It may seem strange to sweet Westerners and others to contrast the two, but the evidence says you cannot have both in an unholy marriage. We must face those facts. They are different–even opposites–in so many ways.
As I say in every post in this series:
“He who is not with me is against me. He who does not gather with me scatters.” (Luke 11:23)
In following Islam, people who call themselves Muslims have scattered from Jesus. They must come to him and follow him exclusively. They must pray: “Jesus, I follow you and you alone. I leave behind my previous religion. I am now yours, forever.”
Now let’s begin the study to see the huge differences between Jesus and Muhammad.
Who was Jesus, really? Who was Muhammad? What does the Quran say about Muhammad, and what does the New Testament say about Jesus? Does either of these persons claim to have a divine nature? Are both strictly and only human?
The issues and questions are clear. Now let’s get started in answering them.
This post has a companion piece:
MUHAMMAD: HIS NATURE AND ROLES
It is crucial to know about Muhammad’s Hijrah (Emigration or Flight) from Mecca to Medina in AD 622. He receives revelations in both cities. While he lived in Mecca, traditions say that they came on him in AD 610, and at first he was unclear about their meaning. Then he gradually takes on his role of warner and messenger. Under persecution, he has to leave Mecca behind, and he arrives in Medina. At this major stage, the revelations change in tone. He becomes bellicose. He raises a lethal band of raiders and eventually a large army. Textual reality of the Quran reflects this historical reality.
Do these roles change once he arrives in Medina, or not?
(1) Mortal man
Muhammad plainly says that he was a mortal human, like all men.
First, in the following Meccan verse Sura (Chapter) 17, he answers the charge that he cannot perform miracles. Allah commands his messenger to “say” the following to his critics.
17:93 . . . Say, “Glory to my Lord. Am I anything but a mortal, a messenger?” . . . (MAS Abdel Haleem, The Qur’an, Oxford UP, 2004)
Thus, the reason Muhammad cannot perform them is that he is a mere messenger. He does not explicitly deny this accusation and positively proclaim that he can do them.
Second, Sura 39:30 was received in Mecca, and Muhammad is verbally separating off the true believers from the untrue. When Judgment Day comes, each side will see the truth because death will reveal it, even his own death:
39:30 You [Prophet] will surely die, and so will they [disbelieving Meccan polytheists] (Haleem, the second insertion is mine)
Haleem supplies the word “prophet” in brackets, but as we shall discover below, the more apt description of Muhammad in Mecca is “warner” or “messenger.”
Third, Sura 41:6 was received in Mecca and uses similar heated rhetoric against the Meccan polytheists. Allah tells his warner to “say” these words to them:
41:6 Say [Prophet], “I am only a mortal like you” . . . (Haleem, his insertion)
Muhammad goes on to say that God revealed to him that God is One. The implication is that the polytheists must change their religion and beliefs.
Finally, Sura 3:144 was revealed after the Battle of Uhud in AD 625, three years after Muhammad’s Hijrah or Emigration from Mecca to Medina. His army lost the battle in theory, but in practice he did not lose much materially, so he quickly recovered. But he asks his followers this question, predicated on his mortality.
3:144 Muhammad is only a messenger before whom many messengers have been and gone. If he died or were killed, would you revert to your old ways? (Haleem)
Muhammad dies of a fever in AD 632. “Narrated ‘Aisha: The Prophet died while he was between my chest and chin” . . . (Bukhari).
Muhammad was called to warn people about impending judgment and punishment and the fires of hell. The Arabic word for this title is nadhir, and it is used about 125 times in the Quran as a grand total. Interestingly, this word—as it relates directly to Muhammad—appears 58 times in the Meccan suras, but it declines to only 7 times in the Medinan suras, after Muhammad immigrates there in AD 622. Five examples suffice to illustrate this title.
First, Sura 74 is believed to be one of the first chapters in its entirety that was revealed to Muhammad in Mecca. It shows him wrapped in garments, fearful of Allah’s revelations. Allah through Gabriel has to get his attention physically to get him to obey—to warn the polytheists.
74:1 O you (Muhammad) enveloped in garments! 2 Arise and warn! (Hilali and Khan, The Noble Qu’ran, Riyadh, Darussalam, 2002, their insertion)
Second, in Mecca, Muhammad warns polytheists who deny the truth.
92:12-16 Our part is to provide guidance— 13 this world and the next belong to us— 14 so I warn you about the raging Fire, 15 in which none but the most wicked will burn, 16 who denied [the truth], and turned away. (Haleem, his insertion)
Third, the warner can perform no miracle. So people question him about this inability.
13:7 The disbelievers say: “Why has no miracle been sent down to him from his Lord?” But you [Muhammad] are only there to give warning . . . (Haleem, my insertion)
His only miracle is the Quran. He challenges people to produce a sura or chapter like it, and modern native speakers of Arabic have done just that—not a difficult feat.
Fourth, Sura 7 (and Sura 6) is considered one of the last suras to be revealed in Mecca, and here Muhammad clearly states his function or role.
7:184 Do they not reflect? There is no madness in their companion (Muhammad). He is a plain warner. (Hilali and Khan, The Noble Qur’an, Darussalam, 2002; insertion is theirs; cf. 7:188)
Fifth and finally, Muhammad is also sent to warn Jews and Christians. According to Sayyid Abul A’La Maududi, Sura 5 comes down around AD 628, six years after Muhammad’s Hijrah and four years before his death. Muhammad deals mostly with Jews, but he often discusses Christian doctrine—as he misunderstands it. In this verse he warns People of the Book or Jews and Christians (the Book is the Bible).
5:19 People of the Book, Our Messenger [Muhammad] comes to you now, after a break in the sequence of messengers, to make things clear for you in case you should say, “No one has come to give us good news or to warn us.” (Haleem; insertion is mine)
What is Muhammad warning the Jews and Christians about? The context says that they lived in darkness and that Christians are wrong to say that God is the Messiah, the son of Mary; he says that Allah could have destroyed the Messiah. Also, Jews and Christians are punished for their sins. Thus, Muhammad is a warner about their errors and their impending punishment.
From Sura 74 (Muhammad’s beginning in Mecca) to Sura 7 (his ending in Mecca), he is primarily a plain warner. The passage in Sura 5 represents only six others in Medina. Thus, Muhammad drops this title for the most part.
(3) Announcer or bringer of news
In Arabic, bashir means a bringer of news, usually good, but sometimes bad. It is used 87 times in the Quran. Muhammad uses it of himself 22 times in Mecca, and 13 times in Medina. The first three passages were revealed in Mecca, and the last two in Medina.
