For many centuries, since early Christianity until today, people had debated whether Jesus was God, or not. In this post, I will try to answer the question – who Jesus was? To do it, I will use God’s words, those of the Apostles, and Jesus’ own. The Bible gives us plenty of material to work with, and arrive at different answers to questions such as: was Jesus a Jewish man empowered by God to fulfill the mission of humanity’s salvation? This is what the gospel of Mark says. On the other hand, John’s gospel says that Jesus was not a man; he was a divine being, God himself, who created the universe, and then became human to reveal the truth of salvation. Another question: what was Jesus’ mission on earth? Was it to warn sinners of coming judgement? Or was it to teach the truth about God that will bring eternal life? Was his mission to die to wash the sins of the world? All these points of view are represented in the Bible. Even more important, from the Bible itself we should be able to discern who Jesus think he is. I hope you understand this to be a difficult task because there is a wide variety of opinion in regards to who or what Jesus is. Let’s take a look!
Muslims believe that Jesus was one of Islam’s many prophets. He was a good and holy man, but certainly neither God nor the Son of God.
In Judaism and Buddhism, he was a great teacher, an enlightened man, not even a prophet, much less a god. For them, he did not perform miracles. That would make him divine, which is unacceptable.
Mormons believe that God created Jesus through a relationship with one of His celestial wives. Even Satan was one of His children, brother of Jesus, equal with him in nature.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus was, and is, merely an angel who is just one of many “gods” they say exists. To them, Michael, the archangel, left heaven to become Jesus, and then came back to heaven, as Michael, after Jesus’ human existence ended.
Hindus believe that Jesus was one of many great and holy men, a good teacher, one of their 330 million avatars.
New Ager’s believe that Jesus was an enlightened teacher who realized he was God, just like we all can discover we are Gods.
There are some who believe that Jesus was not a human being, he was God in human appearance. A reincarnated God that appeared to be human.
Others affirm He did not have a human body; accordingly, He did not suffer or died on the cross. The person on the cross was an apparition.
As you can see, there are many explanations about who Jesus was. This is not a problem exclusive of our days; the early Christian Churches were also confused and divided over disagreements on the nature of the relationship between Jesus and God. Then and now, the problem with Jesus being God is that it contradicts monotheism. The apparent dilemma troubled Emperor Constantine the Great who convened the council of Nicaea in 325 AD. The official objective of the council was to propose and vote on the establishment of Jesus as God, or the Son of God. The affirmative option, Jesus as God, was presented and defended by Alexander, bishop of Alexandria. His view was that Jesus and God were of the same essence, both eternal and uncreated. This position was favored by Constantine who presented himself as neutral on the matter but did not hide his feelings about it. The negative option was presented by Arius, a priest of Alexandria. Arius emphasized the Father’s divinity over the Son. He defended the position that there was a time before the Son of God, when only God the Father existed. The debates between those who agreed with the bishop and those who favored the priest lasted for over two months. The council’s emphasis was on opposing Arius’ thesis that Jesus was not God. A large majority of the 250-300 bishops in attendance went with Alexander and the Emperor. Only two or three of them voted with Arius.
Yes, Jesus’ divinity was the result of an affirmative vote by the majority of bishops in attendance. Constantine and his court were, of course, satisfied by the results. The council passed 20 canons which, contrary to the common belief, had nothing to do with deciding which books should be included in the New Testament. The Creed, arguably the most important document originated at Nicaea, survives until now. It was written in such a way that it would make impossible to accept Arius’ point that Jesus was not God. Despite the council’s outcome, Arian churches persisted through Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and various Germanic kingdoms, until suppressed by force or “voluntary” conversion, between the fifth and seventh centuries.
