Part 3 of a series on the identity of Jesus of Nazareth
Jesus is God: fully human, and fully divine. As we saw in Part 2, Jesus was fully convinced that He was God, and He wanted people to see Him as part of a plural Godhead.
In Part 3 of this series on Jesus the God-Man, we consider what the apostles said about Jesus. Some suggest that the First Council of Nicaea, held in AD 325, contrived the doctrine that Jesus is God. In fact, even in the first century, those who knew Jesus personally were already affirming His divinity.
The apostle John begins his gospel with just such a claim.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
~ John 1:1
As we continue reading, it becomes clear that John is using “the Word” (logos in Greek) as a title for Jesus. “The Word was God” is therefore an unequivocal statement that Jesus is God.
To ensure we don’t miss his point, John then explains that Jesus was involved in the creation of the world. “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:3). And he adds, “In him was life; and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:4).
Once he has established these facts, John speaks of the incarnation:
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.”
~ John 1:14
And towards the end of his gospel, John affirms the same:
“Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He was come from God, and went to God…”
~ John 13:3
Moreover, in his first epistle, John writes,
“And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding,
that we may know Him that is true, and we are in Him that is true,
even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.”
~ 1 John 5:20
There can be no doubt that John, Jesus’ best friend (John 13:23), understood Jesus to be God in human flesh.
The apostle Paul was equally convinced of Jesus’ divinity. As he is departing Ephesus, Paul counsels the elders to “feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood.” (Acts 20:28) The idea that God purchased the church with His own blood can only make sense if Jesus is the God Paul is referring to.
Paul calls Jesus as “the eternally blessed God” in the book of Romans. Though the King James Version does not render it this way, many other translations do (ESV, NIV, NLT, NCV, RSV, etc). Consider the New King James Version:
“Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.”
~ Romans 9:5
Writing to the Corinthians, Paul compares the ‘first man Adam’ with Jesus, the ‘second Adam’. In this passage, Paul makes a clear distinction about Jesus’ divine identity. “The first man is of the earth, earthy,” he writes, while “the second man is the Lord from heaven.” (1 Corinthians 15:47)
The second chapter of Philippians is another place where Paul highlights Jesus’ divine credentials. Christ Jesus, “being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God,” says Paul, “But made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:6-7) This is another witness to the incarnation.
Paul concludes this triumphal hymn with an equally audacious claim:
“Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: At the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
~ Philippians 2:9-11
Writing to the Colossians, Paul asserts that the Son is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). “He is before all things, and by him all things consist,” adds Paul (Colossians 1:17). Several verses later, we read that “it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell.” (Colossians 1:19). This claim is repeated by Paul in the following chapter: “In him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” (Colossians 2:9)
In his pastoral epistles, Paul addresses the divine identity of Jesus. Writing to Timothy, he appears to quote an early Christian hymn: “God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.” (1 Timothy 3:16) Likewise, in his letter to Titus, Paul calls Jesus, “Our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:13 NKJV)
The apostle Peter likewise seemed certain that Jesus was God. In his famous sermon at Pentecost, Peter declared, “God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2:36). Speaking with Cornelius, Peter calls Jesus Christ “Lord of all” (Acts 10:36). And Peter begins his second epistle by referring to Jesus as “Our God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1 NKJV).
The author of Hebrews makes several significant statements about Jesus’ divinity. In the opening chapter, he writes that God’s Son is “the brightness of His [God’s] glory, and the express image of His person,” and claims that Jesus is “upholding all things by the word of His power.” (Hebrews 1:3)
Quoting Psalm 45:6, the author of Hebrews depicts God saying to the Son, “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever” (Hebrews 1:8). That’s quite a title for Jesus! We see a similar application of an Old Testament passage (Psalm 102:25-27) to Jesus a few verses on. According to the author of Hebrews, God also says to the Son,
“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… but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.”
~ Hebrews 1:10-12
Likewise, when the author of Hebrews compares the mysterious Old Testament character Melchizedek to Christ, he writes, “Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.” (Hebrews 7:3) Whether ascribing divine titles to Jesus or speaking of His omnipotence and eternal permanence, it is clear that the author of Hebrews sees the Son as an equal member of the Godhead.
The apostle Luke twice highlights the divinity of Jesus. First in his gospel, when he quotes the awed crowds in the town of Nain who say of Jesus, “a great prophet is risen up among us” and that “God hath visited His people” (Luke 7:16). The second instance is in the book of Acts, at the death of Stephen. “And they stoned Stephen,” Luke says, who is seen “calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” (Acts 7:59)
Finally, the apostle Thomas made an indisputable claim about Jesus’ divinity. Also known as the doubting disciple, Thomas had told the other disciples that he wouldn’t believe that Jesus had risen until he’d seen and touched Jesus’ crucifixion scars. A week later, Jesus appears to Thomas and invites him to do just that. So overwhelmed is Thomas that he cries out to Jesus, “My Lord and my God.” (John 20:28)
Did the apostles regard Jesus as God? Without question they did.