First, this news that Muhammad brings exhorts the Meccans to worship none but Allah.
11:2 . . . [W]orship none but Allah. Verily I (Muhammad) am to you from Him a warner and a bringer of glad tidings. (Hilali and Khan, insertion in parentheses is theirs)
Often, when the words “warner” and “bringer” are juxtaposed, they are intended to contrast with each other, as in this verse. Muhammad warns about judgment and punishment, but he also brings good news.
Second, this verse also shows the two functions of announcer or bearer and warner. “We” refers to Allah.
17:105 And with truth We have sent it down (i.e. the Quran), and with truth it has descended. And We have sent you (O Muhammad) as nothing but a bearer of glad tidings . . . and a warner. (Hilali and Khan, insertions are theirs)
Muhammad is supposed to use the Quran to announce news to people.
Third, this verse in Sura 19 also says that Muhammad should use the Quran itself or Sura 19 as a means to announce and warn.
19:97 We have made it [the Quran or this sura] easy, in your own language [Prophet], so that you may bring glad news to the righteous and warnings to a stubborn people. (Haleem; first insertion mine, though taken from Haleem’s footnote; second insertion his)
Again, Haleem supplies the title “prophet” in brackets in this Meccan sura, but the Quran uses it only two times explicitly of Muhammad in Mecca. A more accurate term would have been “warner.”
Fourth, besides Sura 5:19, which was quoted in the previous section and which also has the dual role of nadhir and bashir, these verses were revealed in Medina, and Muhammad’s roles are the same.
33:45 Prophet, We have sent you as a witness, as a bearer of good news and warning, 46 as one who calls people to God by His leave, as a light-giving lamp. (Haleem)
Fifth and finally, Muhammad preaches the good news to the believers in Medina.
61:13 And He will give you something else that will really please you: His help and an imminent breakthrough. [Prophet], give the faithful the good news. (Haleem, his insertion)
The Arabic word nabi or “prophet” derives from Hebrew and Aramaic (nabi in Hebrew, nebi’a in Aramaic) and appears about 92 times in the Quran. In Islamic theology, a nabi is one who receives revelations from Allah. It is especially noteworthy that Muhammad’s formal title “prophet” increases dramatically in the Medinan suras (33 times), much more than in the Meccan suras (2 times). But this must be emphasized: it is not necessarily the quantity or number of times that a title appears that is important, but its quality or content in context matters most. On the other hand, the number of times that “prophet” is applied to Muhammad at Mecca is shockingly low, and this cannot be ignored, either.
Muhammad at Mecca
The small number of verses (two) in Mecca that uses “prophet” explicitly and formally of Muhammad comes late in his life in Mecca. The verses in Mecca that imply that Muhammad is a prophet are omitted from this analysis since the arguments over them could go on indefinitely. It is better to analyze the two remaining clear verses.
First, in Sura 7:157, revealed late in Mecca, Muhammad is called an unlettered prophet:
7:157 Those who follow the messenger, the Prophet who can neither read nor write, whom they will find described in the Torah and the Gospel . . . (Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall, The Glorious Qur’an, Tahrike Tarsile, 2000; see Suras 29:48 and 62:2, which also speak of his illiteracy but without the word “prophet”).
The word (ummi) translated here as “who can neither read nor write” may mean “gentile” (as Haleem translates the word). The translators and commentators are divided, but in my opinion the general and stronger meaning is illiterate. (For more information on the topic, particularly articles arguing the other opinion, see this page.) Maybe both meanings are true at the same time. He was an illiterate gentile.
Be that as it may, Muhammad clearly connects himself to the Bible, asserting that he has been described in it and implying that he has been predicted in it. Muslim propagandists have searched for clear references to Muhammad in the Torah and the Gospels (and the entire Bible), but their search has come up empty and proven unsuccessful. The absence of any reference in the Bible to Muhammad as some sort of future spokesman for God is not surprising. He lived way outside of the Bible’s parameters and long after Jesus Christ. The New Testament authors expend great effort to demonstrate that Jesus fulfills the promises and prophecies in the Hebrew Bible. And in his case the evidence is clear and overwhelming.
Second, in Sura 7:158 Muhammad repeats that he is an illiterate prophet.
. . . So believe in Allah and his messenger, the Prophet who can neither read nor write . . . (Pickthall)
Again, Muhammad uses the word ummi, which is best translated as illiterate. He wants us to believe that the Quran is a miracle. Since he repeats this claim, we should take a little more time to explain why it is overblown.
In an age of oral traditions and storytelling, when not many could read or write or could barely do this, memory in some people was strong. They could recite their stories and poems without supernatural benefit. Further, Muhammad in fact confuses many Biblical narratives, so how inspired was he? The God of the Bible certainly did not inspire Muhammad’s confusion and partial knowledge. Also, he has help from the literate who copied down the words of his recitations. Thus, none of this is so difficult or miraculous.
A revealing contrast can be seen in the ancient Greek poet Homer, who lived about 1,300 years before Muhammad, according to traditional dating. Most scholars agree that the blind poet Homer was illiterate, so he produced the Iliad orally (it is rare to find a specialist who doubts the oral production of this epic). The poem is skillfully arranged, sustaining a unified plot with many characters for over 12,000 lines, all of which are set in meter. Some consider it the most beautiful extended poet ever written. And the author was a pagan!
The oral nature of the Iliad is is completely different from the Quran. Its arrangement is scattered and hodge-podge, and it does not sustain a meter throughout its composition. Moreover, the Iliad expresses an elaborate theology, which does not fall behind the Quran in the slightest iota. In fact, it could be argued justly that singing about a pantheon of gods is more difficult than reciting verses about only one god. Homer has to keep track of their roles in the war between the Greeks and the Trojans, not to mention the roles of the humans. So is the Quran a miracle? It does not rise to the level of the pagan poet Homer—not even close. As noted, suras in the Quran have been easily duplicated.
To sum up Sura 7:157-158, it is not so much the number of times that a title appears that is important, but its quality or content matters most. However, the quantity is surprisingly low, so this is a factor. Also, the quality of the two verses is low. Muhammad says that the Torah and Gospels predict his coming, but Muslims polemicists have not succeeded in finding these predictions in a convincing manner, not to mention even indirectly. Clearly, Muhammad was feeling his way in this new title for himself. Allah first called him primarily as a warner. The Quran later designates him with the formal title of “prophet,” or Muhammad grew into it, as he saw it.
