The Heart of It All: The God-Man (Part 1)
April 19, 2011
by Peter Amsterdam
The Heart of It All: The God-Man (Part 1)
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You’ll want to read "The Heart of It All: Introduction" before reading this article or the rest of this series.
The heart of our faith as Christians rests on the answer to one simple but extremely crucial question: Who is Jesus? In order to understand our faith, to understand the story of Jesus and what His life was about—His teachings, the reason for His coming—it’s necessary to understand who He is.
Jesus is God. He is the second person of the Trinity, which includes God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. (For more on the Trinity, see the Heart of It All series on the Trinity.)
The beauty of this truth is that His being God means that every person from every age who has invited Jesus into their life has received forgiveness for their sins as well as everlasting life. Because we as humans sin, and those sins are an offense against God, there is a need for us to be forgiven by God and reconciled to Him; and the only way for that to happen was for Jesus, who is God, to become human, to live a life without sin, to die for our sins, and to rise from the dead. And this is exactly what happened.
The whys and wherefores of how Jesus’ death brings God’s forgiveness will be the topic of a future article in this series. Suffice it to say for now that Scripture teaches that Christ’s death for the sins of the world is the basis and plan of salvation for humankind. Jesus fulfilled all the necessary requirements in order for humans to be forgiven for their sins by God.
Jesus, being a member of the Trinity, along with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, is God the Son. As such, He has all the attributes of God. (For more on the attributes of God, see The Heart of It All series "The Nature and Character of God.")
God is the creator of all things. God is eternal and existed before anything else was in existence. This being the case, for Jesus to be God, then He must be eternal and He must have also existed before anything else existed. He must have had a part in creating all that is created. According to Scripture, all of those things are true of Jesus.
The first three verses of the Gospel of John make the point well:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.
When John was speaking of God the Son before He was born on earth, he referred to Him as the Word, not as Jesus. These verses show that the Word/Jesus had a hand in creation, as “all things were made by Him.” The word John used, translated into English as Word, was Logos in the original Greek. The term Logos was first used in the 6th century BC by a Greek philosopher named Heraclitus to designate the divine reason or plan which coordinates a changing universe. As such, to a Greek speaker at the time, Logos meant reason, so they would have understood the verses as “in the beginning was the reason or mind of God.” They would understand that before creation the Logos existed with God eternally. Therefore the Logos, the Word, God the Son, was in existence before any created thing—including time, space, or energy—existed.
John 1:14 goes on to say:
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John states clearly that the Logos, the Word, God the Son, became flesh and lived on earth. This means no less than that God the Son lived on earth for a time as a human being. It means that He, an eternal immaterial being, entered into His creation in time and space. This could only happen if God became incarnate, if He became man, which is exactly what happened when Jesus of Nazareth was born. He became the God-man, God in human flesh who dwelt amongst us.
Since this is fundamental to our Christian faith, I thought it good to review what Jesus said about Himself regarding being God.
Jesus’ Claims to Deity
It’s important to note that according to the Laws of Moses, anyone who claims to be God commits blasphemy, and the punishment for blasphemy is death. On more than one occasion the Jews took up stones to kill Jesus, and at His trial before the Jewish religious leaders, they condemned Him to death for His claims to be God. Clearly the Jews of His day understood He was making claims of deity.
One of His direct claims is recorded in John chapter 8, which says:
“Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing My day; he saw it and was glad.” “You are not yet fifty years old,” the Jews said to Him, “and You have seen Abraham!” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” At this, they picked up stones to stone Him, but Jesus hid Himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.
What Jesus said in this passage is significant in two ways. First, though He wasn’t even fifty years old, He was claiming that He was alive before Abraham—who had lived and died two thousand years earlier. Only God has eternal existence, which is what Jesus was claiming. Second, in saying “before Abraham was born, I am,” Jesus was assigning Himself the name of God.
In Exodus 3:14, God reveals to Moses that He is “I am who I am,” and then tells Moses to tell the people of Israel that I AM has sent me to you. God’s name, I AM, is the name YHWH, or Yahweh, from the Old Testament. It is so sacred that from before the time of Jesus until today, devout Jews have avoided saying it. (Since religious Jews don’t say the name YHWH, they instead use the word Adonai, which is translated as “Lord.”) But Jesus used this name of God in reference to Himself. The Jews He was speaking to clearly understood His claim and picked up stones to kill Him for it.
