The bible informs us that one of the reasons why Jesus was killed was because of His claim to deity (Mark 14:61-64) and yet it is popular to hear some assert that Jesus never claimed to be God. In a recent bible study, I made the observation that within the John 5:1-24 excerpt, Jesus made five (initially I actually said three) claims to deity and I set out to discuss them but time did not allow for me to delve into each one with the depth that each deserved. However, upon writing this blog as a way to address the deity claims after the fact, I ended up documenting eight distinct claims to deity. In fact, if you carefully follow my reasoning below you may find that there are more than the eight listed.
John 5:17 But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.
John 5:18 Therefore the Jews 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.
John 5:19 Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.
John 5:20 For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel.
John 5:21 For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.
John 5:22 For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son:
John 5:23 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.
John 5:24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.
1) Verse 17: I am the Son of God
In the John 5:17-24 excerpt Jesus intent is to demonstrate to the Jews that He is not guilty of breaking the Sabbath and He does so using a series of arguments that we will explore. In verse 17, Jesus’ argument is as follows:
a) God is my Father
b) My Father works on the Sabbath
c) I also therefore work on the Sabbath
Statement A above is the first claim to Deity that Jesus makes; namely, that He is the Son of God. Regarding this claim, Dr. Thomas L. Constable of Dallas Theological Seminary says:
To the contemporary western mind the idea of “son” connotes a different person, but the ancient eastern mind thought of a “son” as the extension of his father. The word connoted identification with rather than difference from. The ancients considered a good son as one who followed in his father’s footsteps exactly.
Regarding the idea that God’s Son would be equal with God, Dr. John Gill adds the following:
Making himself to be equal with God; to be of the same nature, and have the same perfections, and do the same works; for by saying that God was his Father, and so that he was the Son of God, a phrase, which, with them, signified a divine person, as they might learn from Psalms 2:7 [through verse 12], and by ascribing the same operations to himself, as to his Father, they rightly understood him, that he asserted his equality with him; for had he intended no more, and had they imagined that he intended no more by calling God his Father, than that he was so by creation, as he is to all men, or by adoption, as he was to the Jews, they would not have been so angry with him; for the phrase, in this sense, they used themselves: but they understood him otherwise, as asserting his proper deity, and perfect equality with the Father; and therefore to the charge of Sabbath breaking, add that of blasphemy, and on account of both, sought to put him to death; for according to their canons, both the Sabbath breaker, and the blasphemer, were to be stoned.
So we see that whether one appealed to the ANE’s (Ancient Near East) conception of the Father-Son relationship or whether one appealed directly to what the Tanach (Jewish scriptures) taught about the Son of God, the Jews had rightfully concluded that when Jesus called Himself the Son of God, He was claiming to be equal with God.
2) Verse 17: My Father works on the Sabbath, and so do I
Or, since God can work on the Sabbath then so can I. This second argument that Jesus makes in verse 17 is reached by combining sentences B and C above. From these two propositions in verse 17, we must understand Jesus to be saying that it is within His right to do what God is doing (i.e. working on the Sabbath). Therefore, it’s good, necessary and not unreasonable to arrive at the inference that Jesus thinks that He and God are equals. Incidentally Jesus confirms this interpretation of John 5:17 when He states in Matthew 12:8 that “The Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” How can a mere man claim to have authority over an ordinance (the Sabbath) that was instituted by God if the man Himself is not God?
My Father has been working until now, and I have been working: In our terminology, Jesus would say: “My Father works on the Sabbath, and so do I.” By this Jesus makes it clear that He is equal to God the Father, and reminds us that God doesn’t take holidays. – Guzik Commentary on O.T. and N.T.
The interpretation of the Jews was a very natural and just one. He not only said that God was his Father, but he said that he had the same right to work on the Sabbath that God had; that by the same authority, and in the same manner, he could dispense with the obligation of the day. – Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible
Only God could dispense with the obligation of keeping the Sabbath; by Jesus admission that He works (and has been working until now) on the Sabbath we are right to necessarily conclude that Jesus was claiming to be equal with God.
3) Verse 19: Whatever God the Father can do, Jesus can do the same.
When one reads the first part of John 5:19 one may walk away with the idea that apart from God, Jesus is powerless. After all, Jesus states: “I can do nothing of my self, except those things that I see God the Father do.” However, upon reading the entire verse, we realize that the exact opposite is true. Meaning, if Jesus does whatever God does (as the second half of John 5:19 asserts), then it follows that Jesus can do whatever God can do. Moreover, if Jesus can do whatever God can do, then Jesus must be equal to the Almighty God. Interestingly, later on in verse 21, we see a necessary consequence of verse 19: Since God can raise to life whomever He wants to, likewise, Jesus can raise to life whomever he wants as well. As stated earlier, in the John 5:17-24 excerpt Jesus’ intent is to demonstrate that He is not guilty of breaking the Sabbath. We have just seen that in verse 19 Jesus links His acts to God’s acts and by doing so, He has the Jews in the uncomfortable position of accusing God the Father of also breaking the Sabbath. As David Guzik puts it:
He [Jesus] is also saying “If I have broken the Sabbath, so has God also; for I can do nothing but what I see him doing. He is ever governing and preserving; I am ever employed in saving.”
Finally, when Jesus says that He only does what He sees God the Father doing, it is natural to envision two people side by side with the one person imitating the other; but this is not the right way to interpret the verse. Rather, what Jesus is saying is that His will and His actions are not independent from His Father’s will and actions; they are independent Persons with dependent wills and actions (see John 14:10). As such is the case, neither does (or can do) anything independent of the Other. Verse 19 then becomes a proof-text for the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Regarding verse 19, Dr. John P. Lange in his Commentary on the OT and NT, notes that this verse “excludes the idea of imitation and the analogy of master and servant, or teacher and pupil; it points to the equality of the Son with the Father. The Son does the same things with the same power and in the same manner.”
So, we see that if a person is able to do all things that God can do, by definition, that person must be God. Jesus says He does everything that God does, so Jesus is saying that He is God.
4) Verse 20: Who has known the mind of God?
Jesus claims that God shows Him all things that He does. According to the bible thinking is doing; therefore, since thinking is something that God does, then from the prior sentence we must deduce that EVERYTIME God thinks, God is showing Jesus what He is thinking; consequently, we must also necessarily infer that Jesus knows the mind of God. In fact, in order to know ALL things that God the Father does including the things that God will do in the future (as verse 20 states), Jesus would have to have the mind of God. So we see that it is not possible to make the claim to know ALL the things that God is doing or will do without actually knowing the mind of God. With all of this in mind, the bible in Isaiah 40:13, Romans 11:34 and 1 Corinthians 2:16 asks the following rhetorical question: Who has known the mind of God? After converting this sentence from the interrogative mode to the declarative mode (as the biblical context requires us to) we arrive at the proposition that NO ONE has known the mind of God! Yet, Jesus claims this exact divine prerogative. What else can be concluded except that Jesus must be God. In fact, if Jesus is not God, then these verses suggesting that no one has known the mind of God are erroneous.
Additionally, since God knows everything and is unceasingly disclosing to Jesus ALL that He is thinking, then it follows that Jesus must be omniscient; a characteristic that only belongs to God. The bible scholar Albert Barnes commenting on this verse states: And as God shows him “all” that he does, he [Jesus] must be possessed of omniscience, for to no finite mind could be imparted a knowledge of “all” the works of God.
In summary, claiming to know the mind of God and asserting omniscience are outright declarations that one is God. Jesus makes these declarations ergo He claims that He is God.
5) Verse 21: The Bible in the Old Testament states that only God can raise someone from the dead; yet, Jesus claims that He also can do the same!
Jesus’ fifth deity claim involves the power to resurrect the dead and though it’s different from the claim of omnipotence in verse 19, the power of resurrection is a subset of omnipotence. Earlier, Christ stated that He could do all things that God does; now here in verse 21 He mentions a specific act that God does then He claims to have the power to do the same. What makes this claim all the more audacious is the fact that the Old Testament specifically states that only God can raise someone from the dead. In Deuteronomy 32:39 we read:
See now that I [God], even I, am he, and there is no god beside me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there ANY that can deliver out of my hand. (Deuteronomy 32:39)
In Deuteronomy 32:39, as if the exclusivity of the subject’s “I, even I” were not enough, the word “neither” (which is used to indicate that the next statement is similarly negative) in the last phrase of the verse assures us that, not only isn’t there anyone that can deliver out of God’s hand, there also isn’t ANY that can cause a person to die or be made alive except for God.
For John 5:21, Dr. Bob Utley states:
In the Old Testament YHWH [God] is the only one who can give life. The fact that Jesus can raise the dead is equivalent to a statement of equality with YHWH.
In addition, Adame Clarke’s commentary states that in verse 21:
Jesus “points out his sovereign power and independence; he gives life according to his own will – not being obliged to supplicate for the power by which it was done, as the prophets did; his own will being absolute and sufficient in every case.”
In conclusion, when Jesus claims to have resurrection power, He is claiming to be God!
6) Verse 22: Who is doing the Judging anyway? Is it God or Jesus?
Consider the following context:
Say among the heathen that the LORD (YHWH) reigneth: the world also shall be established that it shall not be moved: he (YHWH) shall judge the people righteously. Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and the fullness thereof. Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice Before the LORD (YHWH): for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth. (Psalms 96:10-13)
What do Psalm 67:4, Psalm 96:10-13; and Psalm 98:9 all have in common? If you guessed that they all have to do with Who presides over the final judgment, then you guessed correctly. In fact, all three verses claim that God is the one performing the final judgment; yet, Jesus in John 5:22 says that God the Father does not do any judging. Instead, Jesus says that the judging of all people will be done by Himself. Now the astute Jew of that day would have immediately understood Jesus’ statement in verse 22 as a claim to deity especially since, for instance, Psalms 7:8 states that YAHWEH (the name of God) will in “fact judge the people.” From Jesus’ assertion in John 5:22 it is easy to see why Christians conclude that the verses in the Psalms can only be referring to the second person in the Trinity, namely, God the Son who is also Jesus the Christ. As expected, when we fast forward to the day of judgment in Revelation 20:12 we read that those to be judged are standing before God; and Paul tells us in Romans 14:10-12 that the God before Whom all stand is none other than Jesus the Christ. Specifically, Paul says:
…we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.
So we see that Paul, by saying that we will all stand before Christ to be judged, equates Jesus with God and thereby reaffirms that Jesus was in fact claiming to be God the Judge of the whole earth.
But wait, someone will undoubtedly say:
God the Father IS the judge of the earth spoken of in the Psalms. Jesus is just His proxy, he is thus God only by office or investiture. Even Jesus in John 5:27 says that the Father has given Him authority to be the judge. Paul also confirms this when he says that God will judge the secrets of men “by” Jesus Christ (Romans 2:16, Acts 17:31); therefore, Jesus is not YAHWEH the Judge of the whole earth spoken of in the Psalms but simply God’s proxy. God gives Him authority to judge and Jesus judges according to God’s will.
While it is certainly true that God the Father will judge the world through Jesus Christ it is also true as Jesus said in John 5:22 that “the Father judgeth no man but hath committed ALL judgment unto the Son.” It would not be wrong to call God the Father the Judge but in light of Scripture we understand that He Judges through Jesus Christ. Looking at the language of Romans 14:10-12 above, we are forced to conclude that Jesus is called God and not simply by virtue of office nor is He merely a proxy. Why? Well, regarding the Romans 14 passage Albert Barnes says:
“This passage is recorded in Isaiah 45:23…In Isaiah there can be no doubt that it refers to Yahweh. The speaker expressly calls himself Yahweh, the name which is appropriate to God alone, and which is never applied to a creature; In the place before us, the words are applied by Paul expressly to Christ; compare Romans 14:10. This mode of quotation is a strong incidental proof that the apostle regarded the Lord Jesus as divine. On no other principle could he have made these quotations…Secondly, the fact that Jesus is declared to be the Judge of all [is proof of Christ’s deity]. No being that is not “omniscient” can be qualified to judge the secrets of all people.
Furthermore, by demoting Jesus to a mere proxy, you make Paul contradict himself since as evidenced from the passage in Romans 14, Paul also thinks that Jesus is YAHWEH, the Almighty God. We must not make Paul contradict himself especially since both of his statements can coexist as true. Jesus the Christ is God to Whom we must not only bow and confess Lordship but unto Whom we must also give an account of our lives since He is our Creator (John 1:3, Colossians 1:16) and our Judge. However, Jesus is also God the Father’s ordained Judge and unto Jesus alone has this role been committed. Incidentally, that Jesus does work that is attributed to God is hardly a precedent especially at this point in the Scriptures. We must remember that all three Members of the Trinity created the World (Genesis 1:26) yet it is Jesus Who is referred to as the Creator (John 1:3, Colossians 1:16) or the Agent of creation (Ephesians 3:9, Hebrews 1:2). God, in the book of Genesis, spoke EVERYTHING into existence using Words and it is Jesus Who is called the Word of God (John 1:1, Revelation 19:13). This is the reason why the bible says that without Jesus was nothing made that has been made(John 1:3). Again, the Bible in Acts 20:28 says that God purchased the Church with His own blood; yet Ephesians 1:7 says that it was Jesus Who redeemed us with His blood. Throughout the bible, this sort of attribution of God to Jesus is readily found so that one cannot escape the fact that Jesus is referred to as God.
So God the Father judges in one sense but does not judge in another sense. This is not a contradiction since the senses in which He both judges and does not judge do not coincide. He judges in the sense that everything Jesus does God also does and vice versa; this is because there is only one God. On the other hand, God doesn’t judge in the sense that the Second Person in the Trinity, namely, Jesus the Christ, is the Person that is actually judging since He is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). We must remember that no man can see God the Father (John 1:18, 1 Timothy 6:16, 1 John 4:12) or at least remain alive after doing so (Exodus 33:20) but we can and will see Jesus Christ who being the visible manifestation of God (Hebrews 1:3, Colossians 1:15) is God. This is also the reason why some of the verses in the Psalms (Psalm 96:10-13) talk about God “coming” to Judge. When one surveys the Scriptures, one realizes that God the Father never comes to Judge; the only Person coming to judge the world is Jesus the Christ. This is evident from verses such as: Isaiah 26:21, Revelations 19:11 and Matthew 25:31-46.
Regarding John 5:22 Albert Barnes states:
The power of judging the world implies ability to search the heart, and omniscience to understand the motives of all actions. This is a work which none but a divine being can do, and it shows, therefore, that the Son is equal to the Father
In summary, we see that no one can judge the world without possessing the power of omniscience which belongs to God alone. In addition, we have seen that the Old Testament refers to the Judge of the world as God and in the New Testament Jesus refers to Himself as the Judge of the world. Obviously, if the Old Testament says that God is responsible for final judgment, and in the New Testament Jesus says that He is responsible for final judgment; compelled by Scripture and reason, we must conclude that Jesus was claiming to be God.
7) Verse 23: That all men should honor the Son, the same way that they honor the Father
Of course, this means that if God is worshiped, then Christ must be worshiped as well; If Christ is not worshiped as God then He is not being honored in the same way that the Father would be honored. On the other hand, if one does worship Christ as they would worship God–and Jesus is NOT God–then that person has committed idolatry. Herein lies the problem with taking this verse to mean anything other than a claim of equality with God.
As it pertains to John 5:23 David Guzik says:
This is a further claim to deity. If the Son were not God, then it would be wrong to honor the Son just as they honor the Father. It also means that if we do not honor the Son, we do not really honor the Father either. Jesus claims the same right to worship from men that the Father has.
John Wesley’s remarks regarding the same verse are:
This demonstrates the EQUALITY of the Son with the Father. If our Lord [Jesus] were God only by office or investiture, and not in the unity of the Divine essence, and in all respects equal in Godhead with the Father, he could not be honoured even as, that is, with the same honour that they honoured the Father. He that honoureth not the Son – With the same equal honour, greatly dishonoureth the Father that sent him.
As we can see, verbally tethering yourself to God in terms of the kind of respect or honour that others should pay you, is a straightforward way of intimating to your listeners that you are equal with God. This is precisely what Jesus did in John 5:23.
8) Verse 24: Jesus says that whoever “heareth my word and believeth on him that sent me hath everlasting life.” Yet, earlier on (in John 3:36) Jesus also said “he that believeth on me hath everlasting life.” How can this be? Is Jesus equating Himself with God the Father?
Consider the following two verses:
He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. (John 3:36)
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. (John 5:24)
In the two verses above, we are given TWO names whereby we must be saved: Jesus (“the Son”) and God the Father (“Him that sent me”). Yet, the bible in Acts 4:12, speaking of Jesus says: “Neither is there salvation in any other [Person]: for there is NO OTHER name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. This verse compels us to understand that both Jesus the Christ and God His Father must be one. This conclusion should not come as a surprise to us since later on in the Book of John, Jesus asserts this very thing (cf. John 10:30).
In conclusion, when Jesus uses His name and His Father’s name interchangeably in regards to Who must be believed on for everlasting life; He is also claiming that both names and therefore both Persons are equal. Logically speaking, Jesus is claiming to be equal with God.