I've been told that Jesus never claimed to be God, since He prayed to the Father and called the Father His God. Why do you believe Jesus is God?
Whatever and whomever people think He is, one thing is for sure: there has never been any single person in the history of the world that has received more focus, attention and scrutiny than the man Jesus Christ. That Jesus actually lived is a historical fact, not only from the Bible, but also from many non-Biblical sources. The question we want to answer here, however, is perhaps one of the most important we can ask about Jesus: Is He God?
This question has enormous ramifications, not only for Christians, but for non-Christians as well. If Jesus is not God, then the Bible cannot be trusted, and Christians must then question everything they believe about their faith, about God, about Jesus Himself. For the unbeliever, if Jesus is God, then everything we as Christians say about Jesus is true, which means unbelievers need to pay serious attention to the Bible and what it says about life, death, and the hereafter.
As we consider this important question, it’s useful to ponder how we should go about questioning if Jesus is God. Since we are examining a historical person, we should ask the same questions we’d ask about any other historical person. So for example, if we were researching someone who lived thousands of years ago, think about what you’d examine. You’d want to know what the person said about himself, what others said about him, what the person did, how he lived, etc. When you put all of this together, you’d have an objective view of who this person was. That’s how we’ll consider Jesus, with a focus on His deity.
Jesus’ Claim to Deity
Perhaps the first thing to examine is what Jesus said; that is, did He claim to be God? According to Scripture, He did indeed.
Jesus’ first claim to deity is found in His confrontation with Satan. In Matthew 4, Scripture says that Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by Satan. The temptations demonstrate that Satan knew Jesus was God, as do Jesus’ responses.
“8 Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; 9 and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’””
Jesus here claims that God alone is to receive worship. Yet, later in the gospels, Jesus receives worship but does not tell His disciples to stop. The angel in Revelation stopped John from worshiping him, saying worship God, yet Jesus does not prohibit people worshiping Him.
A good example is Matthew 28:9:
“And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him.” (see also John 9:38, 20:28, Matthew 8:2, 9:18, 15:25)
In John 5, by calling God His own Father, Jesus made Himself equal with God and, as a result, the Jews sought to kill Him. Furthermore, Jesus claims to be able to do the same things the Father does, which only God can do, namely, raise the dead and give life. Finally, He claims that He will receive the same honor God the Father receives. This could not be a more clear claim to deity:
“18 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. 19 Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. 20 For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel. 21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes. 22 For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, 23 so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. 24 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”
Confirming that only God can put to death and gives life. Deuteronomy 32:39 says,
“‘See now that I, I am He, And there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, And there is no one who can deliver from My hand.”
In the John 5 above, Jesus claims this same power, making Himself equal with God. In John 8, Jesus again makes His claim of deity to the Pharisees:
“39 They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. 40 But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do…. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.” 59 Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.”
When Jesus said, “I am”, He was claiming the name of God. This is what God told Moses was His name, and the reaction of the Jews shows they clearly understood what Jesus was claiming.
In John 14, Jesus also claims equality with God:
“7 If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” 8 Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. 11 Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves.”
In John 10, Jesus is even more direct:
“26 But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.””
Notice Jesus claims He does the same as the Father (gives life, claims equality with the One who is greater than all). Proving that He indeed was claiming to be God, we continue reading in John 10 that the Jews tried to kill Him for making this claim:
“31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?” 33 The Jews answered Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.””
Only God can forgive sins, yet Jesus made the same claim. In Mark 2, we read,
“5 And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?””
Clearly, Jesus’ own words show that He claimed to be God.
The Apostles Testify to Jesus’ Deity
Continuing our examination of Jesus’ claim to deity, we now want to consider what others said about Jesus. Those who knew Jesus best were His apostles and disciples, and they wrote a lot about Jesus. They were the authors of the New Testament, which gives us more evidence of Jesus’ deity.
John 1 says of Jesus,
“1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being…. 14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
This is a clear and direct statement of Jesus’ deity. Moreover, the word “dwelt” means “tabernacled”, which is the reality of the picture of Christ when God resided in the tabernacle with the Israelites in the wilderness. When He was born, He “tabernacled”, or dwelt, with men in the flesh.
