Did Jesus claim to be God?

Did Jesus Claim To Be God?

One skeptical argument that I hear from time to time is that Jesus never claimed to be God.

In today’s daily reading (from The Revised Common Lectionary), we read John 5:17-18:

Jesus responded to them, “My Father is still working, and I am working also.”

This is why the Jews began trying all the more to kill him: Not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal to God.

I love how St. Augustine teases out the meaning of these words. In Tractates on the Gospel of John he writes,

Therefore it is as if he said to the Jews, “Why do you expect that I should not work on the sabbath? The sabbath day was ordained for you as a sign about me. You observe the works of God: I was there when they were made. They were all made by me. . . .

The Father made the light, but he spoke that there should be light. If he spoke, it was by his Word that he made it. I was his Word, and I am [his Word]. The world was made by me in those works, and the world is also ruled by me in those works. My Father worked when he made the world, and he still works while he rules the world.

Therefore, just as it was by me that he created when he made the world, so it is by me that he rules when he rules (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture).

Likewise, listen to John Chrysostom’s explanation,

If he had not been the very Son and of the same essence, the defense he offered here would have been worse than the charge.

For no viceroy could clear himself from altering a royal law by asserting that the king also broke the law. Not only would he not escape, but he would even increase the weight of the charge against him.

But in this instance, since the dignity is equal, the defense is valid. And so he says, in effect, “Absolve me from the same charges from which you absolve God.” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture).

D.A. Carson, in The Pillar New Testament Commentary on John, explains the argument in a similar manner:

Whether he breaks the Sabbath or not, God works continuously: all were agreed on that point. Assuming it, Jesus applies it to himself: My Father is always at work to this very day, and I, too, am working.

For this self-defence to be valid, the same factors that apply to God must apply to Jesus: either he is above the law given to mere mortals, or, if he operates within the law, it is because the entire universe is his.

Jesus does not here argue, as he might have, that the Jews’ interpretation of the Sabbath was incorrect—e.g. that in the Old Testament the prohibition of work on the Sabbath had reference to work normally done the other six days of the week, and therefore scarcely applied to the situation where a man, an invalid for thirty-eight years, carried his mat home after a miraculous cure!

Instead, Jesus insists that whatever factors justify God’s continuous work from creation on also justify his.

To summarize, the more deeply we consider the meaning of Jesus’ words, the more staggering the claim becomes: Jesus intends to say that he engages in the same divine activity as God, so the laws on keeping Sabbath don’t apply to him!

But verse 18 reinforces the point even further.

John tells us that Jesus’ opponents immediately understood the implications, that Jesus was calling himself equal to God. What Jesus was laying down, they were picking up.

Everyone in this dialogue got the same message: Jesus sees himself as divine.

As D.A. Carson explains,

Perceived infractions against Sabbath laws were serious, and might provoke murderous intent; but a man making himself equal with God was challenging the fundamental distinction between the holy, infinite God and finite, fallen human beings.

In fairness, one way to come to a different conclusion is to assert that John had invented this dialogue. If Jesus never said these words, and therefore none of his enemies understood him to be claiming equality with God, the argument falls apart. However, the veracity of the gospels as reliable eyewitness testimony is a discussion for another topic! (And a discussion I would welcome).

In the text as we have it, it’s clear that Jesus claimed to be of the same kind of being as God who did the same kind of activity. As we read in the following verses, Jesus explains that he is worthy of the same honor that people give to the Father (verse 23).

Sometimes I ask people, what would you think of me if I claimed to be God?

How would your opinion of me change if I claimed to have created the world and sustained its existence?

Yet not only did Jesus make these claims, but the totality of his life, and most emphatically his resurrection from the dead, and the gift of the Holy Spirit among those who follow Jesus, has validated his claims as true.

Well… so what?

For me, as I meditated on Jesus’ claim to be engaged in the divine work of God from Creation to his Incarnation, there’s one obvious implication: Jesus is still at work today.

I can trust that Jesus continues to heal the blind, lame, and paralyzed (verse 3), gives life to whom he wants (verse 21), and receives worship from men and women in thousands of cultures around the world.

As I pray to God this morning, I know that Jesus is alive, listening, and available to care for me.

What doubts do you have about the divinity of Jesus?

As you think about Jesus’ claim to be God, what stands out to you?

How does it encourage your heart to remember that Jesus is God?

I understand that these questions come from Muslims. Personally, I think that if we want to answer these questions, we should say that Jesus is the Christ. This is the answer we want to give.

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Hi @karim,

Thanks for your comment! I usually heard this claim from secular students when I served as a campus minister.

When you say “Jesus is the Christ” what does that mean to you? Are there particular verses that you share with a friend?