Question of the Week: Why is the Deity of Christ an Essential belief in Christianity?
There are certain things we can disagree agreeably about among fellow Christians because those positions don’t undermine what it actually means to be a Christian. If a fundamental doctrine of Christianity is disagreed upon, then it’s not a disagreement among Christians. The person who rejects that core doctrine has demonstrated their opposition to the definition of Christianity itself. The nature of Jesus is one of those non-negotiables. Jesus of Nazareth made claims about Himself and acted in ways that were exclusive traits of the God of the Old Testament. This is what sets Him apart from any prophet in Israel’s history. This is also what elevates Him in the eyes of those who take His claims seriously to the level of the True and Living God. To reject Jesus’ claims and how He supported those claims is to reject the reason we consider Him worth following in the first place. The only thing that remains in making this case legitimate is where and how Jesus made claims and performed deeds that could only rightly apply to the True and Living God.
The first and clearest example of Jesus’ claims to divinity was His ability to forgive sins. When speaking to the Jewish audience that determined their understanding of who God was through the Old Testament, He claimed the right to forgive sins. This is something that anyone can say, but only God could rightfully do.
When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.” And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic, “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”
Mark 2:5-12 (NKJV)
The audience that witnessed this miracle rightly concluded that God alone could forgive sins. This understanding of God’s nature came from a Psalm of David where he acknowledged that his adultery and murder were ultimately violations of God’s standards. Therefore, ultimate forgiveness needed to come from Him.
Against You, You only, have I sinned,
And done this evil in Your sight—
That You may be found just when You speak,
And blameless when You judge.
Psalm 51:4 (NKJV)
Jesus went on to verify His words with an observable miracle. If Jesus was blaspheming, then God wasn’t going to work through Him. If Jesus was telling the truth, then the God of Israel was verified to be the One working and speaking. He is the only one with the right to forgive sins in the Jewish mind, and demonstrated that ability to a Jewish audience. Not as an agent, but the one acting in His own name.
Another example of Jesus making the sort of claims that only God could rightly say is taking a divine title for Himself used exclusively of God in the Old Testament.
“Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel,
And his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
‘I am the First and I am the Last;
Besides Me there is no God.
Isaiah 44:6 (NKJV)
And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.
Revelation 1:17-18 (NKJV)
The prophecies of Isaiah mention an exclusive trait and title for God as “The First and the Last.” His eternal nature is unique to Him apart from anything else and could only be rightly spoken about the One who existed before time itself. Jesus claims this title for Himself as he is speaking to the Apostle John, who knew this Old Testament reference as an ethnic Jew. This title is applied to the individual who was dead and is now alive forevermore.
A very significant example of Jesus’ exclusive claims to divinity was the nature of the miracles He performed in the sight of His disciples.
He alone spreads out the heavens,
And treads on the waves of the sea;
Job 9:8 (NKJV)
Now when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He was alone on the land. Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them. Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by. And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were troubled. But immediately He talked with them and said to them, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled.
Mark 6:47-52 (NKJV)
It is worth noting in this passage that the translation of “It is I” spoken by Jesus as He’s doing something only God can can do is the phrase “I AM.” This is the same way God introduced Himself to Moses in Exodus.
And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’“
Exodus 3:14 (NKJV)
These are only a small handful of examples that are found throughout Jesus’ entire earthly ministry. With a working knowledge of the Old Testament, there is no room for doubt concerning the sort of claims Jesus is making about Himself. If you are saying the sort of things only God can rightly say, and doing the sort of things only God can rightly do, then you’re either God or lying. If you disregard the claims of Jesus and don’t consider Him a reliable source of truth, then it doesn’t matter how highly you regard Him. You aren’t a Christian. This is why the divinity of Christ is so essential. It is the natural conclusion of the things He did and said. If you reject those statements and actions, then you’re rejecting Him as a fraud and a liar. That doesn’t sound like the sort of claims that a believer in Jesus Christ should be making.
Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:3 (NKJV)
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