John goes on in v. 18:
“No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” In v. 14, John says Jesus is the only begotten from the Father; here, he makes clear that Jesus is God by calling Him the “only begotten God.”
The apostle Thomas declared plainly of the risen Christ,
“Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”” (John 20:28)
While all of Jesus’ apostles were Jewish, consider the unique case of Paul. Unlike the other apostles, Paul was a formally trained Pharisee, and likely knew the Old Testament far better than the other apostles. In the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 6 makes clear that God is one, and Paul would have known this particular verse well:
“4 “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” Yet, Paul tells the Colossians, “9 For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” (Colossians 2) In 1 Timothy 3, Paul says, “16 By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, Was vindicated in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Proclaimed among the nations, Believed on in the world, Taken up in glory.”
It would be unconceivable for a monotheistic Jew, especially a Pharisee like Paul, to view God as some polytheistic being. Rather, Paul effectively states that Jesus is God. Furthermore, Gentile Christians clearly viewed Jesus as God as well. If they saw Jesus as “another” God, they would not have been persecuted, especially by the Roman emperor. Pagan Gentiles had many gods, and if Jesus were simply one more, Christians would have been accepted. Instead, they saw Jesus as the one true and living God, and for that they were persecuted.
(Of course, Scripture has a triune view of God, which we refer to as the Trinity (the Father, Son and Holy Spirit). You can read more about the Trinity in this article.)
Speaking of God, Acts 20:28 says,
“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” Hebrews 9 similarly says of Jesus, “11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; 12 and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.”
Thus the apostles equate Jesus with God. And Paul says in Titus 2:
“11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, 14 who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.”
Here again, Jesus is equated with God. Romans 9 states:
“…5 whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.”
Hebrews 1, quoting Psalm 45, says,
“8 But of the Son He says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, And the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom. 9 “You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness above Your companions.””
Paul and John aren’t the only ones claiming Jesus is God. In 2 Peter 1, we read,
“Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Peter also equates Jesus with the Holy Spirit in 1 Peter 1:
“10 As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look.”
Confirming the triune nature of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), Peter says in 2 Peter 1:
“20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” The Holy Spirit is equated with God, and Jesus is equated with the Holy Spirit, making Him equal to God. In Romans 8, Paul similarly equates Jesus with God the Holy Spirit: “9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.”
So, we have more evidence from those who knew Him best that Jesus is God.
The Old Testament Testifies to Jesus’ Deity
Before Jesus was born, the Jews had the blessing and privilege of being given the very word of God. When He became a man, Jesus made an incredible statement about God’s word:
“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me.” (John 5:39)
Is that true? Let’s see. Isaiah 7:14 says,
“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.”
The word “Immanuel” literally means “God with us.” This was written about 700 years before Christ’s birth. The New Testament agrees:
“22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.”” (Matthew 1)
Prophesying of the coming Messiah, Isaiah 9 says,
“6 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. 7 There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.”
God confirms that Jesus is this Son:
“Then a cloud formed, overshadowing them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!”” (Mark 9:7)
This Son is equated with God the Father, confirming Jesus’ claim that He and the Father are one. In Isaiah 45, God declares,
“21… And there is no other God besides Me, A righteous God and a Savior; There is none except Me. 22 “Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other. 23 “I have sworn by Myself, The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness And will not turn back, That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance. 24 “They will say of Me, ‘Only in the Lord are righteousness and strength.’”
This is the same description of Christ in the New Testament:
“8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2)
Notice here that Paul testifies to both Christ’s humanity and His Deity. Psalm 110, a Messianic Psalm, also testifies to Jesus’s deity:
“The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”” Jesus applied this Psalm to Himself: “41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question: 42 “What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?” They said to Him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “Then how does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying, 44 ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Until I put Your enemies beneath Your feet”’? 45 If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his son?” 46 No one was able to answer Him a word, nor did anyone dare from that day on to ask Him another question.”
Isaiah 44 says,
“6 “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last, And there is no God besides Me.” In Revelation 1, Jesus speaks to John and makes the same claim: “17 When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18 and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.”