Muhammad at Medina
As noted, the Quran’s use of the title of “prophet” increases dramatically when he moved to Medina (33 times). Only two serve as examples.
First, this verse asserts that Muhammad is the “seal” of the prophets, or the final and best one, confirming previous prophets.
33:40 God’s Messenger is not the father of any one of you men; he is God’s messenger and the seal of the prophets (Haleem)
The context of the words “God’s Messenger is not the father of any one of you men” reveals that Muhammad wants his “ex” daughter-in-law who had been married to his adopted son.
The general Muslim understanding is that messenger is a greater title than prophet, especially highlighted in this verse as a “seal”.
Second, he defends himself against accusations that he has dishonestly taken something from the spoils of war.
3:161 It is inconceivable that a prophet would ever dishonestly take something from the battle gains. (Haleem).
We should not fail to note that this verse merely implies that he is a prophet, fitting under the category of “a prophet” generally in the Appendix. Maududi says that this accusation arose during the Battle of Uhud (AD 625), when the archers abandoned their post and prematurely lunged for the spoils of war, helping to cause the defeat of the Muslims (The Meaning of the Qur’an, vol. 1, note 114, p. 283).
But perhaps Muslims were complaining about his unjust distribution generally, and this verse does not apply to the Battle of Uhud.
This section is the most important, since “prophet” involves divine revelation and perhaps a linkage to Biblical prophets. So it deserves further analysis. Why does Muhammad’s use of the title “prophet” increase so dramatically after he moves to Medina? This is likely due to two factors.
First, Muhammad grows in his sense of prophethood as he defines it. In Mecca, he reserves this honor mostly for Biblical prophets (10 times) and only twice explicitly for non-Biblical prophets. At the same time, “warner” is used more times (58) than all titles combined in Mecca, but it decreases dramatically in Medina (7 times). Is their a correlation between rise and fall of the titles “warner” and “prophet”? Perhaps the reason is simple. “Warner” does not imply someone who receives divine revelations as clearly as “prophet” does. But more research needs to be done on this topic.
Second, in Medina, Muhammad’s contact with Jews increases exponentially, who thrived in that city before he got there (he will eventually expel and slaughter and enslave them). He uses the title for Biblical prophets 19 times in Medina. Maybe this indicates that he wants the Jews to see him as a continuation of the Biblical tradition of prophets. After all, the educated Medinan Jews knew the Hebrew and Arabic word for “prophet” (nabi). However, the Jews correctly rebuffed him mainly because he was a gentile, and he did not know the Hebrew Bible adequately. Thus, he fell outside of the Biblical canon.
By far the title that is used most often of Muhammad is “messenger” or “apostle” or rasul in Arabic. It appears about 360 times in the Quran, but 20 times it is applied to Muhammad at Mecca, and 167 times to him in Medina. Generally, rasul means someone who is sent on a mission, whereas nabi means someone who has the capacity to receive a divine message. Only two examples are necessary to catch the meaning, as Muhammad defines himself.
First, in addition to Sura 5:15-19, which says that Muhammad is the messenger to the People of the Book (Jews and Christians), he lumps together unbelieving Jews and Christians with idolaters in this Medinan sura.
98:1 The disbelievers—those of the People of the Book who disbelieve and the idolaters—were not about to change their ways until they were sent clear evidence, 2 a messenger from God, reading out [reciting] pages [blessed with] purity, 3 containing true scriptures . . . . 6 The disbelievers—those People of the Book who disbelieve and the idolaters—will have the Fire of Hell, there to remain forever. They are the worst of creation. (Haleem, first insertion mine, second his)
The unbelieving Jews and Christians—and the context indicates that they do not believe in the messenger and his message—will live in the Fire of Hell forever.
Second, Allah has sent the messenger to the believers, as well.
3:164 God has been truly gracious to the believers in sending them a Messenger from among their own, to recite His revelations to them, to make them grow in purity, and to teach them the Scripture and wisdom—before that they were clearly astray. (Haleem)
Why such a dramatic increase in the title of messenger from Mecca (20 times) to Medina (167 times)? The answer is sketchy, but two possibilities may be offered. First, he levels the playing field, so to speak. Everyone who is sent by Allah is merely a messenger without a divine nature—even Jesus (according to Muhammad’s misunderstanding of him). Second, it is possible that the increase corresponds to his sense of mission. The verb “send” is related to the noun rasul. Muhammad has been sent or commissioned to the inhabitants of Medina and the whole world.
The most interesting section is “Prophet.” Muhammad uses the title of himself explicitly as a formal title only two times in Mecca, and they come late. He says in Sura 7:157 that he is described (and therefore predicted) in the Torah and Gospels, but Muslim propagandists have been unsuccessful in finding this prediction in these two sections of the Bible (or anywhere else). Thus, he was in error about this, perhaps only guessing and hoping against hope that this could be proven. Since he was illiterate (or could barely read or write), how could he prove this? He certainly was not a scholar who pored over dusty Bible manuscripts. Furthermore, it appears that this title does not reflect Muhammad’s original calling, according to Allah’s account of him primarily as a warner in the Meccan suras of the Quran. Thus, Muhammad seems to grow into the role of prophet as he defines it.
His original and primary calling was a warner (58 times in Mecca), and perhaps we can add “bringer of news” (22 times in Mecca) and “messenger” (20 times in Mecca). But the word “warner” is used far more times than “prophet” and the other titles in Mecca—more than all of them combined. However, it must be emphasized that it is not necessarily the quantity or number of times of a title’s appearance in a sacred text that matters most, but it is the quality or content of the title’s context. The Meccan contexts of “warner” and “bringer” and “messenger” are strong. But in two late verses (Sura 7:157 and 158) about Muhammad’s claim to prophethood as a formal title, one of them erroneously asserts that he is described in the Bible. Both verses report the truth that he is illiterate and a gentile, depending on the translation of ummi, or he is both at the same time. Since he was illiterate, he confuses the Bible narratives. Since he was a gentile, he is disqualified from being a Biblical prophet. Therefore, his official title of Prophet, coming late in Mecca and standing outside of the Bible, is weak, when we measure it against his whole life and against the other three titles.
This is especially true and evident when he constantly recounts the stories of Biblical prophets, as if he lines up with them. However, if he had just said plainly that he is not part of the Biblical canon and had ignored the Bible, then his claim to prophethood would not be as problematic.
Translators who supply the title “prophet” in the Meccan suras are wrong. The better term is “warner.”
