Is Jesus God? A Narrative Journey into the Evidence
Is Jesus God? Based on what Jesus claimed about himself, what Jesus did to back up his claims, and what both his Old Testament predecessors and New Testament contemporaries said about him, we have good reason to see Jesus as God. I frequently travel for my job, which often involves flying. Although the story below is not one that truly happened during my travels, there are many truths within it. I fall into the group that tends to learn better through stories. This is an attempt to show you that Jesus Christ is God through a hypothetical conversation.
How it Began
I knew it was going to be an interesting flight when the man in the aisle seat hit the call light a copious number of times in a row. The flight attendant made her way to us.
“I need a Jack and Coke,” he said in a very matter-of-fact tone. His palms were visibly damp from sweating, and he had a challenging time getting comfortable in his seat. In all fairness, the turbulence was excessive.
I asked him, “Do you fly often?”
“What gave it away?” he chuckled nervously. At that very moment, a joust of wind hit the plane, causing him to audibly mumble incoherent noises.
I tried to give a reassuring smile and said, “It feels scarier than it is. My name is Megan.”
“I’m Richard.” Trying to find something to distract himself, he looked down at the book in my hands and asked, “What do you have there?”
“Oh, this? It’s my Bible.”
I brought my study Bible with me on this trip because I was working on content. Admittedly, this was the biggest one I own, due to the study notes. It would be hard to miss.
“Do you believe what that thing says? The whole Jesus being a hippy zombie God?”
“Do you believe what that thing says? The whole Jesus being a hippy zombie God?”
I looked at him with a smile. “Something like that.”
“All right,” he said, “convince me.”
“Convince you?” I gave a nervous laugh, trying to process what it was exactly that he wanted me to convince him of. I was sure I could not do much in the way of proving Jesus was a hippy or zombie.
“So…are you unable or unwilling to answer my question?” he asked, obviously enjoying the prospect of a debate.
I suppose my pause had taken longer than I thought. “Well…neither,” I responded.
“Well, at least try to convince me that Jesus is God. That’s what Christians believe, right?”
In my mind, I whispered a prayer: “God, please don’t let me mess this up.” A thought hit me in reply: You don’t have that sort of power.
Does Jesus Say That He is God?
“Yes, that’s what I believe. I believe Jesus was God. As in, he was—is—God in human flesh,” I began.
“You know, Jesus never said he was God, right?” Richard was half correct. Scripture does not narrate Jesus ever explicitly saying that he was God. However, he did make many statements that strongly implied this idea.
“Yeah, I guess it doesn’t say exactly that if you’re reading it as a twenty-first century American. But if you try to read the Gospels as if you were a first-century Jew—the original audience—Jesus actually did say and show that He was God. We must remember what one of my favorite theologians, Michael Bird, once said: ‘The Bible is for our time, but it is not about our time.’”
“The Bible is for our time, but it is not about our time.” —Michael Bird
“So, if I were Jewish back then, I would believe that Jesus was God? I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works. Weren’t they wanting to kill Jesus, not worship him?”
“Yes, exactly! They wanted to kill him because they believed he was claiming to be God. In John 8, Jesus claimed to be the ‘I am’ who has lived forever. To the Jewish mind, that was totally a claim to be God. That’s why when Jesus said, ‘Before Abraham was born, I am,’ they picked up rocks to stone him. When Jesus made that claim (that ‘before Abraham was born, I am’), he was claiming to be God. He used the same name God used of himself in the book of Exodus. Jews knew that the ‘I am’ was God.”
“So, you’re saying that Jesus said that and then they stoned Jesus? I thought Jesus got crucified.”
“Jesus eventually was crucified, but there were other attempts on his life before he was finally killed. And each time, why did they want to kill him? It’s because he was acting like he was God. The story I just told was in John 8. Just two chapters later, Jesus told the audience, ‘I and the Father are one.’ Again, they picked up stones to stone him because he was claiming to be God.”
Is Jesus God? “Jesus told the audience, ‘I and the Father are one.’ Again, they picked up stones to stone him because he was claiming to be God.”
“So, you keep referring to the Gospel of John. Isn’t that the really late Gospel, the one written like 200 years after Jesus? Obviously, that one is going to have a bunch of legends about Jesus that aren’t true.”
“Well, you’re right that the Gospel of John was the last one written, but it, just like the other three, was written in the first century. John was written around 60 years or so after Jesus. It was written by one of Jesus’ disciples who by then was an old man, maybe 80-some years old. But the same thing happens in the earlier Gospels. A lot of people think the first Gospel written was the Gospel of Mark, and in Mark 2, there’s a time when Jesus tells a guy that all his sins are forgiven. Now, if Jesus was just a human like the rest of us, how could he possibly forgive somebody of all his sins?”