Another occasion on which the Jews understood Jesus to be claiming deity was described in John chapter 10:
At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around Him and said to Him, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name bear witness about Me, but you do not believe because you are not part of My flock. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will 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 the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone Me?” The Jews answered Him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone You but for blasphemy, because You, being a man, make Yourself God.”
“If I am not doing the works of My Father, then do not believe Me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me and I am in the Father.” Again they sought to arrest Him, but He escaped from their hands.
In these passages Jesus refers to the miracles He has performed, saying the Jews should believe the works He’s done because they show that “the Father is in Me, and I am in the Father.”
Jesus made a number of I am statements which are indirect claims to His deity. He performed miracles which substantiated the statements He made. For example, the day after feeding 5,000 people with fish and bread multiplied from two fish and five barley loaves, Jesus said:
“I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.”
“I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”
Therefore the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, “I am the bread that came down out of heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, ‘I have come down out of heaven’?”
In John chapter 9 Jesus makes another I am statement followed by a corresponding miracle. As Jesus was leaving the temple, He saw a man who had been blind from birth and said:
“While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” When He had said this, He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and applied the clay to his eyes, and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated, Sent). So he went away and washed, and came back seeing.
When the Pharisees interrogated this man and asked how he was healed from his blindness, he explained that Jesus had healed him. The man was then put out of the temple. The chapter continues with:
Jesus heard that they had put him out, and finding him, He said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.” And he said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Him.
Another I am statement followed by an affirming miracle is related in John chapter 11, when Jesus’ friend Lazarus died. Four days later Jesus traveled to Bethany, where Lazarus was buried. His sister Martha said that if Jesus had been there, her brother wouldn’t have died.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”
Jesus then raised Lazarus from the dead, which caused many to believe on Him. The response from the chief priests and the Pharisees was to convene a council, and “from that day on they planned together to kill Him.”
Other I am statements made by Jesus include:
“I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.”
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.”
Again the high priest asked Him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard His blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned Him as deserving death.
His use of both I am and Son of Man was understood by the Pharisees as Jesus claiming deity, and they deemed it blasphemy and said He deserved death as punishment.
Son of Man
Jesus uses the term Son of Man throughout the Gospels. Every time it’s used in the Gospels, it is used by Jesus in reference to Himself. It harks back to Daniel 7:13–14, which describes the Son of Man being given authority, glory, sovereign power, and a kingdom that will be everlasting. This passage clearly speaks of someone already existing in heaven who is given eternal rule over the world. The Jews of Jesus’ day were familiar with this passage in Daniel and knew what Jesus was referring to when He used this term.
In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into His presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
A few other important verses where Jesus refers to Himself as the Son of Man are:
But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.
For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay each person according to what he has done.
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.
Besides the I am statements and the Son of Man statements, Jesus also made inferences to His being in existence with God before He came to earth:
I came forth from the Father and have come into the world; I am leaving the world again and going to the Father.
I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.
Forgiveness of Sins
In addition to the direct claims Jesus made, He did and said things which implied His deity through indirect means. In these instances He wasn’t saying “I am God,” but was making statements or performing acts that could only be attributed to God. Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” One example is that He forgave sins. While individuals can forgive someone who sins against them, Jesus forgave the sins of those who had sinned against others.
C. S. Lewis put it this way: “We can all understand how a man forgives offences against himself. You tread on my toes and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you. But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money? Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct. Yet this is what Jesus did. He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offenses. This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin.”
In the following two passages Jesus forgives sins, and when He does, it brings up questions in the minds of the Jewish leaders, as they understood the implications.
And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in His spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”
Jesus forgave the man’s sins, and then, to add credence to his divine authority, He performed a miracle.
The setting of the second example was when Jesus was visiting the house of a Pharisee named Simon, and while He was there, a woman who was a known sinner came in. Weeping, she wet His feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, and anointed them with ointment.
Then turning toward the woman He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she has anointed My feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with Him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Time and again, the things Jesus said and did which directly or indirectly expressed His claims to deity were clearly understood by the Jewish teachers and leaders as such, and were thus considered blasphemy.
Judgment of Men
Another indirect claim Jesus made was that He would judge men in the afterlife, which the Jews knew was strictly reserved for God, according to their scriptures.
“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And He will place the sheep on His right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’”…“Then He will say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’”
“The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.”
Relationship to the Father
Jesus also claimed to have a special and unique relationship with the Father.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel.”
“I and the Father are one.”
“All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”
John Stott, an Anglican clergyman, a noted leader of the evangelical movement and renowned author, expressed Jesus’ unique relationship to the Father this way:
So close was His identification with God that it was natural for Him [Jesus] to equate a man’s attitude to Himself with his [a man’s] attitude to God. Thus,
to know Him was to know God;
to see Him was to see God;
to believe in Him was to believe in God;
to receive Him was to receive God;
to hate Him was to hate God;
to honor Him was to honor God.
Jesus having made such claims doesn’t necessarily prove that He is God, but the claims show that He had a self-understanding that He was God. Of course, a lunatic might believe that he is God as well, but that doesn’t make it so. In his book, The Case for Christ, Lee Strobel interviewed Gary R. Collins, Ph.D., author of 45 books on psychological-related topics, about Jesus’ mental health. Collins expressed a number of reasons why Jesus seemed perfectly sane. I’ll quote from the book briefly, and if you want to know more, I suggest you read this excellent book.
“People with psychological difficulties may have thinking disorders—they can’t carry on a logical conversation, they’ll jump to faulty conclusions, they’re irrational. We don’t see this in Jesus. He spoke clearly, powerfully, and eloquently. He was brilliant and had absolutely amazing insights into human nature.
“Another sign of mental disturbances is unsuitable behavior, such as dressing oddly or being unable to relate socially to others. Jesus’ behavior was quite in line with what would be expected, and He had deep and abiding relationships with a wide variety of people from different walks of life.
“He was loving but didn’t let His compassion immobilize Him; He didn’t have a bloated ego, even though He was often surrounded by adoring crowds; He maintained balance despite an often demanding lifestyle; He always knew what He was doing and where He was going; He cared deeply about people, including women and children, who weren’t seen as being important back then; He was able to accept people while not merely winking at their sin; He responded to individuals based on where they were at and what they uniquely needed.”
“So, Doctor—your diagnosis?” I asked.
“All in all, I just don’t see signs that Jesus was suffering from any known mental illness,” he concluded, adding with a smile, “He was much healthier than anyone else I know—including me!”
There is a famous argument put forth by C. S. Lewis called Lewis’ trilemma, which addresses the question of Jesus being crazy or being God. It’s often referred to as “Lord, Liar, or Lunatic.” In Mere Christianity Lewis wrote:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 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 the level with the 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 a 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 with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
Some people argue against Lewis’ trilemma, saying there are other options. Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli in their book Handbook of Christian Apologetics add to Lewis’ “Lord, Liar, or Lunatic” argument by including two other possibilities—“Guru” or “Myth.” They successfully argue that Jesus wasn’t a liar, lunatic, guru, or myth, but was in fact exactly what He said He was, God the Son.
Jesus’ direct claims of His deity, when added together with His miracles, His resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven, as well as the fulfilled Old Testament prophecies about Him, make it very clear that Jesus is God.
And He wasn’t the only one who said so. In the next post in this series we will cover what those who knew Him personally had to say.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Other versions frequently cited are The New International Version (NIV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), The New King James Version (NKJV), and the King James Version (KJV).
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Kreeft, Peter, and Ronald K. Tacelli. Handbook of Christian Apologetics. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994.
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 Phillip Cary, The History of Christian Theology, Lecture Series (Chantilly: The Teaching Company, 2008), Lecture 10.
 John 8:56–59 NIV.
 John 10:22–33, 37–39.
 John 6:35 NASB.
 John 6:51 NASB.
 John 6:41–42 NASB.
 John 9:5–7 NASB.
 John 9:35–38 NASB.
 John 11:25–27 NASB.
 John 11:53 NASB.
 John 10:9 NASB.
 John 14:6–7 NASB.
 Mark 14:61–64.
 Daniel 7:13–14 NIV.
 Matthew 9:6.
 Matthew 16:27.
 John 3:14–15.
 John 16:28 NASB.
 John 17:4–5 NASB.
 John 5:17 NIV.
 utterly ridiculous stupidity.
 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, book 2, chapter 3, “The Shocking Alternative” (HarperCollins ebooks, 2009), p.51–52.
 Mark 2:3–12.
 Luke 7:44–50.
 Matthew 25:31–34, 41.
 John 5:22–23.
 John 5:19–20 NASB.
 John 10:30 NASB.
 Matthew 11:27 NASB.
 J. Stott, Basic Christianity (IVP 2006), p.34.
 Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ (Zondervan 1998), p.147.
 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, book 2, chapter 3, “The Shocking Alternative” (HarperCollins ebooks, 2009), p.53.
 To more fully understand the argument read Handbook of Christian Apologetics, chapter 10.