Muhammad is a mortal man like all of us. He is a human warner, a human announcer or bringer of news, a human prophet, and a human messenger. He never claimed divinity for himself.
His mortality is a major reason why he objects so strenuously to the divinity and Sonship of Christ (Suras 3:58-60; 4:171; 5:72-75, 116; 9:30; 19:33-34). If Muhammad is the best and last prophet and messenger, then how can Jesus surpass him, as the eternal Son of God? He also objects because of his odd belief that God must have physical relations to produce a son, a notion that Christians reject. The next part of this two-part article explains the Scriptural basis of Christ’s deity.
JESUS: HIS NATURE AND ROLES
Jesus Christ started a religious movement that would eventually become a religion and include over two billion people. It is easily the fastest growing religion in the world, in such continents and countries as Africa, China, and India. Reliable estimates, based on current growth rates, say that Sub-Saharan Africa will be all or mostly Christian in a short few decades from now.
So who was Jesus, really? How do we cut away falsehoods from the truth about his roles and nature? Was he merely and strictly a prophet? Was he merely and strictly a good Teacher, as liberal Christians and critics assert, as they deny or discount the supernatural elements in the Bible? Was he a human ethicist, of sorts? Most importantly, what does he say about himself?
The only secure text, the one that first conveyed all of the information about Jesus—is the New Testament. So to this source we appeal as authoritative for all Christians everywhere.
To begin, Jesus accepts and fulfills—and sometimes corrects—the popular titles circulating around first-century Israel, such as prophet and son of David. But in the right circumstances he reveals that he is much more than this.
According to the New Testament, the title means “teacher,” and that is Jesus’ role, which he gladly accepts. It is used 17 times (including Rabboni) in the Four Gospels. Here are the different classes of people who use this title as they address Christ.
Ordinary people: Blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:51); crowds (John 6:25)
The disciples: Judas (Matthew 26:25, 26:49; Mark 14:45); Peter (Mark 9:5, 11:21); Andrew and another disciple (John 1:38); Nathanael (John 1:49); twelve disciples without specifying which ones (John 4:31, 9:2, 11:8); Mary, who says “Rabboni” or “my Teacher” according to John’s explanatory note (John 20:16)
One time John the Baptist’s disciples use it of John (John 3:26)
Religious leader: Nicodemus (John 3:2)
How Jesus uses the title:
In one context, Jesus exhorts his disciples to see themselves as equals and not to grab for titles like Rabbi to exalt themselves above each other (Matthew 23:7). He says that they really have one didaskalos or “teacher”—himself. “And you are all brothers” (v. 8). In Matthew 23:10, he uses still another term besides “Rabbi”: kathêgêtês. All of these terms are likely synonyms for Rabbi, so we should not make too much of this. (More research into the different words may yield some interesting nuances.) Be that as it may, the context indicates that Jesus was never in search of titles as such. Rather, he is building a community of equals with himself as their leader.
In all cases, Jesus accepts the title “Rabbi” from people in public or private because he understands that they were accustomed to it. He was adapting to his culture. When people looked at this devout Jew who taught them, they correctly saw a Rabbi—the Rabbi. But this title does not reflect his divine nature in its fullest sense as the Son of God or the “I am” does, as we shall see below. After all, for many years the title “Rabbi” was applied to so many humans without a divine nature, how could the title by itself speak about the divine nature of Jesus?
This is Jesus’ role, which he willingly takes on himself. “Teacher” also overlaps with “Rabbi” according to the New Testament. This title is used a little over 40 times in the Four Gospels. Here are the classes of people who use it as they address Christ.
Ordinary people: men from Jairus’ house (Mark 5:35; Luke 8:49); men from the crowd (Mark 9:17; Luke 9:38, 12:13); tax collectors (Matthew 17:24); small crowd about to stone an adulteress (John 8:4)
A rich young ruler: (Mark 10:17; Matthew 19:16; Luke 18:18)
The disciples: as a group without specifying which disciple is speaking (Mark 4:38, 13:1; Luke 21:7); John (Mark 9:38); James and John (Mark 10:35); Andrew and another disciple (John 1:38); Martha (John 11:28); Mary (John 20:16)
Religious and political leaders: teachers of the law (Matthew 8:19; Luke 11:45); Pharisees (Matthew 9:11, 22:36; Mark 12:32; Luke 10:25, 7:40, 19:39); Pharisees’ disciples and Herodians (Mark 12:14; Matthew 22:15-16; Luke 20:21); Pharisees and teachers of the law (Matthew 12:38); Sadducees (Mark 12:19; Luke 20:28-39); Nicodemus (John 3:2); spies to trap Jesus (Mark 12:14; Matthew 22:15-22; Luke 20:21)
How Jesus uses the title:
(1) He tells the disciples to inform an unnamed man that the “Teacher” needs his house for the Passover (Mark 14:14; Matthew 26:18; Luke 22:11).
(2) He tells his disciples not to be ambitious and pursue the title “Teacher,” because they have one Teacher (a possible translation of the Greek word), the Christ (Matthew 23:10). The reason for this exhortation has been explained in the previous section “Rabbi,” and Jesus’ use of the term, above. He is creating a community of equals with him as their Leader, Master, or Teacher.
(3) In the context of washing his disciples’ feet, in a moving scene of humility, Jesus says that it is right that they call him Teacher and Lord (John 13:1-17). He now sets the example of how a Teacher and Lord is supposed to act. If he has served them by washing their feet in preparation for Passover, then how much more must they serve each other in humility?
To sum up this section, in the vast majority of times that the word “teacher” appears in the Four Gospels, people other than Jesus use it, comparatively speaking. When Jesus is resurrected from the dead and ascends into heaven, he will no longer be called teacher, but the Lord. In fact, in no instance outside of the Four Gospels do any disciples or New Testament authors refer to Jesus as teacher—in the Book of Acts, the Epistles, or the Revelation. This means that the title no longer carries as much weight after his resurrection and ascension. But while on earth, he taught, and he gladly did this ministry. He is the Teacher. But the title by itself does not reveal his divine nature that he always has, since the title was applied to so many non-divine humans for so many years.
In all of the following examples, Jesus stands in the prophetic tradition of the Bible. The word “prophet” is used a little over 20 times in the context of Jesus in the Four Gospels. (Passages that refer explicitly to an Old Testament prophet, for example, were not counted here.) These are the classes of people who use it.
Ordinary people: the crowds see Jesus as a prophet (Matthew 21:11, 26:46; Luke 7:16; John 6:14, 7:40); woman at the well believes he is a prophet (John 4:19); a healed blind man believes that Jesus is a prophet (John 9:17); Jesus asks the disciples who people say that he is, and the disciples report that some say that he is a prophet (Mark 8:28; Matthew 16:14; Luke 9:19).
