I have a vivid recollection of the first time it hit me that Jesus is God. It was a profoundly shocking realization. I can recall being at the university, the time of day, the weather outside the window, and the exact classroom and seat in which I was sitting. To date, that remains one of my life’s most profound moments.
It was not that I had pondered and rejected the idea that Jesus is God. It was the case that I never pondered it at all. Jesus was Jesus, God was God, and the Holy Spirit was some vaporous cloud thing that floated around doing magical stuff to people. I just never gave it much thought.
Repeatedly, this past week, I have heard reports on polling data that claim 43% of U.S. Evangelicals (whatever that even means anymore) agree that Jesus was a great teacher, but he was [their word] not God.1 That number jumped from 30% just two years ago, a shocking increase.
Furthermore, also in 2020, 65% of evangelicals claim to believe Jesus is a created being.2 If we look outside evangelicalism (again, whatever that means) Newsweek reported in 2020 that 52% of all Americans say Jesus was a great teacher but not God, a number not markedly different than those in the evangelical camp.
Even Amazon’s Alexa app, when ask “Who is Jesus?” originally responded to the question by describing Jesus as a “fictional character.” This has since been changed.
Today’s blog posting will be significantly longer that usual, because I have a deep conviction on my heart that I need to do what little I can to combat this rank heresy claiming that Jesus “was” nothing more than a good man.
Jesus IS God in Human Flesh
While those above readilly admit that Jesus was a great man, insightful teacher, perhaps even a prophet, scripture is not shy about proclaiming him to be the unique Son of God in the flesh – God’s only begotten.
Proclaimed by the Angel, Gabriel
Prior to Jesus’ birth God sent the angel, Gabriel, to Mary, the soon-to-be mother of God-in-the-flesh, to explain to her what was about to happen inside her womb. It is difficult to imagine a more unsettling message.
And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.’ – Luke 1:35, ESV
It is my suspicion that it is also Gabriel who appeared to Joseph, in Matthew 1, to calm him down by assuring him that his fiancée had not been unchaste behind his back.
Proclaimed by Those Who Knew Him
Jesus’ cousin, John, declared him to be God’s Son.
I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God. – John 1:34, ESV
His disciples recognized Jesus as the Son of God and said so outright.
Nathanael answered Him, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ – – John 1:49, ESV
Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ – Matthew 16:16, ESV
…but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. – John 20:31, ESV
Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ – John 20:28, ESV
Proclaimed by Demons
Don’t let it escape your notice that even the powers of darkness knew who Jesus was, and they grudgingly declared him to be the Son of God.
And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, ‘You are the Son of God.’ – Mark 3:11, ESV
Proclaimed by Those who Barely Knew Him
As Jesus hung, dying, on the cross among other convicted criminals, even the battle-hardened centurion who supervised his execution could not help but recognize the truth about Jesus. He likely did not fully understand the implications, but he knew it was true.
When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’ – Matthew 27:54, ESV
Proclaimed by The Father
As if all of these witnesses were not enough, we have the most important testimony of all, from God the Father, who declared Jesus to be the Son.
And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’ – Mark 1:11, ESV
He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’ – Mark 1:11, ESV
Acknowledged by Jesus Himself
Time and space do not allow for an enumeration of all the instances wherein Jesus was clearly claiming to be God in the flesh. but we will hit a few here and let Jesus make his point.
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’
– Matthew 16:13-16, ESV
Note that Jesus did not debate this answer with Peter, but rather he commended him for his insight, stating that it was something revealed to Peter directly from the Father.6.
Unquestionably, Jesus claimed a unique identity and equality with the Father. He frequently referred to him as “my Father,” which incited the indignation of the Jews who were already irritated at Jesus for constantly healing on the Sabbath, something they considered a violation of Sabbath laws.
But He answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.’ For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.
– John 15:17-18, NASB
The Jews knew exactly what Jesus was claiming in saying what he said, and it stunk to them of blasphemy, or at least that is what they claimed. As if that were not enough, later in the same gospel, Jesus says this, “I and the Father are one,”7 to which the Jews responded by picking up stones with which to execute him. It is clear that Jesus claiming deity, and the Jews knew that; a reality confirmed by the exchange that followed.
Jesus answered them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?’ 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.’
– John 10:32-33, ESV
Notice that, as in the exchange with Peter, Jesus did not argue this point with the Jews. They were correct in saying that he was claiming to be God, and he was correct in making that claim. The only option left for the Jews was to bow at his feet in worship, as others had done, or to stone him as a blasphemer. They could not humble themselves to fall at his feet, so they gathered their stones.
In other places, Jesus says, “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him,” to which Philip, rather oddly, replied, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”8
I note the slightest bit of exasperation in Jesus’ answer to Philip.
Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”?’
– John 14:9, ESV
Later in that same discourse Jesus says, “I am in the Father and the Father is in Me.”9 Jesus closed out another confrontation with the Jews by saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”10 Notwithstanding the time incongruity of that statement, there is only one I AM, and the Jews knew that, so again they picked up stones.
Jesus is God the Creator
The apostles Paul and John state very clearly that God came in the flesh, that he was made in the likeness of men and allowed himself to be put to death on a cross. They also state equally clearly that not only is Jesus God in the flesh, but Jesus is the Creator, the demiurgic power through which everthing that exists was made.
John’s gospel opens with the statement, “In beginning was the Logos [ὁ λόγος] and the Logos was with God and God was the Logos. He was with God in the beginning. All things came into being through him and apart from him, not one thing came into being that has come into being.”11 He’s the Creator. Farther down in the same chapter, John says that Creator Logos “became flesh” and pitched his tent among us.12
The apostle Paul told the church at Corinth that Jesus is the the “one Lord … through whom all things came and through whom we live.”13
But perhaps the most potent statement of all is found in the letter to Colossae.
For by [Jesus] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. – Colossians 1:16, ESV
Why Any of This Matters
John has very strong language for anyone who denies that Jesus, as God, came in the flesh. He goes so far as to say this comes from the spirit of the antichrist.14 But there is an even more practical reason than theology.
Since Jesus is God in the flesh, how can I interpret that incarnation other than to hear God say, “This is me in the flesh. Watch how I live, and then live that same way.” I confess, however, that there is a part of me that is more comfortable wrestling with a theological concept, debating it and studying it, than I am with God in the flesh saying, “Watch me, and live this same way.”
To understand and imitate God, we must understand him in his physical form through Jesus. Pastor Gayle Erwin put it eloquently:
- If I am to know God, I will know him through Jesus.
- If I am to gain knowledge, it is deposited in Jesus.
- If I am to have wisdom, I will find it in Jesus.
- If God dwells in me, it is because Jesus dwells in me.
- If I wish to study God, I must study Jesus.
- If the Holy Spirit is active in my life, I will hear him speak of Jesus.
I recognize this has been a longer-than-usual blog posting and one that is scripture-heavy. Thank you for enduring to the end with me on this.
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. – John 3:18, ESV
4. John 1:1
5. John 1:14
6. Matthew 16:17
7. John 10:30
8. John 14:8
9. John 14:10
10. John 8:58
11. John 1:1-3
12. John 1:14
13. 1 Corinthians 8:6
14. 1 John 4:1-3