While it is true that Jesus Himself never comes out and explicitly says He is God in the Gospels, He is everywhere portrayed in terms that lead us to conclude to the same thing. He says things like “If you see Me, you see the Father,” “Honor Me even as you honor the Father,” and “I and the Father are one.” A good rabbi (who was only a good human rabbi) in the first century would never have spoken like this.
Moreover, Jesus makes Himself the object of faith, consistently saying such things such as “believe in me.” He everywhere equates believing in Him with believing in God, rejecting Him with rejecting God. “He who believes in Me believes in the Father who sent Me.” Even in His great “Sermon on the Mount” where some claim that we find the “great human teacher,” we find Jesus saying things like “Blessed are you when you are persecuted for My sake.” Who does He think He is? A rabbi is supposed to say, “Blessed are you when you are persecuted for God’s sake.
On top of this, we find the disciples calling Jesus “Lord” (Kurios), which is the Greek equivalent to Yahweh, the name of God in the Old Testament. When doubting Thomas cries out, “My Lord and my God”—Jesus doesn’t correct him. And we find the disciples and others worshipping Jesus in the Gospels, something Jews would never do to anyone other than God! The Gospels present a “fully divine” Jesus.
In the Epistles of the New Testament, 15 years after Jesus lived we find Paul incidentally characterizing all Christians as those who worship Christ (1 Cor. 1:2). He quotes a hymn that had already been established in the church tradition which says that Jesus was equal with God (Phil. 2). And at a number of points he calls Jesus “Lord” (Yahweh) and “God” (e.g., Rom. 9; Titus 2).”
All of this raises a perplexing historical question: Whatever could have convinced these Jews that Jesus was in fact God incarnate? What on earth could have led these Jews to do what their entire culture prohibited them from doing—worshipping a man? What must Jesus have been like, what character must He have had, what claims must He have made, and what incredible deeds must He have done, to convince these orthodox Jews that He was everything their faith said a man could never be?
According to the Gospels, it wasn’t the “resuscitation” of a corpse which convinced them that Jesus was God incarnate; it was the resurrection of a man who had already embodied the kingdom of God—its love, teachings, and power—during His life. It was the resurrection of a man who had already made astounding claims for Himself. And it was the resurrection of a man who never did henceforth die. If Jesus had later died, the whole thing would have fallen to pieces. But He didn’t. He ascended to heaven. (If this isn’t true, one must answer the questions of where Jesus was “hiding” during the entire period of the early church; why and how the disciples would lie, and then die for their fabrication; and why this lie was never exposed or even suspected by anyone.)
My point is that the resurrection and deity of Christ are two sides of the same coin. It is as impossible to explain why the disciples believed one as it is to explain why they believed the other—unless we accept the Gospel accounts on face value. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that even if we didn’t have the Gospels to inform us, we’d have to speculate that Jesus must have made the sort of claims and done the sort of deeds which the Gospels attribute to Him just to explain how the early Christians came to be convinced that He was everything we find Him being in the Epistles!
—Adapted from Letters from a Skeptic, pages 136-140
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