The most significant point in these last three passages (Mark 8:28; Matthew 16:14; Luke 9:19) is that Jesus reveals that his identity as a prophet does not reflect his divine nature in its fullest meaning, as his being the Christ, the Son of the Living God does reflect it (Matthew 16:16).
Religious leaders: Simon the Pharisee questions his prophethood (Luke 7:39); chief priests and Pharisees doubt his prophethood (John 7:52).
Disciples: Zechariah predicts that Jesus will be called prophet of the Most High (Luke 1:76); two disciples on the Road to Emmaus (one is named Cleopas) say that he was a mighty prophet (Luke 24:19); Peter says that Jesus fulfills the prophecy in Deuteronomy 18:14, which says that another Prophet like Moses would be sent by God (Acts 3:22).
Other passages in the New Testament say that the risen Lord Jesus Christ ordains prophets in his church (Acts 11:27; 13:1; 15:32; 1 Corinthians 12:28-29; 14:29-37; Ephesians 2:20, 3:5, 4:11). This means that Jesus rises far above mere prophethood, though this office is valued in his church.
The most revealing interpretation of the office of prophet is found in the words of Christ himself.
How Jesus uses the title:
(1) He says that prophets are sent out on missions, and anyone who receives them will receive a prophet’s reward (Matthew 10:41). This means that Jesus, who sends prophets, rises far above this office.
(2) He says that John the Baptist is a prophet, and no one is greater than John is—except anyone who lives in the new dispensation of the kingdom of God as Jesus reveals it. “Yet [any disciple of Jesus] who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than [John the Baptist]” (Matthew 11:9-11). This means that Jesus, who lifts ordinary believers above the great John the Baptist, rises far above mere prophethood.
(3) He accepts the common belief that no prophet is honored in his own hometown (Mark 6:4; Matthew 13:57; Luke 4:24; John 4:44).
(4) Using a lot of irony, he says that no prophet can die outside of Jerusalem (Luke 13:33). From an historical point of view, Jerusalem had acquired this reputation. As noted, he stands in the prophetic tradition of the Bible, so how can he deny Jerusalem’s reputation by dying somewhere else?
It is clear, then, that the New Testament authors understand the concept of point of view. From the people’s (and sometimes the disciples’) point of view, he is a prophet. Next, from the Old Testament’s point of view, he stands in the prophetic tradition. He is the Prophet predicted in Deuteronomy 18:14. Finally, however, in private and from a higher, divine point of view, he is more than a prophet. He reveals that he is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16). But does this mean that he privately and secretly rejects the title of “prophet”? Not in the least. But it does not reflect his divine nature in its fullest meaning, as the Son of God does, for example, because the title “prophet” had been applied to so many humans for so many centuries.
Summary of the previous three sections
When the people of Israel—the land that produced the Bible and engendered the special vocabulary analyzed in Part Two here—saw their fellow Jew work miracles and teach with authority, they used these three titles naturally. And Jesus accepts them as accurate. However, in the total number of times that the three titles appear in the Four Gospels (about 55 times), Jesus rarely uses them about himself, comparatively speaking. One possible reason concerns point of view.
As the people look at Jesus, they correctly see the three titles, and the people honor him with them. He fulfills these roles perfectly. His not using them as often as the people use them does not indicate that he secretly rejects the titles. Rather, he is the Rabbi, the Teacher, and the Prophet.
But as Jesus looks at the people and understands his divine nature that he always has, he realizes that these three titles do not represent the end of the story as the be-all of his divine glory and nature. After all, they had been attached to so many humans for many years, so how could they by themselves reveal the divine nature of Jesus? He came down from heaven as the eternal Son of God. Thus, he has much more to reveal to them—and most people do not enjoy the opportunity to receive this privileged knowledge. This is why after the resurrection and ascension, the disciples have to go out along the dusty roads and preach this message.
(4) The Christ
Meaning “the Anointed One” (anointed by God and his Spirit), this title is used of Jesus 54 times in the Four Gospels. Mark’s Gospel has it only seven times; Matthew sixteen; Luke twelve; and John nineteen. (In Acts and the Epistles and the Revelation it is used numerous times, as in “Jesus Christ.”) So we do not have the space to list all the different speakers and contexts. Instead, only two passages are cited here, in which Jesus accepts someone else’s correct definition.
First, according to Peter’s famous confession on the true identity of Jesus, the Messiah is the Son of God. After Jesus privately asks his disciples who the crowds of people believe he is, he asks them who they think he is. Peter strides forward with the correct answer.
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but my Father in heaven” (Matthew 16:16-17; cf. Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20).
It should be emphasized that in the context of these two verses, some among the crowds take Jesus for a prophet. He does not explicitly deny this, but he also reveals his fullest nature to his key disciples: the Christ, the Son of God.
Second, the high priest, during Jesus’ trial, understands the implication of Messiahship in the context of Jesus’ ministry and first-century Israel. He asks Jesus plainly:
61 Again the high priest asked him “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62 “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:61-62; cf. Matthew 26:63-64; Luke 22:66-71; cf. John 19:7)
Jesus answers the high priest plainly. He is more than a Rabbi, Teacher, and Prophet, though he had functioned in all of these callings before the people.
Why did Jesus not use the title of Messiah widely, such as in the Gospel of Mark, which has the title only seven times? He uses it often enough, but not as many times, for example, as the Son of Man (see below). Three reasons explain why. First, in his day, the term was associated with a military and political figure, and Jesus did not identify with this. For example, the people almost forced him into being a king (John 6:15). Second, plenty of wandering prophets and messiahs crisscrossed the eastern half of the Mediterranean world, so he avoided this trap. Third, he came as the Suffering Servant Messiah (Isaiah 53), to die for the sins of the world. When he comes back a second time, all worldly accounts will be settled under his rule as Messiah.
Besides, it is not the number of times a term is mentioned that matter in the final analysis, but it is the meaning of the term, especially when Jesus imbues a title with his definition. And Messiahship ultimately and most accurately means Sonship.
(5) The Son of David
This is a Messianic title that was popular among the Jewish people. It is used as such in the Four Gospels about 10 times, and in most cases ordinary Israelites use it. For example, in Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the crowds cry out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Matthew 21:9, 15). However, Jesus does not use it about himself. In this light, we focus on Jesus’ correction of this popular usage.
