Category Archives: God

Did Jesus Claim He was God?

Perhaps at first glance, a modern person wouldn’t think that Jesus claimed to be God. Jesus didn’t use later, more familiar, Christian terminology. He didn’t refer to Himself as the “Second Person of the Trinity,” but He did identify Himself with God in a thoroughly Jewish way, in accordance with the language and expectations of His contemporaries.[1]

When He declared, “I have come,” He indicated that He had a supernatural origin.[2] When He forgave sins, He claimed divine authority.[3] His enemies recognized the implications of such a claim.[4]

Jesus applied the title “Son of Man” to Himself in a unique way that clearly implied to contemporaries He was claiming equality with God. He consciously acted in ways that corresponded to God’s actions in the Old Testament [5] and claimed (divine) power to choose people to carry out his purposes.[6]

Jesus’ miracles also confirmed that God was personally and supernaturally acting through Him in history. In the Gospels Jesus demonstrated divine power by calming the stormy seas, healing sickness, restoring deformed body parts, and raising the dead to life.[7]

Jesus accepted reverence and worship that Paul, as a mere man, rightfully rejected, and Jesus even claimed authority over the angels of heaven.[8]

His enemies may not have been aware of all of these things and their implications, but they were certainly aware of enough of them to realize Jesus identified Himself with God. In fact, it was a key part of the case they made for His judgment and execution.[9]

[1] “To get a genuinely biblical ‘high Christology’—a strong identification between Jesus himself and the God of Israel—you don’t need the kind of explicit statements you find in John (“I and the father are one,” 10:30). What you need is, for instance, what Mark gives you in his opening chapter, where prophecies about the coming of God are applied directly to the coming of Jesus.” Wright, How God Became King, p. 90 and following

[2] “When one examines these sayings of Jesus, the closest matches with them in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition are statements that angels make about their earthly missions (within the Old Testament, see, e.g., Dan 9:22–23; 10:14;11:2). I found twenty-four examples in the Old Testament and Jewish traditions of angels saying, “I have come in order to…” as a way of summing up their earthly missions. A prophet or a messiah in the Old Testament or Jewish tradition never sums up his life’s work this way.” How God Became Jesus p. 97

[3] Matthew 5:17; Mark 10:45; Luke 12:49; 19:10; Matthew 9:2; Mark 2:5-11; Luke 5:20; 7:47-50

[4]Mark 2:7; see also “When one examines these sayings of Jesus, the closest matches with them in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition are statements that angels make about their earthly missions (within the Old Testament, see, e.g., Dan 9:22–23; 10:14;11:2). I found twenty-four examples in the Old Testament and Jewish traditions of angels saying, “I have come in order to…” as a way of summing up their earthly missions. A prophet or a messiah in the Old Testament or Jewish tradition never sums up his life’s work this way.” How God Became Jesus p. 97

[5] For example, he chose 12 disciples as the foundation of a new Israel that would carry out God’s plans in the world.

[6] Matthew 11:27

[7] Mark 4:39; 5:21-24; 6:30-44; 45-52; 9:25; Luke 4:39; 5:1-11; Matthew 12:9-14; 17:24-27

[8] Luke 24:52, Acts 10:25-26, Matthew 13:41; 25:31

[9] Mark 2:7; Mark 14:63-64

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Did Jesus really exist?

Considering the historical context, it’s remarkable that Jesus was mentioned at all in non-Christian historical documents. Yet while there is little reason we should expect first- and second-century non-Christian writers to mention Jesus Christ, some of them did. One was Josephus, the most important Jewish historian of the first century.[1] Another was a renowned Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus, who referred to Jesus early in the second century.[2]

Numerous second- through fifth-century critics of the Christian faith, including Trypho, Pliny, Celsus, Porphyry, and Julian, questioned what Christians believed about Jesus, but none denied He was a real person.[3] Jewish rabbinical tradition also confirms he lived.[4]

Lee Strobel, a professional journalist and author, points out that there is better historical documentation for Jesus than for the founder of any other ancient religion. Not only did Jesus’ followers worship him as God, but many skeptical historians also affirm His existence and the devotion of His followers.[5]

Even the skeptical participants of the “Jesus Seminar” acknowledge that Jesus was a real, historical person. Given the strength of these textual and historical evidences, it is very likely that Jesus not only lived, but was in fact who He claimed to be.

