The Deity of Christ, Part 1

By Ronnie Campbell

“Where in the Gospels did Jesus say, ‘I am God’”? This is a common objection. The one asking expects the apologist to show those exact words coming from the mouth of Jesus. If we’re honest, there is no place in the Gospels where Jesus says the exact words, “I am God.” But does this mean Jesus never claimed or thought of Himself to be divine? What about the New Testament writers? Did they believe Jesus was divine? In this two-part series we will explore these questions. In Part 1, the focus is given to Jesus’s own claims to deity. Part 2 zeros in on other New Testament claims of Jesus’s deity.

In what follows, we’ll explore five areas of evidence that warrant the belief that Jesus thought He was divine: (1) Unique Relationship to the Father; (2) Claims to Pre-existence; (3) Ability to Forgive Sin and to Exercise Authority; (4) Acceptance of Worship; and (5) Claim to be the Son of Man. Taken together, these lines of evidence provide a cumulative case for Jesus’s self-consciousness about His own divine status.

Unique Relationship to the Father

Upon examining the Gospels, it is clear that Jesus thought He had a unique relationship to the Father. Even at an early age, Jesus seemed to be self-aware of this unique relationship. At one point, His parents were anxiously looking for Him and found Him in the temple astounding the religious leaders. He responded to them by saying “Didn’t you know that it was necessary for me to be in my Father’s house” (Luke 2:49).

In the Gospel of John, Jesus made some astonishing claims. At one point He claimed to be one with the Father (John 10:30). Upon hearing this, the religious leaders picked up stones to stone Him for committing blasphemy. They understood that by claiming to be one with the Father, Jesus identified Himself as God (John 10:33). At another place in the exchange, Jesus claimed to have been “set apart” by the Father and “sent into the world” (John 10:36).

Just after the last meal with His disciples before his death, Phillip asked Jesus to show them the Father. Jesus replied: “the one who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). He continued, “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” (v. 10).

Claims to Pre-existence

Closely linked to His unique relationship with the Father is His claim to preexistence. Perhaps, one of the clearest examples is found in John 8. In this exchange with the religious leaders, Jesus made the staggering claim, “before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). In saying this, not only did Jesus identify Himself with God, but He also made the claim that He existed “before Abraham.” The religious leaders again picked up stones to stone Him because they believed He had committed blasphemy.

Similarly, we find another strong statement in the Gospel of John. Just before His crucifixion, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed to the Father, asking Him to restore to Him the glory He shared with the Father “before the world began” (John 17:5).

Scattered throughout the Gospel of John we find additional claims related to Jesus’s preexistence:

  • “For I have come down from heaven” (John 6:38)
  • “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven” (John 6:51)
  • “the one the Father set apart and sent into the world” (John 10:36)
  • “I came forth from the Father and have come into the world” (John 16:28).

Taken together, Jesus is claiming to have been sent by the Father, coming down from heaven, and sent into the world. He also made the claim of leaving this world and going back to the Father who sent him (John 16:28; cf. 13:1).

Ability to Forgive Sins and Exercise Authority

Not only did Jesus claim a unique relationship to the Father and preexistence, but He also made the claim to have authority to forgive sins. One day while preaching to a group in a crowded house in Capernaum, four men lowered a paralyzed man down through the roof of the house to Jesus so that he could be healed. Jesus tells the man, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5). The religious leaders nearby recognized the weight of what Jesus said, believing that He had committed blasphemy, since God alone can forgive sin. Knowing their thoughts, Jesus asked the group, which is easier, to say a person’s sins are forgiven or to tell that person to take up his mat and walk? Jesus then claimed that He has been given “authority on earth to forgive sins” (Mark 2:10) and then healed the paralytic man to demonstrate the authority He had been given.

In His teaching on the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25-46), Jesus claimed that when the Son of Man (Jesus’s favorite designation for Himself) comes in His glory, He will sit on His throne and have authority to judge the nations. Here, He made the claim to have authority over the final destiny of all people who appear before Him—something only God has the authority to do.

There are other examples of Jesus exercising authority in unique ways. In Mark 4:39, Jesus calmed the winds and the waves, exercising authority over nature. In the Gospel of Matthew, the Pharisees criticized Jesus and the disciples for picking and eating heads of grain on the Sabbath. After giving justified examples of Sabbath breaking (e.g., David and his men eating the bread of the Presence and those priests who work the temple on the Sabbath), He chastised the Pharisees for emphasizing sacrifice over mercy. He then pointed them to the fact that something greater than the temple is present, and that “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:1-8; Cf. Mark 2:27-28). In this passage, Jesus redefined the Sabbath, essentially claiming equality with God, who put the Sabbath law into place.

Acceptance of Worship

Jews during Jesus’s time held to a strict monotheism (the belief that only one God exists), which demanded that the one true God alone be worshiped. Yet, we see instances of Jesus receiving worship from His followers. After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to Thomas, who declared upon seeing Jesus, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Before ascending to the Father, Jesus appeared to His disciples, giving them their final instructions. Matthew tells us that “When they saw him, they worshiped” (Matthew 28:17). In these instances, Jesus never stopped His followers from worshiping Him.

Claim to be the Son of Man

Finally, perhaps one of the strongest pieces of evidence for Jesus’s understanding of His deity comes from two of the four Gospels (Matthew 26:57-67; Mark 14:61-65). In His trial before the Jewish leaders, just before His death, He was asked whether He is “the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus replied,

“You have said it,” Jesus told him. “But I tell you, in the future you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:24)

Immediately, the high priest tore his garments, claiming that Jesus committed blasphemy. On the surface, it’s not immediately clear why they accused Jesus of blasphemy. But the religious leaders knew that in claiming to be the Son of Man, Jesus had in mind the eschatological figure mentioned Daniel 7. On this Daniel writes,

“I continued watching in the night visions, and suddenly one like a son of man was coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was escorted before him. He was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, so that those of every people, nation, and language should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14)

Jesus’s words were startling, and the religious leaders understood the kind of claim He was making about Himself. No mere human could approach the Ancient of Days and live. Furthermore, this passage highlighted that the Son of Man figure receives worship and an everlasting kingdom, which belonged to God alone. In receiving this kingdom, the Son of Man receives the rights and authority of God Himself. That’s why they accused Him of committing blasphemy, and it was this claim that ultimately led Jesus to His death.


This article examined five areas of evidence from the Gospels that point to Jesus’s self-consciousness about his own deity. Though there is no single passage where Jesus made the exact claim “I am God,” Christians are warranted in believing that Jesus thought he was divine.

Published May 20, 2024

Ronnie Campbell

Dr. Ronnie Campbell has been involved in higher education since 2006, teaching courses in theology, philosophy, and apologetics. His research interests include God’s relationship to time, the problem of evil, the doctrine of the Trinity, and religious doubt. He is the author of For Love of God: An Invitation to Theology (Emeth Press) and Worldviews and the Problem of Evil (Lexham Press). Dr. Campbell enjoys playing guitar, reading science fiction, and drinking coffee. He and his wife, Debbie, live in Gladys, VA, with their four children.