Since then, many scholars and students of the scriptures have followed the guidelines set at the Council of Nicaea. Most of the bishops there agreed that Jesus was God. This affirmation is shared by the Trinitarians, those who believe that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, are of the same essence (three distinct persons but just one God, or three manifestations of the same God). There is no explanation in scripture for the Trinity; not one single word. Such an important doctrine should have created a big controversy. It didn’t, probably meaning that the gospel writers did not hear about it or simply ignored it. Additionally, neither Jesus not the Apostles were Trinitarians; Trinitarianism did not exist then. Nevertheless, Trinitarianism has dominated the religious scene. Trinitarians affirm that Jesus preceded the creation of the universe and was there with God when it happened. They base their belief, mostly on the gospel of John, who, in Chapter 1, verse 1, says that God and the Word (Jesus) are one. Incidentally, the assertion that Jesus was God the Father, appears in John’s gospel exclusively. According to John, God the Father and Jesus were together at the creation of the universe. Both had, therefore, always existed. “In the beginning, the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” says John. In another verse from his gospel (1:14), John corroborates that “the Word” is Jesus. Later, again according to John, the Word became flesh. When you read John 1:1, you conclude that Jesus is just the bodily manifestation of God. Jesus is of the same essence of God. John’s implication is that there is a certain moment when God decided to become flesh. He transformed himself into a child, grew up to adulthood, preached his doctrine, and died on the cross. It follows then that Jesus is the agonizing manifestation of a God that cannot suffer. According to John, one assertion comes out firmly: God is one.
It isn’t just that, by reading the gospels you have to conclude that, 2000 years ago, miracles were common. Jesus performed a lot of them. He raised people from the dead. He fed multitudes with little food. He even walked on water. Those were signs that proclaimed his divinity; it could also be said he performed those miraculous acts because he was the only-begotten son of God. One of the few things he wasn’t supposed to do was to forgive sins; only God can do that. Jesus, however, did that. He acted with authority, as if he was God. Was he thinking he was God? I believe not. He was aware that His Father, the one who existed before everything, who created the universe, and with it, everything in it, including space and time, delegated many of His powers to him.
There are other biblical mentions to justify the Trinitarians’ affirmation that there is one God, who can be three different persons of the same essence.
The Apostle John called Jesus God (John 1:1-3). “The Word (referring to Jesus, as verified in John 1:14) was with God, and the Word was God.”
The Apostle Thomas called Jesus God (John 20:27-28). “My Lord and my God,” said Thomas.
The Jews who crucified Jesus understood him to be saying that he was identical with God (John 5:18). “He also said that God was his father, making himself equal with God.”
In John 10:33, the Jews answered to his question about the reasons for their wanting to stone him. “You, being a man, make yourself God.”
Jesus gives everlasting life and forgives sins (John 10:27-28 and Mark 2:5-7). If God alone can forgive sins and give eternal life, it follows that Jesus must be God, or possess God’s powers.
Jesus called himself “I am,” the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last (John 8:58, and Revelation 22:12-13).
The Apostle Peter called Jesus God (2 Peter 1:1). “Our Savior and God,” he said.
The Apostle Paul called Jesus God (Titus 2:12-14). “God and Savior,” Paul declared.
Isaiah the prophet said that the coming Messiah would be God (Isaiah 9:6). Among quite a few other names, he named him “Mighty God.”
Jesus’ blood is called God’s blood (Acts 20:28).
God the Father called Jesus God (Hebrews 1:8).
If you are one of the many Christians through the centuries who have believed that Jesus is God Almighty, absolutely equal to God in nature with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, the other two persons in the trinity, then you are in the majority. Most Christians share this view. Nevertheless, there are quite a few controversial questions to put some doubts regarding Jesus’ essence. For example, who did Jesus pray to? Did he pray to himself? Another problem: If Jesus was God, then the Father suffered and died on the cross, and lay dead in a grave for three days. Three days later, He was resurrected by whom?
Do you still want to side with the Trinitarian argument even if it was wrong? This mentality of stubbornly holding to a belief regardless of the evidence is fear based. However, if you are someone who is not afraid to ask the big questions, stay with us. You are a firm believer that God has given you his spirit to lead you to the truth.
If you are like many of us, you belong among the ones who believe that God is God, and nobody else can be Him. For these believers, God made the universe and everything in it all by himself. He did not need help. He existed before the creation of the universe and, consequently, outside of it. If you are one of those, you are not alone. This point of view is shared by those who believe in one God, eternal, unbegotten, without beginning, true, immortal, wise, good, sovereign, unchangeable, unalterable, and invisible (He did not allow Moses to see him because He is invisible. However, during the configuration, he brought Moses into the picture so that he could see Him in Jesus).
