|- SECOND PART
IS JESUS CHRIST GOD ?
The incredible challenge of the historicity of Jesus is that he is a man whose name is associated with being God. This is why so many great intellectuals have difficulties in acknowledging the historicity of Jesus. They are afraid of being forced into acknowledging the divinity of Christ. Among all the figures of history, Jesus is the man who has caused the most reactions. His question: “And you, who do you say that I am?” goes beyond history. It is not only a question about the person of Jesus but it is we ourselves who are put into question.
We do not have the intention of giving a lengthly answer to this question but rather simply to open a door to this mystery. We want to emphasize the following points :
- Did Jesus claim to be God ? Did he give up being man ?
- Jesus and the God of the philosophers.
- The paradox of Jesus-man and Jesus-God.
- Why this God and not another ?
- What is the image of God given by Jesus Christ ?
I - DID JESUS CLAIM TO BE GOD ?
When we take the existence of Jesus as a man seriously, we might ask if he himself really did claim to be God?
A certain number of scholars actually maintain that Jesus never said he was God, but that his disciples embellished the history after his death.
It is true that in the beginning of his public life, Jesus carefully avoids being called “Messiah” - a term extremely important for the Jews of his period. He attempts to hide the fact of his being “the holy one of Israel”, “the Messiah”, and “the Son of God”.
The reasons for this are clear. The Jews of the first century were hoping for a Messiah and none of them knew who it would be. The word “Christ” comes from the Greek word meaning “Anointed One”, he who has received the anointing with oil blessed by God like King David was. However, the object of the “hope of Israel” differed among the various groups of people. For the religious nationalists, the Messiah was expected to be a political liberator who would achieve Israel’s independance from the Romans. For others, like the Virgin Mary, Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna the prophetess, the object of hope is more profound. They are waiting for the promise of God, of his salvation and for the promise of resurrection. The Pharisees who are often spoken about in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles also believed in the Resurrection from the dead.
As yet, no one could grasp what the promise of God entailed. Jesus revealed it gradually so that he might avoid it being confused with the false images of the Messiah. He chose to describe himself as “Son of Man” to give an image of God more humble than the false images of the Messiah as a political ruler.
“THE SON OF MAN”
Jesus refers to himself as the “Son of man” many times in the Gospels. What does this mean?
In the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament, we also find the description of this Son of man. (Daniel 7: 9-14, 15-28). We see a mortal man who, at the same time, mysteriously transcends the human condition: “And behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man... his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away”.
The prophet Ezekiel (chapter 1, verses 26 - 28) has spoken as well about a being who had a “human form” at the same time that he revealed “the likeness of the glory of the Lord”.
Jesus uses this title when he appears before the judges of the Sanhedren (the Jewish grand tribunal) : “But from now on the Son of man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” And they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am” (Luke 22: 69-70).
Thus, Jesus did indeed claim to be God. At the same time, he laid claim to the fact of being truly a man. He was saying essentially that God became man in order to allow man to meet God(7). He made this solemn declaration at the moment when he knew it would provoke his death.
II - THE GOD OF JESUS CHRIST IS THE GOD OF THE PHILOSOPHERS
When Jesus claimed to be God, many might consider that he was referring only to the Jewish concept of God. What connection did his idea of God have with the God of the philosophers or with the qualities of God that people over the ages have attributed to God?
Jesus claims to be the God of Israel and the universal God of the universe. There is a significant passage in the Gospel on this subject, at a moment when the Jews were debating with Jesus :
“Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad.”
The Jews then said to him. “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”
Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
John 8: 56 - 58
After listening to Jesus say this, the Jews took up stones to throw at him because he had tried to claim divinity and declare himself God. Since they could not accept him as God, all they could do was to convict him of blasphemy, which was a serious insult against God.
We want to examine, not the refusal of the Jews and its consequences but rather the declaration of Jesus. This declaration-affirmation of divinity is remarkable. It refers precisely to the ancient Jewish texts at the same time while giving reference to God like people through the ages have expected. In the Old Testament, God introduces himself to Moses using the name : “I am who I am.” (Exodus 3:14) and as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6).
In affirming that “He is” beyond time, Jesus is claiming an important aspect of divinity that corresponds to the understanding of the philosophers: God has neither beginning or end; He is eternal and eternally present. He depends on no one for his existence. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the God of the Israelites and He is the God of creation.
III - THE PARADOX OF JESUS AS BOTH MAN AND GOD
By looking at the image of the burning bush in the Old Testament, at the moment God reveals himself to Moses as “I am who I am”, we are given a manifestation of God prefiguring by 1500 years the mystery of Jesus Christ, true man and true God.
Moses, who was watching over the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, in the wilderness of Sinai, sees a bush burning but not consumed by the flames. (Exodus 3) He drew nearer to see this marvel and a voice spoke to him out of the bush :
“I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”
Moses asks God for his name and God replies “I am who I am.” Jesus refers to this phrase in his discussion with the Jews, as cited above. The image of the burning bush which is not consumed is also the image of God the Creator. He is the Almighty God who reveals himself in creation in a way that does not destroy. His presence is symbolized by a fire which is present in the midst of the bush but does not burn any part of it.
In the same way, when God becomes man in the person of Jesus Christ, his omnipotence does not destroy any part of human nature. The Church declares that Jesus is true God and true man :
“God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.”
“For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven : by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man”.
Nicene Creed - Summary of the Christian faith.
IV - WHY THE GOD OF JESUS CHRIST AND NOT ANOTHER GOD ?
Jesus Christ reveals to us the Triune God - He who is one God in three persons, Father, Son (Jesus Christ) and Holy Spirit. Are we forced to believe in Jesus Christ or can we look for other gods?
There can only be one God, so if Jesus Christ is truly God, then he is the only God (one God in three persons who have one will and one love). If there were two Gods, they could not both be Absolute.
Am I free to believe in a god other than Jesus Christ? Talleyrand, who was an important figure during the French revolution and known for his cleverness (who later became minister of foreign affairs for Napoleon) reacted to the proposition of another French deputy who was attempting to establish the new religion of reason to replace Christianity. While this deputy was trying to win votes for his proposition, Talleyrand interrupted him saying: “We will believe you when you will have died for your religion and risen from the dead after three days.”
V - WHAT KIND OF IMAGE OF GOD DOES JESUS CHRIST GIVE ?
Many people are afraid of God. One day in Siberia, shortly after the end of communism (1992), a group of students asked us this question: “Now that we are free of communism, are we going to become slaves of God?”
If we were to ask Jesus Christ this question, he would probably respond something like this:
I show you the kind of God my Father and I are when I was born at Christmas. I come into the world to meet you as a child, not as a powerful dictator. I want you to understand that I do not want to influence your freedom by using force or fear, but I want to know that you love me. And we cannot love if it is not in freedom.
The image of God given to us by Jesus Christ is forgiveness.
When Jesus is dying on the cross, having been put to death by men, Jesus says: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
The “good thief” next to Jesus who is also being put to death on a cross, beseeches him : “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingly power.” Jesus answers:
“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Luke 23: 39-43
Isn’t it better for us to believe in a God who forgives us and who makes heaven possible for us ?
(7) Throughout his public life, Jesus uses different expressions and parables to describe this incredible event of God becoming man: the Bridegroom and Bride, the Kingdom of God, the Son of the master of the vineyard, the precious pearl. We use “Son of Man” to introduce the topic.
Introduction | First Part : Is Jesus historical ?