Sometime after my discoveries about the Bible and Christianity, I was riding in a cab in London and happened to mention something about Jesus to the driver.
Immediately he retorted, "I don’t like to discuss religion, especially Jesus." The very name Jesus seems to bother people. It embarrasses them, makes them angry or makes them want to change the subject. You don't get this nearly as much with other religious figures. Why don't the names of Buddha, Muhammad, or Confucius offend people the way the name of Jesus does? I think the reason is that these other religious leaders didn't claim to be God.
Jesus Made Himself Equal with God.
In the Gospel of John we have a confrontation between Jesus and a group of Jews. It was triggered by the fact that Jesus had cured a lame man on the Sabbath. (Jews were forbidden to do any work on the Sabbath.)
"So the Jewish leaders began harassing Jesus for breaking the Sabbath rules. But Jesus replied, 'My Father is always working, and so am I.' So the Jewish leaders tried all the harder to find a way to kill him. For he not only broke the Sabbath, he called God his Father, thereby making himself equal with God" (John 5:16-18).
You might say, "Look, Josh, I can't see how this proves anything. Jesus called God His Father. So what? All Christians call God their Father. This doesn't mean they are claiming to be God."
But the text itself says that the Jews understood it differently. When you study first-century Jewish culture, you will discover how their problem was that Jesus said "My Father," not "Our Father."
By the rules of their language, Jesus's use of this phrase was a claim equal with God. The Jews did not refer to God as "My Father." Or if they did, they would always qualify the statement by adding the phrase "in heaven."
However, Jesus did not add the phrase. He made a claim the Jews could not misinterpret when he called God "My Father."
Jesus Called Himself One with God.
Not only did Jesus claim equality with God as His Father, but He also asserted that He was one with the Father. During the Feast of the Dedication in Jerusalem, some of the other Jewish leaders approached Jesus and questioned Him about whether He was the Christ. Jesus concluded His comments to them by saying, "The Father and I are one" (John 10:30).
A. T. Robertson, the foremost Greek scholar of his day, writes that in Greek, the word "one" in this passage is neuter, not masculine, and does not indicate one in person or purpose but rather one in "essence or nature." Robertson then adds, "This crisp statement is the climax of Christ's claims about the relation between the Father and Himself [the Son]. They stir the Pharisees to uncontrollable anger."*
Jesus Continually Drew Implications that Equated Himself with God.
Jesus spoke of Himself as one in essence and nature with God. He boldly asserted,
- "If you knew me, you would also know my Father" (John 8:19)
- "For when you see me, you are seeing the one who sent me" (John 12:45)
- "Anyone who hates me also hates my Father" (John 15:23)
- "Everyone will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son is certainly not honoring the Father who sent him" (John 5:23)
These references definitely indicate that Jesus looked at Himself as being more than just a Man; He claimed to be equal with God.
Jesus Forgave Sins on Behalf of God.
While I was lecturing in a literature class at a university in West Virginia, a professor interrupted me and said that the only Gospel in which Jesus claimed to be God was John's Gospel, and it was the latest one written. He then asserted that Mark, the earliest Gospel, never once mentioned that Jesus claimed to be God. This man had not read Mark carefully.
In response, I turned to Mark's Gospel where Jesus claimed to be able to forgive sins. "Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, 'My child, your sins are forgiven'" (Mark 2:5; see also Luke 7:48-50).
According to Jewish theology, only God could say such a thing; Isaiah 43:25 restricts forgiveness of sin to the prerogative of God alone. When the scribes heard Jesus forgiving the man's sins, they asked, "What is He saying? This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!" (Mark 2:7).
A graduate assistant challenged my conclusion that Christ's forgiveness of sin demonstrates His deity. He said that He could forgive people without claiming to be God. People do it all the time. But here's the thing: If you sin against me, I have the right to forgive you. But if you sin against someone else, I have no such right.
The paralytic had not sinned against the man Jesus; the two men had never even seen each other before. The paralytic had sinned against God. So when Jesus said "Your sins are forgiven," He was doing it on behalf of God! This was a startling exercise of a prerogative that belongs only to God.