Isat down with some Jehovah’s Witnesses who were visiting with me. The elder who was leading our study stated that Jesus never claimed to be God. Jehovah’s Witnesses argue that Jesus is a created being. Liberal “Christians” argue that Jesus never claimed to be God. Many other groups say the same. If such is the case, then Christians have some explaining to do as they teach that Jesus is God. But did he ever claim this title for himself? Let’s look at what he actually said.
I am going to argue that, yes, Jesus in fact did claim to be God. This can be seen by the fact that he claimed to be identical with God in various ways.
Jesus Claimed to Be Identical with God
Jesus made statements about himself that were expressly made of Yahweh in the Old Testament. Let’s look at the OT claims and then Jesus’ claims.
One of the clearest passages of Jesus claiming to be God is his claiming to be Yahweh as being the great I AM of Exodus 3:14.
OT Claim: “God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’” The designation “I am” was solely reserved for Yahweh and was recognizes by the Jews as such. (Exodus 3:14)
Jesus Claim: “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.‘ 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple” (John 8:58-58). Clearly the Jews understood Jesus to be making himself equal with God. That’s why they wanted to kill him.
First and the Last
OT Claim: “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.’” (Isaiah 44:6)
Jesus’ Claim: “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.’” (Note for Jehovah’s Witnesses: This can’t be Jehovah since for them Jehovah never died.)
Having the Glory of God
Jesus claimed to have the glory that only God had.
OT Claim: “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.”
Jesus’ Claim: “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”
His Acceptance of Worship
The OT and NT also forbade the worship of any other being, idol or otherwise (Exodus 20:1-4; Deut. 5:6-9; Acts 14:15; Rev. 22:8-9). However, Jesus accepted worship on several occasions and never reprimanded anyone else for it (Matt. 14:33; Matt. 20:28; John 9:38; John 20:28). In this last example Thomas explicitly calls Jesus God and Jesus didn’t correct him.
He Claimed to Have Authority and Equality with God
Throughout Matthew 5 Jesus claims his words have the same authority as God. Repeatedly he says regarding the OT, “You have heard it said, but I say to you . . .” (See 5:22, 28, 32)
In the baptismal formula he gave at the Great Commission, he claimed equality with the Father and Spirit: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20)
He claimed to be able to forgive sins, which only God could do: “And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 ‘Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’” (Mark 2:5-7)
Perhaps the clearest passage is John 10:30-33: Jesus claimed to be one with the Father. “I and the Father are one.” 31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered him, “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.”
Objections to Jesus Being God
Objection: Some will object that Jesus can’t be God. God, they say, is infinite and unlimited; however, Jesus claimed to be limited in various ways. For example, in Matthew 24:36 Jesus said, referring to his second coming, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”
Response: We have to understand that Jesus did in fact claim (and prove) to be God. The traditional Christian teaching is that Jesus had two natures even though he was just one person. One nature was his divine nature that he shares with the Father and Spirit. The other is his human nature. Sometimes he refers to his divine nature, such as having glory with God, being the first and the last, etc. However, sometimes he refers to his human nature. When we ask questions about his ability to do something or know something we have to be clear as to whether we are talking about his divine or human nature. In this verse Jesus is referring to his limited human nature. This does not deny his divine nature.
Objection: Jesus also said “The Father is greater than I.” (John 14:28)
Response: The same basic answer is used here. The Father is greater in office while not being greater in nature, that is, in Jesus’ divine nature. Of course, the Father is greater than Jesus’ human nature. An illustration may make this clearer. The President of the United States is greater than me. However, he is only greater in office. We are both of the same nature.
Objection: in Matthew 19:17 we read: “And behold, a man came up to him, saying, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ 17 And he said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good.’” In other words, only God is good, so why are you calling me good?
Response: Notice there is no explicit denial of his deity. He is likely saying, “Do you realize that in calling me good you are calling me God?” However, even if this is not what he is saying, there is no explicit denial of being God, and we have already seen several (select) examples of him claiming to be God.
Above are a few of the many passages where Jesus claims to be equal with God in various ways. The notion that he didn’t claim to be God is simply false. He was also understood to be God by his followers and the Church. Objections to this idea fail when properly examined. Jesus in fact claimed to be God.
*I am indebted as a student of Dr. Norman L. Geisler for the above connections and general thought. See for example his Christian Apologetics.