The Trinity (IIIc)
The NT Witness: The Self-Understanding of Jesus (Gospel of John)
After discovering that the data of the Synoptics supported the view that Jesus understood Himself (and claimed to others) to be God, we now turn to the Fourth Gospel--the Gospel of John. Here we will look again at the words of Jesus as to His possible claims to/consciousness of being God.
Passages in John, in which Jesus is the speaker, relating to His deity:
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- Jn 3.13: No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven -- the Son of Man.--Notice: a statement of pre-existence (in heaven), and uniqueness in terms of having 'gone into heaven'. ("has ever gone" is in the perfect tense, and probably denotes some sense like "no one has ever taken up permanent dwelling in heaven").
- Jn 3.15: that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.--This is just the first of SCORES of verses that demonstrate that Jesus was aware that He was BOTH appropriate as the object of religious trust AND sufficient to produce salvation!
- (The deity-rich text of 3.16-21 is uncertain as to who its speaker is--Jesus or John. I will treat it under 'responses of His followers' for the sake of caution.)
- Jn 4.10: Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."--Notice: Jesus is able to give 'living water' (elsewhere identified as the Holy Spirit--7.37-39).
- Jn 4.25-26: The woman said, "I know that Messiah" (called Christ) "is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us."
26 Then Jesus declared, "I who speak to you am he."--Notice: explicit claim to be the Messiah.
- Jn 5.17ff: Jesus said to them, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working." 18 For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
19 Jesus gave them this answer: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these. 21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. 22 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.--Notice several things about this important passage: (1) Jesus claim to be the Son is understood by the audience as blasphemy--a claim to deity!; (2) Jesus response is NOT to say 'hey, but I am using sonship DIFFERENTLY than that-i am NOT claiming to be God'--instead He simply continues describing the incredible unity between Himself and the Father (the Father's works are the Son's works, the Son knows EVERYTHING the Father does, Son gives life JUST LIKE THE FATHER DOES, Father entrusts ALL judgment to the Son, the Son is supposed to be honored 'just as' the Father is honored(!), dishonoring the Son is tantamount to dishonoring the Father). These are INCREDIBLY EXORBITANT claims (for a 'mere creature'!). The Father and Son are co-extensive in work and honor.
- Jn 5.39: You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me,--Another clear claim to be the OT messiah.
- Jn 5.40: yet you refuse to come to me to have life. --Notice: Jesus claims here to be the 'giver of life'! That he has authority/power to grant life.
- Jn 6.33: For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."--Jesus claims here to have 'come down from heaven'. A very clear pre-existence reference, involving heaven.
- Jn 6.38: For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.--Notice: another VERY clear reference to Jesus' pre-existence in heaven.
- Jn 6.46: No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father.--This is an unusually strong statement. No one has seen the invisible Father, except the Son who is 'from God'. A very strong claim to uniqueness, exclusivity, and intimacy with the Father.
- Jn 6.62: What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!--Another strong statement of exalted pre-existence.
- Jn 7.28-29: Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, "Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, 29 but I know him because I am from him and he sent me."--Notice: this statement again highlights the uniqueness of Jesus relationship with the Father--HE ALONE knows the Father, because He is FROM HIM.
- Jn 8.23: But he continued, "You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.--Another strong statement of Jesus pre-existence, heavenly source, and mission from heaven. He is not just another religious leader 'from below'!
- Jn 8.29: The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him."--Could a mere man "ALWAYS do what pleases the Father?!"
- Jn 8.36: So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.--The Son dispenses freedom!
- Jn 8.38: I am telling you what I have seen in the Father's presence,--Notice: Jesus actually claims to have SEEN the Father, not just to have HEARD the Father.
- Jn 8.42: Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me.--Again, clear statement of pre-existence with God, and mission to earth on the Father's request.
- Jn 8.46:Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?--Would a normal human being, with ethical sensibilities and standards as high as Jesus, EVER implicitly claim to be sinless?!
- Jn 8.50 with 8.54b: I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge and My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me.--Notice, the Father (who uttered Is 42.8--"I will NOT give my glory to another") is here seeking to glorify Jesus the Son!
- Jn 8.58-59: "I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!" 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him--Notice: This statement actually goes beyond pre-existence--it is an explicit claim to be YHWH. The "I am" phrase is how the OT LXX translators render the Hebrew "I AM" of Ex 3.14. This "I am" statement (which also occurs in vv. 24, 28 of this chapter!) of Jesus is immediately understood by the natives, who pick up stones to execute the proper sentence for blasphemy (Lev 24.16).
- Jn 9.35-38: Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?"
36 "Who is he, sir?" the man asked. "Tell me so that I may believe in him."
37 Jesus said, "You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you."
38 Then the man said, "Lord, I believe," and he worshipped him.--Notice: In this passage Jesus affirms himself as BOTH a legitimate object of religious faith AND as a legitimate object of WORSHIP! (No rebuke is given to the man at all for worshipping Jesus--even in the presence of the Pharisees!)
- Jn 10.17ff: The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life -- only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.--This incredible passage has Jesus affirming that He can 'raise Himself from the dead'! Could a mere creature have the ability to do that?!
- Jn 10.30-39: I and the Father are one."
31 Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, 32 but Jesus said to them, "I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?"
33 "We are not stoning you for any of these," replied the Jews, "but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God."
34 Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your Law, 'I have said you are gods'? 35 If he called them 'gods,' to whom the word of God came -- and the Scripture cannot be broken -- 36 what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, 'I am God's Son'? 37 Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. 38 But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father." 39 Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp.This passage is so very clear as to the intent and content of Jesus' claims--they were explicitly claims to being God! His affirmation of unity (30) is understood immediately as being a claim to deity (33). Jesus defends his affirmation with a technical argument in Rabbinic style ("qal wahomer": BEAP:69). The general argument type is like this: "If it is okay to use the term X in a limited sense on Y, then it is certainly okay to use it in an expanded sense on a Z that is so much more than Y". In this passage, He thus argues that if it was okay in the psalms to call the Israelite leaders 'elohim' once, then it was CERTAINLY appropriate to call the pre-existent One, special of the Father, perfect image of the Father's character and actions, "GOD". And, once again, they understand that claim to REAL deity and try to seize him! His claims were quite clear in those days--He was claiming to be fully GOD.
- Jn 11.4: When he heard this, Jesus said, "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it."--Notice, this event couples "Gods glory" with the "glorification of God's SON"! The two are somehow identical.
- Jn 13.32: If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself--Note: God the Father will glorify God the Son.
- Jn 14.9: Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? 10 Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.--These are statements of extreme unity--they boggle the mind in the metaphysics, of course, but their import as to the deity of Jesus and the unity with the Father are quite clear.
- Jn 14.28: If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.--Although this statement seems obvious to us on the surface, a moments reflection will surface just how preposterous it is--IF JESUS is merely a human! So Bickersteth: "How could a mere man, without absurd presumption, solemnly announce that God the Father was greater than he?"!
- Jn 15.5: "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.--Note: this is another passage that makes NO sense without a divine Jesus. How could the phrase 'apart from me you can do nothing' make any sense--IF Jesus were not God--omnipotent, omnipresent deity?
- Jn 15.9: "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.--Jesus loves AS THE FATHER loves!--a conjunction of comparison ("kathos"--BAG s.v.).
- Jn 15.23: He who hates me hates my Father as well.--This is another passage that is preposterous if Jesus is not 'identical' in both character and action with God the Father!
- Jn 15.26: "When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.--Jesus will SEND the Holy Spirit, which will testify about Jesus. This ONLY makes sense if Jesus is on a parity with the Father and the Spirit.
- Jn 16.7: But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.--Note: Jesus will SEND the Spirit, but the Spirit will not come to earth UNLESS Jesus leaves. The Spirit of God 'dependent on' the acts of a 'mere creature'?!
- Jn 16.28: I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father."--A clear statement of the pre-existent, heavenly-origin of Jesus.
- Jn 17.2: For you granted him authority over all people--He has authority over EVERYONE.
- Jn 17.5: And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.--Before the world began, the Son had glory in the presence of the Father! An exalted claim above all claims!
- Jn 17.10: All I have is yours, and all you have is mine.--Unless the Son is truly God, this statement is utterly ridiculous! "All that God has" vs. "all that a creature has"--NOT a fair swap!
- Jn 20.17: Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"--This is one of the strangest passages in scripture, with an odd construction. Why does Jesus differentiate between HIS sonship and the sonship of His followers? Probably since His Sonship is totally unique. Craig (RF:245) points out "And notice that although Jesus may have taught his disciples to pray to God as 'Abba,' he never joined them in praying 'Our Father...' On the contrary, he always referred to God as 'My Father'. This distinction leads to an odd circumlocution like John 20.12...Jesus prayer life thus shows that he thought of himself as God's Son in a unique sense that set him apart from the rest of the disciples."
Summary: The claims of Jesus in the Gospel of John:
- To be a permanent dweller in heaven
- To have come to earth from heaven
- To have a unique relationship with the Father (in many ways)
- To be appropriate as on object of religious faith
- To be a 'giver' of the Holy Spirit
- To be the promised Messiah
- To be the Son of God (considered blasphemous)
- To be equal with God (considered blasphemous)
- To know everything the Father does
- To give 'life'
- To have been entrusted with ALL JUDGMENT from the Father(!)
- To be worthy of honor LIKE THE FATHER
- To have been sent from the Father
- To be the ONLY one who has seen the invisible Father
- To know the Father uniquely
- To always please the Father with His life
- To give 'freedom'
- To be blameless in regards to sin
- To be the object of glorification by the Father
- To be able to use the divine Name YHWH as a personal identification(considered blasphemous)
- To be an appropriate object of worship
- To be able to raise Himself from the dead(!)
- To be one with the Father (considered blasphemous)
- To be an appropriate object of the word "GOD"
- To be so different from created reality that the sentence 'the Father is greater than I' was not ludicrous!
- To be able to exert power throughout the world simultaneously
- To be absolutely necessary to the success of his human followers
- To be so 'one' with the Father that ANY response to one of them, was "AUTOMATICALLY" a response to the other as well
- To be equal partners with the Father and the Spirit, and to 'send' the Spirit
- To have authority over EVERYONE
- To have had glory in the presence of the Father before the world began
- To "co-own" the universe with the Father(!)
- To have a unique Sonship with the Father
Conclusion: The Gospel of John, like the synoptic gospels, shows us that Jesus understood Himself to be divine, to have an exclusive relationship with the Father, to have been the promised Messiah, to have all authority in heaven and earth, to be related in parity-status with the Spirit and Father, and to be the central issue in the personal destinies of people.
But the words of Jesus in John also develop some themes a bit further. Jesus (in John) draws considerably more attention to His glorious and unique pre-creation state in heaven, with the Father. The complex relationships between the Father and Son (and Spirit) are focused on. And the mutuality of their work in the drama of redemption is recorded faithfully.
If it is fair to say that the Synoptics teach the deity of the Son, then it is probably equally accurate to say that the Gospel of John emphasizes the divine unity of the Father and Son.
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