The Identity of Jesus in the Scriptures
Who is Jesus of Nazareth? This question has been starting heated debates since the days of Jesus’ ministry nearly two millennia ago. In this post, we will see that the Bible teaches that Jesus is the one eternal God-become-human and that the earliest Christians saw Him as the embodiment of the God of the Old Testament and the promised Messiah.
Jesus is God
The New Testament teaches that Jesus is the eternal Creator God. Echoing the opening line of Scripture, John’s Gospel begins by telling us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1, 3 ESV). The Evangelist tells us here that Jesus existed from the beginning with God and is Himself God. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul writes a poem about Jesus in which he says, “…by him all things were created… all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16, 17 ESV). The apostle goes on to tell the Colossian church that “…all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” in Jesus (Colossians 1:19 ESV).
Indeed, when the apostle Thomas saw Jesus after he had been raised from the dead, he proclaimed Jesus to be his Lord and his God (John 20:28). The New Testament clearly aims to teach us that Jesus is the eternal God, the creator and sustainer of all things. Jesus put it plainly: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9 NIV).
The Scriptures display Jesus Christ not only as the eternal, all-creating God, but they also tell us that He became fully human in an event Christian tradition refers to as the incarnation. In the opening paragraph of his Gospel, the fourth Evangelist tells us that Jesus “…became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The Apostle Paul tells the Colossians that in Jesus, “…the fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). The Gospels show Jesus exhibiting many of the characteristics of embodied human life. He got tired (John 4:6) and took naps (Mark 4:38). He got thirsty (John 4:7; 19:28). He ate and drank (Matthew 11:19), even post-resurrection (Luke 24:42-43; cf. Acts 10:40-41).
A Man of Many Names
Jesus is referred to by many different names and titles in the Bible. Here is a list of three of those names and an explanation of their significance:
1. Son of Man: This appears to have been Jesus’ favorite way of describing Himself. In the four Gospels, this is the name Jesus uses most often when speaking of Himself. Jesus and His Jewish hearers would have all understood that He was identifying Himself with the son of man figure foretold in the book of Daniel: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14 ESV).
2. Son of God: Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is referred to as the divine Son of God. John’s Gospel tells us that by claiming God as His Father, Jesus was “…making himself equal with God” (John 5:18). Son of God is not only a divine title but also a royal title that has significant origins in the messianic profile of the Old Testament, especially Psalm 2: “The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession’” (Psalm 2:7-8; cf. Acts 13:33; Hebrews 5:5).
3. Lamb of God: Isaiah tells us, “He was led like a lamb to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7; cf. Acts 8:32-39). In the book of Exodus, God commands each Hebrew family to slay a spotless lamb and use its blood to protect their household from the Angel of Death (Exodus 12). For millennia, this event has been remembered annually by Jews worldwide during a holiday called Passover. The New Testament claims that Jesus, crucified on Passover weekend, is the Lamb by whose blood we are forever set free from the power of death. John the Baptist called Jesus “…the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Revelation refers to Jesus as the “Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 5:12) and Paul calls Jesus “our Passover Lamb” (1 Corinthians 5:7; cf. 1 Peter 1:9). Through the blood of the Lamb, we have been liberated from the tyranny of sin and rescued from the clutches of death.
Jesus and the Divine Name
As we read the Old Testament in our English Bibles, we often come across the all-capitalized name for the God of Israel, the LORD. Whenever we see LORD in our English Bibles, let us note that this is a rendering of the Divine Name, spelled with English letters as YHWH.
The authors of the New Testament often quote and allude to Old Testament passages and put Jesus in the LORD’s slot. In their narratives about John the Baptist, all four Gospels (Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4; John 1:23) refer to Isaiah 40:3, which reads, “A voice cries: in the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD…” Each Gospel then goes on to describe John in the wilderness preparing the way for Jesus.
Paul declares to the Philippians that, “…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow… and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11). Paul is alluding here to Isaiah 45:23, where the LORD promises, “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.” The New Testament authors saw Jesus and the God of Israel as the same person.
Christ: The Promised Messianic King
Contrary to popular usage, Christ is not Jesus’ last name. It is not a name for Jesus. Rather, it is a title. It is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew/Aramaic term Messiah; the Anointed One. It is a royal title. This Messiah is the promised seed of Eve (Genesis 3:15) and of Abraham (Genesis 22:18; Galatians 3:16). He is the Prophet that was promised to come into the world (Deuteronomy 18:15, 34:10; John 6:14; Acts 3:22-23). He is the eternal King from the line of David (2 Samuel 7:12-16; cf. Isaiah 11:1-10; Matthew 1:1; Luke 1:31-33; Romans 1:3). He is the Suffering Servant whom Isaiah foretold would die for the sins of humanity and subsequently be raised from the dead (Isaiah 52:13-53:12).
1. How does Jesus being both divine and human change my understanding of the world?
2. How does Jesus’ fulfillment of Old Testament promises impact my opinion of Him? How does it impact my view of the Bible?
3. How does the truth about who Jesus is impact my life?