EXPLORING THE WORD
The Deity of Jesus Part 1
The Testimony of Jesus
One would be hard-pressed to find a more controversial person in World History than Jesus Christ. From throwing the money changers out of the Temple to His ability to perform miraculous healings, Jesus of Nazareth certainly piqued the curiosity of many during His three-year public ministry in 1st Century Israel. While Jesus continues to be admired for His ethical teachings contained in the Sermon on the Mount and His genuine compassion shown to the sick and handicapped, the longstanding controversy surrounding Jesus continues to be His claim to be divine. Jesus' claims about Himself make it extraordinarily difficult to classify Him as merely a wise sage who went around spouting moral platitudes. Such a reconstructed historical figure would surely not have generated much controversy among his fellow Jews and would not have been seen as potentially seditious by the Romans.
But create controversy He did, and after examining the historical record, it is easy to see why. Jesus went around making statements and performing actions that were understood to be the prerogative of Yahweh and no other. In Luke 7, Jesus pronounces a woman's sins forgiven in response to her faith in Him. Jesus made a similar pronouncement of a paralytic recorded in Mark 2:1-13. Jesus' Jewish audience recognized that such actions are the prerogative of God alone. Jesus made other statements that revealed His divine self-understanding. In Mark 14, Jesus identified Himself as the "Son of Man" (Mark 14:61-64), a title that passes the historical criteria of multiple attestation as it is found in all of our gospel sources. The "Son of Man" title is used of Jesus only a few times outside of the Gospels themselves. Given its scant usage by the early church, it is quite unlikely that this title would have been read back into the lips of Jesus if He had not referred to Himself in this way. So the title "Son of Man" appears to have been one of Jesus' favorite self-designations. In identifying himself as the "Son of Man," Jesus is drawing a parallel between Himself and a divine figure described by the prophet Daniel. This "Son of Man" is described as being given "dominion, glory, and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and men of every language might serve Him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which will not pass away, and his kingdom one that will never be destroyed" (Daniel 7:14). That the High Priest immediately tore his robe assures us that Jesus was making a claim to divinity — a claim that the High Priest recognized as blasphemous. When combined with the fact that Jesus taught that He will be the final judge all of humanity (Matthew 25:31-46), it seems clear that Christ made claims — both implicitly and explicitly — that He was, in fact, divine. Who else but a divine figure would have the authority to forgive sins? Who but a divine person would have an everlasting dominion that will not pass away and will never be destroyed? Who but God would have the authority to judge all of humanity?
But so what? Any person can make outrageous assertions. This skeptical mindset may have been behind the request of the Pharisees for Jesus to produce a "sign" or miracle in order to prove who He was claiming to be. Jesus responded that no such "sign" or miracle would be given except the sign of Jonah-a metaphor He used to describe His resurrection from the dead. Jesus was essentially saying that His resurrection would be the definitive proof that His claims to deity were genuine.
But did He ultimately rise from the dead? Can a person living in the 21st century actually believe that a man who was irreversibly dead ended up walking out of His own tomb? I believe that we can so long as we are genuinely open to the possibility of the miraculous. The testimony to having seen Jesus alive comes to us very early (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). It includes appearances to named individuals as well as groups of people (a feature that should rule out any type of hallucination theory). Jesus is said to have appeared to men as well as women, inside as well as out of doors. He appeared to those who knew him well (Luke 24:36-43; John 20:26-30; 21:1-14), a family skeptic (1 Corinthians 15:7), as well as a professed enemy (Acts 9:3-7; 22:6-10; 26:12-18).
The fact that these independent sources were later collected into one book that we now call the New Testament in no way undermines their historical credibility. It seems that many of these witnesses were willing to undergo intense suffering, persecution, and even martyrdom for their conviction that Jesus had conquered death. According to two first century sources, Clement of Rome and the Roman historian Josephus, several of them ultimately did pay with their lives (e.g., Peter, Paul, and Jesus' half-brother, James). It is an interesting fact that the only people who were in a position to know whether Jesus had risen or not were the very people who were willing to undergo persecution and even martyrdom for the truth of the Christian message (a message that included Jesus' bodily resurrection as one of its essential points). While valiant attempts have been made to explain away the testimonial evidence of this miracle, the Resurrection of Jesus continues to remain the best explanation of the facts. And it is Jesus' Resurrection that ultimately establishes the fact that Jesus is divine.
Part 1: The Testimony of Jesus
Part 2: The Account of the Synoptic Gospels
Part 3: The Claims of the Gospel of John
Part 4: The Assertions of the Apostles
Image Credit: Sharon; "Easter Corss ~ Alleluia ~ Praise the Lord"; Creative Commons
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