Christians cannot possibly believe that the God who created this vast universe actually entered into His own creation as a carpenter’s son in an unremarkable corner of the Roman Empire nearly two thousand years ago, can they? Surely, Christians are only making a theological statement when they speak of the deity of Christ, right? They can’t possibly believe Jesus is actually the God-man, the Creator amid His own creation, right?
As amazing as it sounds, that is exactly what believing Christians claim. Moreover, we actually believe that is the only consistent way to read the writings of His disciples. In fact, Jesus’ own words, when read in the context of first-century Judaism, clearly indicate that He viewed Himself as having come down from heaven as the very Son of God. One such indication can be derived from the gospel generally regarded as the earliest, the gospel of Mark. When Jesus stood at His trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin, He was solemnly asked, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” His response was forthright: “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:61–62). Modern readers might miss the significance of Jesus’ words, but His hearers surely did not. They knew He was drawing from two well-known and significant passages from the Hebrew Scriptures, Psalm 110:1 and Daniel 7:13, the latter presenting a divine figure who has followers who worship Him. The response was quick: “The high priest tore his garments and said, ‘What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?’ And they all condemned him as deserving death” (Mark 14:63–64). Those who heard His words knew what they meant.
The exalted language the Apostles used to describe Jesus could never be used of a mere man.
Earlier in His ministry, after performing a miraculous healing, Jesus made a similar claim that likewise resulted in the charge of blasphemy. In the gospel of John, Jesus defended His healing a man on the Sabbath day by saying, “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (John 5:17). Here Jesus appeals to the fact that God works on the Sabbath, sustaining the universe. He called God His own Father in a unique fashion, and claimed the same prerogative. And again His hearers understood the import of His words: “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (v. 18). The Jews were not seeking to kill Him merely for being confused or arrogant. They understood His words as blasphemy, the penalty for which was death. Jesus did not correct them, but instead launched into a lengthy discussion of His perfect harmony with the Father.
Of course, Jesus likewise claimed to have authority over death itself, illustrated not only in His raising a man named Lazarus from the dead, publicly, in front of His enemies (chap. 11), but in His claim that He would lay down His life and take it up again (10:17–18), a promise He fulfilled by rising from the dead after His crucifixion. It is always wise to consider well the words of One who not only predicts His death (something many wise men have done down through the ages), but One who likewise claims He will take His life back again and rise from the dead (something only Jesus has predicted and accomplished). The empty tomb is silent testimony to the truthfulness of Jesus’ claims.
We are hardly surprised, then, that Jesus’ original followers, the Apostles, littered phrases such as “our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 1:1) and “the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8) throughout their letters. The Apostle Paul even included Jesus in an expanded version of the ancient Jewish prayer known as the Shema, identifying Him with the God of Israel (8:6) just as others made the same claim (John 12:41; Heb. 1:10–12). The exalted language they used to describe Jesus could never be used of a mere man. No, they plainly believed that Jesus was the God-man—truly man, yet truly God.
Clearly, if the Creator has invaded His own creation, we cannot hide from His claims upon us. We cannot be neutral about Jesus. He calls for all people everywhere to repent, believe, and bow the knee to Him. He is truly worthy of our praise and fealty.
Dr. James R. White is the director of Alpha and Omega Ministries and author of numerous books, including What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur'an.