Did Jesus claim to be God?
Two thousand years ago, a man named Jesus Christ set foot on our planet. Our world has never been the same since. People are still asking, “Who was this one who changed the way we think about God and about ourselves?” Jesus made radical claims about his identity, but he also presented himself as a compassionate, humble servant with a mission to save us from sin.
Jesus was a mystery to those who saw and heard him. To the masses he was the great physician who healed the blind, deaf and lame. To the down and outcast he brought hope. To his enemies he was an imposter. To his followers he was the promised Messiah.
But did Jesus claim to be God as Christians believe?
At the core of Christianity is the belief that God came to earth in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ. Those who saw and wrote about Jesus called him the Creator of the universe. Raised in a religious culture of many gods, Ravi Zacharias writes of Jesus Christ as fully man and fully God.
Here, then, is the man from Nazareth, who claimed that His origin was from heaven and that His Father is none other than God Himself—a son not born out of physical consummation nor out of a need for communion, but the consummate expression of God in the flesh, in eternal communion with the Father.
As J. I. Packer explains, “The gospel tells us that our Creator has become our Redeemer.” Because this conviction is the central theme of Christianity, denying the deity of Jesus Christ places a dagger into the heart of the Christian message.
But did Jesus really claim to be God, or is that a teaching that evolved over time? Since Jesus spoke Aramaic (a dialect of Hebrew), we need to understand what his claims meant to his Aramaic-speaking audience. How did they react to his claims?
Since his Jewish audience was immersed in the Hebrew Scriptures, we need to understand Jesus’ claims about himself in light of their teaching about God.
Did Jesus Teach God is One?
The Bible reveals God as the sole Creator of the universe. He is infinite, eternal, all powerful, all-knowing, personal, righteous, loving, just, and holy. He created us in His image, and for His pleasure. According to the Bible, God made us to have an eternal relationship with Himself (Read more about this relationship at http://y-jesus.com/wwrj/7-jesus-relevant-today/).
When God spoke to Moses at the burning bush 1500 years before Christ, He strongly reaffirmed that He is the only God who exists. God told Moses His name is Yahweh, (I AM). (Most of us are more familiar with the English translation, Jehovah or LORD.) Since that time, the foundational Scripture (Shema) for Judaism has been:
“Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God is one LORD.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)
It is in this world of monotheistic belief that Jesus entered into, ministered in, and began making claims that astounded all who heard them. And according to Ray Stedman, Jesus is the central theme of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Here, in the form of a living, breathing human being, is the one who satisfies and fulfills all the symbols and prophecies of Genesis through Malachi. As we move from the Old Testament to the New, we find that one person, Jesus of Nazareth, is the focal point of both Testaments.
But the fact that Christians believe Jesus is God as well as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies doesn’t mean that he claimed to be God. The question we must ask is: did Jesus equate himself with Yahweh, the one true God who spoke with Moses at the burning bush?
To find out, let’s look further at the names Jesus used for himself, and what those names meant to his Jewish audience. Who did they think Jesus was claiming to be?