The Pharisees believe that the Christ is the Son of David, but Jesus clarifies matters.
41 While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42 “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is he?” “The son of David,” they replied. 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, 44 ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ 45 If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” 46 No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions. (Matthew 22:41-46; cf. Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:41-44)
This passage in Matthew comes after the triumphal entry during which the people acclaimed him the son of David. Jesus is quoting Psalm 110:1, and the entire psalm was considered by the Jews as Messianic before Jesus was born. In Jesus’ interpretation, God is speaking to David’s Lord, that is, David’s superior, who is Christ. If the Lord Messiah is superior to David, how can the Lord be subordinate as a son? Thus, the title “son of David” is ultimately inadequate; Jesus is the Lord even of David himself, the greatest king of Israel.
(6) The Lord
In the Four Gospels, this title is used nearly 140 times in a context that clearly refers to Jesus. (Passages that quote from the Old Testament, for example, were not counted here.) We can list only a fraction of them. In Greek, “Lord” (kyrios) may mean “sir,” “lord,” (e.g. a human lord) or “Lord” (e.g. a deity, as in Lord God), depending on the context. But in the New Testament the latter divine meaning occurs in the vast majority of times and refers to Jesus. We zero in on the fullest meaning that Jesus gives the title or accepts from others. Here are only seven examples.
First, the Lord Jesus judges people in the Last Day.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21; see also 25:37-44; cf. Luke 6:46)
Second, the Lord Jesus will return to earth at his second coming. The context of this verse shows him finishing his long discourse on the signs of the End Times:
“Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” (Matthew 24:42)
Third, Jesus is the Lord of the harvest or the effort to reach out to people. In this context, he is about to send out the Twelve into various towns and villages on a mission of ministry (Matthew 10:1-42)
37 The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into the harvest field (Matthew 9:37-38).
In Luke 10:1, Jesus the Lord also sends out seventy-two other missionaries. “The Lord appointed seventy-two others.”
Fourth, Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. The context of this verse is a dispute over keeping the Sabbath and how much and what kind of work, if any, is permitted.
For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. (Matthew 12:8; cf. Mark 2:28; Luke 6:5)
The law to keep the Sabbath is found in the fourth of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8). Jesus is Lord over the endless regulations that religious teachers had piled on this sacred day, but he is also Lord of the Sabbath in its purest form, as first revealed to Moses and expanded on in Exodus 31:12-17. Jesus says here that it is intended as a day of rest, not a day of legalistic bondage. Man stands on the Sabbath, so to speak; it does not hang like a sword over his head.
Fifth, John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way of the Lord, as Isaiah, the Old Testament prophet, predicted:
A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.” (Isaiah 40:3).
The capital “LORD” means Yahweh God. Under divine inspiration Matthew applies this passage to Jesus. He is the LORD whose way is prepared.
This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” (Matthew 3:3, cf. Mark 1:3; Luke 1:76)
Thus, Jesus is identified in this passage as Yahweh.
Sixth, Jesus is Lord and God. After Christ’s resurrection, Thomas, one of the Twelve, had doubted whether the Lord was alive (hence the name “doubting Thomas”). Jesus appears to him and invites him to touch the wound from the spear that pierced his side while he was on the cross.
27 Then he [Jesus] said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:27-28)
At the beginning of John’s Gospel, Jesus was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word became flesh and lived among us humans (John 1:1-2; 14). Here at the end of the Gospel, Thomas makes the ultimate confession of Jesus’ divine nature. This disclosure of Jesus divine nature has been John’s literary (the Gospel is in story form) and theological strategy, which has been carried out perfectly.
Seventh and finally, to leave the Four Gospels behind, Acts and the Epistles are filled with references to the Lordship of Jesus. One example represents others. Paul says that if we confess Jesus as Lord, then we receive salvation.
. . . 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 (Romans 10:9; see 10:13 and 1 Corinthians 12:3)
For believing Christians, the Lordship of Christ fulfills their lives. They submit to him, and he becomes Lord over all areas of their daily walk with him. He leads them along good paths.
(7) The Son of Man
Jesus is almost the only one in the Four Gospels who uses this term about himself (81 times). In Mark 8:31 and 9:9 the title is used indirectly by Jesus in two summaries. In Luke 24:7 an angel quotes Jesus using the title about himself. And in John 12:34, the crowd borrows it in the context of Jesus. But in all passages, it refers only to Jesus. And in all cases other than the four verses just now explained he alone uses it and only about himself. So it is important to understand his meaning of the title. Two options are possible, but one suits his meaning, ultimately. First, Ezekiel, an Old Testament prophet, uses it 93 times, and he emphasizes his humanity. He is an ordinary human son of an ordinary human man. Second, Daniel, another Old Testament prophet, uses it about a divine figure who is entrusted by God in the End Times with authority, glory, and sovereignty (Daniel 7:13-14). Jesus demonstrates that he is the exclusive fulfillment of Daniel’s description, though he is fully human as well. Five examples represent others that speak of Daniel’s words.
First, the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins and heal sickness.
5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 Immediately, Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking such things? 9 Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk?’ 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” . . . . (Mark 2:5-10; cf. Matthew 9:2-8; Luke 5:18-26)
Jesus then heals the paralytic. The teachers of the law make the right inference. Only God can forgive sins in this manner. Jesus does this, so what does this say about his divine nature? Interestingly, the Quran acknowledges this exclusive right of God to forgive sins: “who forgives sins but God?” (Sura 3:135). What does this say about Jesus’ nature?
Second, as noted in the previous section “the Lord,” the Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath, so this means that he fulfills the Old Testament in this important regulation in the life of Israel.
Third, Jesus comes to seek and to save the lost. The following two verses find Zacchaeus the tax collector repenting of his cheating and defrauding. He promises to repay people and return stolen money.
9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost. (Luke 19:9-10).
So Jesus combines his divine status of the Son of Man with his divine status of Savior.
Fourth, the Son of Man must suffer many things and be killed, but he will be resurrected. After Peter’s great confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16), Jesus warns the disciples not to tell anyone. Then he makes a prediction and clarifies his destiny.
22 And he [Jesus] said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Luke 9:22, 9:44; cf. Matthew 12:40, 16:21; Mark 8:31)
Thus, Jesus fulfills the Suffering Servant Messiah described in Isaiah 53.
Fifth and finally, during his trial, Jesus boldly tells the high priest that he, the Son of Man, will sit at the right hand of the Father and come on the clouds of heaven at the end of the age.
