The Trinity (IIId)
The NT Witness: Responses to Jesus in the Gospels
After discovering that the data of the Synoptics, and that of the Gospel of John supported the view that Jesus understood Himself (and claimed to others) to be God, we now turn to how those AROUND Jesus understood His claims, words, actions--do the historical records indicate that Jesus was commonly understood as making claims to deity.
We will organize the passages around WHO DID THE RESPONDING: God, other spiritual beings, enemies or antagonists, the general populace, His friends, followers, disciples. This will give us a broad-base of responses, to see if these responses indicate that Jesus somehow claimed to be God.
Responses by God:
- Matt 3:16: As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."--Notice in this passage (at Jesus' baptism, ALL THREE of the TRINITY are involved--Jesus is honored, The Father speaks from heaven, the Spirit anoints Him. Also notice that the Father calls him "My Son" and indicates that He is 'pleased' with Jesus--even BEFORE His ministry begins.
- Matt 17.5: While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!"--Note: The Father speaks again, recognizing Jesus as His Son--beloved, well-pleasing, and worthy of attention!
Responses by spiritual beings:
- Matt 4.3: The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God...--Notice that the Tempter KNEW that Jesus was already somehow claiming/designated to be "the Son of God".
- Matt 8.28-29: When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. 29 "What do you want with us, Son of God?" they shouted. "Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?"--Note: the demonic spirits somehow 'recognized' Jesus as being the Son of God--and the SPECIFIC Son that would judge/punish such spirits at a set time in the future! A rather serious statement of super-human, super-angelic authority!
- Mark 1.23-4: Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, 24 "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are -- the Holy One of God!"--A evil spirit in a man in a synagogue(!) recognized that Jesus is the "Holy One of God" and that He has the power to destroy the evil spirit--a strong statement of super-angelic power/authority.
- Mark 3.11-12: Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, "You are the Son of God." 12 But he gave them strict orders not to tell who he was.--Note: the spirits recognized His deity.
Responses by antagonists or enemies:
- Matt 9.3: When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven."
3 At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, "This fellow is blaspheming!"--Notice that the religious experts KNEW that His claims were essential claims to deity--pure blasphemy by their standards.
- Matt 9.33-34: And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, "Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel."
34 But the Pharisees said, "It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons."--Notice: His enemies ADMITTED that He had unusual spiritual power--so great that they ascribed it to Satan. What an admission of awesome spiritual power! (again in Mt 12.22-32)
- Matt 26.63ff:
The high priest said to him, "I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God."
64 "Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied. "But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven."
65 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, "He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. 66 What do you think?"
"He is worthy of death," they answered.--Notice how clear this is: the highest religious 'experts' in the land recognized Jesus' claims to be blasphemy--claims that made a man God!
- John 5.18: For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.--The Jesus religious leadership recognized Jesus' claims as a claim to deity--and they reacted appropriately.
- John 10.33: "We are not stoning you for any of these," replied the Jews, "but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God."--Notice: the Jews understood very clearly that Jesus claimed to be God. (and Jesus never corrects them with something like "no, you have misunderstood my claims...I mean something DIFFERENT than that I am divine.")
Responses by the general populace:
- Matt 13.54-56: Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. "Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?" they asked. 55 "Isn't this the carpenter's son? Isn't his mother's name Mary, and aren't his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? 56 Aren't all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?"--Notice: these people were confounded by the apparent discrepancy between what a 'mere mortal' COULD DO and what Jesus ACTUALLY DID. They recognized a super-human ability in Jesus.
- Luke 7.16: They were all filled with awe and praised God. "A great prophet has appeared among us," they said. "God has come to help his people."--Notice: some considered Him a 'great prophet'; some considered Him "God"!
- John 6.14-15: After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, "Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world." 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.--Notice: the masses recognized Jesus as 'The Prophet' (probably after Moses-Deut 18), and that they intended to install Him as King (they recognized His kingship as well).
Responses by friends and followers:
- Matt 3.13: Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"--Note: John the Baptist recognized Jesus' superiority over him BEFORE His public ministry began!
- Matt 8.5-9: When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6 "Lord," he said, "my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering."
7 Jesus said to him, "I will go and heal him."
8 The centurion replied, "Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, `Go,' and he goes; and that one, `Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, `Do this,' and he does it."--Notice: This gentile somehow had an understanding that Jesus could somehow SPEAK and make things happen--at a distance! This is a rather 'high' view of Him (perhaps not divine, but close--the miracle workers that Jesus is sometimes compared to never do this class of miracle, BLOM:81-92; JUF:117-125).
