When Jesus was incarnate, how did people know he was God?

Hi friends,

Many of us want our lives, our communities, and our words to reveal the reality of God’s love. We want to heed Jesus’ instruction:

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

With that in mind, here’s a challenge for you: read through the gospels and identify how people recognized that Jesus was God.


When Jesus was incarnate, His fame grew because of the many miracles He performed. He had compassion and showed He had power over sickness, over evil spirits and even over nature. He also spoke from the law as one with authority. These may be some reasons why people knew Him as God. ( Matt 4:23-25, Matt 7:29, Matt 8:27, Matt 9:36, Matt 15:31). If we are to follow His example, I think we can start by meeting the physical needs and having faith amidst the storms of life.


I’m getting stuck on this question a bit because I wonder how many people (particularly Jewish people) at the time actually understood the concept of God incarnate – either that the One God would incarnate or even what it would mean for that to happen.

It’s my first instinct to answer the question with, They didn’t really know he was God. Though, perhaps, after the resurrection, they began to understand. They thought of him as many things – the Messiah, a prophet in his own right (or reincarnate, i.e. John the Baptist), an authoritative teacher, a healer – many understood that he was of God, but I don’t see many fully understanding, while he was alive, that he was God. Even the disciples were slow to understand. Not that I can blame them!

That’s one of the things that I find so compelling about Jesus: he was a paradigm-destroyer. People thought they knew what to expect, but Jesus was so outside of people’s expectations that it was difficult to comprehend.


Still reflecting on this, and I came across some other things this morning in my reading. I was particularly sitting with how various people understood Jesus and how Jesus understood/referred to himself. My mind went to the titles in the Gospels that had son in them – S/son of David, Son of Man, Son of God/Most High. Then I read Matt. 22:41-46 NRSV:

41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42 ‘What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?’

They said to him, ‘The son of David.’ 43 He said to them, ‘How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,

44 “The Lord said to my Lord,
‘Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet’”?

45 If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?’ 46 No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

Both Mark and Luke tells parallel versions – Mk. 12:35-37 NRSV and Luke 20:41-44 NRSV – but present in all accounts is Jesus challenging a narrow notion of the sonship of the Messiah. He’s inviting them to think/imagine bigger. The Messiah/Christ box involves more than you expect.

Furthermore, while in that rabbit hole, I came across Rom. 1:1-4 NRSV, where Paul is describing himself as regards Jesus and His Gospel:

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 3 the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead

Only in light of the resurrection (and ascension) could incarnation be fully grappled with. It seems like that, until then, there were only hints and invitations to expand one’s expectations.

[Sidebar, there are also times in the Gospels where ‘Messiah, the Son of God’ are listed together, and I wonder if their/that notion of Son of God is as our notion of Son of God, 2000 years on?]