In recent years there has been a great deal of controversy about what Jesus taught about Himself. Who did He say that He was? Why did He say that He had come? Consequently, it is at this point that we will begin our examination in detail.
In a conversation with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews, the Lord spoke the following concerning man's salvation: "No man hath ascended up to heaven, but lie that came down from heaven, even the Son of man ...For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life... He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." On. 3:13,16,18)
Here, the Lord attributes to Himself presence in both heaven and earth. He speaks of His having come down from heaven; and, He calls Himself the only begotten Son of God. Finally, He declares that without faith in Him as the only begotten Son of God, salvation is impossible for men.
On another occasion, Jesus told certain Jewish priests, scribes and elders a parable. (Mk. 11:27) Jesus not only declares Himself to be the Son of God, but also describes His reason for coming into the world. This is the parable of the vineyard, which a man planted, "and set an hedge about it ...and let it out to husbandmen [tenants]." (12:1 ff.)
He was speaking of the heavenly Father, who planted His church in the midst of the Jewish people and entrusted it to them as the chosen people among all the people of the world.
At the season of the harvest, the Master sent to the husbandmen His servants to receive "the fruit of the vineyard." (12:2) Rather than do as they should have done, rather than remember that they were only tenants entrusted with the vineyard, they became selfish, self-centered, and forgot the one to whom they owed everything. They beat the servants, drove them away, and even killed some of them. (12:3-5)
Then the master decided to send his own son to them. "Having yet therefore one son, his wellbeloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son. But those husbandmen said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him and the inheritance shall be ours. And they took him, and killed him..." (12:6-8)
The Lord used this parable to declare Himself to be the only-begotten Son of God, the well beloved, and the heir of the heavenly Father.
Further, He described the reaction of His chosen people to His prophets and to His own presence among them. For the servants were the prophets whom God sent from time to time to His people to proclaim His will and to call them back to remembrance of Him. Many had been stoned, beaten, and killed; their message went unheeded. Finally, the Father sent His Son, who also was rejected and put to death. "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not." (Jn. 1:11)
Again, when the Saviour had cured the paralytic, the Jews persecuted Him "because He had done these things on the Sabbath day." (Jn.5:16) And Jesus responded to them in these terms: "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." (5:17)
This response, in which Jesus attributes to Himself equality with God the Father in privilege and power, was understood precisely in this sense by the Jews. They "sought the more to kill Him, because He not only had broken the Sabbath, but said also that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God." (5:18)
Jesus goes on to teach them: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but that He seeth the Father do: for what things soever He doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise." (5:19) "For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom He will. For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent Him." (5:21-23) "For as the Father hath life in Himself: so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself." (5:26)
Here the Saviour attributes to Himself the same will, the same power over life, the same self-existence as the Father has. Further, He declares that He is to be worshipped just as God the Father is worshipped.
In the same chapter, He goes on to cite the testimony of John the Baptist concerning Him (vv. 32-35); He refers to His own miraculous works (v. 36); and He recalls the witness of the heavenly Father: "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased," (v. 37). Finally, He declares that the Old Testament scriptures refer precisely to Him: "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and it is they which testify of me." (v. 39)
Another incident in which Jesus clearly identifies Himself as the Son of God and puts Himself on a level with God is recorded in the tenth chapter of the Gospel according to John.
One day in the temple some of the Jews insisted that Jesus tell them directly whether He was the Messiah or not. "How long dost thou makes us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly." (v. 24)
In His answer, we find these striking words: "I and my Father are one. " (v. 30) The Jews certainly understood the intention of His declaration, for "they took up stones again to stone Him ... saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God. (vv. 30-33)
The Saviour did not deny their accusation. On the contrary, He restated His claim to be the Son of God, inseparable from the Father, even more insistently. "Say ye of Him whom the Father hath sanctified and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God? If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know and believe that the Father is in me, and I in Him. " (vv. 36-38)
Finally, when Jesus had been arrested and taken bound to the tribunal of Caiaphas, and several false witnesses had spoken against Him, the high priest stood up and asked Him publicly: "I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God." (Mt. 26: 63; cf., Mk. 14:61)
Jesus, without hesitating, answered him, "I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven." (Mk. 14:62)
"Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard His blasphemy. What think ye? They answered and said, He is guilty of death." (Mt. 26:65,66) And having led Him to Pilate, the Jews told him, "We have a law, and by our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God." (Jn. 19:7)
As is obvious in these, and the foregoing paragraphs, the Jews who heard Him certainly understood that He claimed to be the Son of God. About this, there can be no doubt.
In addition to His claim to be the Son of God, Jesus attributed to Himself certain qualities that are proper to the Godhead: omnipresence-being always present everywhere, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (M t. 18:20; see also, Jn. 3:13 and Mt. 28:20); self-existence- having life in Himself, (Jn. 5:26); eternity-having always been, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am." (Jn. 8:58; see also, Jn. 17:5); equality with God-(Jn. 10:27-30); and, divine know ledge--(Mt. 11:27; Jn. 10:15).
It must be noted that by the use of the very expression I Am (cf., Jn. 8:58 above), the Saviour identifies Himself with the God of Israel, I Am being the divine name given by God to Moses.
"And Moses said unto God, Behold when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is His name? what shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses I AM THAT I AM: and He said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you." (Ex. 3:13,14)
One of the most serious errors widely taught and believed in our time is that Jesus Christ was only a man. It is asserted that He not only did not claim to be God, but that this idea was invented by His followers, principally the Apostle Paul. Many people imagine that His "simple" message of love and of doing good was distorted and elaborated in the generations that followed His earthly life into a complicated doctrinal system or religion that He would not even recognize.
While some of those who hold this point of view concede that He was a great moral teacher and prophet, perhaps even divinely inspired, they maintain that it was the disciples who made a God of Him and who also rewrote and edited the record of His teachings in the Bible.
The fact is that the primary record that we have of all the things He did and taught is the New Testament, specifically the holy Gospels. In them we find the account of His moral teachings and we also find His declarations concerning Himself. Although some biblical "scholars" question the authenticity of the latter, the Orthodox Church accepts as the truth the entire record of Jesus Christ contained in the Gospels.
The Gospel-writers, the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, inspired by the Holy Spirit, made a permanent record not only of what He said about Himself but also showed how He was the Saviour promised by God through the prophets of the Old Testament.
For example, the holy Evangelist Matthew, speaking of the miraculous conception of the Saviour, relates to Him the prophecy of Isaiah: "Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us." (1:23; Is. 7:14)
St. Mark begins his Gospel account with these words: "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." (l:l) Then, telling the story of the Saviour's baptism, he records the manifestation of the Holy Trinity: "And straightway coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove, descending upon Him: and there came a voice from heaven, saying: Thou art my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." (1:11)
St. Luke cites the prophecy of the angel to Zacharias concerning his son John, who was to be born and serve as the forerunner of the Messiah: "And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he (John) shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias." (1:16,17)
St. John the Theologian begins his Gospel thus: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made."
Here, he clearly calls the Word, "God." He presents Him as existing since the beginning or from all eternity, distinct from the Father, and as having created all that exists.
Further, he writes: "And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth ... for the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." (1:14,17) In other words, this Word is precisely the only-begotten Son of God the Father: He became flesh and is none other than Jesus Christ.
A little further along, he says: "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son of God the Father, He hath declared Him." (1:18) In these words, he shows that Jesus Christ is the only-begotten Son literally, as being in the very bosom of the Father, and that He has made it possible for men to know God.
Finally, on concluding His Gospel, St. John notes that the purpose of writing it has been to prove the divinity of Jesus Christ. "These things are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name." (20:31)
St. John, also, at the beginning of his first epistle, calls Christ our Saviour "the word of life," (1:1); "eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us," (1:20); and at the end of the same, says: "And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life," (5:20). Here he calls "true Son of God" and "true God" the One whom he had previously called "eternal life," thus affirming Christ's divinity.
Again, in the Revelation (Apocalypse), he cites several times the words of the Saviour, who had appeared to him. "I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end." (1:10,12,17,18; 22:12,13) He declares that Christ is "the Prince of the kings of the earth," (1:5) and the "King of kings and the Lord of lords " (19:16).
In his epistles, the holy apostle Paul calls the Saviour God:
"[who; was manifest in the flesh," (I Tm. 3:16); "the Lord of glory," (I Cor. 2:8);
"the great God," (Tit. 2:13);
"God blessed for ever," (Rm. 9:5); God's "own Son," (Rm. 8:32);
"who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God," (Ph. 2:6).
St. Paul gives Christ the divine attributes: eternity, (Hb. 7:3); immutability (unchangeableness), (Hb. 1:10-12); and omnipotence (having all power), (Hb. 1:3; Ph. 3:21).
He attributes to Him the whole creation: "...Bv Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him." (Col. 1:16) "...He is before all things, and by Him all things consist." (Col. 1:17; Cf., Hb. 1:3)
The holy apostle Jude, furthermore, describes heretics as those who deny the divinity of Christ. "There are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ." (v. 4)
Here, "and our Lord Jesus Christ" stands as an appositive to "the only Lord God." Hence, St. Jude uses the terms synonymously and affirms Christ's divinity.
In the generation following that of the disciples of Christ, a number of bishops who had been taught directly by the Apostles themselves wrote letters (epistles) to the churches. Some of these epistles have come down to us, and in them we find exactly the same doctrine of Christ found in the New Testament. It is extremely important to note that there is a perfect continuity between what the Apostles taught and what their disciples taught.
St. Ignatius of Antioch writes in his epistle to the Trallians: "Guard yourselves from these people [the heretics], and you will have nothing to fear from them if you do not fill yourselves with pride and turn away from God, Jesus Christ, and from the bishop and from the commandments." (Ch. 7) [Note again that "Jesus Christ" stands in apposition to "God." as in the Epistle of Jude.]
Furthermore, St. Ignatius writes to the Christians at Ephesus: "Every place of injustice hath been destroyed, ignorance overcome, the ancient kingdom done away by the appearance of `God in the form of man', for the new life which shall have no end ... You all with the cooperation of grace, have been joined together in the one same Faith and in the same Jesus Christ, issue of David according to the flesh. Son of Man and Son of God." (Chs. 19 and 20)
Then again, he wrote to the Church at Rome: "Ignatius, called also the God-bearer, pardoned by the goodness of the Most High and of Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son, to the most beloved Church, enlightened by the will of Him who is pleased with all that is done for love of Jesus Christ our God ... I desire you to rejoice with an excellent and pure joy in Jesus Christ our God." (Ch. 1)
St. Polycarp of Smyrna,writing to the Philippians, greets them in these terms: "Polycarp, and with him the priests of the Church of God, which is in Philippi: may the grace and peace of Jesus Christ, God Almighty, our Lord and Saviour, be increased in you." (Ch. 1)
Finally, the Apostolic Father known as the author of the Epistle to Diognetus says: "He Himself [God] has given His Son for our redemption, the Holy One for sinners, the Innocent for the guilty, the Just for the unjust, the Incorruptible for the corruptible, the Immortal for mortals. For, what could cover our sins, but His justice? Who else could justify us sinners and impious ones, but the only Son of God...?" (Ch. 9)
Thus in the sub-apostolic period, the same emphasis on the divinity of Christ was held in the Church as it was during the time of the Apostles.