Is the Crucified Lord Really God?

Thomas Lieth

In Gethsemane, Jesus said “I am he” to those who wanted to arrest Him. These words, and many others in the Holy Scriptures, clearly answer the question of His divinity.

It’s well known that there’s nothing new under the sun, so it’s unsurprising that the Lord Jesus’ deity is hotly contested. Islam and Judaism both deny it. Other religious groups and sects deny it as well, including atheists, of course, but also, unbelievably, within the wishy-washy religion of nominal Christianity. These discussions have always taken place. 

“The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity” (Matt 13:41). At first glance, this doesn’t seem to say anything about Jesus’ divinity. But notice that the person speaking here is Jesus Himself. He is explaining the parable of the wheat and the tares to His disciples. Jesus is speaking of Himself (the Son of man), saying that He will send out His angels. I wonder what person even has angels to send out? Additionally, the Scriptures tell us that angels are beings of God (Heb 1:6, 14). Consequently, Jesus must be God. Otherwise, He couldn’t command angels, refer to His angels, and send them out.

As further evidence, consider Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” All monotheistic religions agree on this point. Every Jew, Muslim, and faithful Christian will affirm this statement: Almighty God is the Creator of heaven and earth. Psalm 33:6 says: “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.” Let’s remember this: the heavens were made “by the word of the LORD.” The New Testament gives us various indications that Jesus was involved in Creation, and this sets us apart from all other religions.

“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds” (Heb 1:1-2). “And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire. But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands” (vv. 7-10).

Consider John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word”—this statement is still congruent with the Creation account from Genesis and Psalm 33. But John continues to say, “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In verse 14, John finally relates all of this to Jesus Christ, the Word of God incarnate: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” The New Testament is in no way contradicting the Old Testament; rather, it is the explanation and fulfillment of it. Fundamentally, you can never understand the Old Testament without the New Testament. Those who stop at the Old Testament lack the most essential part; namely, the solution/fulfillment.

“Who [Jesus Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (Col 1:15-17).

Jesus could never have participated in Creation as a human being, but the New Testament clearly teaches that Jesus is the Creator, so He must be God. And it is this exact claim that the priests and scribes of His day understood so well, the one they were violently indignant about when Jesus said to them, “Before Abraham was, I am.” How was that supposed to be true, if Jesus had been merely human? After all, Abraham had lived a good 2,000 years before Jesus. As a result, “Then took they up stones to cast at him” (John 8:58-59).

Why? Because this son of a carpenter might be crazy? No, because they understood what this Jesus was insinuating. “I am God!” And in the eyes of the religious upper class, this was pure blasphemy.

Let’s remain with the description of Jesus as the Word of God made flesh. When Scripture says, “In the beginning was the Word,” it is testifying to the Son’s eternality. The Son was there from the beginning—eternal, and thus God Himself. “The Word was with God.” Here, on the other hand, we see a separation. The Word is God Himself, and yet distinguished from the Father. This is where the mystery of the Trinity comes into its own. One God, and yet three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We will never truly grasp this mystery of the Trinity with our human limitations, but we must keep it in mind when Jesus’ deity is involved. “And the Word was God.”

Let’s consider another aspect. God speaks through Isaiah: “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins” (Is 43:25). “I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee” (Is 44:22). These passages are about Israel’s future redemption, but in them we see the principle of the forgiveness of sins; namely, that only God can forgive sins. That was why the Jewish scholars and priests reproached Jesus when He promised the forgiveness of sins to a paralyzed man (Mark 2:5-12). To them, this presumption from the carpenter’s son from Nazareth was a monstrous affair, an unsurpassable blasphemy. In short, an unparalleled scandal! With this act, Jesus clearly underscored His uniqueness and divinity. Let’s continue to another piece of evidence.

“When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left” (Matt 25:31-33). Jesus is making it clear that at the end of time, He will judge the Gentiles. This also speaks to Jesus’ divinity, because the Old Testament declares that God Himself is the Judge. “For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; he will save us” (Is 33:22). Let’s go through these statements in detail.

