When Richard Dawkins claims, ‘There is no good historical evidence that [Jesus] ever thought he was divine’, he is tripping blindfold over the truth.
C. S. Lewis gets us on the right track when he writes, ‘The doctrine of Christ’s divinity seems to me not something stuck on, which you can unstick, but something that peeps out at every point, so that you would have to unravel the whole web to get rid of it’.
We can begin to see this by looking at three other direct claims Jesus made. The first was when one of his disciples asked for concrete evidence on which to build their faith. They were not philosophers, academics or theologians, but ordinary down-to-earth people, for whom seeing was believing.
They had heard Jesus teach about the kingdom of God, the power of God, the love of God, and much more about him; now they wanted something extra, and one of them got straight to the point: ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us’ (John 14:8).
Jesus had taught them earlier that when praying to God they should call him ‘Father’, so it is clear what they were asking. Jesus met the challenge head-on: ‘Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9).
Centuries before, God had told Moses that ‘man shall not see me and live’ (Exodus 33:20); now Jesus was saying that he (God the Son) revealed all of God’s character and nature that it was possible and necessary for a human being to see and know. As one New Testament writer put it, Jesus ‘made Him known’ (John 1:18).
The second claim was made a few hours before his death, when Jesus prayed, ‘And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed’ (John 17:5). He was clearly claiming that this shared glory was not given to him at any time in the past, but was something he possessed eternally, before the world had even been created. He was addressing God on equal terms.
The third claim was made shortly afterwards, while Jesus was with his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane and a squad of soldiers (tipped off by the traitor Judas Iscariot) came to arrest him. When Jesus asked them, ‘Whom do you seek?’, they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth’. When Jesus replied, ‘I am he, they drew back and fell to the ground’ (John 18:4-6).
Why would they do that? Jesus was emotionally exhausted, unarmed, and offering no resistance, yet when Jesus answered their question in the way he did, a whole detachment of armed troops staggered backwards and clattered to the ground. On that performance, they were hardly Special Services material!
Then why did they suddenly keel over? The explanation lies in the phrase Jesus used. Translators have added the word ‘he’ to round out the sentence, but Jesus said just two words: ego eimi.
This simply means ‘I am’ (the divine title), but the majesty and glory of those two words, and the way they were spoken, literally swept the soldiers off their feet in a spectacular demonstration of the presence and power of God.
As we read the New Testament, we find that time and again Jesus is given names or titles that apply only to God. One name dates back to Old Testament times, when God’s people shied away from making direct references to him by name.
They were so reluctant to spell out his sacred name, ‘Yahweh’, that they shortened it to four consonants, yhwh. And, even in that coded form, it had to be used very carefully.
Other Hebrew words for God included adonay and elohim, and, in the twelfth century, it was a combination of the consonants yhwh and the vowels from these two words that produced the word ‘Jehovah’, which is sometimes used of God today.
When the Old Testament was first translated from Hebrew to Greek, the word most commonly chosen to translate yhwh and adonay was kyrie, which our English versions of the Bible almost always translate as ‘Lord’.
In well over 6,000 cases, the word kyrios (Lord) is used as a translation or synonym of one or other of the major Old Testament words for God. ‘Lord’ means almighty creator and sustainer of the universe, to whom all men owe unqualified worship and obedience. Yet New Testament writers constantly quote Old Testament statements about ‘the Lord’ and apply them to Jesus. It is easy to find examples.
The prophet Isaiah called God’s people to prepare for a later prophet, who would call out, ‘In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord’ (Isaiah 40:3). Centuries later, an itinerant preacher, now known as John the Baptist, announced himself as ‘the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord, as the prophet Isaiah said’ (John 1:23), and immediately introduced his listeners to Jesus.
Isaiah also warned that, to some people, the Lord would be ‘a stone of offence and a rock of stumbling’ (Isaiah 8:14); and, over 400 years later, the apostle Peter had this prophecy in mind when he described Jesus as ‘a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence’ (1 Peter 2:8).
One of the psalmists said of the Lord, ‘You laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands’ (Psalm 102:25); and a New Testament writer said of Jesus, ‘You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands’ (Hebrews 1:10).
Writing of God’s power and mercy, the prophet Joel said, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’ (Joel 2:32); and both Peter (Acts 2:21) and Paul (Romans 10:13) quote Joel verbatim when writing about Jesus. But these examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Paul refers to Jesus as ‘Lord’ about 200 times.
Another key title is one that was used of Jesus before he was born. An angel told Mary that her child would be ‘called the Son of the Most High’ and that ‘of his kingdom there will be no end’ (Luke 1:32-33).
The description ‘Most High’ occurs nearly 60 times in the Bible and is used only of God. The angel underlined the news by telling Mary that Jesus would be called ‘the Son of God’ (Luke 1:35).
This title was to be used of God over 30 times in the New Testament, including Jesus being ‘declared to be the Son of God in power’ (Romans 1:14) after his resurrection.
Elsewhere in the New Testament, the writers confirm the divine nature of Jesus in the clearest possible way. The apostle Paul calls him ‘the image of the invisible God’ (Colossians 1:15) and says that in him ‘all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell’ (Colossians 1:19). Elsewhere, he speaks of ‘our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ’ (Titus 2:13).
Peter writes of ‘the righteousness of our God and Saviour, Jesus Christ’ (2 Peter 1:1). John calls him ‘the true God and eternal life’ (1 John 5:20) and the writer of Hebrews describes him as ‘the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature’(Hebrews 1:3).
If these are not telling us that Jesus is God, it isdifficult to know what they are saying! Having carefullyweighed up the biblical evidence, C. S. Lewis came to thisconclusion: ‘I have to accept that [Jesus] was and is God. Godhas landed on this enemy-occupied world in human form’.
John Blanchard is an international conference speaker, teacher and preacher, and a best-selling author of books and booklets on the Christian faith, including Ultimate Questions (EP Books). This extract is taken, with permission, from the author’s recent book Why Jesus? (EP Books)