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One day, not long after I’d become a Christian, a Jewish friend of mine (not a believer), challenged me as follows. He argued that Jesus never called himself God and that the church had much later made Jesus into a god. He said that the Bible nowhere called Jesus God. Is that true?
All good lies need an element of truth to them, or they wouldn’t be believed. It’s remarkable in fact that the Bible hardly ever calls Jesus God. Why doesn’t it just come out and say it? Why didn’t Jesus just come out and say: “I’m God”? Could my Jewish friend be right?
Well, the Bible actually does just come out and say that Jesus is God, and frankly, so does Jesus. But the whole topic of Jesus’ deity is more complicated than just saying that he is God. To say Jesus is God is actually ambiguous! Does that mean that the Father isn’t God? Or that Jesus is the Father come to earth? Saying “Jesus is God” could be misunderstood in many ways, even though it is true. There are in fact much more accurate ways of saying that Jesus is God.
The Bible actually does just come out and say that Jesus is God. In Paul says that we are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ”. Likewise and . However these references are surprisingly few. Why is that? I think it’s because such statements could be ambiguous and open to misinterpretation. It is true that Jesus is God. But that is not the full story. God is a Trinity. Therefore there are more full and accurate ways of expressing Jesus’ deity.
My favourite verse that expresses Jesus’ deity in an unambiguous way is “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (so too ). Everything that God is was present in Jesus. He is the image of the invisible God (), the exact representation physically of God (). Everything that God is, Jesus is. The whole fullness of deity dwells bodily in Jesus.
So I’m not surprised that Jesus didn’t say “I am God”. He was more accurate than that. He said: “I and the Father are one” (), and that when we’ve seen Jesus we’ve seen the Father (). The unbelieving Jews at the time certainly understood what he meant. They tried to stone him for blasphemy (). God is a Trinity, and Jesus expressed the fact that he is God in those terms. It would have been far more ambiguous and open to misunderstanding if he had just said “I am God”.
There are many more passages to which I could refer. is a personal favourite of mine, for instance. But the conclusion is clear. Jesus understood that he was God in the flesh and so does the rest of the New Testament. But there are surprisingly few references that just come out and say “Jesus is God”. However once we understand the nature of Jesus’ relationship with the Father (and the Holy Spirit) as a Trinitarian God, then the references we have can be seen to be fuller and more accurate assertions of Jesus’ deity.
13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,
5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
8 But of the Son he says,
“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.
9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”
9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,
19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
30 I and the Father are one.”
9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him.
33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.”
4:1 After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 2 At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. 3 And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. 4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. 5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, 6 and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.
And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: 7 the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. 8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!”
9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
11 “Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.”
5:1 Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. 8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”
11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” 13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” 14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.