Did Jesus claim to be God?
This is a weighted question. The God of the Jews is “God the Father” from a Christian perspective. Did Jesus ever claim to be God the Father? Confusion over this issue has led to modalism, known today as the “Oneness” doctrine, which in the simplest terms is the idea that God was the Father in the Old Testament, the Son in the Gospels, and the Holy Spirit from the days of the book of Acts forward.
Beyond Jesus’ baptism, which shows all three ‘persons’ of God present at one time, Jesus makes a clear distinction between himself and his Father. Examples include:
“I ascend to my Father and your Father, and my God and your God.” (John 20: 17).
“If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I.” (John 14:28).
So Jesus did not claim to be his Father, and he recognized his Father’s sovereignty. However, Jesus did not refute the claim that he was God: “Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” (John 20:28-29)
Jesus also claimed equality with God: “I and the Father are one.” The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, “I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?” The Jews answered Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.” (John 10:30-33).
At face value these passages may appear contradictory, but note that the Jews understood Jesus was claiming divinity by declaring his equality with God. If Jesus were to have ever said the words, “I am God,” his hearers would have understood him to be claiming to be God the Father. Those of us who reject modalism naturally understand why he would never make such a claim. So even though it may seem as though it would have been much simpler for us, centuries later, if He had made such a direct claim, this would have contradicted everything God had told Moses and the Jewish people for millennia.
In conclusion, did Jesus claim to be the God worshipped by the Jews for 3,000 years, whom Christians refer to as God the Father? No. Did Jesus claim to be divine, and to share equality with God? Yes. And as the gospel message spread, this issue became exceedingly relevant in how the early church defined Christianity and its core beliefs. This will be further discussed in the forthcoming article The Divinity of Jesus. Part Three: Did the Council of Nicaea vote to make Jesus God?