Have fun with this. You’ll never read the Gospels the same way again.
CLAIM: Jesus Rarely, if Ever, Claimed to Be Divine
In some ways, this is a fringe claim made by those who are trying to reconcile the reality that the Father declared over and over in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) that He alone was God and there is none other beside Him. Other’s make this claim as an inaccurate and unnecessary excuse for why the Jewish people rejected Jesus as the Messiah (we’ll cover that in a later post.)
Still, you will read this claim often in books and articles today, and it needs to be addressed. But there’s also a fun twist on the Gospels that we will see in answering this claim.
There are two major descriptors for Jesus used throughout the Gospels: Son of God, and Son of Man. For nearly 2,000 years, the traditional interpretation of these two titles has been that Son of God is Jesus’ claim of Divinity, and Son of Man describes His humanity.
Both of these are DEAD WRONG! In fact, each term means the exact opposite of this.
Jesus is referred to as the “Son of God” – in one form or the other – around fifty different times in the Gospels. Interestingly, He only refers to Himself as this around ten times, and this is only found in the Gospel of John. But what does the historical, geographical, religious, and cultural context of this term define it as?
Jewish culture of Jesus’ day defined the title, “Son of God” as a general reference to a righteous man. There is some indication that the phrase became associated with the Messiah (more on that in a moment), but as it relates to the fact that the King of Israel – the son of David – was referred to as a “son of God.”
If we are to maintain a level of intellectual honesty with our Biblical interpretation, we need to ask ourselves what those in Jesus’ day would have understood this phrase to mean. And they wouldn’t have perceived it as a claim of divinity.
So, does that mean that Jesus never claimed to be Divine? Not at all. He made the claim Himself, over seventy different times.
Before we can look at those claims, I want to show you an example of how one term can mean one thing in the Hebrew Scriptures, and come to mean something completely different in the New Testament.
The Hebrew word for messiah is “Moshiach.” It’s simple definition is “anointed one.” In the Hebrew Scriptures it could be used for anyone who had become filled or empowered by the Holy Spirit. In fact, a foreign, Gentile was called a “moshiach.”
Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed… – Isaiah 45:1 ESV
The Hebrew word translated “anointed” is “moshiach.” Does this mean that Cyrus the Great – a Persian King – is the Messiah?
Of course not. We only come to this crazy conclusion because we know that at the time of Jesus, the prophesied Son of David who would free Israel from its bondage and establish the Kingdom of God was called, “The Messiah.” You see, there is a big difference between “a messiah,” and “THE Messiah.”
At the time of Jesus, “a messiah” could be anyone who had the Spirit of God; “THE Messiah” was the prophesied Son of David. How does that relate to Jesus’ claim of Divinity?
The phrase, “son of man” is used throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. It is the common, everday term that we would define as “human.” But we make a major mistake if we apply that definition to Jesus’ description of Himself when He uses that term. In fact, He’s meaning something very different. To understand this, we must look at Daniel 7.
In this chapter, Daniel has a vision of the throne room of Heaven. In verses 9-10, Daniel sees God Almighty on His throne. He describes him as the “Ancient of Days.” All of the Sunday School visions of an older being with glowing white hair fit this description. But something very interesting takes place in this vision. First, a second throne is placed at the right hand of the Ancient of Days (vs. 9). And then in verses 13-14, another figure emerges:
I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.
– Daniel 7:13-14 ESV
“There came one LIKE a SON OF MAN…” This figure is human in form, and Divine in authority. He sits on a throne next to God Almighty and is given dominion, glory, and a kingdom. All peoples, nations, and languages will serve Him and His dominion will last for all eternity and never be destroyed!
That sounds Divine. And that sounds like Jesus.
It’s important to remember that over 400 years pass from the time Daniel has this vision to the time Jesus arrives in Bethlehem. And over that 400 years, many within the Jewish religious community began to look for a figure they called, “THE Son of Man.”
And just like there was a huge difference in their mind between “a messiah,” and “THE Messiah,’ there was a major difference between “a son of man,” and “THE Son of Man.”
Jesus refers to HIMSELF as “THE Son of Man” over seventy times in the Gospels. Here are just a few:
But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” – Matthew 9:6 ESV
For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath. – Matthew 12:8 ESV
The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers… – Mathew 13:41 ESV
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne… – Mathew 25:31 ESV
Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” – Matthew 26:64 ESV
I could go on and on, but you get the point. Jesus isn’t talking about humanity in any of these passages. Jesus is talking about His Divinity. He’s claiming authority and rule and reign, just as Daniel prophesied Jesus would receive when He sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. – Acts 2:29-33 ESV
As we’ve seen – once again – CONTEXT MATTERS.