As we approach Christmas in less than a week, I’ve been thinking about what separates Jesus from other great religious figures of history. Many faith traditions lay claim to famous religious leaders and founders, but Jesus is different. Jesus claimed to be more than a good teacher or leader. Jesus claimed to be God. Some deny this truth about Jesus’ teaching, but the New Testament leaves little room for doubt: Jesus claimed to be God and taught this truth to His followers.
He Spoke As Though He Was God
While all Biblical prophets of God made statements on God’s behalf, they were careful to preface their proclamations with “This is what the LORD Almighty says,” or “This is what the LORD says,” but Jesus never used such a preface. Instead, Jesus always prefaced his statements with, “Verily, verily, I say to you,” (KJV) or “I tell you the truth,” (NASB). Prophets spoke for God, but Jesus consistently spoke as God.
He Claimed the Title Used by God
Faithful Jews recognized the fact that God identified Himself to Moses as the great “I AM” (Exodus 3:14). Yet Jesus (in referring to Himself) told the Jewish religious leaders that “before Abraham was born, I AM”. They immediately recognized that He was identifying Himself as God and were so angered by this ‘blasphemy’ that they “picked up stones to stone him.” (Jesus also identified Himself as the great I AM in Mark 14:62, John 18:5-6, 8:24, and 8:28).
He Claimed the Home of God
Every time Jesus was asked about where he came from, He told His listeners that He came not from Bethlehem or Nazareth but from the same realm where God abides. Jesus claimed to come “from above”. He repeatedly said that He was “not of this world” (John 8:23-24) and even told Pilate that he was a King whose Kingdom “is from another place” (John 18:36-37).
He Claimed Equality With God
Jesus said that God’s angels were His angels and that God’s Kingdom was His Kingdom (Matthew 13:41). Jesus even said that the judgment typically understood to be reserved for God was actually Jesus’ judgment to make (Luke 12:8-9). Jesus told His followers that when they saw Him, they saw God; if they knew Him, they knew God, and if they loved Him, they were loving God (John 14:6-9 and John 14:23).
He Saw No Distinction Between Himself and God
Finally, Jesus simply and plainly told His followers that there was no distinction between Himself and God the Father. When talking about the manner in which saints are selected for Salvation, Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:29). He did not mean that they were ‘one’ in purpose or power, but that they were one in identity. His hearers understood what He was saying and picked up stones again to stone him “for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God” (John 10:33).
There are many important religious dates that commemorate the significant role that historic religious leaders have played (did you know, for example, that December 23rd is the birthday of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism?) But Jesus was more than an important leader and founder. He was more than a great thinker and teacher. Jesus taught His followers that He was God. That’s why Christmas is a celebration above and beyond other holy days celebrated by religious believers around the world.