Was Jesus an outspoken rabbi or was he God?

The presence of the Lord God in the Old Testament       

In the Old Testament, the radiant, shining presence of God himself is often described as the glory of the Lord. This manifestation of God's divine presence is called the ‘Shekinah’.

The glory of the Lord first appeared to Moses on Mount Sinai: “The glory of the LORD came down on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days.” (Exodus 24:16) Moses asked God, “Please show me your glory” and the LORD answered, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you… but you cannot see my face, because no one can see me and live.” (Exodus 33:18-20) After speaking with God, Moses’ face shone, reflecting the glory of the LORD (see Exodus 34:29-35).

Later, the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle – the sacred tent where the Ark of the Covenant was kept: “Then the cloud covered the Meeting Tent, and the glory of the LORD filled the Holy Tent.” (Exodus 40:34)

 

Mount Sinai (Ian Sewell)

Mount Sinai - where the glory of the LORD appeared to Moses  (Ian Sewell)

 

When King David’s son, Solomon, built the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, God’s glory filled the Temple when the Ark of the Covenant was moved there: “The priests could not continue their work, because the Temple was filled with the glory of the LORD.” (1 Kings 8:11).

The glory of the LORD continued to fill the Temple during the period of the divided monarchy. But in Ezekiel’s prophetic vision, the glory and dazzling radiance of God’s holy presence (the ‘Shekinah’) left the Temple just before its destruction by King Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC (see Ezekiel 10:18-19).

After the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the prophet Isaiah urged the Jewish exiles in Babylon to prepare the way for the LORD's return, "Then the glory of the LORD will be shown, and all people together will see it" (Isaiah 40:5).

 

The return of the Lord in the New Testament

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the ‘Shekinah’ – the radiant, shining presence of God returned to earth. God’s personal presence was first revealed when the glory of the Lord appeared to a group of shepherds in the fields on a hillside outside Bethlehem: “Then an angel of the Lord stood before them. The glory of the Lord was shining around them, and they became very frightened… The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid… Today your Saviour was born in the town of David. He is Christ, the Lord.’” (Luke 2:9-11)

 

Church at Shepherds' Field, Bethlehem (NicFer)

The church at Shepherds' Fields, Bethlehem  (NicFer)

 

Later in Jesus’s ministry, his followers saw the dazzling glory of Jesus himself: “About eight days after Jesus said these things, he took Peter, John and James and went up on a mountain to pray. While Jesus was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became shining white… Peter and the others were very sleepy, but when they awoke fully, they saw the glory of Jesus…” (Luke 9:28-32)

At the start of his gospel, John says, “The Word [Jesus] became human and lived among us. We saw his glory – the glory that belongs to the only Son of the Father” (John 1:14).

In his account of the birth of Jesus, Matthew concludes, “All this happened to bring about what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be pregnant. She will have a son, and they will name him Immanuel,’ which means ‘God is with us’.” (Matthew 1:22-23)

 

Throughout the gospels, Jesus himself repeatedly claimed to embody God’s personal presence. Talking to the crowds in the Temple courtyard at the Feast of Dedication, Jesus said, “The Father and I are one.” (John 10:30) The Jews clearly understood his claim to be divine as they picked up stones to kill him for what they perceived to be blasphemy. Later, when Philip asked Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father”, Jesus replied, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:8-9).

On another occasion, when Jesus was teaching in the Temple courts, Jesus warned the Pharisees they would “die in your sins if you don’t believe that I am he” (John 8:24). The Pharisees were incensed as ‘I am’ sounds like the Hebrew pronunciation of God’s personal name ‘YHWH’ (‘Yahweh’ or ‘Jehovah’, meaning ‘I am he’ or ‘I am who I am’) which Jews were forbidden to speak out of reverence (see Exodus 3:14).

The Pharisees reminded Jesus that, as Jews, they were the heirs of Abraham’s covenant agreement with God (see Genesis 17:7). Jesus claimed that Abraham rejoiced at his coming. The Pharisees pointed out that Jesus wasn’t yet fifty years old and responded, “You have never seen Abraham”. Jesus replied, “before Abraham was even born, I am!” (John 8:57-58).

The Pharisees were furious that Jesus had used God’s personal name, I am, for himself, and they tried again to stone him to death for what they believed to be blasphemy.

 

Temple Mount Southern Steps (Mark Wilson)

The southern steps leading up to the Temple Courtyards   (Mark Wilson)

 

Was Jesus really God?

Jesus’s words and actions led his followers to believe that he really was God.

Thomas, who had doubted the other disciples when they told him of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, addressed the risen Lord Jesus as “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)

Paul, in his letter to the church in Colossi wrote, “No one can see God, but Jesus Christ is exactly like him.” (Colossians 1:15) He continued, “All of God lives in Christ fully” (Colossians 2:9)

In his letter to the believers in Philippi, Paul wrote, “Christ himself was like God in everything.” (Philippians 2:6)  In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul refers to “the Good News about the glory of Christ, who is exactly like God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4)

The opening words of John’s gospel are unequivocal: “In the beginning there was the Word [Jesus]. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  (John 1:1)

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