Marc, Luke, and Matthew would be willing to validate this assertion; John would oppose it. In effect, the earlier gospel writers do not refer to Jesus as God; only John does. Additionally, the Bible does not mention the Trinity at all. The Trinity is a mystery, and we have to accept it by faith. Their defenders allege the reason for the Scriptures’ silence on the matter is that it is above men’s knowledge and understanding. The Bible is also silent about the Holy Ghost, which makes me wonder why is it that there are no conversations between God and the Holy Ghost? I heard one preacher the other day saying that because God is a spirit and holy, He must be the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, for those who believe in this one God, it is acceptable to believe that Jesus could be a manifestation of God, or even better, His only Son. According to this version, he wasn’t God the Father, and he wasn’t God. He was something in between the two. He was a human being chosen by God to become his son.
Again, the Bible gives us many examples of Jesus being the Son of God. Although John is the only gospel writer who clearly defined Jesus as God, he contradicts himself many times. Let’s take John’s gospel again to show some of the instances where Jesus is identified as the Son of God, not as God. In John 1:34, John the Baptist says: “I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” God the Father is a spirit, and Jesus is His Begotten Son. Later, in Chapter 12, Verse 28, it is Jesus who says: “My Father is greater than I.” Furthermore, in John 3:16-18, Jesus is identified as the only begotten Son of God. Again, in John 4:34, Jesus emphasized doing the will of God and not his own. John places a lot of emphasis on Jesus’ decision to do nothing by himself (John 5:19, 5:30, and 8:28-29). Jesus himself tells us that even his teachings and his words came from the Father and not from him (John 7:16, 12:49, and 14:24). John also declares that Jesus had a God (John 20:17) to whom he worshiped and prayed (John 4:23). The very definite statement from the apostle and gospel writer is in John 3:16-17, where he says: “For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten-son, that whosoever believed in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
There are plenty of verses in the Bible where the Father is identified as the only God, and Jesus is clearly identified as His Son. Deuteronomy 6:4 couldn’t be clearer. “The Lord is One,” it says. This verse is a clear and concise statement of monotheism. Then in 1 Corinthians 8:6 Paul says: “yet there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we exist.” In the same book, Chapter 15, Verse 28, the apostle Paul states: “And when all things have been subjected to Him, then the Son Himself will be made subject to Him who put all things under Him.” Jesus earthly parents and himself were Jews. This is why In Mark 12:28-34 Jesus agreed with a scribe about monotheism, and then complemented the scribe by telling him: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Additionally, there are no testimonies of Jesus referring to himself as God. The crucial matter here is that, even if Jesus was created by God before every other thing was created, he had a definite beginning before which he did not exist; accordingly, he was not God.
The Bible is the word and the will of God, inspired by him through the ages. Through the Bible, we can reach the heart of God. Even though, for those who have dedicated their lives to studying the Scriptures, it is very difficult to reconcile the many questions surrounding Jesus’ divinity. Let’s take Mark 13:32 as an example: here, Jesus says he does not know the date or the time of his return because the Father is the only one who knows. Jesus was not all knowing (Matt 24:36). If Jesus was God, he should have known. Furthermore, Jesus had parents, he ate and drink, he felt hunger and thirst; God did not! Jesus was circumcised and presented to God according to the laws of his earthly parents (Luke 2:21-22). Jesus was likened to Adam; Paul called him the last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45). Many people of his time saw him as a prophet (Matthew 21:46). In Matthew 9:8, it is said that God gave him awestruck powers. This is clarified in Acts 2:22 and 17:31, where Jesus is defined as a man accredited and appointed by God. Jesus was a mediator between men and God (1 Timothy 2:5). He is commonly referred as the Son of Man (Mark 8:31, Mark 2:10, Matt 9:6, and Luke 5:24). In Romans 15:6 and Corinthians 11:3, Jesus is shown as subordinate to God. Additional evidence of his subordination to the Father can be found in Matthew 4:10 and 6:6, where Jesus preached to worship and pray to God. Furthermore, in Matthew 26:39 and Hebrews 5:7 Jesus submitted to the will of God. In another passage (Mark 12:28-29), Jesus affirmed the Shema (this is a prayer of the Hebrew Torah). Not only that, Jesus had to be made perfect and learn obedience, as declared in Hebrews 5:9. In addition, Jesus sits at the right hand of God (Mark 16:19). He is lesser than the third person of the Trinity (Matt 12:32), and he was made lower than the angels (Hebrew 2:9). Further evidence can be found in Acts 10:38, where God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit, which means that Jesus is not the Holy Spirit. Not less than that, Jesus felt forsaken by his Father (Mark 15:34). While in Matthew 20:23 he does not decide things, in 28:18 he says that his glory, authority, and honor were given to him.
