“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
This question asked by Jesus was not the fruit of insecurity or uncertainty on his part. He knew exactly who he was. Nor was it a question designed to boost his self-confidence, bolster a sagging ego, or reassure himself of his popularity. He knew he wasn't popular. Rather, it was a question designed to elicit faith in his followers.
1) John the Baptist (this was Herod Antipas' fear) - "Probably it is best to envision that those who believed this thought that the 'spirit' of John the Baptist had passed on to Jesus much as the 'spirit' of Elijah had come to rest upon Elisha (compare 2 Kings 2:1-15)" (Stein, 158).
2) Elijah (the forerunner of the Messiah; cf. Mal. 4:5-6)
3) Jeremiah (one who suffered and declared impending judgment)
4) one of the prophets
The point is this: no group was willingly and openly and thoughtfully confessing Jesus as the Messiah! When Jesus asks, "Who do you say that I am?" the "you" is both emphatic and plural; hence, Peter's response is on behalf of all 12; he represents the entire group. Peter's response is two-fold:
1) "Thou art the Christ" = the Messiah = the anointed one; i.e., that one divinely chosen, uniquely set apart for God's service, endued with power and anointed with oil as a symbol of the Spirit's presence. In the OT prophets, priests, and kings were "anointed ones" (Ex. 29:7,21; 1 Sam. 10:1,6). But in Jesus all three offices converge and are fulfilled.
2) "the son of the Living God" - His sonship is neither physical nor adoptive, but is based on an eternal relationship with the Father that entails equality of nature and glory.
Where did Peter come up with such a notion? Jesus explains.
He refers to Peter as "Simon, Barjona (son of Jonah)", a gentle reminder that although Peter has spoken words of monumental significance, he is still only a man. He is but the son of another man, unlike Jesus who is alone the eternal Son of God.
Negatively: "flesh and blood" had nothing to do with your understanding of this truth. Mere mortal mental prowess, with all of its intellectual and philosophical capabilities, could not generate this confession. Human nature alone, drawing solely on the resources inherent within itself, is incapable of coming up with the right answer to this question.
Positively: this is knowledge that comes only by divine revelation! "The only reason you know this, Peter, is because My Father has chosen to reveal it to you." The same applies to everyone else as well. See Mt. 11:25-27; 1 Cor. 2:11-16.
1. NT Evidence for the Deity of Jesus
a. Jesus' claims for Himself
(1) He claimed equality with God the Father (John 10:30-33, a claim the Jews understood all too well! See also Matt. 28:18-20)
Note esp. Mt. 28:19. Jesus does not say "names" (pl), as if there were three, but "name" (sg). Neither does he say, "in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit," as if there were one person going by a three-fold name. Rather, the definite article is repeated before each one: "the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit". Thus, while Jesus carefully distinguishes three persons, he with equal care unites them all under one name, thus placing himself alongside the Father and Spirit as together constituting one God. See also John 5:23; 12:44-45; 14:9; 19:7.
(2) He claimed pre-existence for himself (John 8:58; cf. also John 17:5,24; Rev. 22:13)
In Jn. 8:58 Jesus does not say "before Abraham was born, I was," but "I am." Jesus is not merely asserting that he already existed when Abraham was born. He is asserting that he transcends time altogether! People today may struggle with what Jesus was claiming for himself, but the Jews of his day once again understood all too well (cf. v. 59)!
(3) He claimed the authority and power to forgive sins (Mark 2:1-12; see also Isa. 43:25)
(4) He claimed to be sinless (John 8:46)
(5) He called on them to believe in Him no less than they believe in the Father (John 14:1-2; 5:23)
(6) He required of his followers the strictest allegiance, even unto death (Mark 8:34-38; Mt. 10:37-38; Luke 14:26-27)
(7) He claimed to be the Judge of all mankind (John 5:25-29; Luke 22:27-30)
(8) He gladly accepted the worship of his followers (John 20:28; Luke 5:8)
b. The Claims of Others on behalf of Jesus
(1) Pre-existence (Col. 1:17; Phil. 2:6-11; John 1:1-3; cf. 1 Cor. 10:4)
(2) The Attributes of Deity are ascribed to Him
a) Holiness/Sinlessness (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 7:26; 1 Pt. 2:22; 3:18; 1 John 3:5; etc.)
b) Omnipotence (John 1:2-3; Heb. 1:3; Eph. 1:22; Col. 1:17; Acts 17:28)
c) Immutability (Heb. 1:11-12; 13:8)
d) Omniscience (John 2:24; 4:29; 6:64; 16:30; 21:17; it is likely, however, that these texts refer not to divine omniscience per se, but to the knowledge imparted to Jesus, as man, by the Holy Spirit)
See esp. Col. 2:9
(3) The Names of Deity are ascribed to Him
a) He is specifically called "God" (John 1:1,18; 20:28; 2 Pt. 1:1; Titus 2:13; Rom. 9:5; Heb. 1:8; see also John 12:41)
· In John 1:18, the term monogenes, often translated "only-begotten," denotes the only member of a kin or kind; when applied to Jesus, says Harris, "it will mean that he is without spiritual siblings and without equals. He is 'sole-born' and 'peerless.' No one else can lay claim to the title Son of God in the sense in which it applies to Christ" (87).
