What Jesus said about himself makes him is more than a great human teacher. By his words he claims to be God and Lord. Unbelievers and naysayers, to be sure, have written off whatever words they think Jesus actually spoke. They conclude that those words are simply garbled recollections or inventions added by his followers 50 to 100 years later. They become victims of their own human intellect and their scientific method of Bible dissection. But the words Jesus spoke of himself no other great religious teacher in all history ever spoke. Indeed, no man ever spoke like this man.
Theodore J. Hartwig
“CAN ANY OF YOU PROVE ME GUILTY OF SIN? IF I AM TELLING THE TRUTH, WHY DON’T YOU BELIEVE ME?”
Jesus spoke this extraordinary statement in John 8:46 while debating with the Jews in Jerusalem. Jesus’ question must have boggled the minds of all the people disputing with him. How could he, a mere man, dare to claim he was without sin as if he were God? They had seen his power and were familiar with his miracles, but outward signs and wonders do not change hearts. Only the still, small voice of the gospel converts and creates new hearts.
Peter and his companions knew who Jesus was. They had experienced the miracles of Jesus probably more than anyone. They had just served as waiters when Jesus fed the five thousand with five loaves and two fish. When many of these people the next day deserted Jesus for his hard teachings, Jesus then asked the Twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Peter made his beautiful confession: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:67-69). Peter did not name miracles as the cause for his faith. No, it was the power of Jesus’ words, which moved him to call this man of human flesh and blood the Holy One of God.
And what about doubting Thomas? Jesus appeared to Thomas and the disciples the week after his resurrection and removed Thomas’ doubts. But he also directed Thomas and the others about faith. “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Seeing can be a mind-persuasive obstruction to faith. People saw Jesus in the flesh, spoke with him, ate with him, witnessed his miracles, saw a human person like themselves. But except for the few who listened to and took his words to heart, many would reject him. They would respond, “We are not stoning you for any of these [great miracles] . . . but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God” (John 10:33). So these people understood Jesus clearly. They understood his stupendous self-identifications. But what their ears heard did not match what their eyes saw. So they rejected him.
The same happened at his trial before the Jewish high court. When the high priest put Jesus under oath and demanded of him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus made his good confession: “Yes, it is as you say.” To which the high priest responded: “He has spoken blasphemy!” (Matthew 26:63-65).
This is how it has been, how it is, and how it always will be when Jesus occupies people’s thoughts and conversation. He confronts us with an either-or. Those not with him are against him. There is no middle ground. To be with him is to respect, to believe, to rejoice, and to be comforted by his astounding question: Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?
“I TELL YOU THE TRUTH, BEFORE ABRAHAM WAS BORN, I AM”
John’s gospel records many disputes Jesus had in Jerusalem with the Jewish religious leaders. In one, Jesus told them that their father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing the day when he would leave his Father and come to earth. Indeed, in faith Abraham saw that future day as if it had already happened, and he rejoiced. The Jewish leaders responded, “You are not yet fifty years old . . . and you have seen Abraham!” And the surprising answer of Jesus? “I tell you the truth, . . . before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58).
Jesus’ words in the book of Revelation seem to have a similar ring. There he tells John: “I am the Alpha and the Omega [the First and the Last] . . . who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty” (1:8).
Jesus is. Amid all the ongoing tumults fomented by wars, hatreds, human monsters, and rampant immorality in this world, Jesus will not relinquish his office as overseer. “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working,” he told the Jewish leaders (John 5:17). All things are under his care and control. He does not take his gift of liberty away from people, but he executes his work of preservation by keeping his oversight within bounds, normally through good civil government and capable human leaders. The Lord remains in charge. He is at his work in the present and everywhere.
Jesus was. All that has happened in the past, all history, occurred under his oversight because it is all His Story. The Lord Jesus stands at the center of history, and only in this light does one find the key to history. The apostle Paul expressed history’s meaning when he wrote that history is “to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (Ephesians 1:10).
Jesus is to come. He is Lord of the future. Revelation tells the story of the future of the world and the church until the Lord’s return at the end of this age. Since that future is beyond human experience, its story is couched in the language of symbols and pictures. It all points to the truth of Jesus.
Jesus identifies himself as “I Am” to the Jewish leaders. These men knew that Jesus was referring to what God said to their hero Moses from the burning bush on Mt. Horeb: “I AM WHO I AM. . . . This is my name forever, the name I am to be remembered from generation to generation” (Exodus 3:14,15).
And here in front of these Jews, this man, Jesus of Nazareth, dared to call himself “I Am.” He dared to put himself on the same level with God. What blasphemy to their minds! It was bound to inflame their murderous hatred and move them to take up stones to stone him.
These Jews were scandalized by Jesus’ words because they regarded him only on the basis of their reason and senses. They saw only a man of flesh and blood, a human being like themselves. The tragic failure with these Jews lay in their refusal to listen to and taking seriously the word Jesus taught. His Word, with its innate power, did not pierce their hearts. They shrugged it off, rejected it, and so they never came to faith. They would not and could not believe that this man of flesh and blood was also the very God.
The words of Jesus have penetrated our hearts. We believe him to be true God and true man—Savior and Lord.
Theodore Hartwig, professor emeritus at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.
This is the second article in a four-part series about how Jesus describes himself.
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Author: Theodore Hartwig
Volume 101, Number 10
Issue: October 2014
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