This is a valid moment to ask: When did Jesus start to think he was the Son of God? A good guess would be to think that, perhaps, he did it at his baptism by John the Baptist in the river Jordan. Many students of the Scriptures agreed. This is the moment when God, for the first time, declared Jesus to be his son. According to Matthew’s narrative (3:1), when Jesus came out of the water, the heavens opened; the Spirit of God descended unto him as a dove; and then all present heard a voice out of the heavens saying: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” At this precise moment, Jesus understood his life had a purpose, a mission from God. There are two more instances where God declared Jesus to be His Son: at the mountain during his transfiguration, and then again when he raised him from the dead (Romans 6:9-11). In at least those three instances, God declared that Jesus was his son.
Jesus knew who he was but was not sure about how his followers saw him. At a certain point during his ministry, he asked the brethren: “who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Some say you are the reincarnation of Elijah, Isaiah, or Moses, came the answer from them. Jesus, then, rephrased the question: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said, “you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus then congratulated Peter for getting this revelation from “my Father, who is in heaven.”
Not only here, but all along the gospels, Peter is consistently declaring that Jesus is the Son of God. During the transfiguration, according to Matthew 17:5, Jesus was in the mountain, transfigured. That is, he changed from an earthly man to a glorified one. Peter did not know what to say when he saw Jesus’ face brilliant like the sun, and his garments white as white could be. Then they were all under a white cloud. A voice came from the cloud… “this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” There are some who believe that hearing such a clear affirmation, coming from God himself, convinced Peter that Jesus was the Son of God.
The testimonies of Jesus, the apostles, and God himself take us to the conclusion that Jesus is the Son of God; not God. Son of God means just that. In Isaiah 46:9, the prophet declares that God said: “I am God and there is none like me.” A similar affirmation is made in 2 Kings 17:37. Jesus questioned being called “good” by affirming that only God the Father is good (Luke 18:19). According to Matthew 4:1, the devil tempted Jesus by referring to Him as the Son of God. In 2 Samuel 7-14 God tells us that He will be Jesus’ father; Samuel was referring to the one coming in the future who will be called the Son of God.
God cannot be born; nevertheless, Paul, in Galatians 4:4, declared that God sent his son to be born of a woman. Another instance is when the angel announced to Mary (Luke 1:32). Gabriel told her that “he shall be great and shall be called the son of the highest: and the lord God should give him the throne of his father: David. Although Jesus made sure that the prophecies set in the Old Testament were fulfilled – as an example, He entered Jerusalem in the way he was predicted to do it by Zechariah – when he was asked if he was God, he answered by saying: “You say I am.” He did not say I am God!
In many places, Jesus referred to God as “my father.” He also spoke of “my God and your God, my father and your father.” He constantly prayed to his father. This could only mean he was not the Father, but that one is greater than the other. One is the head of the family, and the other is a member. When God speaks, He does it singularly (Jeremiah 29:11). In many other passages, God, or somebody referring to Him, use the pronouns I or He.
God is only one, and Jesus is His son. Although he functions as God today, he is not God, he is His son. The same rationale can be applied to the Holy spirit; it is a gift from God, yet it is not God, it is His gift. Paul, preaching to a Judaic group in a Jewish synagogue (Acts 13:32) said that God raised his son, bringing him back from death. Then comes Jesus declaration to Nicodemus where he spoke about being born again. In John 17:18-22, Jesus said: As you have sent me into the world, so I have also sent them into the world, referring to his sending the apostles to preach to the world. He also said: As you Father are in me, I am in them.
Jesus, as far as I am concerned, was a man, a human being, until the day of his baptism, when he was adopted by God as His own begotten Son. His own spiritual perception was one of intense closeness with God to the point of considering himself to be His son. He did not see this in an exclusive sense. He felt other people could feel the same. He was also, however, a radical figure. He upset people because his message of love was upsetting for people who were not loving, and that is what happened to Jesus. That’s what got him killed. He was preaching of a kingdom where all people could enter. He did not see that kingdom as a natural place, but a spiritual place here and now, where everybody can enter.