Many people around the world from a variety of religious backgrounds have a positive view of Jesus. Some say he was a great teacher of high moral principles, like Buddha. Others revere him as a prophet. So, was Jesus a kind of sage or guru, or was he something more?
The actual term Jesus used to describe himself wasn’t sage, or guru, but the Christ. We find this word in numerous Old Testament passages that describe a coming Messiah who would rescue people from their sin. And this Messiah, or Christ, was to be nothing less than God himself.
In the book of Daniel, we’re told that this Messiah would both atone for iniquity and reign forever on David’s throne (Dan. 9:24). Isaiah 9:6 says, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” So, according to the Old Testament prophets, the Jews weren’t expecting another good teacher, or sage—they were expecting God himself to come down.
But did Jesus ever claim to be this divine Messiah? According to the New Testament, many people in Jesus’ day assumed he was a prophet like Elijah, or John the Baptist. When he pressed his own disciples asking, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:15–16). Upon hearing this, Jesus offered not one word of rebuke. He only affirmed what Peter said.
Jesus also said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9), which would have been highly inappropriate, and even blasphemous to say if he were a mere prophet, or teacher of high morals. But he actually went further, saying, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). He applied to himself the very divine name which God revealed to Moses in the burning bush (Exod. 3:1–6). This offended his hearers so much that they actually picked up stones to throw at him (John 8:59).
Now, it’s one thing to claim to be divine, but quite another to prove it. Consider the kinds of things Jesus did in order to demonstrate that he was God in human flesh:
1. Jesus performed numerous miracles.
According to the eyewitness accounts, Jesus calmed a storm, walked on water, healed people, and even raised the dead. Even Jesus’ enemies conceded he was a miracle worker, but they simply argued that he performed these feats through sorcery.
2. Jesus forgave sin.
Jewish people believed only God could forgive sin, but we saw the inescapable point in Mark 2:1–12: Jesus was able to both heal and forgive this man because he was God.
3. Jesus fulfilled numerous prophecies and interpreted the Old Testament as if the whole book were about himself.
On one occasion Jesus told the religious leaders of his day, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life, but it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39). No other good teacher or prophet of Israel ever spoke in that way.
How Did People Respond to Jesus’ Claims and Actions?
According to the Gospels, Jesus allowed himself to be worshipped on many occasions, and throughout their lives, his followers continued to argue for his divinity. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul wrote that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, and that by him all things were created (Col. 1:15–16). At the beginning of John’s Gospel we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him and without Him was not anything made that was made … and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1–14).
Jesus’ opponents also acknowledged his repeated claims to divinity and ended up charging him with blasphemy, saying, “You, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:33).
By a careful study of the earliest evidence, we discover that Jesus’ contemporaries didn’t think of him as a kind of teacher, prophet, or political Messiah. His earliest followers worshipped him as God, and even his opponents understood this claim.
Those who claim Jesus was merely a good man or helpful teacher neglect the reality of what he claimed for himself. Jesus claimed to be the divine Messiah promised in the Old Testament Scriptures. And he demonstrated his divinity by performing miracles and forgiving sins.
Jesus claimed to be God. And he proved it.
This is an excerpt from Core Christianity 101, a Core Bible study that aims at giving you a foundation in the basics. Check it out here.