Deity of Christ in the Writings of John

One of the many ignorant criticisms that Muslims bring against the bible is that Jesus never claimed to be God; he only ever called himself a prophet, and nothing more, they insist.  And they say that Jesus didn’t make Christianity or even intend to; he only came as a Jew for Jews, and that it was the apostle Paul who invented Christianity, making more of Jesus than Jesus himself did.  Whether they initially got this idea from Bart Ehrman or not, I don’t know, but his books would certainly confirm them in that view, as some of them demonstrate in their websites.  The Liberals, Higher Critics, and Unitarians, also claim that the gospels don’t prove that Jesus is God. 

But, in fact, the gospels do demonstrate that Jesus is God and they’re very clear about it, as I’ve already shown in my articles on the synoptic gospels.  But in their denials that the gospels do say or prove that Jesus is God, or that Jesus claimed deity, the enemies miss the point.  And Jesus himself did claim deity as well.  But Jesus didn’t come to prove he is God; he came as the messenger of God, and he claims that (e.g. Jn 4:34; 8:42).  However, because Son of God and Son of Man are also terms of deity, especially in Jesus’ case, we see him revealed as God; that the unique messenger of God is God himself (e.g. Matt 1:23; Rev 1:8, 11, 18 cf Isa 9:6, 44:6; 48:12) .  He frequently equates himself with God by saying things such as “…he that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (Jn 14:9; 13:31); and showing how he and the Father did the same works e.g. 14:5-14; so he doesn’t hide his identity.  But it was not his mission to bring glory to himself; he was sent to glorify the Father (Jn 17:4-5), and to announce that the kingdom of God had come (Mk 1:15).  He came, not as an avenging deity to bring judgment and condemnation on the world (Jn 12:47) – he will be doing that when he returns to earth (Matt 25:31-46) – but to bring salvation and to reconcile God and humanity (2 Cor 5:19).

It is true that Jesus is called a prophet.  Moses foretold his coming and said he would be a prophet like himself (Deut 18:15-22).  The Jews were expecting this prophet, the Messiah, the son of David, and they thought it might have been John the Baptist; so they asked him “Who art thou…..Art thou Elias?” (Jn 1:19, 21).  The common Jewish people recognised him too: “And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee” (Matt 21:11).  When Peter was speaking to the Jews after Jesus had ascended to heaven, he confirmed that Jesus was the prophet foretold by Moses (Acts 3:22).  And yet Jesus was much more than a prophet, as John tells us throughout his writings.

The Word Was God

“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 by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.  In him was life; and the life was the light of men”.  These are John’s opening words to his gospel (Jn 1:1-4).  He doesn’t waste time in getting to the point, nor does he mince his words.  Not only was “the Word” God; we’re also told that the Word was with God i.e. here is John’s introduction not only to Jesus, but also intimation of the Trinity.  But the full revelation and unequivocal declaration of the Trinity is elsewhere stated by John himself: “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one” (1 Jn 5:7).

And just as John sets these words (1:1-3) at the beginning of his gospel, he connects them with God and his creative acts in Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth”.   Furthermore, the writer of Hebrews does the same: Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail” (Heb 1:10-13).

So we see that John didn’t invent the idea that Jesus is God, and second Person of the Trinity; it is also clearly stated elsewhere in the New Testament, and has its foundation in the Old Testament, as John and the writer of Hebrews show.

And just to make sure that we don’t confuse “the Word” with somebody other than Jesus, John assures us, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,(and we have beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14; 1 Jn 1:1-4; see also 1 Tim 3:16).  He reiterates the deity of Jesus the Son, Jesus the Word, by declaring: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (Jn 1:18).  Again, in his first letter he says of Jesus: “This is the true God, and eternal life” (1 Jn 5:20).