“Well, I’m pretty sure anybody could say that.”
“You’re right. But if you were a Jew living two thousand years ago, and you heard a fellow Jew say to another Jew that all his sins were forgiven, you would say, ‘Impossible. Only God can do that.’ And that’s precisely what they said when they heard Jesus forgive the guy’s sins. They said, ‘He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ (Mark 2:7b). You keep hearing this Jesus guy say stuff that only God can say—and then doing miracles to back up his claims—and pretty soon, you can’t just dismiss him as some crazy guy. In that context, you either see him as a blasphemer who deserves death, or you start to see him as what he’s claiming to be.”
Is Jesus God? “He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Did Jesus Show That He is God?
“Okay,” Richard said, “So, Jesus ‘hinted’ that he might possibly be God.” My eyebrows rose. I’m pretty sure he did a lot more than hint, but at least progress was being made. “You mentioned that he also showed he was God.” He drew the word “showed” out. I nodded my head in agreement. I did say that. He continued, “It doesn’t take much work to say crazy stuff. Did Jesus actually try to prove it?”
“Yes, that’s where the miracles come in. Doing miracles through Jesus was God’s way of telling the people, ‘Listen to this guy. What’s he’s saying is true.’”
“Well, sure, if you’re going to play the miracle card, then I guess I can’t compete with that!” he laughed. “Here I am, thinking we’re having a serious conversation, and then you bring in Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny. You win!”
“So, you don’t believe miracles are possible?”
“And you do? No offense, but we’re flying in a plane. This isn’t the Stone Age. It’s the scientific age.”
“So, you’re saying you don’t believe God exists?”
“I didn’t say that. I’m honestly not sure if there’s a God. I suspend judgment on that. It could go either way.”
“Well, if there is a God, then miracles are totally within the realm of possibility. If, in your case, you believe that it’s possible that God exists, then you also believe that it’s possible that miracles can happen. In fact, logically, if there’s a God, then the greatest miracle of all has already happened.”
“If there’s a God, then the greatest miracle of all has already happened.”
“That greatest miracle? As in, the miracle that people who fly in planes and own iPhones believe in miracle? That’s a pretty amazing miracle!” Another laugh.
“No, I mean Creation. I mean that, if there’s a God, then the greatest miracle of all has already happened: creation of this universe out of nothing. You know, the Big Bang giving birth to a life-permitting universe is a pretty crazy story if there was zero intelligence behind it. But, if God can create a universe out of nothing? Well then, raising a dead person to life is nothing.”
“So, you actually believe the miracle stories? You don’t think they’re just metaphors and parables?”
“Well, Jesus told tons of parables and used lots of metaphors. He was a masterful teacher. But he wasn’t crucified because he knew how to tell a great story. He was crucified because he claimed to be the Son of God and backed it up with miracles. The religious establishment felt incredibly threatened by him.”
“But surely the miracle stories are just legends.”
Is Jesus God? “He was crucified because he claimed to be the Son of God and backed it up with miracles.”
Should We Believe the Miracle Stories?
“Actually, these stories go back really early,” I explained. “And even the Jewish Talmud calls Jesus a sorcerer. The Talmud is a collection of Jewish writings written in the centuries after Jesus by people who didn’t believe in Jesus. Yet why would they call Jesus a sorcerer? That’s admitting that he did miracle-type stuff. Yes, it’s just saying that Jesus did it through a dark power, instead of by God’s power. But, either way it’s admitting that Jesus was a miracle worker.”
“I don’t know. I still think that, if Jesus really was God or whatever, his own people would have recognized it. How are you supposed to believe in Jesus, thousands of years later, when the Jews of his own time didn’t?”
“That’s a good question. It’s fair. But the Jewish Bible, what Christians call the ‘Old Testament,’ really does fit with what a lot of what Jesus said and did. Can I show you a passage from Job?”
“Sure. That’s fine.”
“One of the stories about Jesus is that he walked on water. In the Old Testament, look at what Job 9:8 says:
‘He alone has spread out the heavens and marches on the waves of the sea.’ (NLT)
So, when Jesus is walking on the water, he is showing that he is God.”
Is Jesus God? “When Jesus is walking on the water, he is showing that he is God.”
“Okay? I guess that would be convincing if I believed that Jesus really did walk on water. Any more stuff like this?”
