Many skeptics today contend that Jesus of Nazareth was simply a wise, moral teacher, who never claimed to be God. They speculate that Jesus was misunderstood by His disciples and other followers, who wrongly believed that their’ leader was claiming to be the Saviour of the world and God in human form.
Is this an accurate understanding of who Jesus was and who he claimed to be? Were the disciples truly mistaken about the identity of Jesus? To answer these questions we need to look at the historical evidence for the claims of Jesus.
In the gospel of John, Jesus makes the following statements about Himself: that he who has seen Him (Jesus) has seen the Father (God)(John 14:9); that He existed before Abraham (John 8:58); that He was equal with the Father (John 5:17-18); and that “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).
In Mark 2:5-7, Jesus claimed the ability to forgive sins (something that the Bible teaches only God can do). In Matthew 16:13-20 and Mark 8:27-31, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” Jesus goes on to affirm Peter’s answer. In John 1, Jesus is equated with the Creator of the Universe. The Apostle Paul, in Colossians 1:17, said that Jesus is the one who holds everything together, and in 1 Timothy 3:16, that in Jesus, God is manifest in the flesh.
It wasn’t just Jesus’s disciples and followers who noticed He claimed to be God, His enemies and opponents did too. Today, skeptics may doubt whether Jesus was in fact claiming to be God by His words and deeds, but there was no doubt on the part of the Jewish authorities of Jesus’s day. For example, in John 10:33, when Jesus asked the people why they wanted to stone Him, they replied, “For a good work we do not stone you, but for blasphemy; and because you, being a man, make yourself out to be God.”
In Mark 14:61-62, Jesus is on trial before the Jewish high council. The Jewish high priest asked Jesus, “Are you the Messiah, the son of the Blessed One?” Jesus replied, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven”. The council was enraged by Jesus’ response and declared him guilty of blasphemy (in other words, claiming to be God) and therefore deserving of death.
Based on the claims of Jesus and the way His followers and enemies reacted to Him, it is clear Jesus claimed to be God and did not view Himself as merely a man. However, why should anyone believe Jesus’s claims? Haven’t many religious leaders throughout history said similar things? What sets Jesus apart? What makes His claims true and worth believing? The truth is Jesus is totally unique in His claim to be God in human flesh. Buddha never claimed to be God; Moses never said that he was Yahweh; and Mohammad certainly did not identify himself as Allah. Furthermore, Jesus is totally unique in His claim to be the one and only way to Heaven. In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
So, what evidence is there that Jesus is God? What reasons are there to believe that the claims of Jesus are true? Briefly, the many miracles that Jesus performed and the myriad of Old Testament prophecies fulfilled by Jesus serve as evidence that Jesus is God. However, the sign that Jesus Himself said would ultimately prove that He was the Son of God and the saviour of the world, was His resurrection from the dead.
Given the impact Jesus has had on history, He is worthy of being taken seriously and His claims thoroughly investigated. Christian apologist Frank Turek notes that, “Whatever you currently believe about Jesus of Nazareth, you owe it to yourself to investigate Him thoroughly. It makes little sense to ignore the one solitary life that continues to impact you in eternity if His claims are true.”
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Further reading recommendations
'The Case for Christ' by Lee Strobel
'In Defence of Jesus' by Lee Strobel
'Evidence That Demands a Verdict' by Josh & Sean McDowell
'More Than a Carpenter' by Josh & Sean McDowell
'On Guard' by William Lane Craig
'Cold-case Christianity' by J. Warner Wallace
'Who Moved the Stone?' by Frank Morison
'Man, Myth, & Messiah' by Rice Broocks