- Matt 8.27:Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.
27 The men were amazed and asked, "What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!"--Notice: the disciples recognized something very 'ODD' about this man Jesus--power over nature!
- Matt 14.33: Then those who were in the boat worshipped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."--Notice: a rather explicit response--they worshipped Him (for God only, remember?) and called Him 'THE Son of God'. Abject deity, I would say.
- Matt 16.16: Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."--Note: one of His followers called Him not only the Messiah, but also 'THE Son of the living God' (as we have discovered, a VERY explicit statement of deity)
- Matt 24.3: As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?"--The disciples recognized Jesus as at least having an incredible gift of prophecy, as well as somehow having a 'return' (i.e. the sign of your coming) of eschatological significance.
- Luke 8.39-40: The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 "Return home and tell how much God has done for you." So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.--Notice: Jesus told him to tell what "God did for him"--but the man told others what "Jesus did for him"--a rather clear identification.
- John 1.26-30,34: "I baptize with water," John replied, "but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie."
28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, `A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.'... I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God."--Notice that Jesus is SO EXALTED over JohnB, that JohnB can say "not worthy to touch His sandals!". JohnB also calls Jesus "The Son of God".
- John 1.49: Then Nathanael declared, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel."--Nat recognized Him as the Son of God.
- John 3.2: "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him."--Nicodemus, the Pharisee, recognized a special link between Jesus and God.
- John 4.42: They said to the woman, "We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world."--Notice: the Samaritans accepted Jesus as 'THE Savior of the World"--a rather exalted title!
- John 9.35ff: Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?"
36 "Who is he, sir?" the man asked. "Tell me so that I may believe in him."
37 Jesus said, "You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you."
38 Then the man said, "Lord, I believe," and he worshipped him.--Notice: the man WORSHIPPED Jesus, without correction and without rebuke.
- John 11.27: "Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world."--Notice: Martha confessed that He was the pre-existent Son of God.
- John 16.29-30: Then Jesus' disciples said, "Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. 30 Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God."--Notice: the disciples finally believe(!)...that Jesus came from God and knew all things.
- John 20.27f: Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe."
28 Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!"
29 Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."--Notice: Thomas calls Jesus "Lord and God", without correction and rebuke (indeed, he gets a small 'blessing').
Summary: This data is consistent with the self-understanding and claims of Jesus we have seen so far. From the intimate words of the Father about His beloved Son, to the consistent responses of Jesus' enemies with cries of "Blasphemy", there is no doubt that Jesus made exorbitant claims to be God. The very actions/words of the demons betray a knowledge of His authority that goes WAY BEYOND what had been historically revealed up to that point. Jesus is called "God" and literally given divine worship--without the slightest hint that this was improper or blasphemous.
It is interesting that in the latter rabbinical writings, echoes of the Jesus/Pharisee interactions occur (CTM:62,302-304).
Major sections of the Rabbinx are attributed to Rabbi Eliezer, who was a disciple of Rabbi Johanan ben Zaccai. Ben Zaccai must certainly have seen, heard, and known Jesus. He died an old man before 80 A.D., and lived mostly in Jerusalem. Many of the questions raised in the rabbinical literature are directed at Rabbi Eliezer, which makes sense, given his discipleship under one of the main sources of tradition about Christ in the Rabbinix. (CTM:352)
- In the Jerusalem Talmud (Taanith 65b): "R. Abihu said: If a man say to thee 'I am God,' he is a liar; if 'I am the son of man,' in the end people will laugh at him; if 'I will go up to heaven,' he saith, but shall not perform it.
- In the Jerusalem Talmud (Shabb. 8d), is a passage that faults Nebuchanezzer in Daniel 3.25 for using the phrase 'one like a son of god'. It explains that God has no Son!
- Similarly is the passage in Shem r.29.5, 51b, in which Is 44.6 is explained thus: "The holy One, blessed be He, saith, I am not so (Is 44.6), I am the first, I have no father; and I am the last, I have no Son, and beside me there is no God, I have no brother."
- Pesiq r.21. 100b, we read a reference to Jesus (often called the 'son of the harlot'--a general slur on the Virgin Birth): "If the son of the harlot shall say to thee, 'These are two Gods'..."
The claims to deity of the Son of God on earth are well attested from His own words and from the responses of those with whom He interacted--and these interactions STILL continue throughout history.
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