[1] “When, therefore, Ananus [the high priest] was of this [angry] disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road. So he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James.” (Antiquities 20.9.1)

[2] “Therefore, to stop the rumor [that the burning of Rome had taken place by order], Nero substituted as culprits, and punished in the utmost refinements of cruelty, a class of men loathed for their vices, whom the crowd styled Christians. Christus, the founder of the name, had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilatus, and the pernicious superstition was checked for a moment, only to break out once more, not merely in Judea, the home of the disease, but in the capital itself, where all things horrible or shameful in the world collect and find a vogue.” (Tacitus, Annals, trans. C. H. Moore and J. Jackson, LCL, reprint ed. [Cambridge, MA; Harvard University Press, 1962], 283)

[3] Trypho, recorded in Justin Martyr’s “Dialogue with Trypho,” denies that Jesus was Christ, but acknowledges Jesus’ historical existence. Pliny the Younger, a Roman senator and governor, refers to Christians as “reciting a hymn antiphonally to Christus as if to a god.” Celsus made the claim (echoed in the Talmud) that Jesus was a sorcerer and a bastard.

[4] “The Talmudic stories make fun of Jesus’ birth from a virgin, fervently contest his claim to be the Messiah and Son of God, and maintain that he was rightfully executed as a blasphemer and idolater. They subvert the Christian idea of Jesus’ resurrection and insist that he got the punishment he deserved in hell—and that a similar fate awaits his followers.

“Schaefer contends that these stories betray a remarkably high level of familiarity with the Gospels—especially Matthew and John—and represents a deliberate and sophisticated anti-Christian polemic that parodies the New Testament narratives.” (From the jacket summary of the content of Peter Schaefer’s book, Jesus in the Talmud)

[5] The Case for Christ, Zondervan, p. 260

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Can we prove God exists?

That depends on what we mean when we say prove. If we mean “is it possible to present solid, compelling, and logical reasons to believe in the existence of God,” then the answer is yes. But if we mean “can God’s existence be demonstrated beyond all possible doubt,” then the answer is no.

A “no” answer should not cause those who believe in God to panic. Those who deny God’s existence cannot prove their position, either.

Some things are just beyond our ability to prove, and yet we accept them as true. I cannot prove that my wife loves me, but I’m pretty sure she does. I can’t prove that a breathtaking sunset is beautiful, but I know that it is. I can’t prove that torturing and murdering another human being is evil, but it is.

All of us deeply believe in things that can neither be proven or disproven, including the existence of God. And yet we find ourselves as certain about them as we are about the wind that blows in our faces.

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Is it okay to pray for physical healing?

Of course it is! Physical sickness was not a part of God’s original creation. It’s only natural that we call out to our Creator to make us well.

The gospel accounts share numerous examples of Jesus healing people who had all sorts of illnesses and maladies.[1] Like a trailer from a highly anticipated movie, this is one of many ways Jesus gave previews of what it looks like when the power of God’s Kingdom comes to earth.

As we pray for healing today, it’s helpful to keep before us two New Testament passages that show us God will respond with healing or with grace.

On one hand, there is James writing, “Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well.” (James 5:13–14)

On the other hand, there is the apostle Paul who asked Jesus to remove what he called a “thorn in my flesh.”[2]

 “Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:8–9)

 And in his last letter, Paul alludes to a co-worker that he left behind because of illness. “Trophimus I left sick in Miletus,” he writes.3 Sometimes God chooses not to heal His servants immediately.

The New Testament assures us that only when God’s Kingdom is fully implemented in the future will death and sickness and pain be eradicated.4 Until then, it’s good to pray for physical healing. The answer we receive won’t be healing or no healing. It’s healing now or healing later—with the grace to live faithfully and joyfully in anticipation of a full and permanent healing in God’s new heavens and new earth.