· In John 20:28, Jesus was adoringly addressed by Thomas as "my Lord and my God!" Israel had honored Yahweh as kurios ho theos hemon ("our Lord God") in Ps. 99:8. Christians honor the Father as ho kurios kai ho theos hemon ("our Lord and God") in Rev. 4:11. So, too, people are "to honor the Son, even as they honor the Father" (John 5:23). "In uttering this confessional cry Thomas recognized the lordship of Jesus in the physical and spiritual realms as well as over his own life ("my Lord") and the essential oneness of Jesus with the Father which made his worship of Jesus legitimate ("my God"). As used in this verse, 'Lord' and 'God' are titles, not proper names, the first implying and the second explicitly affirming the substantial deity of the risen Jesus" (Harris, 129).
· Acts 20:28 has often been used to prove the deity of Jesus. Literally it reads: ". . . the church of God, which he [who?] purchased (or acquired) through his own blood." Some argue that "God" refers to Jesus and that the "he" who purchased the church is therefore also Jesus. More likely though, it should be rendered, ". . . the church of God [the Father], which He [God the Father] purchased through the blood of His own one [Jesus, God the Son]."
· In Matthew 1:23 Jesus is called "Immanuel," which translated means, "God with us." Most believe, however, that this signifies "that in Jesus God is present to bring salvation to his people rather than that Jesus, as 'God,' is personally present with his people. Matthew is not saying, 'Someone who is 'God' is now physically with us,' but 'God is acting on our behalf in the person of Jesus'" (258).
b) OT texts referring to YHWH are applied to him in the NT
· Isa. 40:3 / Mt. 3:3
· Ps. 8:2 / Mt. 21:16
· Isa. 6:1-10 / Mt. 13:14-15; Jn. 12:37-41
· Ps. 110:1 / Mt. 22:44-45
· Malachi 3:1 / Luke 1:76
· Ps. 23:1 / Jn. 10:11
· Isa. 8:14 / Rom. 9:32-33
· Joel 2:32 / Rom. 10:9-13
· Is. 45:23 / Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:16
· Jer. 9:24 / 1 Cor. 1:31
· Isa. 40:13 / 1 Cor. 2:16
· Ps. 68:18 / Eph. 4:8-10
· Isa. 45:20-25 / Phil. 2:9-11
· Isa. 2:10,19,21; 66:15 / 2 Thess. 1:7-9
· Ps. 130:8 / Titus 2:13
· Ps. 102:25-26 / Heb. 1:10
· Isa. 51:6 / Heb. 1:11
· Ps. 34:8 / 1 Peter 2:3
· Isa. 8:13 / 1 Peter 3:15
· Zech. 12:10 / Rev. 1:7
· Jer. 17:10 / Rev. 2:23
· Ps. 62:12 / Rev. 22:12
· Isa. 40:10 / Rev. 22:12
(4) The Works of Deity are ascribed to Him
a) Creation (John 1:3,10; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2,10)
b) Judgment (Mt. 25:31-46; John 5:19-20; Acts 10:42; 1 Cor. 4:4-5; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 14)
c) Forgiveness of Sins (Mk. 2:1-12)
d) Providence and Preservation (1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3)
e) Author of Life (John 1:4; Acts 3:15)
f) He raises the dead (Luke 7:11-17; John 5:21; 6:40)
(5) He is worshipped (Mt. 14:33; 21:15-16; 28:9,17; John 5:23; 20:28; Eph. 5:19; Phil. 2:10-11; 1 Tim. 1:12; Heb. 1:6; Rev. 1 and 5)
(6) He is the object of prayer (2 Cor. 12:8; Acts 1:24; 7:59-60; 9:10-17; 22:16,19; 1 Cor. 1:2; 16:22)
(7) He is the object of saving faith (John 14:1; Acts 10:43; 16:31; Romans 10:8-13)
(8) He is associated with the Father equally in grace, glory, salvation, and sovereignty (1 Cor. 8:6; 12:4-6; 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 2:18,22; 3:14-17; 4:4-6; 1 Thess. 1:1-12; and virtually all Pauline salutations)
(9) He is the joint source of divine blessing (1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:3; 1 Thess. 3:11; 2 Thess. 2:16)
(10) He is the object of Doxologies (2 Tim. 4:18; 2 Peter 3:18; Rev. 1:5b-6; 5:13)
(11) He is joint possessor of the kingdom (Eph. 5:5; Rev. 11:15), churches (Rom. 16:16), Spirit (Rom. 8:9; Phil. 1:19), temple (Rev. 21:22), divine name (Mt. 28:19) and throne (Rev. 22:1,3)
2. The significance of John 1:1
First, Jesus is the Word - Clearly, the "Word" is a reference to God the Son. There is one God who exists in 3 persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are all three God, but there are not three gods. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God. One plus One plus One = One. The Word is God the Son, the second person of the Trinity. It was not God the Father nor God the Spirit but God the Son who came to this earth as a man, Jesus:
"And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).
