There is a common misconception that Jesus did not claim to be God. C.S. Lewis, however, in Mere Christianity (Chapter 3 of Book 2), almost takes for granted the fact that Jesus claimed to be God.
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (from here)
Why? I can think of three reasons.
- The Apostles clearly thought Jesus was God, and Jesus did not deny that belief. John the Baptist made it apparent to some of Apostles (see John 1:35-42) that Jesus was the Messiah. Matthew 16:13-20, Mark 8:27-30 and Luke 9:18-20 mark the point where the Apostles manifested that understanding directly to Jesus.
- The Jews accused Jesus of blasphemy. In addition to healing the faithful, Jesus forgave their sins. In these two examples, Matthew 9:1-8 and Mark 2:1-12, Jesus forgives the sins of a paralytic man. In this passage, Luke 7:36-50, Jesus forgives a sinful woman. The Jews understood that only God can forgive sins. The Jews knew Jesus either blasphemed or He must be God. Many of the Jews, particularly their leadership, chose to believe Jesus blasphemed.
- Jesus actually did claim to be the Messiah and the Son of God. Even before his crucifixion, Jesus claimed to be the Messiah (see John 10:22-42). This claim was in fact the “blasphemy” for which the Jews and Gentiles crucified Him. See Matthew 26:62-67, Mark 14:60-64, Luke 22:66-71, and John 19:1-7.
Why is this important? Lewis discusses Jesus’ claim of divinity in chapter 3 of Book 2 of Mere Christianity. Because Jesus claimed to be God, Lewis reached the conclusion that Jesus was either nuts or He is God.
Of course, there is another option. Perhaps the Bible is full of lies. Perhaps Jesus never existed. Perhaps Jesus never performed miracles. Perhaps He never taught the religion that revolutionized our civilization. Perhaps the Romans never persecuted the faithful, just the deluded. Perhaps, even though Jesus never lived, people died refusing to recant their faith in Jesus’ divinity. Yet all that seems even more unlikely than the possibilities of Jesus’ divinity or madness.
So why do people persist in saying Jesus never claimed to be God. It seems that that has to do with the reason why Jesus chose to be born as a man, live among humankind, die a horrible death, and experience resurrection. Jesus does not demand our adoration. He shows us how to be humble. Instead of proclaiming to be God and demanding to be treated like God, Jesus taught that we must love both God and each other. To give us an example, He showed us how to be the servant of both God and man.
When we imagine ourselves with God-like powers, what do we imagine? Do we perceive ourselves washing the feet of others (John 13:1-17). Nonetheless, unlike any God we would choose to imagine, Jesus gave us an example of uncompromising humility. Finally, in perfect obedience to the Father, He laid down His life for us. This He explained at the Last Supper.
Matthew 26:26-29 (New International Version)
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (see also Mark 14:22-25 and Luke 22:14-20)
So He has blessed us more than we know. The prideful God of our imagination does not exist. God exists in holiness beyond our expectations or understanding.
If we but look about us, we have confirmation. Thanks to a God who has scrupulously considered every detail on our behalf, we thrive in the midst of an otherwise almost wholly sterile universe. In ways we do not understand, we are born, we grow, and we learn to think. And if we are wise, we will apply that understanding in obedience to our Creator. We will do as He has commanded. We will love Him. We will love each other.