[1] Matthew 4:23

[2] 2 Corinthians 12:7

3 2 Timothy 4:20

4 Revelation 21:1-5

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If Jesus was God Incarnate, Did God Die on the Cross?

A basic doctrinal truth held by all orthodox Christians—including Catholics and evangelicals—is that in Jesus Christ God became incarnate in human flesh (Matthew 1:16-25; John 1:14; John 20:26-29; Romans 8:3; Philippians 2:4-8; 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 10:5).

Even though Scripture clearly describes the passion of Jesus Christ, many Christians are unwilling to acknowledge that the divine Son of God suffered and died for our sins. While they affirm that Jesus Christ was truly one human/divine person, they say it was only Christ’s human nature—not His divine nature—that suffered and died.

But if God was truly incarnate in Jesus Christ, how could only Jesus’ human nature suffer the agony, separation, and death described in the Gospels? If only Christ’s human nature experienced suffering, agony, spiritual and physical death, how can we speak of a true incarnation; and how can we be assured of the infinite value of His suffering and death on our behalf?

The Bible makes it clear that we could not be saved if Christ Himself hadn’t borne our sins on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13; Hebrews 9:28). In AD 325, the Council of Nicaea strongly affirmed the deity of Jesus Christ, realizing that our salvation depends upon the incarnation. If Jesus Christ were not both truly God and truly man, His death couldn’t atone for our sin. Only God would be capable of the infinite sacrifice necessary to the sins of the world. (See the ATQ articles, Is it necessary to have a clear understanding of Jesus Christ’s deity in order to be saved? and How can it be morally right for Jesus Christ to die for our sins?)

One of the most fearful truths taught in Scripture is that physical death is not the greatest evil. The greatest evil is “the second death” (Rev. 21:8). Spiritual death is the second death. It is separation from God.

What Jesus dreaded when He said “Let this cup pass from Me” (Matthew 26:39) could not have been merely death by crucifixion. Other martyrs have faced equally horrible deaths with composure. Nor could it be a premature death in Gethsemane at the hands of the devil. Our Lord said that this cup came from God—“Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?” (John 18:11). Moreover, Jesus expressly declared that He wouldn’t die until He voluntarily laid down His life. He said, “I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (John 10:17-18).

Scripture makes it clear that the Son of God suffered most when He was experiencing separation from the Father. This “cup” is the agony of hell Jesus had to endure on the cross. It was the experience of God’s wrath, as in Psalm 75:8, “For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is fully mixed, and He pours it out; surely its dregs shall all the wicked of the earth drain and drink down.” On the cross, God made His Son “who knew no sin to be sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21). He poured upon Jesus Christ His wrath against all sin, causing Him to endure the desolation of hell. This sense of abandonment began to sweep over Jesus in Gethsemane. On the cross, it finally caused Him to cry out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46). The cup that Jesus dreaded, therefore, was the abandonment by God, which makes hell, hell.

Although most classical theologians taught that Jesus Christ suffered only in His human nature, a distinguished minority, including Ignatius of Antioch, Tertullian, Martin Luther, A. H. Strong, Jurgen Moltmann, and D. A. Carson, disagree. Charles Wesley wrote:

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

’Tis mystery all: th’ Immortal dies!
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine.
’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.
’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore;
Let angel minds inquire no more.

He left His Father’s throne above,
So free, so infinite His grace!
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race.
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!

Scripture itself speaks of God’s capacity to suffer (e.g., Judg. 10:16; Jer. 31:20; Hos. 11:8). Isn’t it presumptuous to assume that the Creator knows less of suffering and emotion than His creatures.

Perhaps the assumption that Jesus Christ’s divine nature couldn’t experience suffering and death is based on faulty reasoning rather than Scripture and reality. Any argument used against Jesus Christ’s divine nature experiencing death can be applied against the incarnation itself. How could the eternal God be incarnate in a time-bound, finite man? How could the eternal God set aside His omnipotence and omniscience? We don’t doubt these things, so why should we doubt that in some sense the second person of the Trinity suffered and died on the cross of Calvary?

While we raise these questions, we acknowledge the need for humility No one should assume they have an absolute answer to this question any more than they can pretend to understand the Trinity or the incarnation.

 

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