The Christian faith would not exist if Jesus was simply a great moral teacher or prophet.
Everything about the Christian faith rests on the divinity of Jesus, hence its importance for Christian faith, life and practice. The Bible provides compelling evidence of Jesus’ divinity and so in this article, we will explore how His divinity is revealed in and through His person, His fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, His ministry of healing and His acceptance of worship. Due to the constraints of this article we cannot refer to the claims of Jesus: His power to forgive and ability to predict the future.
We turn to the Gospels that “were written within living memory of the events they recount.”1 Matthew identifies Jesus as Emmanuel, which means “God with us” (Matthew 1:21). Emmanuel describes the concept of the incarnation—God becoming man. The identity of Jesus as “God with us” is consistent with John 1:1, which refers to Jesus as the “Word who was with God, and who was God”. The mind-wrenching reality John tells his readers is that this God— the God who is the Word—became flesh (sarx) (John 1:1,14). It is shocking that the height of the self-revelation of God in John 1 is God becoming flesh.2
Each of the Gospel writers quote Isaiah 40:3, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’” In Isaiah, the Lord refers to Yahweh, but now the Gospel writers see this prediction fulfilled in Jesus, whom they understand to be Yahweh incarnate. We read of Jesus performing many miracles in the Gospels and demonstrating power over nature and demons (Mark 5:1-20; 6:30-50). The question that confronts us is whether Jesus acted as God or simply as a prophet requesting the Father to perform the works. The words of Jesus and the reaction of those impacted by these miracles suggest that Jesus was acting as God and not simply as a prophet. For example, Jesus healed people who were demon possessed, epileptics, paralytics and lepers (Matthew 4:23,24; 8:2,3). The healings had to be accomplished with divine power. Sometimes the people had to just touch His garment and they were made well (Matthew 14:36). At other times Jesus knew “in himself that power had gone out from him” (Mark 5:30). When Jesus healed the great multitude, “power came out from him and healed them all” (Luke 6:19). Jesus is so keen, so willing, that at times His power goes ahead of Him to heal.
Jesus accepted worship from believers and even demons (Matthew 14:33; Mark 1:34; 5:6-10). The leper in Matthew 8:2,3 worshipped Jesus. Since Jews were monotheistic, either Jesus was flagrantly denouncing this Jewish teaching and His own heritage or He did, indeed, understand Himself as the divine Messiah and hence worthy of worship.
The early Christians continued to worship Jesus as God in the doxologies that refer to Him (Romans 9:5; 2 Peter 3:18; Revelation 1:5,6), in the prayers offered to Him (Acts 7:59,60; 2 Corinthians 12:8,9), and in the songs and hymns sung to Him (1 Corinthians 14:26; Philippians 2: 5-11; Colossians 3:16,17).3 The New Testament writers understood that Jesus is not just God-in-action or God-by-revelation but rather that He is both God-in-nature and God-by-action.4
The Gospels record Jesus raising people from the dead: including Jairus’ daughter (Matthew 9:23-26), the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:14) and Lazarus (John 11:35-45). In His divinity Jesus demonstrates how much He cares, especially as He grieves for Lazarus (John 11:44).
Furthermore, named persons involved in Jesus’ miracles—people like Zacchaeus, Lazarus, Bartimaeus and others, would serve as “authoritative guarantors” of these miracles, as they were directly involved in them.5 In the years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, these named persons could testify to what Jesus had done and said to them personally. These named persons add further historical credibility to the Gospels.
After a tough day of ministry, Jesus sent the crowds away and the disciples into a boat. “Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on the land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them,” says Mark (6:47,48a). In spite of the distance and the darkness, Jesus saw them in their anguish. For Mark, with his high Christology, Jesus was Yahweh of the Old Testament who saw His people in distress (Exodus 3:7).6 Mark continues, “he was about to pass by them” (v 48b). Mark’s words are saturated with the language and thought world of the Old Testament. The language of “pass by” (parelthein) is an allusion to Old Testament theophany7 stories in which God revealed His glory (Exodus 33:19-23; 34:6; 1 Kings 9:11; Job 9:11). Jesus wanted to pass by and reveal His glory to the disciples but their fear and lack of perception did not make this possible.8
He desired to manifest His glory to the disciples but for their lack of faith. May we grow our faith in the divine Christ so that we may see more of His glory.
Dr Kayle de Waal is senior lecturer of the Avondale University College theological seminary.