Considering Who Jesus Claimed to Be
People often think of the President of the United States as one of the most powerful people in the world. Perhaps that idea's due to the fact that he's got so many names, roles, and titles associated with his office. Although President is the official job title, the person holding it also has several other titles: commander-in-chief as head of the U.S. military; head of state as ceremonial leader of the nation; executive branchas the third distinct branch of the U.S. government; and leader of the free world, an informal title that the U.S. President has held since the end of World War II. So, while all these names express different roles, they all point back to the same person.
Similarly, the Bible says that Jesus often described himself using a lot of different names or roles. At first glance, you may think he comes across as a scatterbrain or a member of the Title-of-the-Month club. But when you start to look at them side by side, you see that all the titles actually fit neatly together to provide what Christians believe is a clear, all-around picture of who he was (and is, as Christians believe he still lives). Consider the following references to Jesus:
- Messiah (or Christ): The Hebrew word Messiah (translated as Christ in Greek) means "anointed one," or the one God sent to earth to free people who believe and trust in him. The scriptures of the Hebrews talked much about a coming Messiah, so the Israelites were on the lookout for the "chosen one" for centuries. When Jesus began his ministry, he claimed that he was the Messiah that they were waiting for (check out John 4:25–26).
- Son of man: Son of man is a term that the Old Testament book of Daniel uses to refer to the coming Messiah (see Daniel 7:13). It emphasizes the humanity of Jesus (who Christians believe was the Messiah) and his role as the ultimate, perfectly sinless man. This is the title Jesus seemed to favor over others, as he refers to himself as the Son of man more than 80 times throughout the Gospels. His preference may have been due to the fact that it expressed who he was to people without being as theologically charged as the name Son of God was.
- Son of God: Son of man is a term that emphasizes the Jesus' humanity, but the term Son of God expresses the Christian belief regarding his divinity as a member of the Trinity. "Son" expresses a distinction from God the Father, but it doesn't imply that he's any less God than the Father.
- God himself: Although the name "Son of God" implies divinity, the Bible tells that Jesus went even further on occasion and described himself as equal with God — and even outright claimed to be God. Jesus said at one point, "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30). In other words, as the Son of God, Christians believe that Jesus isn't just a super-man or an angel, but that he's literally equal with God the Father. He said that he should receive the same honor that's due the Father (John 5:23). In a conversation with Jewish leaders, Jesus said, "Before Abraham came into being, I AM" (John 8:58). Basically, Jesus was saying that he is eternal, having existed (in heaven) before Abraham — who the Bible calls the "father of the Jews" and who had lived some 1,000 years before. What's more, "I AM" was a likely reference to God's holy name ("I AM WHO I AM" in Exodus 3:14).
- Only True Path to God: Jesus emphasized that the only way one has access to God the Father is through him. He said flat out, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). Jesus also used other word pictures to illustrate his primary role in saving the world, including:
• Bread of life: "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will not be hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty" (John 6:35).
• Light of the world: "I am the light of the world. He who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12).
• Access door: "I am the door. If anyone enters in by me, he will be saved, and will go in and go out, and will find pasture" (John 10:9).
- Good Shepherd: In the agricultural society of first-century Palestine, shepherding was a common job. Shepherds watched over their flocks of sheep and protected them from wolves, thieves, or stormy weather, often on a 24/7 basis. The Bible says that Jesus used the analogy of a shepherd to describe his purpose, saying that he is the "good shepherd" (John 10:11), caring, protecting, and sacrificing for his sheep. The Old Testament Book of Ezekiel also shows the shepherd analogy when the Lord says, "I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep" (34:15).
- King: Jesus accepted the title of king when Pilate asked him during his trial whether he was King of the Jews, meaning the Messiah that the Hebrew scriptures prophesied about. Jesus said, "You are right in saying that I am a king. For this reason I have been born, and for this reason I have come into the world, that I should testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice" (John 18:37).
Although Christians believe all these terms appropriately describe Jesus, they also recognize truth in the old saying, "Actions speak louder than words." The Bible says that Jesus undertook certain actions (or promised that he'd perform them in the future) that Christians believe only God has the power to perform, such as forgiving sins (Mark 2:10), raising the dead (John 6:39–40), judging humans in the future (John 5:22), and giving life (John 5:26). Therefore, Christians believe these actions back up Christ's claims, which in turn strengthens their belief that Jesus was (and is) God.