him? Or, will you do like the religious leaders of his day and reject his divinity, thereby rejecting him?