“The LORD is our judge”: Jesus describes Himself as a judge, and the book of Acts testifies to this: “And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree: Him God raised up the third day, and showed him openly; Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead” (Acts 10:39-42).

“The LORD is our lawgiver”: The Law was given to the people of Israel by the Lord (Yahweh) on Mount Sinai. The New Testament confirms that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law (Rom 8; Gal 5:18; John 1:17). Romans also speaks of a new law (Rom 3:27-28); namely, the law of faith in Jesus Christ. As one person of the Trinity, Jesus was therefore present when the Law was given to the people of Israel in the wilderness, as well as the One who gave a new law to His church.

“The LORD is our king”: Revelation shows that Jesus, the Lamb of God who bears the sins of the world, is not just Lord, but Lord of lords (Rev 17:14). And this Jesus is not just King, but King of kings (Rev 19:16).

“He will save us”: Who will save? Jesus is the Savior, the One promised in the Old Testament. There is no way around the crucified Lord! “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made the same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36, cf. Rom 10:9; Phil 3:20).

We arrive at the meaning of the name Yahweh, which is often translated as “LORD” in the Old Testament (as in Isa 33:22). Our Heavenly Father once identified Himself by this name when Moses asked God for it.

“And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, the LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations” (Ex 3:13-15).

“I AM” is the Hebrew name for the God Yahweh. The translation, “I AM THAT I AM” only roughly expresses what Yahweh actually means. Abraham Meister writes, “Yahweh is the absolute ‘I’ in its highest divine fullness.” Not only “I am who I am,” but also “I am who I was” and “I am who I will be.” God is the “I” without time and without space. Huge, and not for us humans to grasp! This also helps us understand why the high priest literally tore his clothes when Jesus replied to the question of whether He was the Son of God, “I am” (Mark 14:62). These are the same words that Jesus replied when he was captured in the Garden of Gethsemane (John 18:5). And at the moment He said, by virtue of His divinity, “I am he,” everyone shrank back and fell to the ground (v. 6). With these answers, Jesus Christ, the carpenter’s son from Nazareth, used precisely the same words as God: Yahweh—“I am.” They were dumbfounded by Jesus’ confession.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ seven “I am” statements have been handed down to us: “I am the bread of life.” “I am the light of the world.” “I am the door of the sheep.” “I am the good shepherd.” “I am the resurrection and the life.” “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” “I am the true vine.” Jesus Christ reveals Himself as God with these “I am” statements, as well as by His statements, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30) and, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9).

Even if today, the linguistic context for us to understand the meaning and scope of the “I am” statements is missing, these words were definitely understood by the Jews at that time. For example, “I am the bread of life”: Every Jew had the showbread in the sanctuary in mind, as well as the commemoration of the 40 years of wandering in the desert (when the Lord God had provided Israel with manna from heaven). And, “I am the light of the world”: Every Jew thought of the seven-armed golden candlestick that also stood in the sanctuary. No Jew, apart from the priests, was allowed to enter (and especially not Gentiles). With these words, Jesus revealed Himself to be the fulfillment of the temple, the priest, and the sacrifices. In the end, that’s what offended the religious system. The priests and scribes felt that their right to exist was being threatened. They had long since been serving not God, but only a religious system. With Jesus as the true high priest and perfect sacrificial lamb, priests and scribes would no longer have been needed. The complete rites of the temple with their associated materialism (think of Jesus cleansing the temple), would be obsolete. And that’s exactly what couldn’t be allowed to happen. Even today, every religious system (including the Christian religion) takes offense at the deity of Jesus and the associated claim of absoluteness. It doesn’t fit into the system.

Whether humanity (atheist and religious alike) accepts it or not, one thing is certain: Jesus isn’t just some human, and especially not the founder of a religion. No, Jesus is God! Through Jesus, God became man (2 Cor 5:19). In Jesus, we receive forgiveness of our sins (1 John 1:7-9). And in Jesus, we have eternal life (1 John 4:9). Without Jesus Christ, the Judge, the Lawgiver, and the King, there would be no salvation (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). 

Who is God? The incarnate Word of God, Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified Lord, who could say with authority, “I am he!”

Midnight Call - 04/2023

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