63 The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 “Yes, it is as you say: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:63-64; cf. Mark 14:61-62)
These two verses combine the three titles of Messiah, Son of God, and Son of Man.
Clearly, then, Jesus rises far above Ezekiel’s description of himself as an ordinary human. Rather, Jesus fulfills Daniel’s apocalyptic, divine figure.
(8) The Son of God
This is one of the most important titles of Jesus Christ in the Four Gospels, which use it over 60 times. (“Son” is not counted here when it is used in an ordinary sense, such as in Luke’s genealogy.) Only five examples represent many others, and they are found throughout Jesus’ ministry, from beginning to end.
First, Father God proclaims the Sonship of Christ at his baptism.
16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit descending like a dove and lighting on him 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22)
This passage is a wonderful image of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—testifying to the divine nature of Jesus.
Second, even demons, which have access to certain truths in the spirit world that we do not have, shriek and submit before the Son of God:
28 When [Jesus] arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. 29 “What you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” (Matthew 8:28-29; Mark 5:6-8; Luke 8:27-29)
It should be noted that Satan himself questions Jesus’ Sonship in the God-ordained and Spirit-led Temptation or Testing (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-11). Said Satan, “If you are the Son of God” . . . . Jesus was victorious over this evil being, so this means that he is the Son of God. Does Muhammad question Jesus’ Sonship?
Third, the disciples acknowledge him as the Son of God, after they saw him walking on water during a storm. Peter, in his boldness, asks Jesus to tell him to walk on water, too.
32 And when [Jesus and Peter] climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying “Truly, you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:32-33).
For a good discussion of the Greek word “worship” in this verse and others, please go here.
Fourth, Jesus was transfigured in front of Peter, James, and John, on a high mountain. “His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as while light. Just then there appeared Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus” (Matthew 17:3). Then Father God speaks from heaven.
5 . . . a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5; cf. Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35)
Moses represents the Law and Elijah the prophets. This implies that Jesus fulfills their ministries. “Listen to him!” This passage, most importantly, reveals the divine nature of Jesus—the very Son of God. He rises far above the greatest lawgiver and the illustrative prophet.
Fifth and finally, a Roman centurion (and others) who was guarding Jesus during the crucifixion declares that Jesus is the Son of God.
When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God.” (Matthew 27:54; Mark 15:39)
The title “the Son of God” is an indispensable description of Jesus Christ. No Bible-educated Christian could abandon it and reduce Jesus to a mere human prophet or teacher or rabbi or human son of man or messenger.
(9) The “I Am”
Exodus 3:14 describes a holy scene. Moses asks God, appearing in the burning bush, who he is. God replies, “I am who I am.” The third person form of “I am” is “he is,” and it is from this third person clause that the divine name YHWH (Yahweh) is derived. Further, God says about himself in Isaiah such truths as these about his self-existing Being: “I am the Lord” or “I am your God” or “I am the first and the last” (41:10; 43:3, 11; 43:15; 44:6; 48:12; 51:12 cf. Jeremiah 32:27).
With the Old Testament clearly in the background, Jesus uses this “I am” subject pronoun and verb combination in special ways in the Gospel of John. The Greek is ego eimi (ego = I and eimi = am or even “I am” as the pronoun is implied). “I am the bread of life” (6:35); “I am the light of the world” (8:12); “I am the gate for the sheep” (10:7); “I am the good shepherd” (10:11, 13); “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25); “I am the way and the truth and the life” (14:6). This theme of “I am” is so dominant and built up in such a deliberate way in John that no serious scholar reduces them to a mere expression that all of us use, like “I am a man” or “I am a human.” Which average Jew in first-century Israel walked around the countryside proclaiming, “I am the way and the truth” or “I am the light of the world”? The truth? The light? These are stunning claims by Jesus in his context.
But these “I am” expressions are not the strongest and clearest examples of the parallels between the Old Testament and the Gospel of John. In the following passages, Jesus clearly identifies himself with the God who spoke in the burning bush.
First, Jesus says that he existed before Abraham.
57 “You are not yet fifty years old,” the Jews said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” 58 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am! [ego eimi]” (John 8:57-58).
That is, Jesus existed before Abraham was born, and surely in the mind even of ordinary first-century Jews, Abraham was considered an early patriarch in Genesis, before God revealed himself as the “I am” to Moses. Thus, Jesus is the self-existing Being that God is, even as he said in the burning bush. This is a remarkable statement by Jesus, for which Jews picked up stones to kill him for blasphemy (v. 59).
Second, Jesus speaks out his true nature, and wicked men fall backwards. Jesus is getting arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, in the dark. He asks the mob who they want. After they answer, his reply was not ordinary, though the words are used everyday.
4 Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?” 5 “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I am he,” [ego eimi] . . . 6 When Jesus said, “I am he,” [ego eimi] they drew back and fell to the ground. (John 18:4-7).
This passage fits perfectly into the “I am” theme in the entire Gospel. His answer, in words we all use everyday in our own language, sends the arresters falling backwards. Thus, John’s purpose is to elevate this ordinary subject pronoun and verb, ego eimi, beyond the natural and into a supernatural, divine meaning that echoes the Old Testament’s designation of God.
Third, Matthew also records an “I am” declaration. In the previous section it was noted that Jesus walked on water and that Peter asked permission to do this as well. Before Peter asked, however, the disciples dimly saw a figure walking towards them in the storm, and they thought it was a ghost. Jesus reassures them with an expression that literally says “I am” or “ego eimi.”
26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. 27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I [ego eimi]. Don’t be afraid.” (Matthew 14:26-27)
This claim to divine status fits in with the disciples worshiping Christ as the Son of God in the same passage (v. 33).
Fourth and finally, to go outside of the Four Gospels, Jesus says in the Revelation, “I am the first and the last” (1:17, 22:13). The Revelation was written by John, and he has in mind the verses in Isaiah, where God speaks of himself as “the first and the last” (44:6; 48:12). How much clearer does Christ’s identity with God Almighty have to get?
(10) God Incarnate
For the priceless doctrine of the Incarnation (the heavenly Son of God becoming flesh), we appeal to four passages, again from the Gospels of Matthew and John and from Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians. This is the culmination or highest expression of Christ’s divine identity.
First, Jesus is Immanuel, “God with us.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel—which means, ‘God with us.’” (Matthew 1:22-23; cf. Isaiah 7:14).
A major theme in the Gospel of Matthew is Christ’s fulfillment of Old Testament promises and prophecies. This quotation from Isaiah is Christ’s first fulfillment in Matthew.
