EXPLORING THE WORD
The Deity of Jesus Part 2
The Account of the Synoptic Gospels
In Part 1 of this series I argued that Jesus of Nazareth consciously positioned Himself in the place of the God of Israel by assuming Yahweh's divine prerogatives (e.g., forgiving sins, claiming to be the final judge of all humanity, etc.). I then argued that Jesus' Resurrection from the dead provided proof that His claims were genuine. In this installment I want to continue to pursue that line of reasoning by giving further support to the idea that Jesus saw Himself as a divine person who possessed divine authority. I will limit my examples to implicit claims to divinity found in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Later in this series I will highlight the more direct claims to divinity found in the Gospel of John.
An often heard complaint from skeptics is that the claims of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels substantially differ from the high Christology that we later find in the Gospel of John. This fact should cast serious doubt on the idea that the historical Jesus actually made claims to be divine. However, while John's Christology is certainly more explicit, Jesus made statements in the synoptics that implied that He had a divine self-understanding. Jesus was in the habit of assuming for Himself privileges and honors that were due to God alone. This is illustrated by the fact that Jesus felt that He had the authority to amend or alter divinely given Old Testament ordinances. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus expands the definition of adultery to include even one's thoughts. Jesus says, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:27-28). Later, Jesus took it upon Himself to revise the Old Testament concept of "an eye for an eye." Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well" (Matthew 5:38-40). Elsewhere, Jesus' teaching included a revision of what the Old Testament had considered clean and unclean (Mark 7:15). When we remember that these Old Testament precepts had been given to the Jewish people by God, Jesus' modification of them gives us an indication of how Jesus saw Himself and the level of authority that He possessed.
After having calmed a storm in the presence of His disciples, Matthew tells us that they worshipped Him (Matthew 14:32-33). Later, after His resurrection from the dead, Jesus was again the recipient of His disciples' worship (Matthew 28:9, 17). What is interesting is that Jesus never is said to have rebuked them for their acts of veneration. He seems to have felt that their worship of Him was entirely appropriate. Moreover, Jesus made clear to the Pharisees that He was "lord even of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:28) — a remarkable assertion when we remember that the Sabbath was instituted by God Himself (Exodus 20:8-11)! Jesus indicated that He knew the thoughts of other people (Matthew 9:4), equated receiving Him as receiving God (Matthew 10:40), and taught that He would be the one to dispense rewards on the last day (Matthew 16:27). Jesus taught that He had exclusive knowledge of the Father (Matthew 11:27), claimed to possess the attribute of omniscience (Matthew 18:20), and hinted that He pre-existed His earthly life (Mark 10:45).
While the Gospel of John contains the clearest references to Jesus' deity, a careful reading of the synoptics reveals a Jesus who saw Himself as a divine person who exercised divine privileges. Any worthwhile study of the historical Jesus must not only take into account the portrait of Him contained in John's Gospel, but Christ's words and actions chronicled in the Synoptic Gospels as well. The fact is that Jesus' divine self-consciousness is permeated throughout all of our gospel sources and can be confidently said to accurately reflect how Jesus actually saw Himself.
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: David Campbell; "dove-object-black2"; Creative Commons
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