The divinity of Jesus has been contested since his life and resurrection. Many liberal theologians have claimed the early Christians never believed that Jesus was God, but that his divinity was invented later. And Muslims often make similar arguments.
It is true that when the crowds celebrated Jesus’ arrival on a donkey in Jerusalem with waving palm branches and singing that he was the King of Israel, they would have perceived him merely as a political leader, although an anointed one. But Jesus himself made clear claims about his divinity.
In John 8:48 the Jews claim that Jesus is a Samaritan and that he has a demon. Few verses later, in John 8:58, Jesus responds with perhaps the most challenging claim he could have ever made to a Jewish audience. He says that rather than being demon-possessed, he, in fact, is God. He says: “Before Abraham was, I am”.
It would have been blasphemous to most of the hearers for him to use the word Yahweh of himself. Unlike the Hebrew word adonai, usually translated as ‘Lord’, which sometimes refers to humans (Gen 18:12), the word Yahweh, the ‘LORD’, always referred explicitly to God.
The word Yahweh was so sacred that devout Jews wouldn’t even pronounce it. Many take the word to mean “un-derived existence” or “he who is”, based on the “I am” statement of Exodus 3:14. It was God’s response to Moses when he asked for God’s name.
Jesus cleared claimed to be the God of the Old Testament revelation, not merely an anointed prophet of God, emanation, a tool in the hand of God or even the King of Israel.
God, the devil or madman
C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity,
“I am here trying to prevent anyone saying the really foolish things that people often say about him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell.”
Either Jesus is everything he claims to be, or he is nothing he claims to be. We can either reject his words as a false claim of a madman, the words of a demon-possessed, like some Pharisees framed them, or accept them as divine revelation of his true nature.
And if Jesus is God, he carries absolute authority; he doesn’t present to us merely an opinion or theological perspective. If Jesus is God, then we should worship, obey and long to know him.
Two natures in one person
If we accept that the man Jesus is also God, we must ask: how is it possible that he is both God and man, two natures in one person? It is an issue that has troubled theologians for centuries. The simple answer is that God didn’t become a man. Instead, he took on an additional human nature. He experienced hunger, thirst and death through his humanity but not his divinity. When Jesus prayed to God, it was simply God the Son talking to God the Father.
There are different roles for the different members of the Trinity. The Father is the initiator and the originator, the Son the responder and the executive, and the Spirit the one who acts to effect the Father’s will on earth.
As the Gospel of John makes clear, the divinity of Christ is not some invention of later Christian teachers. It is clearly in the Gospels. The councils beginning with Nicea in AD325 only confirmed and defined with theological concepts the clear teaching of the New Testament about the Trinity, incarnation, divinity of Christ and two natures in one person.
Jesus claimed to be Yahweh, the Messiah-God. Unlike angels, he accepted worship, requested that believers pray in his name and demanded that he be given an honour equal to God.
Fulfilled Old Testament prophecies
What is astonishing to me are the many Old Testament prophecies that Jesus fulfilled. His story had been written in the Scriptures long before he was born.
Here are just some of the prophecies Jesus fulfilled:
- The Messiah will be born of a woman (Gen. 3:15; cf. Gal. 4:4).
- He will be of the seed of Abraham (Gen. 12:1–3; 22:18; cf. Matt. 1:1; Gal. 3:16).
- He will come from the line of Isaac (Gen. 17:19; 21:12; cf. Matt. 1:2; Heb. 11:17–19).
- He will be a descendant of Jacob (Num. 24:17; cf. Luke 3:34).
- He will be of the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10; cf. Luke 3:23–33; Heb. 7:14).
- He will be of the line of Jesse (Isa. 11:1; cf. Luke 3:32).
- He will be of the house of David (2 Sam. 7:12; Jer. 23:5; cf. Matt. 1:1).
- His birthplace will be Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2; cf. Matt. 2:1; Luke 2:4–6).
- He will be born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14; cf. Matt. 1:21–23).
- He will be anointed by the Holy Spirit (Isa. 11:2; cf. Matt. 3:16–17).
- He will be heralded by a messenger of the Lord (Isa. 40:3; Mal. 3:1; cf. Matt. 3:1–2).
- He will be a prophet to his people (Deut. 18:15–18; cf. Acts 3:22–23).
- He will be a priest (Ps. 110:4; cf. Heb. 5:6–10).
- He will be a king (Ps. 2:6; cf. Matt. 21:5).
- He will have a ministry of miracles (Isa. 35:5–6; cf. Matt. 9:35).
- He will minister in Galilee (Isa. 9:1–2; cf. Matt. 4:12–16).
- He will be a light to the gentiles (Isa. 60:3; cf. Acts 13:47–48).
- He will cleanse the temple (Mal. 3:1; cf. Matt. 21:12).
- He will be rejected by the Jewish people (Ps. 118:22; cf. 1 Pet. 2:7).
- He will die some 483 years after 444 BC (Dan. 9:24–25).
- He will die a humiliating death (Isa. 53; cf. Matt. 27).
- He will be rejected by his own people (Isa. 53:3; cf. John 1:10–11; 7:5, 48).
- He will be silent before his accusers (Isa. 53:7; cf. Matt. 27:12–19).
- He will be mocked (Ps. 22:7–8; cf. Matt. 27:31).
- He will be pierced (Zech. 12:10; cf. John 19:34).
- He will die with thieves (Isa. 53:12; cf. Matt. 27:38).
- He will pray for his persecutors (Isa. 53:12; cf. Luke 23:34).
- He will be forsaken by his disciples (Zech. 13:7; cf. Mark 14:50).
- He will be buried in a rich man’s tomb (Isa. 53:9; cf. Matt. 27:57–60).
- He will rise from the dead (Ps. 2:7; 16:10; cf. Acts 2:31; 13:33; Mark 16:6).
- He will ascend into heaven (Ps. 68:18; cf. Acts 1:9–10).
- He will sit at the right hand of God (Ps. 110:1; cf. Heb. 1:3, 13).
When you read the Old Testament, you soon realise that it is all about Jesus. It prophesies his coming, how he will save us, how he will be resurrected and how he will rule one day as King. The accurate fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies is one of the greatest proofs to us of Jesus’ divinity.