Jesus Claims Equality with God

In the passage of the burning bush, the first description of the speaker of the voice emanating from the flames was the angel of the LORD (Ex 3:2).  Then, in verse 4, he is identified as Yahweh (the LORD), and God. Again, in verse 6, we read, “…he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.  And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God” (Ex 3:6).  And when Moses asked God his name, he said, “I AM THAT I AM.  And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you…..this is my name for ever (Ex 3:14).  This was none other than Yahweh. 

It was Yahweh, the speaker from the burning bush, who went before the children of Israel as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night when they were leaving Egypt (Ex 13:21-22); it was Yahweh who dried up the Red Sea so that Israel could cross, and destroyed Pharaoh and his army as they tried to follow them (Ex 14:1-31); it was Yahweh who led Israel through the wilderness in the books of Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy; and it was Yahweh who, during this time, gave them manna to eat (Ex 16:14-26 cf Ps 78:25 where it is called “angels’ food”), and “spiritual” water to drink (Num 20:2-13). 

And so it was no accident that Jesus claimed the very name of God for himself – he knew exactly what he was saying to the Jews with whom he was disputing, and exactly what it implied.  John writes: “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it and was glad. Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?  Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.  Then picked they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple” (Jn 8:56-59).

This was no bluff to protect himself from the malice and wrath of the Jews.  Jesus had already experienced their outrage and furious anger when he told them that God was his Father – a claim to deity; so he knew what their response would be when he claimed the name of Jehovah by saying of himself, “I am”.  The earlier incident occurred after Jesus had healed a man on the Sabbath day.  John describes that occasion: “But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.  Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was Father, making Himself equal with God (Jn 5:17-18).

And on a third occasion, he again claims deity.  John relates it for us: “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep….My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one. Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me? The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God” (Jn 10:11, 27-33).

Jesus twice claims deity in this passage.  The first claim is that he calls himself “the good shepherd”, thus identifying and equating himself with, and claiming to be the Messiah who was now come.  In these claims, he alludes to Ezekiel 34 where God rebukes the Israelite leaders, whom he calls “the shepherds of Israel”, in reality false shepherds, for abusing the people of Israel, God’s people, and robbing and exploiting them (Ezek 34:1-10).  And he describes himself as the shepherd of Israel, caring for his flocks and herds, and pronouncing judgement on the false shepherds (Ezek 34:11-22 cf Jn 10:1, 5, 8, 10, 12-13; see also Isa 40:10-11).  And then tells how he will set up over them “one shepherd….even my servant David; he shall feed them: he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd” (Ezek 34:23).

In the second of the two claims to equality with God in this passage and therefore deity, he says “I and the Father are one”.  This outraged the Jews and they tried yet again to kill him for blasphemy.

And when we read of the resurrected Jesus in heaven, he speaks as God himself, once again taking to himself the names and titles of Jehovah: “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty” (Rev 1:8).  And when he appeared to John, the description of him is the same as the vision of God seen by Daniel (Dan 10:4-9); and when John fell at his feet as dead, as did Daniel when he saw the same God, Jesus assured him, saying, “Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death” (Rev 1:17-18).  These titles are those by which Jehovah refers to himself (Ezek 1:26; Isa 41:4; 44:6; 48:12).  And Jesus unashamedly takes them to himself.

Jesus in the Trinity

“For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one” (1 Jn 5:7).

As can be seen in the above verses, this passage clearly and unequivocally declares and describes the Trinitarian nature of the Godhead, and is the only passage in the whole Bible which does so.   In making this clear statement of the unity in trinity of the Godhead, it necessarily implies the deity of Jesus.  In his gospel, John declares that “the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1).  In so doing, he reveals that the Godhead consists of more than one Person.  In this passage, the Johannine Comma (a technical name for it), John gives us further and final revelation, that the Godhead consists of three Divine Persons, the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost, and that they are One.  Therefore we are able to speak of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit; this is a correct statement based on these verses even though it is not stated in this way in scripture, and it makes clear which Divine Person we are speaking of.