The issue of the deity of Jesus is a central aspect of the debate over claiming that he is the only way to God. We seem to often overlook the simple connection that if Jesus is God, then he is the only way because he is also the destination. You can get to Pittsburgh by a lot of various roads, trails, rivers, and parkways but you can only get to Pittsburgh by going to Pittsburgh. If Jesus is God then he is the goal of the journey and the way we must go.
Now I know people, even people in the church, say Jesus never claimed to be God and I wonder how this can be since it is such a central part of the historic Christian claim. It is what distinguishes Christianity from other religions. The distinction is clear in Jesus’ words “come unto me” as compared to Buddha’s “look not to me: look to my teaching.”
We might look at Jesus’ own claims by beginning with the Old Testament idea of Messiah. Looking just at the prophet Isaiah, and even with the interpretive challenges of Isaiah 7:14, the verse says the hope of Israel is the one who will be “God with us.” Matthew sure seems to believe that this is about Jesus when he includes it in the birth narrative in Matthew 1:22-25 with the emphasis that we are talking about “God with us.” When you add to this the Messianic passage from Isaiah 9, we see in verse 6 that the Messiah will be called “Mighty God” and the claims of the deity of Messiah begins to grow. Then in Isaiah 43:10-12 we see that only Yahweh is savior and God. Isaiah 44:6 says only Yahweh is everlasting, but Micah 5:2 says the Messiah is “from the days of eternity.”
If Messiah is God, Yahweh, then to claim to be Messiah is a claim to be God. Christ is the Greek word for the Hebrew Messiah. So, in Mark 14:61-64 when Jesus is asked by the high priest, who would have known the implications, “Are you the Christ?” Jesus’ answer of “I am” was clear enough for the high priest to tear his clothes and charge Jesus with blasphemy. Then in Luke 24 after the resurrection and on the road to Emmaus Jesus, in verses 24-27, refers to himself as the Christ, Messiah and therefore God. Even more clearly in John 4:25-26 when the woman speaks to Jesus about the Messiah who is coming, Jesus answers, “I who speak to you am He.”
But given all of this we need to see that this is just one piece of a larger foundation showing Jesus’ claim to be God. Another important piece to notice is the claim by Jesus to be Yahweh. We know that God gave his name to Moses as YHWH and that there is no other God but YHWH according to the Old Testament. Yet the followers and even hostile witnesses to Jesus’ life claim that he was making himself “equal” with Yahweh. In John 5:18 it is exactly this word (ison in Greek) used by the enemies of Jesus when they said he was “making Himself equal with God.” In John 10:30 Jesus makes the famous claim that “I and the Father are one.” Some would say this does not mean one in being but one in purpose or goal or intention. But the word for “one” is neuter, so it is not one in person or purpose but in being or essence.
We might add that in John 17:5 as Jesus prays to the Father he refers to the glory he had with the Father before the world was, and yet in Isaiah 42:8 we are told that Yahweh shares his glory with no one. Jesus is identifying himself with Yahweh. He does so again in Revelation 1:7 when he calls himself “the first and the last,” which is a phrase used by Yahweh in reference to himself in Isaiah 44:6. Yahweh says in Joel 3:12 that he will sit as judge over the world, and yet Jesus claims to be judge in Matthew 25:31-35 and John 5:27.
We might add the note that the Jewish translators of the Hebrew Bible into Greek chose the words ego eimi as the translation of the name “Yahweh.” Whenever we see the phrase “I am” used by Jesus it is always ego eimi. Those who heard this understood him to be making this connection, as in John 8:58.
We begin to see the powerful claim of Jesus to be God. If he is God, then his word stands and he is the goal of our journey. Therefore, all must come through him.
Here is Part 1 of “Jesus as the Only Way,” in case you missed it.
-Dr. Ricketts is Professor of Apologetics at BLI School of Ministry.