Theology Network Groups
Jesus According to Jesus
- Jack O'Grady is a former Theology Network Associate Staff Worker at Kings College London, where he is currently completing a PhD in biblical studies. View all resources by Jack O'Grady
'Theology According to Jesus' is a course from Theology Network specifically designed to be used by Theology Network groups over five lunchtime sessions. Read the introductory article. This is session 1.
Jesus according to Jesus: did Jesus really think he was God?
To encourage confident faith and humble awe at how the Gospels present Jesus as the Son of God through his actions, teaching and claims.
In this talk we will see how the Gospels present Jesus as the Son of God. We will begin by very briefly considering two main problems we face as we do this; one being the question of historicity, the second being the problem of sin and how this affects the way we assess Jesus’ identity. We will then see how the gospels present Jesus’ deity through his actions and through his claims.
Preliminary considerations: historicity and human sin
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing 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 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. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
Based on this argument from Lewis’ Mere Christianity, a well known ‘trilemma’ is often put forward in evangelistic courses and presentations. Jesus was a liar, a lunatic or the Lord. If he was liar, why would he persistently make his divine claim, when it resulted in fierce opposition and death? If he was a lunatic, how did he come up with such wise, sensible and wonderful moral teaching? It appears that there’s one option left… Jesus is Lord.
However, there is another option beginning with L: ‘Legend’. Perhaps the miracles and claims of Jesus found in the gospels were exaggerations made by the early church. New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg says ‘Unless one can successfully dismiss this alternative, one cannot appeal to Lewis’s apologetic. An examination of the Gospels’ historical reliability must therefore precede a credible assessment of who Jesus was’. This assessment will not be made in detail here; although many good Biblical scholars have shown the gospels to be reliable (see resources below). We will assume a belief in the reliability of the gospels, but it will be helpful to be aware of these issues for the sake of sceptics or those with doubts.
Another factor to consider before tackling the issue head on is that according to Jesus, nobody is a neutral onlooker as they consider his claims. Many people in Jesus’ own day didn’t believe that he was who he claimed to be, even when presented with the most remarkable miraculous evidence (e.g. Matthew 12:22-32 cf. Mark 3:22-29, Luke 11:14-23). See also the whole of John 6, John 8, John 12:9-11). Jesus explains why this happens in John 6:63-65, where he says that humans are in such a state of spiritual darkness that no one can come to him unless the Father gives them the gift of faith. This means that if we are to be convinced that Jesus is the Son of God we need more than good arguments – we need God to transform us. This might be seen as begging the question, and we should be careful when explaining this to non-Christians (not simply saying ‘well of course you don’t believe in him, you’re a sinner after all’). But it’s important to be aware that the question of Jesus’ identity is not merely academic, it is a spiritual and moral question too.
Jesus’ divine claims
The first category of Gospel material relevant to Jesus’ divinity is the claims that he makes of himself. Jesus claims to be ‘one’ with the Father (John 10:30, 17:22-23 cf. John 3:31-36, 4:17-18, 21-23). He makes a number of statements about himself using the words ‘I am’, which often allude to the divine name as revealed in Exodus 3:14 ‘I am what I am’ (e.g. Mark 6:50, Mark 13:6, John 8:58 cf. John 6:35, John 8:12, John 10:9, John 10:11, John 11:25-26, John 14:6, John 15:5). Jesus refers to himself as the ‘Son of Man’, which alludes to the heavenly being of Daniel 7:13 who receives the worship of the nations (used 29 times in Matthew, 13 times in Mark, 25 times in Luke and 12 times in John). Jesus is regularly referred to as the ‘Son of God’ (e.g. Matthew 8:9, Mark 1:1, Luke 4:3, John 1:49, a title he accepts (Luke 22:70) and uses of himself (John 11:4); this makes best sense against the background of Jesus’ relationship to God the Father (Mark 14:36, 11:27, Luke 10:22). It’s worth being aware that whilst Jesus does identify himself as the ‘Christ’ (e.g. Matthew 16:16-20), this title doesn’t necessarily refer to divinity. Also worthy of note is how Jesus frequently refers to his pre-existence in the ‘I have come’ sayings (e.g. Matthew 5:17, Luke 12:51, John 6:38). It should be clear from the texts referred to here, that Jesus frequently made both direct and indirect claims to divinity.
Jesus’ divine actions
Throughout the Gospels Jesus accepts honours, assumes prerogatives and performs deeds that belong to God alone. Jesus takes control over nature (e.g. Luke 8:22-25, Mark 11:12-14, 20-21), he commands demons and they obey him (e.g. Mark 1:25-26, Luke 9:37-43), he raises the dead (e.g. Luke 7:11-17, John 11:38-44) he forgives sin (e.g. Mark 2:5), gives eternal life (e.g. John 8:51, John 11:25) teaches with God’s authority (e.g. Mark 2:22), claims that he will return to judge the world (e.g. Matthew 25:31-46, John 5:22, 26) and receives worship (e.g. Matthew 2:11, 28:9, 28:17).
It can be shown from the gospel passages outlined above that Jesus made direct and indirect claims to be divine, whilst performing actions that are typically understood to be divine prerogatives. The question left for us is whether we will accept the evidence and join the disciples in worshipping him as God?
Questions for discussion
Of the arguments and passages mentioned in the talk, which do you think most convincingly shows that Jesus claimed to be divine?
What are the theological implications of Jesus’ deity for other Christian doctrines? E.g. Trinity, doctrine of scripture, atonement?
What objections might be made to the talk by someone who doesn’t believe Jesus was divine? How might you go about answering them?
How would you respond to someone who says ‘Jesus didn’t claim to be divine, his followers just made enormous exaggerations’?
How would you respond to someone who says ‘Jesus never claimed to be God – he never said the words ‘I am God’’?
What are the practical implications for someone who recognises that Jesus is divine? How is this more than an academic discussion?
On the historicity of the Gospels:
Craig L. Blomberg The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (IVP)
D.A. Carson & Douglas Moo An Introduction to the New Testament (IVP)
Norman Geisler The historicity of the New Testament
Peter Williams Evidence the Gospels Were Based on Eyewitness Accounts
On the deity of Christ:
Peter Lewis The Glory of Christ (Paternoster)
Donald MacLeod The Person of Christ (IVP)
Athanasius of Alexandria On the Incarnation
Norman Geisler The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ
Mike Reeves How Glorious is Jesus Christ!
Simon Gathercole The Synoptic ‘I have come’ Sayings of Jesus and Pre-existence
 These two quotations from Mark aren’t often translated as ‘I am’, despite that being a more literal translation of the Greek.