Why does John refer to God the Son as the "Word"?
· "Word" = Gk. logos (cf. "logic", psychology", "biology", etc.). To us a "word" is a unit of language, something we say or write. But to those in the ancient world it meant something far more.
· To the Greeks, "word" or "logos" could refer to reason, judgment, or a person's inner thought. It also can refer to the outward expression of one's inner thought, hence speech or message.
· But the key to John's use of logos is probably to be found in the OT. There the "word" of God is his powerful activity in creation ("By the word of the Lord the heavens were made," Ps. 33:6). God speaks and his powerful word creates. It is by God's "word" that he reveals himself ("The word of the Lord came unto me saying . . . ," Jer. 1:4). It is by God's "word" that he delivers his people ("God sent forth his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave," Ps. 107:20). Thus we read: "So shall my WORD be which goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it" (Isa. 55:11).
· In summary: God's Word is his powerful self-expression in creation, redemption, and revelation. It is God himself going forth to create, to save, to redeem, to judge, to reveal, etc.
It was God the Son by whom all things were created. It was God the Son through whom the nature and will of God were revealed. It was God the Son through whom salvation and deliverance come. Hence it is only fitting that John would describe God the Son as the WORD.
Second, the Word is eternal - The phrase, "in the beginning" is an obvious allusion to Gen. 1:1. It is John's way of pointing out that he is describing truths that pertain to eternity past, before it all began. Contrast this with the way Mark begins his gospel account: "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (1:1). It is as if John says, "Mark has told you about the beginning of Jesus' public ministry here on earth. But I want to show you that the real starting point is before the earth even existed!"
· Thus, when the beginning began, the Word already was. The Word was not a part of the beginning. He was prior to it. He was eternally antecedent to the beginning. The Word didn't begin with the beginning. The Word was himself the beginner of the beginning!
· The Word was not made. The Word simply was. The Word was not started. He was the starter. He did not commence to be, was not shaped, fashioned or formed. The Word wasn't produced and packaged. The Word wasn't constructed or created. The Word simply is, eternally. Unmade, unbegun, uncreated!
· The Word was not a product of the Big Bang. If the universe began with a bang, the Word is the one who lit the fuse!
· The Word is ageless. To be measured in terms of age you have to have begun at some point from which your time in existence can be calculated. Not the Word! The Word had no birthday. Jesus had a birthday. But not the Son of God. See v. 14.
· There never was a time when the Word was not. In 1950 I was not. In 433 I was not. In 1342 b.c. I was not. But no such thing can be said of the Word. Cf. John 17:5; Col. 1:17.
Third, the Word is a distinct person - The Word wasn't simply there. The Word was there with God (i.e., God the Father).
The Greek preposition translated "with" (pros) often means "towards" or "to"; thereby pointing to the Word and God in face to face intimacy. The term "with" implies a strong sense of relationship. In some sense the Word is distinct and distinguishable from God and yet in another sense is God. In the Godhead in eternity past there was no solitude or isolation. There was complete togetherness. God is his own family.
Fourth, the Word is God - The Word who always was, the Word who always was with God, this Word was and is himself God.
Although the Word is in some sense distinct from God, so too the Word and God are in some sense the same. John doesn't say the Word was "like" or "similar to" or that he "bears a striking resemblance to" God. The Word was God. He doesn't say the Word was a copy or facsimile of God or a reflection of God or merely analogous to God. The Word was God.
Therefore, whatever you can say about God the Father that pertains to his being God, you can say about the Word (God the Son; and God the Spirit as well). John isn't saying there is something "divine" about the Word, as if he has some exalted, mystical, godlike qualities. He is God. The Word wasn't an angel. The Word was God. The Word is in no sense, way, shape, or form inferior to God the Father.
The Jehovah's Witnesses deny the deity of the Word (hence, of Jesus too), insisting that the translation ought to be: "the Word was a god" or perhaps, "the Word was divine." But:
(1) The Greek term translated "God" means God, deity. There is another Greek term for "divine" that John could have used if that were all he meant.
(2) The absence of the Greek definite article ("the") does not mean the Word is only one of perhaps many gods. (a) In this kind of Greek construction where an anarthrous predicate nominative precedes the verb, the noun retains the emphasis of specificity or definiteness (i.e., "the" vs. "a").
(b) The apparent equation of subject and predicate nominative does not imply complete correspondence. The predicate nominative describes a larger category to which the subject belongs. Thus the equative verb “is” does not always mean “equals”.
(c) I should also point out that when the article occurs with both the subject and predicate, both nouns are definite and interchangeable. When the nouns are not interchangeable, as here, the article is absent from the predicate. In other words, if John had included the article ("the") he would have contradicted himself. If he had said "the Word was the God" one would be led to conclude that the Word is all there is to God, that no being could be God except the Word. But John has already said the Word was with God. In other words, the Word isn't all there is to God. There is also God the Father and God the Spirit. Cf. John 20:28.