Jesus’ Words Gave Him Away

157As a detective, I’ve learned to carefully examine the words of suspects (I’ve written an entire chapter about this in Cold Case Christianity). Killers don’t often willingly confess to murder, but they usually give themselves away by saying something that is consistent with their involvement as the murderer, or something that simply cannot be interpreted in any other way than to imply their guilt. When I come out of the interview room, my partners quickly ask, “Did he confess?” I just smile and say, “Not directly, but he said enough to settle the question for a jury.”

Jesus also said enough to settle the question for a jury. Readers of the Gospels sometimes wish that Jesus would have been more direct in his statements related to his Divine nature. Why didn’t Jesus just come out and say, “I am God” in a way that is clearer for those of us reading the text in the 21st Century? Jesus was very clearly understood by his contemporaries, however, and beyond his direct statements related to His Divine nature, I am intrigued by those occasions when Jesus said something that was less than direct. Jesus made several statements that implied his deity, even before he made any direct statements. Examine, for example, the way that Jesus spoke, even when He wasn’t talking specifically about Himself. Jesus often prefaced His teaching in a way that separated Him from other prophets or important religious leaders. When Old Testament prophets made a proclamation, they would typically begin by saying, “Thus saith the Lord” or “the word of the Lord came to me” (from the King James Version) or, “This is what the Lord says” (in modern translations). Here are a few examples:

Therefore, this is what the Lord, the LORD Almighty, says: “O my people who live in Zion, do not be afraid of the Assyrians, who beat you with a rod and lift up a club against you, as Egypt did.” (Isaiah 10:24)

This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Cut down the trees and build siege ramps against Jerusalem. This city must be punished; it is filled with oppression. (Jeremiah 6:6)

This is what the Sovereign LORD says: “This is Jerusalem, which I have set in the center of the nations, with countries all around her.” (Ezekiel 5:5)

This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not turn back {my wrath}. They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals.” (Amos 2:6)

This is what the Sovereign LORD says about Edom— We have heard a message from the LORD : An envoy was sent to the nations to say, “Rise, and let us go against her for battle” (Obadiah 1:1)

This is what the LORD says: “As for the prophets who lead my people astray, if one feeds them, they proclaim ‘peace’; if he does not, they prepare to wage war against him.” (Micah 3:5)

This is what the LORD says: “Although they have allies and are numerous, they will be cut off and pass away. Although I have afflicted you, O Judah , I will afflict you no more.” (Nahum 1:12)

This is what the LORD Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come for the LORD’s house to be built.’” (Haggai 1:2)

Therefore, this is what the LORD says: “I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there my house will be rebuilt. And the measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem,’ declares the LORD Almighty.” (Zechariah 1:16)

Get it? These prophets began their proclamations in this way because they were speaking for God, not as God. But this is never how Jesus spoke when making similar proclamations. Jesus never started His teaching with this kind of divine qualification. Jesus typically began his proclamations with expressions such as, “verily, verily, I say to you…” (from the King James Bible), or, “I tell you the truth…” (in modern translations). There are dozens of examples:

I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished (Matthew 5:18)

I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (Matthew 11:11)

I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. (Mark 11:23)

I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her. ( Mark 14:9)

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. (John 5:25)

 I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. (John 10:1)

This repeated preface, as it is used by Jesus, is very different than the prefaces used by the Old Testament prophets. The prophets spoke for God, But Jesus clearly spoke as God. He felt no need to qualify His words and tell people they had the authority of God as did the Old Testament prophets. Instead, Jesus assumed this authority as God himself and spoke in the first person using “I” as the only description for the source of this wisdom. Jesus didn’t hesitate to give his words the very authority of God, and while these statements do not include specific declarations of his Deity, they do imply this aspect of His nature. Jesus’ words gave him away.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene.

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