The Divinity of Jesus

How do we know Jesus is God?

On the one hand, the Gospel of John is very clear regarding the divinity of Jesus:

Amédée_Varint_-_Christ_marchant_sur_la_merOn the other hand, there are other passages in the New Testament we sometimes miss, but which in their first-century Jewish context are just as clear regarding Jesus’ divine identity.

The Temple

First, in Matthew 12:6, Jesus says of himself, “something greater than the temple is here” (see also Jn 2:19-21). To the ancient Jew, the Temple was the dwelling place of God (see 1 Kgs 8:10; Ex 40:35). In first-century Judaism, the only thing that could possibly be greater than the Temple would be God himself!

The Sabbath

Further, in Matthew 12 Jesus describes himself as “Lord of the Sabbath” (Mt 12:8); God’s rest on the seventh day (Gen 2:2-3) is the foundation of the Sabbath. Who could be Lord of the Sabbath, except God himself?

The Law

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus places his own teaching on the same level as the Torah—which to an ancient Jew, is the very Revelation of God. Jesus gives six “antitheses” where he says, “You have heard that it was said …. But I say to you” (Mt 5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43), supplementing and enhancing the Law, as for example here: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’. But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:28). Accordingly, the crowds are “astonished” because Jesus taught them “as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Mt 7:28). Usually, the scribes would attempt to explain God’s revelation; but Jesus’ teaching is revelation.

Forgiving Sins

The way in which Jesus offers forgiveness of sin—through himself—left no doubt in the minds of his hearers that he was assuming the prerogatives of God. In Mk 2:5, Jesus heals a paralytic and says, “Child, your sins are forgiven.” Immediately, the scribes witnessing the event express their disgust: “Why does this man speak like this. It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mk 2:7).

Just “Passing by”

When Jesus walks on water, the text curiously describes Jesus as intending to “pass by” the Apostles (Mk 6:48-49). It’s a strange phrase—where could he be going?

This cryptic reference is an allusion to Old Testament scenes where YHWH appeared and “passed by.” Consider these two episodes dealing with Moses and Elijah, respectively: “[The Lord said to Moses]: ‘I will make my goodness pass before you …. While my glory passes by … I will cover you … until I have passed by’ …. The Lord passed before him” (Ex 33:19, 22; 34:6). And with Elijah: “And behold, the Lord passed by” (1 Kgs 19:11). Both the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) in these passages and Mark’s Gospel use the verb parerchomai to describe this “passing by” of the Lord. The point is clear: Jesus is the God of Israel come in the flesh (see Brant Pitre’s The Case for Jesus, ch. 9).

At the Name of Jesus, Every Knee Shall Bend

Philippians 2:6-11 describes Jesus’ self-emptying and suffering unto death, which then leads to his exaltation. At the conclusion of this passage, we read: “Therefore … at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow … and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philip 2:9-11). This passage is well known, but what is often missed is how St. Paul is appropriating to Jesus exactly what was said of YHWH: “To me [YHWH] every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear” (Isa 45:23). Paul is saying that YHWH has become incarnate in and through Jesus.

We don’t say “Jesus was,” but that “Jesus is”—because Jesus lives; Jesus conquered death because he is the God-man; Jesus remains present with us because he is God; Jesus is ever-present in the Blessed Sacrament because he is God in the flesh and continues to encounter us in the ever present.

Jesus promised to be with us always (see Mt 28:20). How can we encounter Jesus personally this very day?

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Dr. Andrew Swafford

Andrew Swafford is associate professor of theology at Benedictine College, where he regularly teaches courses on Scripture and the Christian moral life. He holds a doctorate in sacred theology from the University of St. Mary of the Lake and a master’s degree in Old Testament & Semitic Languages from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is author of Spiritual Survival in the Modern World: Insights from C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters; John Paul II to Aristotle and Back Again: A Christian Philosophy of Life; and Nature and Grace: A New Approach to Thomistic Resourcement. He is a contributing author to Letter & Spirit Volume 11; Divinization: Becoming Icons of Christ through the Liturgy; 30-Second Bible: The 50 Most Meaningful Moments in the Bible; and I Choose God: Stories from Young Catholics. Andrew is also a senior fellow at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. He lives with his wife Sarah and their four children in Atchison, Kansas.

  • Decamp

    In the Good shepherd passage I noticed on v. 20,21: “Many of them said, He is possessed and out of his mind, why listen to him? ” 21 Others said, “These are not the words of one possessed;,surely a demon cannot open the eyes of the blind, can he?” Amazing, even at that time they were recognizing that Jesus was not possessed but God.

  • Decamp

    What an introduction this was! I enjoyed the reading and what most impressing was to read each sentence one by one. I could think the meaning of each sentence and look at each sentence as a new thought! Mostly it was fantastic to realize that it was Mary Magdalene in the Gospel of John to recognize Jesus, after the disciples didn’t realized that Jesus had resurrected. Wonderful, I want to read again these passages on the Gospel of John, and think about Jesus as a man but also God, and son of the Father.

    • Dr. Andrew Swafford

      Thanks for you interest. Somewhat related to your first point, I’ve always found it intriguing that Jewish sources don’t deny Jesus’ miraculous activity; they attribute it to sorcery or the like–thus even opposing ancient sources acknowledge the supernatural at work in Jesus; they just differ on their interpretation of the source of that power.