Jesus’ Subtle Kingdom

Throughout the Gospel accounts, the four Evangelists take us on a story, each of them narrating the ministry of Jesus in a way that reflects how they want a newcomer to the faith to approach the character of Jesus and have His wisdom unravel into our minds and lives, and, hopefully by the end of it, the Evangelist will have convinced us to believe. As John explicitly tells us, “But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ” (John 20:31). Each Evangelist takes us on a journey through the wonders and signs of the man they believe is the Christos, Christ.

Many may know that in modern times, there are those who even believe that Jesus never actually claimed to be God in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) and that they explain the divine statements in John by ascribing to the notion that it reflects a later, developed theology as the final Gospel written, so we cannot trust John when he writes to us saying that Jesus said “Before Abraham was, I am” (8:58), “If you have seen me you have seen the Father” (14:7-8), “I and the Father are one” (10:30), etc. However, as I will soon show, even subtle statements in the Synoptic Gospels reveal the high Christology that the Synoptic authors had and that Jesus definitely claimed to be God in a manner just as advanced as John. Indeed, very nicely, over the last 20-25 years a consensus has been emerging in academia that the earliest understanding of the life of Jesus was in fact that Jesus is God, and this came at the very beginning of belief in Jesus, not decades later at the time of John’s Gospel as late as the 90’s  AD. Some of the most influential academics to bring about this emerging consensus include Richard Bauckham, N.T. Wright, Larry Hurtado (who runs a great blog here) and others.

However, before showing statements in the Synoptic Gospels where Jesus’ claim to be God is just as powerful as any of those in John (if not as explicit), we will go even earlier than the Gospels, the letters that Paul began writing in the late 40’s. Paul’s letters predate the Gospel accounts by decades, and may predate John by as much as over 40 years, and yet Paul makes statements about who Jesus was that are on the level of if not exceeding how clearly John makes Jesus to be God. Paul tells us Jesus existed “in the form of God” (Philippians 2:6) and humbled Himself to take on human form so that He may die for our sins and then yet again become exalted, he tells us that Jesus is “God over all” (Romans 9:5), and many other things I have already written about. So, the Christology of John cannot be viewed as a late development but the earliest understanding of Jesus in Christian circles.

In the Synoptics, where so many claim that Jesus never claimed to be God, we find some subtle, yet very very telling things Jesus said about Himself that made it clear to any listener who was paying attention that He was directly claiming to be God. In Luke, Jesus is contiually proclaiming the coming of the “kingdom of God” (Luke 4:43; 9:2, etc etc), however something later changes — in Luke 22:30, Jesus says His disciples will eat at “my kingdom”. In other words, Jesus throughout His ministry tells those who listen that the kingdom of God is coming, but suddenly, Jesus now proclaims that it is His kingdom that is coming. Jesus here, I believe, unambiguously claims to be God.

Then, there’s a double tradition (Q?) in both Luke and Matthew where Jesus says “All things have been entrusted to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son desires to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27/Luke 10:22). Who can claim to have the sole knowledge of God but God Himself, and who can claim that the only way anyone else can know the Father is if He wishes to reveal the Father to them but God alone? Even in Mark, Jesus does things that only God can do, such as forgive the sins of others (Mark 2:1-11) and when the High Priest finally asks Jesus if He was the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One, Jesus reponds “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven” (14:61-62).

I could go more in depth, but for all purposes here, this shows that all four  Evangelists believed Jesus to be God and record that Jesus claimed to be God. As a further reading, I would highly recommend Richard Hays’ Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness. It’s not an easy read, but it’ll be one of the best books you ever read on the subject, and highly convincing as well. Jesus definitely claimed to be God.

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