Have you ever fallen for someone’s bluff? How much did it cost you? Probably not as much as the value of the thirteen works of art stolen in a famous heist on the Gardner Museum! Two men, dressed as police officers, asked for access to the building to investigate a reported disturbance. The man at the door believed them, only to soon find himself handcuffed and tied up in the basement of the museum when it transpired that the two men were in fact art thieves and not the policemen they had claimed to be. With the only other member of staff in the building similarly restrained, the thieves had most of the night to make off with their stolen goods. There remains a USD$10,000,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of the artworks, if they can be recovered in good condition.1 Talk is cheap, as they say: you can say what you like about yourself, but people don’t have to believe you until you can prove it.
…it is more important to judge the identity of Jesus by what he does. Even at the ‘big picture’ level, we see him acting in the same role as God: as the Holy One, and as the redeemer, leader and teacher of his people
Some who deny the equality of Jesus with God make the claim that Jesus never said he was God. Part of what they mean is that he never explicitly said, “I am God.” But, as the Gardner Museum heist demonstrated, who people claim to be does not necessarily correlate with who they truly are. Therefore even if Jesus had said he was God, we would need to evaluate that statement to see if he was telling the truth.
shorIt was a deliberate thing on Jesus’ part to never make this claim directly: he defined the way we are to conclude whether he is God or not, in an argument he had with the Jewish leaders in John 10:25-39:
So that he is not found to be a deceiver using empty words, we must evaluate him by what he does before we evaluate what he says. This was important to both Jesus and the people he was debating with: they would both agree that miracles done in the name of God are only possible when the person doing them is acceptable to God.2
There needs to be a claim on trial when we test the goodness of someone’s actions for a proof. So Jesus claims to be one with God, his Father. It’s not the direct statement “I am God” that is sometimes demanded, but in its historical context it should be seen as a claim that is blasphemous if it is not true. Therefore we have that Jesus should not be able to perform miracles in the name of God if he is not indeed one with the Father.
There are two sides to Jesus’ claim here. First is the immediate association with miracles: the kinds of works that are only possible by God’s enabling. Second is the fact that Jesus’ life was completely made up of good works. It’s not as direct an assertion, but there is the implication in Jesus’ challenge that there would be nothing in all the things that he had done that would justify his adversaries stoning him. Even this claim to complete goodness is an indirect claim to his being God:
Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”’Mark 10:18
4 .”[Am I blaspheming] because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
Underlining his initial statement of this test, Jesus now makes the challenge for his audience to follow the reasoning through: his works were genuine and good, therefore his claims are too.
Some films deliver a huge punch to the watcher in the form of a twist. The viewer watches the film understanding everything from one perspective, and comes to a natural conclusion about everything that has happened. Then, through some dramatic revelation, some piece of information is unveiled that changes the way that all the scenes beforehand are to be understood. If the person immediately re-watches the film (and it’s well-made!), they’ll be able to see how they weren’t shown anything false the first time through, but knowing what they know now, they understand the same scenes differently.
Some of those who deny Jesus’ identity without making the claim that he had to say “I am God” might even use parts of John 10 to deny his identity. To do this, they cite verses 34-36 without the surrounding context – and if you do read them on their own, it does seem like he’s denying any claim to be God. Hopefully the above section makes it plain that these verses were part of the argument Jesus was making: we should test his works more than his words, because words alone can be interpreted many ways. Taking them out of context is like starting a film with a twist and turning it off before the big revelation: the scenes that have been seen are left misinterpreted and the reader comes to the wrong conclusion.
One of the first times Jesus acted with explicitly divine authority is when he forgave the sins of the paralytic man (Mark 2:5-11). Again, the presence of an accompanying miracle gave credence to his claim, and those who witnessed it understood the wonder of what had happened (Mark 2:12). As the religious leaders grew increasingly antagonistic towards him and his identity over the years of his ministry, Jesus increasingly refrained from explicit mention of the source of his authority while still leaving the insinuation that it was ‘from heaven’ – that is to say, from God (Mark 11:27-33).
Some films deliver a huge punch to the watcher in the form of a twist. The viewer watches the film understanding everything from one perspective, and comes to a natural conclusion about everything that has happened. Then, through some dramatic revelation, some piece of information is unveiled that changes the way that all the scenes beforehand are to be understood.
Furthermore, sometimes the authority of Jesus’ actions was fully implied because of what it was he was claiming he was doing. In John 10:17-18 he claimed authority over his own life and death, the kind of control that only God has. It’s telling how weighty a statement was in its cultural context by the arguments that sprang up as a result: they debated if he was insane, or possessed by evil, or if he was indeed God, as he was implying.
We’ve already mentioned the historical context and the expectations of Jesus’ audience a few times, and it’s worth mentioning again as we see Jesus repeatedly accepting worship.3 This is an act that would again have been considered blasphemous and made Jesus an illegitimate prophet if he were not rightfully able to do so. The proof that he is indeed rightfully able to accept worship is that he was also able to do those miracles with the authority of God. Even angels dismiss worship given to them – only God can accept it, and Jesus does.
The idea of ‘things Jesus does prove him to be God’ is also the measure that the New Testament writers talk about him, for example:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.Colossians 1:15-17
He is described here as the one who created all things (definitely a work of God), and the one who keeps them functioning even now (again, the role of God). Furthermore, in Philippians 2:6, 9-11 he is described as already having equality with God even before he came to earth, and then being exalted with the highest name, and being worshipped by all and being called Lord of all. And, as we have previously said, these things are only appropriate to the one who is God (even if being worshipped is a passive ‘work’).
Jesus could speak very plainly, but in matters relating to faith he often left the full meaning of his statements hidden for interpretation:
Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: ‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.’Matthew 13:14
This famous statement is found in John 8:58. It was controversial because the ‘hidden’ meaning was very clear: ‘I AM WHO I AM’ is the meaning of the name of God spoken to Moses at the burning bush (Ex. 3:14). Jesus’ strange choice of tense when he spoke of existing before Abraham strongly evokes this name of God, and the Jewish rulers who heard it understood the implied meaning very clearly as demonstrated by their reaction. It may well have even been the very incident being referred to in John 10:33, because in both cases they are approaching him with the intention of stoning him for blasphemy.
Another such ‘hidden’ implication was when, in Mark 12, Jesus demonstrated that the Christ would be lord over David. 4 At the time David wrote those words, he was king of Israel, and therefore only one person had authority over him: God himself. As Jesus was a known descendent of David, it would again have been clear to his audience that he was hinting that he was this descendant and lord over David, and that claim is one of his being God.
The hidden nature of these examples mean that deniers of Jesus’ identity can try to obscure them further, which is another reason why it is more important to judge the identity of Jesus by what he does. Even at the ‘big picture’ level, we see him acting in the same role as God: as the Holy One, and as the redeemer, leader and teacher of his people:
Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go.”Isaiah 48:17
Therefore Jesus, and his disciples, claimed that he is God. Jesus’ method of this did not involve saying the exact words, but what he did claim was understood by those around him to be the same as saying them. His philosophy on making the claim was to point at the evidence more than the words he was saying, knowing that the miracles he was doing were the indisputable proof of his identity.