It is often pointed out that Jesus never stood up and said plainly, “I am God.” (But if He had, what would that prove? Nothing!) He was obviously a man: He was born, grew up, ate, slept, and felt pain, sadness and fear. Finally He died. But somehow His disciples gradually became convinced that He was more than just a man…
For one thing, He had extraordinary power over sickness, demons and the forces of nature (e.g. Luke 8:22-56). He didn’t have to pray to God in order to obtain healing or deliverance for people – He could achieve these things, apparently without effort, by Himself. He was even able to give life to the dead – something that is God’s prerogative alone (Deuteronomy 32:39). And He went around forgiving sins (e.g. Luke 5:18-25; 7:36-50). The Jewish theologians picked up on this at once: only God can forgive sin (Isaiah 43:25). “Unless the speaker is God, this claim to forgive sins – any sins – is really so preposterous as to be comic…. Yet Jesus told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offences. This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin.” (C S Lewis: Mere Christianity)
In His teaching, He made no explicit claims to divinity – but He made many statements that, to Jewish ears, amounted to the same thing. He claimed authority over divinely given laws and institutions like the Sabbath (Luke 6:5). He claimed to be the final Judge of mankind (Psalm 9:7,8; Matthew 25:31,32). He made the same promises to His disciples that God had made to His people under the Old Covenant. (Deuteronomy 31:8; Matthew 28:20) And He took well-known Old Testament pictures of Yahweh and applied them to Himself: for example, He claimed to be the Shepherd of God’s people (Psalm 23; Ezekiel 34). This conversation (John 10:1-30) ended with the Jews attempting to stone Him for blasphemy (John 10:31-33). Finally, the night before He died He told His disciples that He was the embodiment of the Father (John 14:7-10).
Whatever doubts or difficulties the disciples may have had in grasping all this, after Jesus had risen from the dead and ascended into heaven they were absolutely convinced. They worshipped Him (Luke 24:52) and prayed to Him (Acts 7:59,60). When the Holy Spirit came on them at Pentecost, Peter saw this as a fulfilment of Yahweh’s promise to pour out His Spirit (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17). But then, in his sermon, he stated that it was Jesus who had poured out the Spirit (Acts 2:33).By the time the New Testament was written (just a few decades later), it was clearly not felt necessary to prove Jesus’ deity; it was simply taken for granted. If anything, the early Christians seem to have struggled more with the idea that Jesus was genuinely human – hence the somewhat superfluous word ‘man’ in I Timothy 2:5.
In the letter to the Galatians (probably the very first part of the New Testament to be written), Paul obviously regards Jesus as something other than simply human: “Paul, an apostle – sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father.” (Galatians 1:1) In his other letters, he describes Jesus as “being in very nature God” (Philippians 2:6) and as one in whom “all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” (Colossians 2:9) And he uses Joel’s prophecy, “Everyone who calls on the name of Yahweh will be saved,” (Joel 2:32) as the basis for his assertion that we must confess, “Jesus is Lord,” in order to be saved (Romans 10:9-13).
In his gospel, John compares Jesus’ life on earth to the glory of God Himself manifested within the Tabernacle (John 1:14) Later he quotes from Isaiah’s vision of Yahweh’s glory (Isaiah 6:1-10) and states that Isaiah “saw His glory” (John 12:41) – referring to Jesus. The writer to the Hebrews ascribes to Him the nature and attributes of God (Hebrews 1:3; 13:8). Finally, in the book of Revelation, ‘Alpha and Omega’ (the First and the Last), one of God’s titles (Isaiah 44:6; Revelation 1:8), is used by Jesus of Himself (Revelation 1:17; 22:13).
As we saw earlier, the message of the Old Testament is that there is no other Creator than Yahweh, no other Saviour than Yahweh, and no other god than Yahweh to be worshipped. But the witness of the apostles in the New Testament is that creation is also the work of Jesus (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2), and that there is no Saviour other than Jesus (Acts 4:12). God has said, “I am Yahweh; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.” (Isaiah 42:8) Yet Jesus claimed to share the eternal glory of God (John 17:5), and His followers praised Him accordingly (II Peter 3:18). Those who loved Him instinctively worshipped Him – even when he was a very young child (Matthew 2:11). And He accepted that worship without demur (Matthew 14:33; John 20:26-29). In the book of Revelation, He is worshipped (along with the Father) by all creation (Revelation 5:13,14).
It is therefore clear that the apostles regarded Jesus as divine. Yet at the same time, He was clearly distinct from the Father to whom he prayed (Mark 14:35,36), and from the Spirit with whom He was anointed (Luke 3:21,22). The raw material for the doctrine of the Trinity was all there, even though the precise details had not yet been thrashed out.