In Deuteronomy 32, God is called a Rock:
“3 “For I proclaim the name of the Lord; Ascribe greatness to our God! 4 “The Rock! His work is perfect, For all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He.”
Paul makes this same connection in 1 Corinthians 10,
“For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3 and all ate the same spiritual food; 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.”
Genesis 1:1 says,
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
Of Jesus, John says,
“All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” (John 1:3)
Isaiah 43:11 says,
“I, even I, am the Lord, And there is no savior besides Me.” God alone is called the savior, yet the New Testament refers to Jesus as the savior: “He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 5:31)
Much, much more could be said here, but Scripture is clear that the Old Testament testifies to the Deity of Christ.
Jesus’ Life Testifies to His Deity
Continuing our examination of whether or not Jesus is God, we now turn to what He did. If God did appear in the flesh, what would He be like? Surely, He would be able to do things that no mere human could do, including not sinning. He would also know all things (omniscience), He would have power over all things (omnipotence), and be able to be everywhere at once (omnipresence). Does Jesus meet the test?
First and foremost, Jesus was not like any human. He was born of a human virgin, but His Father was God. Because his father was not human, Jesus was born sinless since He was not in the line of Adam, through whom all people are born sinners. Unlike Adam, Jesus lived a perfect life. Hebrews 4:15 says,
“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” 1 Peter 2 says, “21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth.”
Jesus knows all things. Prior to His death and resurrection, He told the Pharisees to destroy the temple of His body and in three days He would raise it up (John 2:19). He knew men’s thoughts. Luke 5 says,
“21 The scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, “Who is this man who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?” 22 But Jesus, aware of their reasonings, answered and said to them, “Why are you reasoning in your hearts?”
Luke 6 says,
“7 The scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely to see if He healed on the Sabbath, so that they might find reason to accuse Him. 8 But He knew what they were thinking, and He said to the man with the withered hand, “Get up and come forward!” And he got up and came forward.”
Since He created all things, Jesus had power over all things. He controls nature. In Mark 4 we read,
“36 Leaving the crowd, they took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him. 37 And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. 38 Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” 39 And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm.”
Deuteronomy 32:39 tells us,
“‘See now that I, I am He, And there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, And there is no one who can deliver from My hand.”
Only God can give life and put to death, yet Jesus demonstrated this same ability. When Lazarus was sick, Jesus tarried before coming to see him, to ensure he would be dead when He got to him, knowing He would bring him back to life.
“17 So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days….41 So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” 43 When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” 44 The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.””
Jesus is also omnipresent. Prior to His resurrection, He did not exhibit this power; He claimed it later. Speaking of God, Psalm 139 tells us,
“7 Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. 9 If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, 10 Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me.”
Matthew 18 says,
“19 “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. 20 For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.””
Matthew 28 says,
“…20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Only God can be in more than one place at the same time.
Jesus’ Resurrection Testifies to His Deity
Jesus predicted His death and His resurrection. In Matthew 26, He says,
“31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, ‘I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered.’ 32 But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.””
As we saw above, only God knows the future, and only God has the power to put to death and to give life. Yet again, Jesus claims this power for Himself. John 10 says, “17 For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. 18 No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.””
That Jesus lived and was crucified is a matter of historical record. Even the Jews could not come up with a credible explanation for Jesus’ resurrection. This is recorded in Matthew 28:
“11 Now while they were on their way, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 and said, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble.” 15 And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day.”
If Jesus died and stayed dead, surely his scared disciples would not have had the courage to steal His body from Roman soldiers. Surely the Jews would have been able to find a body. They Jews did not even try to find a false cadaver to counter the fact that Jesus rose from the dead; instead, they came up with the story above.
Perhaps one reason why the Jews stuck to their story is that Jesus’ resurrection was testified to by many witnesses. 1 Corinthians 15 says,
“3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.”
Only God can put to death and give life.
Given the evidence, it’s difficult to dismiss the Deity of Jesus Christ. He claimed deity for Himself. His disciples testified to His deity. His life testified to the fact that He was no mere human, but was indeed God. The only logical conclusion is that Jesus is indeed God. This is a comfort for the Christian, and a warning for the unbeliever. We rejoice with the apostle: