Zakir Naik has just challenged Christians to produce a verse in the bible where Jesus unequivocally claims to be God, and as such people should worship him. This would require a direct statement like “I am God” or “worship me” from the lips of Jesus. The challenge is either misguided or insincere.
Zakir Naik displays a simplistic mindset in failing to understanding Jesus’ teaching. His demand that Jesus gives a direct proclamation shows no appreciation of Jesus’ wisdom that is needed to address an audience that is hostile and threatening violence towards him.
The Jewish stubbornness and hostility towards Jesus is evident in the Gospel of John, chapter 5 & 10. In John 5, Jesus heals a paralysed man on the holy day of Sabbath. When the Jews question Jesus’ right to heal on the Sabbath, Jesus answers, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” The incident ends with an alarming observation, “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:17-18).
In John 10 Jesus tells the Jews that he gives eternal life to his followers. Jesus then declares, “I and the Father are one”. The Jews react by seeking to stone Jesus. Their justification for the violence is, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.”(John 10:28-33).
It should be clear from these incidents that the Jews will arrest and kill Jesus if he ever tries to claim to be God. Given the volatile situation, Zakir Naik should realize that it is both foolish and unreasonable to insist that Jesus must declare upfront to the violence prone Jews, saying, “I am God.”
It would be futile for Jesus to try to convert the intransigent Jews who have already made up their minds to reject Jesus no matter what evidence he offers to back up his claims. Jesus therefore focuses his attention at the more open-minded Jews. The stubborn Jews may miss the thrust of his message, but the Jews who are open-minded will grasp the real meaning about his teaching and accept his claim to be God.
How does Jesus present his claim to be God in such a way that only open-minded Jews will understand? His message may sometimes be indirect, but it is no less effective in conveying his claim to be God. In his public teaching, Jesus applies the maxim, “Action speaks louder than words,” but privately he explains fully to his disciples his claim to be God.
I suggest that Zakir Naik takes a closer look at Jesus’ richly textured approach in presenting his claim to be God.
I. Jesus claims to have a special relationship and equality with God.
A. John. 5:17-18 – But Jesus answered the Jews, “My Father is working still, and I am working.” This is why the Jews sough all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the Sabbath but also called God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
For the Jews only God could carry out his work of providence and sustaining the universe on Sabbath without in any sense violating his law. Jesus claims the same prerogative as he heals on the Sabbath, which amounts to the claim to be equal to God. Naturally, the stubborn Jews accuse him of committing blasphemy, which is the sin of arrogating rights, privileges and honor that is due to God alone.
B. John 10:30 – Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.”
This claim to be God cannot be put any clearer as it identifies Jesus with God rather than with man. The Jews would have accepted Jesus if he confesses to be a mere man who obeys the commands of God. However, Jesus claims to be equal to God. The Jews had demanded that Jesus speaks plainly about his identity, and they got more than they had bargained for.
In short, the gospels portray Jesus claiming to be so closely identified with God that one must regard him in the same way as one regards God. Thus, to know him is to know God; to see Him is to see God; to believe in him is to believe in God; to receive him is to receive God; to hate him is to hate God; to honour him is to honour God (John 8:19; 14:7; 12:45; 14:9; 12:44; 14:1 Mark 9:37; John 15:23; 5:23).
II. Jesus assumes divine prerogatives of worship, divine function, and the divine name
A. Jesus accepts worship:
Matt 4:10 = Lk 4:8. ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’
Matt 14:33 – Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Matt 28:9, 17 – Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. . . When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted
John 9:38 – Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him
To the Jews worship may be directed to God alone. But Jesus did not stop people from worshipping him on certain occasions.
Thomas addressed the resurrected Jesus as, ‘My Lord and my God.’ In the moment of revelation, Thomas came to see that Jesus is indeed risen from the dead. But mere men do not rise from the dead. Thomas adoration is accompanied by the confession that Jesus as the conqueror of death is “my Lord (kurios, the OT title for God) and my God.”
B. Jesus exercises divine judgment
John 5:25-29 – I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. . . And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man
Matt 7:22 -23 – Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
John 12:47-48 – As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it.
Jesus is making an amazing claim. Not only will Jesus be the Judge, but the criterion of judgment will be men’s attitude to him. He claims the authority which belongs to God alone, that is, to decide the eternal destiny of man in the Final Judgment. No creature can determine the eternal destiny of his fellow-creatures. But Jesus claims that he will execute the final verdict on all mankind.
C. Jesus claims the right to forgive sins
Mark 2:1-12. Jesus heals a paralytic to confirm his right to forgive sin.
Lk 7:36-50 – Jesus forgives sinful woman (contra Simon) v.48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The Jews wonder whether Jesus has committed blasphemy since only God can forgive sin. We may forgive any wrong done by our fellowmen, but sin against God – only God can forgive. Men at large can no more forgive sin than make paralytics instantly walk. Jesus not only lived a life of sinless perfection; he deliberately works the miracle for the express purpose of demonstrating that he has the power to forgive the man’s sin.
II. Jesus assumes the Divine Name
A. Ego Eimi ἐγώ εἰμι
John 6:35; 8:12; 10:7, 9; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1; 8:24, 58
In the Old Testament, ἐγώ εἰμι is God’s divine word of self-revelation and command.
Exod. 3:6, 3:14 – God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’
Exod. 20:2 – “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
The same formula is found in the prophets – Isa 51:12 – “I, even I, am he who comforts you.”
But Jesus uses the divine name for himself in John 8:24 – Jesus says, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am [ἐγώ εἰμι] he, you will die in your sins.”
No attentive listener can miss the reference to the Divine Self-Manifestation in the Old Testament. Jesus as the “I AM” controls the elements of nature and shares the glory of God. In saving sinners, Jesus achieves only what God can do. See, Isa. 43:10 (11) – I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no savior
John 8:58 – Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was I am. (Exod 3:14)
ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμί
The phrase refers to a timeless existence. Jesus shares the divine mode of eternal existence. For this reason, the believer lives because Christ lives, and lives with an absolute life. The divine title and absolute existence Jesus quietly took it to himself. For this reason, the Jews reached out for stones to avenge the blasphemy (John 8: 59).
The above verses constitute only a small sample of what the Bible consistently teaches – that Jesus through his actions, direct claims to equality with God, implicit claims arising from arrogating divine prerogatives to himself, and finally, the assumption for himself the divine name that belongs exclusively to God convinced his disciples that he is God.
To be sure, Jesus did not make the claim in the manner Zakir Naik expects. But who is Zakir Naik to dictate how God or Jesus should reveal himself? It is misguided when Zakir Naik approaches Jesus on the basis of some pre-conceived understanding. He should instead give due consideration to Jesus by taking him at his own words. He may try to evade the clear teaching from each individual verse, but it would be impossible for him to avoid an avalanche of Scriptural verses that so clearly teach Jesus’ claim to be God. If Zakir Naik fails to understand, it is because he shares the stubbornness of the unbelieving Jews at the times of Jesus. As they say, “there are none so blind as those who will not see.”
However, any open minded and sincere reader who approaches the Bible with humility can only conclude that Jesus claims to be God no less. Perhaps Zakir Naik is too stubborn to be included among them.
Answering al-Ghazali Refutation of Jesus’ Divinity Part 4. The Coherence of the Incarnation – Links to the earlier 3 parts are given at the end of the post.
Historical Origin of Divine Christology Part 5. The Son from Pre-existence to the Consummation of Creation – Links to the earlier 4 parts are given at the end of the post.