“Let me show you another scripture from the Old Testament.” I flipped my Bible back to the book of Psalms and began to read Psalm 65:7-8.
”You quieted the raging oceans
with their pounding waves
and silenced the shouting of the nations.
Those who live at the ends of the earth
stand in awe of your wonders.
From where the sun rises to where it sets,
you inspire shouts of joy.”
“Let me guess; you are going to show me where Jesus calmed the storm?” Richard asked.
“Yes, sir,” I answered. But I don’t want to just hint at it; let’s see what Scripture says. I took him to Mark’s account of Jesus calming the storm from Mark 4:35-41.
“You quieted the raging oceans with their pounding waves.”
“Okay, that’s all very interesting,” Richard said. “But those passages seem fairly . . . poetic. Like, it wouldn’t be hard to fit this or that legend about Jesus with an obscure verse from another part of the Bible. I doubt there’s anything that’s super specific that ties Jesus back to the Old Testament.”
What Prophecies Were Fulfilled in Jesus?
“Actually, there are some surprisingly specific prophecies fulfilled in Jesus. I mean, Isaiah 53 describes someone who takes on everybody’s sins, is killed as a sacrifice, and then somehow keeps living. Sounds a lot like Jesus. Micah 5:2 describes someone who is going to be born in Bethlehem (the town Jesus was born in) in the future, and it says that this person’s “origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Isaiah 9 describes someone who is both God and human. Let me show you the verse.” I flipped to Isaiah 9:6-7 and read, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.” I paused and said, “Now, notice how this person to come is both God and human: ‘And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom.’”
I paused. “I know this is a lot. Can I show you another passage of Scripture?”
“Actually, it’s pretty interesting.”
Is Jesus God? “And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
“Thanks. I’m going to take you to Psalm 22. Now, here’s what’s fascinating: Psalm 22 starts by saying, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ And that’s exactly a prayer Jesus prayed while dying on the cross. So, if someone in the crowd watching that day knew where that line came from (and a bunch of the people would have), they would have immediately thought of Psalm 22. Let’s look at Psalm 22.” I pointed to verse 1. “That’s what Jesus said on the cross.” Then I pointed to verse 18: “You see how it describes people dividing up a man’s clothing and casting lots of it? That happened at the cross when the Roman soldiers gambled for Jesus’ clothes.” I pointed to verses 14-15. “This talks about the man’s bones being out of joint and the man experiencing extreme thirst, both of which happened during crucifixion.” I pointed to verse 8. “Here the psalm talks about people watching and making fun of the man, saying, ‘He trusts in the Lord? Let the Lord rescue him!’ That sounds exactly like how the people mocked Jesus when he was on the cross.” I pointed to verse 16. “Here the psalm says, ‘A pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet.’”
“Oh wow. That does sound like crucifixion. So, when was that written?”
“It says it’s a psalm of David, and he lived around a thousand years before Jesus.”
Did His Earliest Disciples Believe That Jesus is God?
“So, like I said. We’ve got good reason to believe that Jesus said and showed he was God. Would you say that’s fair?”
“Yes. But how do we know that these stories about Jesus didn’t emerge later? Like, couldn’t Jesus have been one way, like a peace-loving hippy (probably not a zombie, but who knows?), but the picture we get of Jesus and his miracles, thousands of years later, are actually legends? I’d say that’s totally possible. Throughout the decades, people who weren’t really there could have tweaked the original stories, added in their own legends, so that, now, we’re reading a mixture of legend and fact. And probably the craziest stuff, like the legends and the claims to be God, are the legends.”
“I hear what you’re saying. But these documents that we have weren’t written down hundreds of years after Jesus’ life by people who didn’t know him. They were written down by his original disciples, or in some cases, by close friends of his earliest disciples. These people would have known the facts. And they were so convinced that they were right that they kept preaching Jesus even when they themselves were threatened with death.”
Is Jesus God? “These people would have known the facts. And they were so convinced that they were right that they kept preaching Jesus even when they themselves were threatened with death.”
“So, you’re saying that these beliefs about Jesus being God come from Jesus’ original disciples. So, what kinds of things do they say about Jesus?”
I flipped to Matthew 16. “Look at verses 13-16,” I said. I handed him the Bible and he read aloud,
“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (NIV).
He paused. I could tell he was thinking. He handed it back to me, and I flipped the pages to John 1. “At the beginning of the Gospel of John (written by Jesus’ disciple John), he says, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’ (ESV). This verse is saying three important things. First, the “Word” is Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate “word,” the ultimate message, from God. Second, it says that Jesus is God. Finally, it was that same Jesus who was at Creation. We can cross-reference this with the first verse in the Bible, Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.’”
