In Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome he makes three statements that hold together two non-negotiable and irreducible truths that answer the question ‘Who is Jesus?’ – Jesus is a real, physical, human being, and Jesus is God.

Paul does not mean that Jesus is 50/50 – half God, half human. Rather, he means that this real and fully human being known as Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, is also at the same time, really and fully God.

Paul’s statements expressing these two truths about Jesus are:

‘... who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord’ (1:3, 4).

‘... from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised!’

‘That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved’ (10:9).

Today, some people do not realise that Jesus is a real historical person. Some think that he is just a figure of myth and legend. But at the time Paul wrote, just over two decades after Jesus’ death, no one questioned the existence of Jesus. They knew that he lived and died. Some had walked and talked with him. Some had been healed by him. Many had heard him teaching. What people found it difficult to believe was the second truth – that Jesus of Nazareth was the eternal God in human flesh.

It was Jesus’ obvious references to his deity that caused strong opposition from some of his Jewish contemporaries, and ended up resulting in his execution. Here are some of the Gospel records of the opposition Jesus experienced because he, obviously a human being, was making claims that identified him as God:

When Jesus upset the Jewish religious leaders by healing on the Sabbath, John records that:

‘Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God’ (John 5:17, 18).

On another occasion, Jesus claimed to have existed before Abraham, the patriarch of the Jews, and by this claim again evoked murderous religious zeal:

‘ “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” “You are not yet fifty years old,” the Jews said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” At this, they picked up stones to stone him ...’ (John 8:56 – 59).

And on yet another occasion, Jesus stirred up their anger, this time by a very direct statement:

‘ “I and the Father are one.” Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” “We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God”’ (John 10:30 – 33).

At his trial Jesus was asked a direct question about his identity. His answer convicted him:

‘Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus. ‘And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” They all condemned him as worthy of death’ (Mark 14:61 – 64).

These contemporaries of Jesus knew that he was human. They also recognised that the things he said were claims to be God. In their perception, that was both impossible and blasphemous. In their perception, Jesus was just a human claiming to be God. So they arranged his execution.

Jesus died. That is what humans do when they are crucified.

But then he did something that is definitely not what humans do: he rose from the dead, a fact that was witnessed by over five hundred people (1Corinthians 15:4 – 8).

By that resurrection all of his claims to be God are verified.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2020

Go to these studies for further discussion of the question ‘Who is Jesus?’