Second, Jesus was the Word who created the world and who became flesh.
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that was made . . . 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him . . . 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. (John 1:1-3, 10, 14)
John always views the Old Testament in the background to his Gospel, and this passage is a clear reference to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” . . . . The fuller New Testament revelation says that God the Father created all things through the agency of God the Son (note the word “through” in verse 3). Blessedly, the Word became flesh and lived among us.
Third, Jesus repeats a theme about his being sent by his Father, often using such clauses as “he has sent me or I have been sent” (Matthew 10:40, 15:24; Mark 9:37; Luke 9:48; John 4:34; 5:24, 30, 36; 6:38). In the larger context of Jesus’ ministry, he has been sent down from heaven.
For example, John 5:24 says:
I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.
Fourth, Paul the Apostle, formerly a Rabbi and a strict Pharisee whose knowledge of the law was deep, records his understanding of Christ’ Incarnation that also circulated around the earliest Christian communities.
5 . . . Christ Jesus 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. (Philippians 2:4-7)
The rest of the passage describes his willing humility and obedience to death, even death on a cross. Many scholars concur that these verses are part of an early hymn. This is a remarkable fact. Philippians was written between AD 53 and 61. The hymn likely circulated around the Christian community before this timeframe. This means that not too long after Christ’s resurrection and ascension, the believers understood and celebrated the Godhead of Christ as established doctrine. It is often believed that much later Christians, in the fourth and fifth centuries, for example, fabricated the idea of the deity of Christ. But this early hymn or passage in Philippians contradicts this belief. Apparently, the resurrection of Christ, which was witnessed by over five hundred believers (1 Corinthians 15:6), made such an impact on Christian leaders and authors that the deity of Christ logically and immediately followed as doctrine. How could this be otherwise?
See this post: 3. Do I Really Know Jesus? He Was God Incarnate
The Incarnation is the most blessed doctrine for all of humanity. The God of the Bible is not remote and distant. He stepped down out of eternity and entered time.
Jesus Christ has multiple titles. Some portray him as human (Rabbi, Teacher, and Prophet), and others depict him as Deity (Son of Man, Son of God, and the “I am”). Therefore, the New Testament absolutely supports the doctrine that Jesus Christ is fully human and fully divine. Later theologians who merely confirmed what was already in this sacred text understood it thoroughly.
Moreover, it is not a contradiction to have multiple titles. To use a mundane, human example, Jimmy Carter is a farmer, Baptist, Sunday School teacher, and home builder for the charity organization Habitat for Humanity. And he may still be referred to as Governor of Georgia or President of the United States: “Mr. President.”
In ultimate terms, however, Jesus is God incarnate—the fullness of deity lives in bodily form in Jesus (Colossians 2:9).
On the other side, Muhammad is strictly human. He is a mortal man who died of a fever in the arms of his girl-bride Aisha in AD 632. His title of “prophet” occurs late in his ministry in Mecca and only two times in that city.
Muhammad did not accept the Sonship and deity of Christ, but on what grounds? He believes that Allah would have to engage in sex with a consort to produce a son, a false belief that Christians reject. Also, if Muhammad is the last and the best of messengers and prophets, then how could Jesus rise above this title and be the eternal Son of God?
However, Muslims and members of other religions who deny Christ’s Sonship and Lordship must understand where Christians get this doctrine—from the New Testament that has plenty of sound manuscript traditions behind it. They do not get this idea out of thin air or out of a magician’s hat.
For more information on the reliability of the Bible, begin with my series on the reliability of the Gospels: 1. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels: Introduction to Series
Further, there is nothing inherent in God’s nature that blocks him from stepping down into time and showing us a better way and redeeming us and offering us the gift of eternal life with him. Nothing inherent in his nature? If someone has a prior belief that God could not do this, then what is his starting point for his belief? The Quran? But the New Testament says that the Incarnation happened. So we have two sacred texts that cancel each other out.
So what is the starting point that denies God’s ability to do this? Think about it. Why couldn’t God step down into time in the form of a man—in Jesus Christ? For me, this is the most blessed doctrine and fact that have ever occurred to humankind. “Since the children have flesh and blood, he [Jesus] too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil” (Hebrew 2:14). I do not put God in a distant, remote cage or box, way up in heaven, isolated and lonely. He revealed himself in the ultimate way that humans could understand—in Christ Jesus who was fully human and fully divine. The only reply to this fact is a starting point that limits God.
If a denier of the Incarnation asserts that God couldn’t do this, then that is argument by assertion, without evidence. It is risky to assert that God cannot do anything.
One way to break the deadlock is to compare the life of Jesus with the life of Muhammad. Under these conditions, Muhammad fails. I have already written on this topic. Though I do not wish to be frivolously insulting, the stakes are too high to ignore the following facts. Aggressive Islam is on the march. Its doctrines may confuse people. So here are some down-to-earth, non-abstract, verifiable facts: Muhammad was a slave trader; he married and had sex with a prepubescent girl; he slaughtered and enslaved a tribe of Jews; he allowed his men to have sex with women prisoners of war; he permitted husbands to hit their wives, and the list goes on, as seen in these articles:
- Twenty-Five Reasons Not to Convert to Islam
- Twenty-Five Reasons to Leave Islam
- 16 Thirty Shariah Laws
- Ten Sharia Laws that Oppress WomenTop ten rules in the Quran that oppress and insult women
I hope the reader at least skimmed the lists found in those links. Here is what I have concluded from all my research. Imagine a Christian pastor or priest claiming to receive revelations from Gabriel or from the Spirit. He cites the Bible here and there, but you check his research and conclude that he does not understand this sacred text. He also lives a lifestyle that matches the items in those four lists and comes up with rules that are found in them. Would you listen to him? Would you follow him? Would you take him as your authority? I surely would not, most emphatically not. This question, though blunt, follows:
So what right does the prophet of Islam have to preach to me about abstract doctrines and about what God cannot or would not do? That is, Muhammad may announce his purported knowledge of God, but I don’t have to listen to him. To me at least, he lost that right long ago by his unexemplary life.
On the other hand, Jesus lived a perfectly sinless life. He ministered the love of God and blessed people with genuine miracles. Most importantly, he was raised from the dead, after redeeming us on the cross.
For me, the choice is obvious. Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God.
ARTICLES IN THE SERIES
1. Either Jesus or Muhammad: Their Natures and Roles
1-B. Table of Muhammad’s Titles (To be paired with Part One)
1. Do I Really Know Jesus? His Entire Existence in One Image (see image below)
Here is entire existence in one image: