Did Jesus Claim To Be God?

Many feel that Jesus was just a good moral teacher. Others believe Jesus was a prophet. Some are unsure, but don’t think Jesus was crazy enough to think he was divine. Perhaps Jesus was an inspiring teacher.

However, a close reading of the New Testament documents makes it clear that these theories are more about our feelings and speculations than the facts of the historical record. We have to ask: what weight should we give our own interior spiritual sensibilities and how much should we prioritize the facts of history? As we look at the historical record, the case is clear: Jesus claimed to be God.

How do we know this? For the sake of simplicity, here are three key ways we know Jesus claimed to be God:

  1. Jesus spoke and acted as if He thought He was God.
  2. Jesus’ followers spoke and acted as if they thought He was God.
  3. Jesus’ enemies spoke and acted as if Jesus claimed to be God.

If these three points can be clearly established with specific examples, then a cumulative case is developed. Maybe you find a few of the following points less convincing than others. But in light of all of them, you have to ask yourself: is it still reasonable to deny that Jesus thought he was God? And if Jesus thought He was God, how can He remain a ‘good moral teacher’ or an ‘inspiring example’? We can only conclude He really was God – or He was a fraud of one kind or another.

Let’s look at these three categories in turn. As we proceed, pay attention to the “Son of Man” and “Son of God” titles for Jesus.

1. Jesus spoke and acted as if He thought He was God.

A summary of the Gospels provides dozens of examples:

The data here is incredibly extensive. For instance, Glenn Miller has summarized the claims of Jesus in just the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Here’s his list, with a few small modifications:

Jesus claims to be the Messiah, the King of the Jews, the suffering servant of Isaiah; the divine, eschatological Son of Man of Daniel 9 (considered blasphemous); the unique Son of God (considered blasphemous); able to forgive sins (considered blasphemous); Lord of the Sabbath; an appropriate object of religious faith; the Heir to God; greater than King David, Solomon, Jonah, and the Temple; ‘owner’ of the angels and the elect; able to speak eternally binding and existent sayings on His own authority; able to abolish the Old Testament Scriptures; to be the authoritative interpreter of the Old Testament; to be the person upon whom the eternal destinies of humans depend; to be worthy of higher loyalty and commitment than family; to have exclusive knowledge of the Father, and to be the sole ‘dispenser’ of that knowledge; to send prophets; to be omnipresent; to be of equal status with the Father and the Spirit, and to share ‘the Name’ with them; to be able to grant derivative authority over evil spirits; to be able to grant kingdom authority in the same way the Father does; to be “God” visiting them, as promised in the Old Testament Messianic prophecies; to be co-operative / interchangeable in some operations with the Spirit; to have special knowledge of heavenly events; to have all authority in heaven; and to have authority over the Holy Spirit.

Really, do you need more evidence than this? Can you imagine anyone you know describing themselves in these terms but think, “You know, I think they see themselves as a kind of prophet”?

From just Matthew, Mark, and Luke – not to mention the Gospel of John, the letters of Paul, or other New Testament documents – we have a very multifaceted portrayal of someone who always thinks of themselves as divine. This self-understanding ‘leaks out’ in dozens of different sayings and actions.

Jesus accepted worship:

Jesus knew that only God could deserve worship. Don’t you know that too? Who else could possibly merit our worship?

More specifically, when Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, he repeatedly asked Jesus to prove that he was “the Son of God” by doing various actions. In one of them, Satan asked Jesus to worship him in return for “all the kingdoms of the world.” How did Jesus respond? By quoting Deuteronomy 6:13, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (Matthew 4:10).

Ten chapters later, in Matthew 14, we are told that Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water towards Jesus. Afterwards, when Peter and Jesus got into the boat, Matthew tells us, “and those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

How could Jesus accept his disciples calling him “the Son of God” and worshiping him unless… He believed that He was God?

Jesus also accepts worship from a blind man whose sight he restored. After the blind man is cast out of the synagogue, Jesus finds him. John tells us:

Jesus said [to the formerly blind man], “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him (John 9:35-38).

Ok, it is one thing to give a blind man sight. But unless you actually are God, isn’t it a little crazy to go find him afterwards, tell him you are God, and receive worship from him?

Jesus forgave sins:

Later in Matthew, Jesus states that as “the Son of Man,” he will judge all people:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats…Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’…Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’ (Matthew 25:31-32, 34, 41).

Do you have any friends who claim that, at the end of time, they will be personally responsible for deciding who goes to heaven and who goes to hell?

To give another example: early in his ministry, when Jesus heals a paralyzed man, he first pronounces, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5, Luke 5:20). I imagine the paralyzed man thinking, ‘Excuse me? What’s your name again? I’m not sure we’ve been properly introduced.’ I think the paralyzed man’s second thought was probably: ‘I wish you’d heal my body instead of saying some religious mumbo-jumbo.’

But in both Mark and Luke, the physical healing follows the forgiveness of sins. As Jesus says to the crowd. “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home” (Mark 2:10-11). The miracle confirms the message – the message that Jesus believed He could forgive sins!

Jesus’ followers spoke and acted as if they thought He was God.

We’ve already noted that during his lifetime Jesus received worship from the disciples and others. You have to ask: why would someone worship another person? Why would you worship another person? Wouldn’t the other person have to have convinced you they were God? In addition to Jesus being worshiped…

Jesus’ disciples claimed that Jesus is God:

  • When Jesus asks the disciples who they believe him to be, Peter (representing all of them) says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” What does Jesus say? Does he say, “Peter! How dare you! No, no, no, I am just a good moral example!” Here’s what Jesus said: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:16-17). In other words, Jesus claims that God has told Peter that Jesus is God.
  • After Jesus personally reveals himself to Thomas after his resurrection, what does Thomas say? “Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

In light of people worshiping Jesus and explicitly claiming that Jesus is God, it is safe to say that Jesus’ followers believed that Jesus was God. For even more evidence, read through the New Testament epistles. You’ll notice that Jesus is consistently identified and praised as God.

Jesus’ enemies spoke and acted as if Jesus claimed to be God.

People tried to stone him for claiming to be God.

Many people live in spiritually relaxed cultures today. Claim to be God? ‘Cool man, that’s awesome. How’s that working for ya?’

But in some cultures, claiming to be God can lead to death. For instance, imagine visiting Mecca during the annual Hajj. Each year, over three million Muslims visit their holy sites in Mecca in just a few days. Now imagine you are at the Kaaba (the Sacred House) inside the Masjid al-Haram, the most sacred mosque in Islam, and you begin shouting, “I am Allah! I am Allah! And I am Mohammed his messenger! I can forgive your sins! Worship me!” With all respect to the many diverse forms of Muslim practices, many of which are very peaceful, there is no doubt in my mind that this ill-advised choice of words would provoke an intense response leading to your immediate death.

In Jesus’ day, his Jewish contemporaries were equally devout in their monotheistic allegiance to YHWH as the one and only God. With that in mind, consider this narrative from the Gospel of John:

Jesus was walking in the temple [the Temple, in Jerusalem], in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of  the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:23-33).

Clearly it was not only Jesus, and Jesus’ disciples, who believed that Jesus was claiming to be God. His opponents got the message too. In fact…

People killed Jesus for claiming to be God.

Once Jesus has been arrested and is on trial, the high priest directly confronts Jesus. Here’s Mark’s account:

Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death (14:61-64).

See the continuity? “Son of Man.” “Son of God” (God is ‘the Blessed’). The coming Judge. How is this understood? As blasphemy.

Think about it. Let’s say Jesus thought He was not God. And Jesus knew that if He claimed to be God, He would die. What would a reasonable person do in this situation? I’d say something like, “This is a HUGE misunderstanding. I am NOT God. I have NEVER claimed to be God. I will do my very best to clarify this in all of my future teaching. Seriously. Please don’t kill me!” But Jesus didn’t do this. Instead, knowing that they would kill him for saying so, He boldly claimed to be God.


The only option out at this point is to argue that the gospels are so fundamentally legendary, created by second or third generation Christians who elevated Jesus to divine status, that we cannot trust these documents to give us reliable historical information. Even then, you have to ask why these myth-makers were so careful to distinguish between the way Jesus described himself as God and the later titles they used to make the exact same point. As Mikel del Rosario explains,

“Son of Man” seems to be Jesus’ favorite thing to call Himself–He uses it 80 times in the New Testament Gospels. Interestingly, it’s only used one time outside the gospels (Acts 7:56). So this probably wasn’t something the church made up. How many modern worship songs can you think of that use the term, “Son of Man?” We know this title didn’t emerge later on in history and it wasn’t written back into the earlier traditions about Jesus. But why is this title important? Because it’s referring to a figure that Jews recognized as divine. Here’s what the Jewish prophet Daniel wrote (7:13-14):

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Here’s the point: The “Son of Man” in Daniel’s vision is rightful heir to the divine throne. According to the prophecy, He’ll rule forever. Nations will worship Him and His kingdom will be unstoppable.

Why would these later, legendary accounts make up the idea that Jesus predominately used a divine title like “Son of Man,” when they personally preferred to use other divine titles? In any case, there’s good evidence that these accounts are historically reliable.

Let’s recap:

  1. Jesus spoke and acted as if He thought He was God.
  2. Jesus’ followers spoke and acted as if they thought He was God.
  3. Jesus’ enemies spoke and acted as if Jesus claimed to be God.

Jesus used terms like “the Son of Man” to claim divinity, but this phrase was barely used by the church. Jesus also called himself the Son of God, received worship, claimed to forgive sins, believed he was the final judge, and was willing to be killed because other people thought He was God. Personal feelings aside, the evidence is clear: Jesus believed He was God.

For further reading / sources consulted: