Did Jesus claim to be God?
Did Jesus claim to be God? This is a question Christians are asked regularly, one we need to be able to answer.
It is common to hear it very confidently asserted that Jesus never claimed to be God. Bart D. Ehrman, for example, has made an entire career out of denying the deity of Jesus and the trustworthiness of Scripture. He believes Jesus’s divinity to be a later invention of his followers, not a fact of history. Ehrman is not alone, of course. He follows in the footsteps of academics who did likewise.
These scholars all understood that if you can discredit the deity of Jesus, you can dismiss the claims of Christianity.
The Christian faith rests on the answer to the question of Jesus’s divinity. All of history, in fact, rests on it. But is it true—and did Jesus ever say it? If you had asked me this question when I was 20, I would have said no.
But more than 20 years later—and being a Christian myself—my perspective is different. There is no doubt that Jesus really did claim to be God. And one of the passages that we can see this most clearly is in John 5:19-30.
Jesus’s four-fold claim of divinity
This passage comes in the middle of Jesus’s encounter with the Jewish religious leaders, who objected to his healing a man on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered their objection saying that he only did what he saw his Father doing. The Father is always at work, and so the Son is likewise. The Jewish leaders were enraged by this, and John wrote, it was for this reason that they “were trying even harder to kill him, because … he was … calling God his own Father, thus making himself equal with God” (John 5:18, NET, emphasis added).
The Jewish leaders understood exactly what Jesus was saying in that he did what the Father does. He was making a claim of divinity. And were he a mere human being, they would be right in wanting to kill him according to the Law of Moses. His claim was pure blasphemy—if it were untrue.
Knowing what was happening, had Jesus misspoken or been misunderstood, he could have corrected their thinking. But instead, he doubles down, and in his discourse makes the following claims:
- He is one with the Father in his actions (5:19–20)
- “For whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise…” (John 5:19, NET)
- The Father has given him authority over life (5:21, 24–25)
- “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes…” (John 5:21, NET)
- The Father has given him authority over judgment (5:22, 26–30)
- “he has granted the Son authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man…” (John 5:27, NET)
- Worshiping the Father is only possible by worshiping the Son (5:23)
- “The one who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him…” (John 5:23, NET)
Jesus claimed to be one with the Father in his actions
John 5:19-20 are an exaltation of Jesus. They tell us that he wasn’t simply a human being, but they emphasize his very God-ness, his equality with the Father. Jesus said that everything he does is a reflection of what the Father does. What one does, so does the other.
And why is this the case? Because of the love of the Father for the Son. They were and are entirely united in purpose and action. The Father delighted in sending the Son and the Son delighted in doing the will of the Father. This Kent Hughes could write that when Jesus’s disciples saw Jesus smile, they saw the Father’s smile. “They heard the Father’s teaching. They observed the Father’s tender touch and trembled before his wrath.”1
In claiming to be one with the Father in this way, Jesus was claiming to be God.
Jesus claimed divine authority over life
Jesus not only does what the Father does, in John 5:21, he claimed to have authority over life just as the Father does. This, again, would be an astounding and blasphemous claim—if it were not true. Jesus claimed a divine prerogative: the ability to give life to whomever he wishes. That those who heard his voice and believed in the One who sent him would cross from death to life. That anyone who hears the voice of the Son of God will live.
In claiming divine authority over life, Jesus was claiming to be God.
Jesus claimed the divine right to judge
And in John 5: 22, 26–30, Jesus went further still. It wasn’t just that he claimed authority to give life. Jesus claimed divine authority to judge the living and the dead. “The Father does not judge anyone, but has assigned all judgment to the Son…”
Jesus had divine authority to commend those who, by faith, heard and obeyed the will of God, and to condemn those who disregarded and rejected God’s commands. To welcome all those who trusted believed in the one who sent Jesus into God’s eternal kingdom, enjoying peace with him forever.
In claiming the divine right to judge, Jesus was claiming to be God.
Jesus claimed that honoring him was how we honor the Father
Jesus said that all the authority he had was given for a specific purpose: “so that all people will honor the Son just as they honor the Father. The one who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (John 5:23).
This is a call to honor the Son is a call to worship—a final, plain and unmistakable way that Jesus declares his equality with the Father. For Jesus to make this statement were he not God would be blasphemous. For no human being, no created thing, is worthy of worship. And yet, here is Jesus calling for that which is reserved only for God.
A claim he could only make if he were God.
Did Jesus claim to be God? Yes!
The Jewish leaders knew Jesus was claiming to be God. And rather than correcting them, Jesus doubled down. He told them the truth:
Jesus was, and is, God.
Despite what those who try to discredit Jesus might say or write, Jesus really did claim to be God.
Jesus was not a mere human being, even one uniquely empowered by God. He was not a lesser kind of divine being, similar to the demigods of Greek myths. Jesus was, and is, the Lord. He is the Son who is one with the Father. Jesus is God the Son who is equal to God the Father, yet distinct from God the Father.
He is the Word, who was with God and was fully God, and was with God in the beginning. The one through whom all things were made “and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created” (John 1:1–3, NET).
He is the one who said that “before Abraham was, I Am” (John 8:58, NET), taking the name of God found in Exodus 3:13–14 for himself. Jesus and the Father are one, Jesus said. if we have seen him, we have seen the Father (John 10:30, 14:9).
Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God “and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3, ESV).
And so what can we do? What must we do in response to his claims? Embrace them. Embrace him. Honor him. Obey him. Worship him with every aspect of our lives, in every way imaginable. Because Jesus is the only one worthy of our praise.
Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash
- R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1999), 163.[↩]