Is Jesus God? “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Richard nodded and said, “I’m with you so far.”
“Well, Richard, the Hebrew word used for God in this verse, Genesis 1:1, is ‘Elohim,’ which is actually plural. Genesis makes room for God being more than just one person. In other words, Genesis makes room for both God the Father and God the Son at Creation. ‘God the Son’ is another way of talking about Jesus. And Genesis 1 also talks about the ‘Spirit’ being there at Creation. So, there really does seem to be, even back in Genesis, a plurality, a three-in-oneness, within God.”
Richard sat back in his seat, clasped his hands, and held his two pointer fingers straight, tapping his chin. By this point, it was safe to say the turbulence he feared earlier was out of sight and out of mind.
“So, you mean to tell me Jesus was at Creation?”
“Yes, that is exactly what I am saying.”
Making Room for the Skeptic
“Let’s stay in this book,” I suggested. In John 20, one of Jesus’ disciples, Thomas, saw Jesus after his crucifixion, and Jesus was no longer dead. Jesus appeared alive to Thomas and the other disciples. Jesus’ tomb had turned up empty and a bunch of people had seen Jesus, and now Thomas saw him alive. At first, Thomas had been really skeptical. He said he wouldn’t believe unless he saw Jesus with his eyes and touched the wounds with his hands. Then, when he did see Jesus and he felt the wounds, Thomas said, ‘My Lord and My God.’ He totally doubted, but when he saw Jesus for himself, his skepticism evaporated.”
“Yeah, but you said that Thomas was already a disciple of Jesus, right? It’s not hard for him to be gullible. Maybe he just saw a vision of Jesus and thought Jesus was risen.”
“But Thomas made sure he touched the wounds. He wanted to make sure it wasn’t just a vision. And then we’ve got a guy named Paul who absolutely hated Christians, until he became one. Paul went on to write a ton of the New Testament, and he also came to believe that Jesus was God. In Romans 9:5, Paul called Jesus ’the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.’ Then look at this.” I flipped to 2 Peter 1:1, where I read the words of Peter, another disciple of Jesus:
“Simon Peter, a servant, and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours.”
Is Jesus God? “Simon Peter, a servant, and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours.”
I asked him, “Did you catch what Peter called Jesus?”
He looked at it again. “Our God and Savior.”
“Richard,” I said, “the proof that Jesus is God is not lacking.”
A Solid Place to Land
“Hmm. I’m actually really surprised there’s as much here as there is,” Richard said. “I really thought it was all just a bunch of stories that a lot of people take way too seriously. I’m starting to get why people take Jesus really seriously.”
BEEP. The pilot intercom came on to let us know we were getting ready to start our descent.
“You know,” Richard said, “I’d actually like to look into Jesus more. I’ve got some friends that think his ethics are really good. I just think that the whole jump to him being God is a big jump. I’d have to really look into that. And thanks for giving me a lot to think about. But I do think that it’s probably a more sensible option, at least for now, to just look into his teachings. Because I do think he’s probably got a lot of good ethics and wisdom and that sort of thing. So, thanks again! It was actually quite a fascinating conversation.”
“Hey, thanks so much for asking and being open-minded. Can I just make one final suggestion?”
“I would make sure that, wherever you decide to land, it’s an actual runway.”
“I would make sure that, wherever you decide to land, it’s an actual runway.”
“An actual runway. What do you mean?”
“Well, the way I see it, there are only three possible places to land when it comes to Jesus. Because Jesus really did believe that he was God and he claimed to be God, he was either right or wrong. If he’s right, then Runway #1 is believing in Jesus as your Savior and Lord. If you’re not ready for that, then Runways #2 and #3 are for if he was wrong. Runway #2 is that he was wrong and didn’t know it. So that makes him basically insane. Runway #3 is that he was wrong and he knew he was wrong; so that makes him an awful person who told people to trust him with their eternities. Basically, that makes him a cruel con-artist. C.S. Lewis made this point when he said that either Jesus was a lunatic or a devil—or the actual Son of God. C.S. Lewis said that seeing Jesus as just a good, ethical teacher, but nothing more, is not really a real option.”
“I get your point. But, then again, you sure do like to quote Christians,” he laughed. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just that I’m a fairly skeptical guy. Not sure that I’m the faith-filled type.”
“Well, that’s okay. Neither was C.S. Lewis at first. He was actually a skeptic for much of his life. In fact, he was an atheist at first.”
“He started taking a hard look at the evidence.”