Unlike the question “Does God exist?” the question of whether Jesus Christ existed is asked by relatively few people. Most accept that Jesus was truly a man who lived in Israel 2,000 years ago. The debate begins with the discussion of Jesus’ full identity. Almost every major religion teaches that Jesus was a prophet or a good teacher or a godly man. But the Bible tells us that Jesus was infinitely more than a prophet, a good teacher, or a godly man.
C. S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity writes the following: “I am trying here to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him [Jesus Christ]: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that option open to us. He did not intend to” (Macmillan, 1952, p. 55–56).
So, who did Jesus claim to be? Who does the Bible say He is? First, He is God in the flesh. Jesus said in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.” At first glance, this might not seem to be a claim to be God. However, look at the Jews’ reaction to His statement. They tried to stone Him “for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God” (John 10:33). The Jews understood Jesus’ statement as a claim to be God. In the following verses, Jesus never corrects the Jews or attempts to clarify His statement. He never says, “I did not claim to be God.” When Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30), He truly was claiming equality with God.
In John 8:58 Jesus claims pre-existence, an attribute of God: “‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’” In response to this statement, the Jews again took up stones to stone Jesus (John 8:59). In claiming pre-existence, Jesus applied a name for God to Himself—I AM (see Exodus 3:14). The Jews rejected Jesus’ identity as God Incarnate, but they understood exactly what He was saying.
Other biblical clues that Jesus is God in the flesh include John 1:1, which says, “The Word was God,” coupled with John 1:14, which says, “The Word became flesh.” Thomas the disciple declared to Jesus, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28), Jesus does not correct him. The apostle Paul describes Jesus as “our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). The apostle Peter says the same, calling Jesus “our God and Savior” (2 Peter 1:1).
God the Father bears witness of Jesus’ identity as well: “But about the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom’” (Hebrews 1:8; cf. Psalm 45:6). Old Testament prophecies such as Isaiah 9:6 announce the deity of Christ: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (emphasis added).
Why is the question of Jesus’ identity so important? Why does it matter whether Jesus is God? Several reasons:
- As C. S. Lewis pointed out, if Jesus is not God, then Jesus is the worst of liars and untrustworthy in every way.
- If Jesus is not God, then the apostles would likewise have been liars.
- Jesus had to be God because the Messiah was promised to be the “Holy One” (Psalm 16:5, NASB). Since no one on earth is righteous before God (Psalm 53:1; 143:2), God Himself had to enter the world as a human.
- If Jesus is not God, His death would have been insufficient to pay the penalty for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). Only God Himself could provide an infinite, eternally valuable sacrifice (Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21).
- God is the only Savior (Hosea 13:4; cf. 1 Timothy 2:3). If Jesus is to be the Savior, then He must be God.
Jesus had to be both God and man. As God, Jesus could satisfy God’s wrath. As a man, Jesus had the capability of dying. As the God-man, Jesus is the perfect Mediator between heaven and earth (1 Timothy 2:5). Salvation is available only through faith in Jesus Christ. As He proclaimed, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).