Explore God: “Is Jesus Really God?”

This is the fifth study on the Explore God Chicago 2019 series. The Explore God Chicago 2019 is a Community Outreach Initiative that seeks to answer seven important questions about God, faith, and purpose. You can find these seven important questions here. Previous studies on this series dealt with the following questions:

1. “Does Life Have a Purpose?”

2. “Is there a God?”

3. “Why Does God Allow Pain and Suffering?”

4. “Is Christianity Too Narrow?”

Today I address the fifth question in this series: “Is Jesus Really God?”

The One and True God

The greatest contribution of the religion of Israel to the world is its monotheism, the view that there is only one God. This view is expressed in the Shema, the basic affirmation of Judaism on the oneness of God: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone” (Deuteronomy 6:4). This statement is an affirmation that Israel believed in only one God. The gods of the nations were not the God of Israel under different names. Only Yahweh was the God of Israel.

God revealed to Deutero-Isaiah, the prophet who preached to Israel in Babylon, that there was no other God except Yahweh: “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like me” (Isaiah 46:9). When Deutero-Isaiah proclaimed that Yahweh was the only God, the prophet was affirming that Yahweh was the true creator of the universe and at the same time declaring that the gods of the nations were not real. In his view, Yahweh is the God who created the world and all human beings. He also was declaring that the gods of the nations were human creation. The God of Israel is sovereign over the world and only he should be worshiped, in Israel and throughout the nations of the world.

The Jews who lived in Israel at the time of Jesus were strict monotheists. They lived in the Greco-Roman world. The religion of the first century, the time when Christianity first appeared, was marked by the worship of many gods and goddesses. The Jews who lived in Palestine believed in only one God who was the creator of the world. It is this strict monotheism that prevailed in Israel that provides the proper background to understand the Christian proclamation that Jesus is God.

Jesus Christ Is God

People who doubt that Jesus is really God believe that he was just a man, a prophet, or a teacher. But the early Christians believed that Jesus was more than a man or a teacher. They believed that Jesus was God in human form. The apostle John believed that God became human and lived among them: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14). To the early Christians, Jesus Christ was fully man and fully God. The apostle Paul wrote: “For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ” (Colossians 2:9 HCSB).

Jesus declares that he is God

Jesus is the embodiment of the one and true God. Jesus claimed to be God by identifying himself as the one bearing the divine name: “before Abraham was even born, I Am” (John 8:58 NLT). The name I AM is the name by which God revealed himself to Moses and the people of Israel.

When Moses met God on Mount Sinai, Moses said to God: “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3:13). God answered Moses and said: “‘I AM WHO I AM.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, I AM has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14).

By saying that he was “I am,” Jesus was identifying himself with Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament. Even the Jewish leaders recognized that Jesus was claiming to be God: Jesus said: “‘I and the Father are one.’ Again, the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, ‘I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?’ ‘We are not stoning you for any of these,’ replied the Jews, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God’” (John 10:30-33).

The Disciples declared that Jesus was God

In addition, Jesus accepted worship from his disciples. On one occasion, when Jesus walked on water and calmed the stormy sea, the disciples acknowledged who Jesus was: “When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’” (Matthew 14:32-33). In the religious life of the Jews who lived in the time of Christ, there was only one God who could be worshiped, that God was Yahweh, the God of Abraham. Thus, when the disciples worshiped Jesus, they believed that they were worshiping God.

The resurrection of Jesus made a powerful impact on the lives of the disciples. They realized that the resurrected Christ was God. For this reason, the disciples worshiped him and declared who he was. Thomas called the resurrected Christ “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Paul refers to Jesus as “our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13) and Peter described Jesus as “our God and Savior” (2 Peter 1:1).

The Witness of the Old Testament

Many characteristics and many of the attributes that the Old Testament declares to belong to Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament, are applied to Jesus in the New Testament. The writers of the New Testament applied these attributes to Jesus because they truly believed that Christ was Yahweh, the God who had revealed himself to Abraham, to Moses, and to the prophets. Below are a few of the many passages in the Old Testament that speak about Yahweh which the writers of the New Testament applied to Christ.

The prophet Joel said: “All who call on the name of Yahweh will be saved” (Joel 3:5 NJB). Speaking about the salvific work of Christ, Paul said, “all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13 NJB).

Yahweh spoke to the people of Israel: “By myself I have sworn, from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear” (Isaiah 45:23). Paul said that the same attitude applies to Christ, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:10-11).

The Old Testament says that Yahweh is the only savior: “I have been the LORD your God ever since the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior” (Hosea 13:4). When the angels appeared to the shepherds in Bethlehem, they said: “for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11).

Yahweh identified himself as the redeemer of Israel: “Thus says Yahweh, your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 43:14). Paul says that as a redeemer, Christ has redeemed the believers: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law” (Galatians 3:13).

In the Old Testament, Yahweh declares himself to be the first and the last: “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 said of himself: “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” The apostle John identifies the speaker, “says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8).

Revelation 1:8 says two very important things about Jesus. First, Jesus identifies himself as the Alpha and the Omega. The Alpha and the Omega are the first and the last letters of the Greek alphabet. By identifying himself as the first and the last, Jesus once again identifies himself with God.

Second, by saying that Jesus was the Almighty, John is identifying Jesus with Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament, who said to Abraham, “I am God Almighty” (Genesis 17:1).

Conclusion

Throughout the New Testament, the disciples who participated in the ministry of Christ and those believers who came after them, struggled with the man Jesus, the one who identified himself with God. As a result, the writers of the New Testament, as they tried to identify the one who died on the cross and the one who overcame the grave, concluded that the one whom they called “the Christ,” was fully human and fully God. To them, the one whom they called Jesus Christ was God. Indeed, to them, Jesus Christ was the merciful and gracious God, the eternal, all-powerful, all-loving, and self-existent Creator God.

This God is the savior, besides him there is no other savior, for as Paul wrote, “we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:10). The God who became a man is the savior who wants to bring people into a personal relationship with himself: “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” (John 1:11-12).

In his article “Jesus and the Identity of God,” N. T. Wright (1998: 55) writes that the New Testament “invites us to look at this Jesus—the earthly Jesus,—to look at this Jesus and to say with awe and wonder and gratitude, not only “Ecce Homo,” but “Ecce Deus.”

“Ecce Deus.” “Behold God.”

Wright then concludes: “I believe that this God is worthy of the fullest and richest worship that we can offer.”

Claude F. Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

N. T. Wright, “Jesus and the Identity of God.” Ex Aditu 14 (1998): 42-56.

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