That there was such a person as Jesus of Nazareth is accepted by all. His influence has been substantial. Our calendar has His birth as the main reference point, with history being annotated B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D. (In the year of our Lord). But who was He? Let us explore the question.
Before we were inundated with mobile phones, interactive TV and the internet, it was considered that there were three main ways to send a message to someone. First you could send someone to represent you and speak for you. Or you could write down your message, in a letter or something similar. The weakness of these ways of communicating is obvious. In the first, if there are any queries, the messenger may not know the answers. With regards to the written communication, it may be that the recipient may not understand everything you wished to say. The third way was considered best. Go in person, take the message yourself. If there are any queries, you could answer them immediately. The message would be presented with much more accuracy and flexibility.
God, in communicating with humankind took no chances. First He sent men to represent Him and take His message. They were called ‘prophets’. Then, He ensured that the message was written down, the Bible. But best of all He came Himself. Christians believe Jesus was God walking this earth, making clear His mind and will for humankind. If this is so, then what message did He bring? What did He say about Himself, and His mission?
The first claim He made for Himself was that He was the expected Jewish Messiah who would do mighty things. In His home synagogue, He identified Himself as such by reading a Messianic passage from Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord”. (Lk 4:18,19) and then saying, “today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” This was perceived as an outrageous claim by those from Nazareth who had known him as boy and man, and seen him grow up. They were not willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. They drove him out of town. Not a very promising start to His career as a deliverer you might think!
He claimed a unique relationship with God the Father
Then, in a continuing defence of His Messianic claim over a long period, He spoke repeatedly of “the Father who sent me”. John 5.22-30 records His declaration that He had been sent as God’s co-equal to be the Messiah. Therefore, He should be honoured with the same honour that is afforded to God. Furthermore, He has the same power to impart life, as does the Father. Those that honour Jesus with the same honour as they give to the Father will be recipients of the life of God.
Jesus, supremely conscious that God was His Father, often spoke of it (about 120 times in John’s gospel alone). Sometimes He called him "my father" (Matthew 15:13; 18:10; Luke 2:49, etc). There is even an instance when He addressed God by the familiar term "abba" (Mark 14:36). The Jews of Jesus' day considered it irregular and blasphemous for a person to use such intimate titles for God.
Did Jesus of Nazareth claim to be God incarnate?
Certainly! Because this was such a mighty revelation, to begin with He claimed it by implication rather than by direct statement. This is the force of His claim, when He said, “I and My Father are one”. Those who heard him make this statement understood it as such. They accused him of blasphemy. The language Jesus used is the language of the incarnate God, revealed on earth as Son of the Father. When Jesus said: “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working”, the Bible describes the reaction of the people: “Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.” (John 5.18)
In the ‘Good Shepherd’ discourse, He added some detail to the assertion that He was equal to the Father. Jesus said He could give His sheep eternal life and guarantee their eternal safety, because He had the same power that God the Father possessed. “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.” (John 10.28,29) The reaction of the people again confirmed their understanding that Jesus was claiming deity, for the Jews took up stones again to stone him. They perceived that in speaking this way, Jesus was again making Himself equal with God. For such impertinence He should die — and they aimed to kill him. (John 5:16-18) Jesus challenged this demonstration of anger and hatred. “Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?” His opponents answered him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.” In more amenable surroundings Jesus also confirmed to His disciples that, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father”. (John 14.9)
Jesus took this claim further. He declared Himself to be the only one who knew the Father, and therefore the only one who could reveal Him to others (Matthew 11:27; John 6:46). He was one with the Father (John 10:30,38) and everything that belonged to the Father belonged to him (John 16:15; 17:10). To have our prayers answered we are to ask the Father in the name of Jesus. (John 14:13; 15:16; 16:23,24)
Jesus under oath!
When Jesus stood before members of the Sanhedrin, Caiaphas the High Priest, put him under oath and demanded a direct answer to a direct question. “I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Messiah, the Son of God!” This precise question brought into focus the two main elements in the dilemma that they faced: what was the nature of the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth? In respect of the mission of Jesus, he asked, “Are you the Messiah?” In respect of Christ’s personal essence, he asked “Are you the Son of God?” Jesus gave a clear, affirmative answer to both halves of the question, “It is as you said”. Furthermore, He increased their consternation by quoting a prophecy from Daniel that related to both halves of the High Priest’s challenge. Their interpretation of Daniel 7.13,14 was that the Son of Man named there was both Messiah and divine. Jesus therefore said, “…hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
Jesus claimed that, at a future time, He would return, and according to Daniel 7.14, the Ancient of Days would give him an everlasting dominion, with glory, and an eternal kingdom. Furthermore, all nations would serve and worship him. Caiaphas understood the implication of Jesus’ words. The High Priest tore his clothes, and declared: “He has spoken blasphemy! What further need do we have of witnesses? Look, now you have heard His blasphemy!” The High Priest, addressing the Sanhedrin asked, “What do you think?” They answered and said, “He is deserving of death”.
There can be no doubt that Jesus understood Himself to be Son of God in its fullest sense. When the opponents of Jesus had difficulty in supplying evidence to Pilate to support the political charges laid against him they fell back on, “We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.” The law to which they referred was the law of blasphemy.
To be continued!