Who did Jesus claim to be?

April 6, 2022

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Jesus made impressive claims about himself such as being one with God the Father and the eternally existent “I am.” Rather than simply dismissing these assertions as anomalies in the otherwise compelling wisdom Jesus had to offer, we must contend with who Jesus understood himself to be.

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    There are some who say that the whole Christian religion is a classic example of a “category mistake.” No one should have ever started worshiping Jesus as divine for the simple reason that Jesus never claimed to be God. While it is true that Jesus never uttered those three little words “I am God” in the New Testament Gospels, he most certainly claimed divine prerogatives that belong to God alone. Have you ever thought about this? Perhaps Jesus didn’t say the words “I am God” because he didn’t have to.

    Jesus insisted on the virtue of humility, yet curiously he had no qualms placing himself at the very center of God’s purpose. 

    Consider three examples. First, Jesus claimed to be God’s unique Son and assumed the tightest possible connection with God as his Father. He said “I and the Father are one.” “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” Jesus so identified himself with the Father that he could say: To see me is to see God, to know me is to know God, to receive me is to receive God, to believe in me is to believe in God. Jesus taught his followers to call God “our Father” but only Jesus referred to him as “my Father.”

    Here’s another example. In chapter 8 of the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks of the ancient patriarch Abraham saying: “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” The crowds are a little perplexed by this and respond by asking: “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” And then Jesus utters one of the most astonishing statements of his career: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” We may not catch the significance of Jesus’ words at first, but his original listeners certainly did. They immediately pick up stones to throw at Jesus because stoning was considered the appropriate penalty for blasphemy. 

    What did Jesus say to cause so much offense to God’s name? First, Jesus claims to have lived before Abraham, but that is not an egregious crime. Look closer. Jesus didn’t say: “Before Abraham was, I was” but “Before Abraham was, I am.” Jesus subtly suggests that he has always existed. But there is still more. Jesus doesn’t merely claim eternity for himself, but deity. In Hebrew “I am” is God’s personal name which he first revealed to Moses in the book of Exodus. Jesus deliberately claims God’s personal name for himself. The reason why people took up stones to throw at Jesus is because he equated himself with God.

    Here’s one more. Given their commitment to strict monotheism, first century Jews would never allow a human being to receive worship that is due to God alone. In chapter 10 of the Book of Acts, for example, a man drops to his knees and worships the Apostle Peter. But Peter immediately lifts him up and says: “Stand up, for I too am a man.” But in chapter 20 of John’s Gospel, the disciple Thomas worships Jesus, exclaiming “My Lord and my God,” and Jesus has no trouble accepting this designation. Jesus chastises Thomas for his previous lack of faith, but not for this expression of worship.

    Jesus was never quoted as saying “I am God,” but that is because Jesus made far more impressive statements. He claimed to be one with God the Father. He identified himself with the eternally existent “I am.” He approvingly received the worship of human beings. These are shocking statements coming from someone who chastised his disciples for their self-seeking ambition. We cannot simply dismiss these assertions as anomalies in the otherwise compelling wisdom Jesus had to offer. We must contend with the fact that this is who Jesus understood himself to be. 

    Now it’s your turn. What do you make of a man who said these kinds of things about himself? How do these statements force you to reconsider your view of Jesus?

    Written by Jason Harris
    Produced by Mary-Catherine McKee
    Directed and edited by Andrew Walker