Did Jesus Claim to be God?

One God

The Bible reveals God as the Creator of the universe. He is infinite, eternal, all powerful, all-knowing, personal, righteous, loving, just, and holy.  He created us in His image, and for His pleasure. According to the Bible, God made us to have an eternal relationship with Himself.

When God spoke to Moses at the burning bush 1500 years before Christ, He reaffirmed that He is the only God. God told Moses His name is Yahweh, (I AM). (Most of us are more familiar with the English translation, Jehovah or LORD.) [5]At the time of Christ, each worship service began with a recitation of the Shema. “ Listen, Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!”—Deuteronomy 6:4[6]

It is in this world of monotheistic belief that Jesus entered into, ministered in, and began making claims that astounded all who heard them.

And according to Ray Stedman, Jesus is the central theme of the Hebrew Scriptures.

“Here, in the form of a living, breathing human being, is the one who satisfies and fulfills all the symbols and prophecies of Genesis through Malachi. As we move from the Old Testament to the New, we find that one person, Jesus of Nazareth, is the focal point of both Testaments.”[7]

But if Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament, his claims should confirm that “God is one LORD,” beginning with what he called himself. Let’s look further.

God’s Sacred Name

When Jesus began his ministry, his miracles and radical teaching immediately drew huge crowds, creating a frenzy of excitement. As his popularity swelled with the masses, the Jewish leaders (Pharisees, Sadducees, & Scribes) began to see Jesus as a threat. Suddenly they began looking for ways to trap him.

One day Jesus was debating some Pharisees at the Temple, when suddenly he told them he is “the light of the world.” It is almost bizarre to picture this scene, where a traveling carpenter from the lowlands of Galilee tells these PhDs in religion that he is “the light of the world?” Believing that Yahweh is the light of the world, they replied indignantly:

“So the Pharisees objected, “You testify about yourself; your testimony is not true!”— John 8:13.

Then Jesus told them that, 2,000 years earlier, Abraham had foreseen him. Their response was incredulous:

“Then the Judeans replied, “You are not yet fifty years old! Have you seen Abraham?”—John 8:57.

Then Jesus shocked them even more:

“Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, before Abraham came into existence, I am!” —John 8:58.

Out of the blue, this maverick carpenter with no degree in religion claimed to eternal existence. Furthermore, he had used the I AM title (ego eimi),the sacred Name of God for Himself! These religious experts lived and breathed the Old Testament Scriptures declaring Yahweh alone as God. They knew the Scripture spoken through Isaiah:

“You are my witnesses,” says the Lord, “my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may consider and believe in me, and understand that I am he. No god was formed before me, and none will outlive me. I, I am the Lord,
and there is no deliverer besides me” —Isaiah 43:10, 11.

Since the penalty for blasphemy was death by stoning, the Jewish leaders angrily picked up stones to kill Jesus. They thought Jesus was calling himself, “God.” At that point Jesus could have said, “Wait! You misunderstood me—I am not Yahweh.” But Jesus didn’t alter his statement, even at the risk of being killed.

C.S. Lewis explains their anger:

“He says…’I am begotten of the One God, before Abraham was, I am,’ and remember what the words ‘I am’ were in Hebrew. They were the name of God, which must not be spoken by any human being, the name which it was death to utter.”[6]

Some may argue that this was an isolated instance. But Jesus also used “I AM” for himself on several other occasions. Let’s look at some of these, trying to imagine our reactions upon hearing Jesus’ radical claims:

  • “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12)
  • “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6)
  • “I am the only way to the Father” (John 14:6)
  • “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25)
  • “I am the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11)
  • “I am the door” (John 10:9)
  • “I am the living bread” (John 6:51)
  • “I am the true vine” (John 15:1)
  • “I am the Alpha and Omega” Rev.1:7,8)

As Lewis observes, if these claims were not from God Himself, Jesus would have been deemed a loony. But what made Jesus credible to those who heard him were the creative miracles he performed, and his wise authoritative teaching.

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