Is Jesus ‘‘God’’?
Much confusion exists about the true relationship of Jesus and his Father. Was he, as some people think, part of a Trinity (of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit)? Or was he the Son of God, who came into existence when he was born by God’s Holy Spirit power acting upon the virgin Mary? In this article, John Carter looks carefully at the Bible usage when someone is said to be “a god”. His conclusions may surprise you.
Jesus is Called ‘God’
Because Jesus has, by inheritance, “obtained a more excellent name than (the angels)” (Hebrews 1:4), we should not be surprised if, after the style of description used in connection with angels, he is called “God”.
In order to understand this clearly, and to avoid confusion, we need to look at Bible terminology and we start our examination in the Old Testament.
When God gave Israel laws, he made proper arrangements for the administration of justice which required the appointment of judges. Thus:
❖If a slave decided he wanted to accept life servitude with his master, he was to make that arrangement before the judges (Exodus 21:6), or
❖If someone was found stealing, he or she was to be brought before the judges, in much the same way that theft is dealt with today (Exodus 22:8).
In both instances the judges are described by the Hebrew word “elohim”, a designation that is also given to the angels, and sometimes to God Himself, who is, of course, the judge of all mankind. Thus, many modern versions speak of the slave and the thief being brought before God (not before the judge). From this we can see that the rulers of Israel were called ‘gods’ for they were acting on God’s behalf when making their judgments and administering His law. The nation was a theocracy – a nation governed by God through deputies – and because these rulers in this kingdom of Israel were God’s representatives ruling over His kingdom, the word “god” is applied to the mortal rulers of the Kingdom of God.
The Psalms are Israel’s hymn book or books, but they were much more than that. Some of them are vivid prophecies portraying the life of Jesus. Psalm 22, for example, depicts his crucifixion in startling detail, even though that form of capital punishment was not practised at the time David penned that psalm. Read Psalm 82 and you will find a vivid portrayal of the Lord’s contentions with the contemporary rulers of Israel:
“God stands in the congregation of the mighty; He judges among the gods. How long will you judge unjustly, and show partiality to the wicked? Defend the poor and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy; free them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:1–4).
Here God is rebuking the gods of Israel, the mortal rulers, and reproves them because they are showing favour to wicked people and are ignoring the needs of the defenceless. The Psalmist reminds them of their exalted status as rulers appointed by God:
“I said, “You are gods, and all of you are children of the Most High. But you shall die like men and fall like one of the princes” (Psalm 82:6–7).
If there is any doubt in your mind about the validity of this line of argument, consider how the Lord Jesus referred to this very Psalm. The Jewish leaders were about to stone him because he told them that he was the Son of God.
For them, such a claim was tantamount to claiming to be God Himself, so they accused Jesus of blasphemy.
Look how Jesus responded and note his mastery of the Scriptures:
“Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, “You are gods” ’? If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming, ’because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?” (John 10:34–36).
Jesus was quoting this very Psalm and construed it as a prophecy of himself in the company of those whom God had appointed to rule His people (the very Jewish elders who now wanted to stone him). His argument was that as they were called ‘gods’ because of the delegated authority given them by God, how could they accuse him of blasphemy when he was merely stating that he was God’s Son.
Psalm 45 is another prophecy about the Lord Jesus, one which is yet to be fulfilled. It depicts the time when Jesus will return to earth as King and will call to him all those who are his people, from the present and the past, so they can be together forever. This scene is described as ‘the marriage supper of the Lamb’ in Revelation chapter 19:6–9. In the Psalm, Jesus is addressed thus:
“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness more than your companions” (Psalm 45:6–7).
Notice that whilst the King, about whom the Psalm is written, is called “God”, he is clearly subordinate to the One who has blessed him (45:2) and anointed him (45:7). Should you have any doubt about the relevance of this terminology to the Lord Jesus and his filial relationship to his Father, notice that this Psalm is also referred to in the New Testament, this time in the Letter to the Hebrews, where the writer is seeking to establish that Jesus is the Son of God: And of the angels He says: “Who makes His angels spirits and His ministers a flame of fire.” But to the Son He says: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of your kingdom” (Hebrews 1:7–8).
There is a prophecy concerning God-manifestation in Isaiah chapter 64 which is very interesting, when the prophet utters this prayer:
“Oh, that You would rend the heavens! That You would come down! That the mountains might shake at Your presence – As fire burns brushwood, as fire causes water to boil – to make Your name known to Your adversaries, that the nations may tremble at Your presence!” (Isaiah 64:1–2).
This language is reminiscent of what happened at Mount Sinai when there was a manifestation of God through angelic beings; and this is an appeal that there should be another manifestation of God. Through whom is this manifestation to take place this time?
Through angels, or through someone else? And what is indicated by the words “That the mountains might shake at Your presence”? Whose presence is it for whom the prophet prays?
The one in whom that Divine “presence” will be manifested is now addressed:
“For since the beginning of the world men have not heard nor perceived by the ear, nor has the eye seen any God besides you, who acts for the one who waits for Him” (Isaiah 64:4).
Here the prophet is describing one who alone saw what God had prepared and the one who had that discernment is once again addressed as “God”. Not Understanding Writing to the Corinthians, Paul applies the passage to the rulers of his day, who did not understand God’s purpose, and who crucified the Lord of Glory. But the followers of Christ did not share the ignorance of the rulers, hence Paul can quote the Isaiah passage and then add:
“But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10).
The followers of Christ share the understanding of the Head, the Lord Jesus, who is called “God” in Isaiah’s message, and who clearly and unerringly saw what God had prepared, and who endured the cross and despised the shame for the joy that was set before him.
So, if the rulers of Israel in this Divine usage of language are called ‘gods’, we should seek a right appreciation of this usage, and recognize that the Lord Jesus was so addressed, because of his unique status as the Son of God.
By John Carter