While the majority of the world doesn’t believe Jesus is God, most will still admit that Jesus was a good teacher and a righteous man. If the discussion about Jesus’ divinity comes up, many will say something like, “Jesus never said He was God”, which to them feels like an unbeatable response. However, Jesus didn’t just teach good things about how to live, He also taught a lot about Himself. This is incredibly odd for a religious teacher or prophet, because the teacher “should” be pointing people towards God, but Jesus seemed to be pointing people towards Himself. In any other situation, this would be extremely arrogant, sinful, and even potentially blasphemous. But if what Jesus said about Himself is true, it would seem that Jesus is in fact God, and pointing people to Himself as the way of salvation is actually quite appropriate.
Jesus made many interesting and powerful claims about Himself. If you’re interested in more on this topic, check out this article “Jesus’ opinion of Himself”. For now, let’s look at the different titles Jesus gave Himself. These titles are usually referred to as “the seven I am statements”, because Jesus would say things like “I am the bread of life”, or “I am the vine”, in order to give a metaphor about what exactly His purpose is.
Jesus says the He is what humanity needs
During His sermons and discussions with His disciples, Jesus would use analogies and metaphors quite often. Our first three “I am statements” have Jesus declaring Himself to be what humanity needs: the bread of life, light of the world, and the vine. In John 6 we see Jesus telling His followers that they shouldn’t be so focused on regular food, because it will spoil. Instead, they should seek the food that brings eternal life. Jesus says that He will give this to them. The disciples then ask Him how exactly they’re supposed to do this. Jesus responds that they should “believe in the one He has sent”, meaning, the disciples should believe in Jesus, whom the Father sent. His followers want evidence to support the idea that they should believe in Jesus, and since Jesus is using a food metaphor, they bring up the fact that the Israelites were given food from heaven in the wilderness. Jesus tells them that the real bread from heaven will give life to the world, to which the followers respond that they would like this bread. Jesus then declares Himself to be the “bread of life”, and that whoever comes to Him won’t go hungry. In those days bread was the main food a person would eat. If you didn’t have bread, you were starving and near death. For Jesus to say He is the bread of life is for Jesus to declare that people need Him in order to live. In other words, Jesus first declares Himself to be the one they should focus on, and that He is the source of life that the Father has sent down from heaven. When He said this, the Jews who were present got angry, and understandably so. Jesus then pushes His point even further, saying that, if a person has truly been taught by God, they will naturally come to Jesus. He also says that He is the only one who has seen the Father, and then makes the point again that we need to believe in Him to have eternal life, because He is the bread of life. Then, once again, He pushes the point even further, making it even more obvious, by saying that He is the living bread from heaven, and that whoever eats of it will live forever. Jesus then makes a very odd statement that the bread is His flesh, which He will give to the world. From our perspective, we understand that Jesus is talking about His crucifixion, and that His death will save us from our sins, but the audience at that time didn’t know that, so they were quite confused by this.
Jesus made other statements similar to His claim to be the bread of life. In John 8:12 He said that He is the “light of the world”. He clarifies what He means by saying that if we follow Him, we will have the light of life. Once again, Jesus is saying that He is the source of life for humanity. Then in John 15:5 Jesus says that He is “the vine”. For this metaphor, He says that the people who follow Him are like the branches of the vine, and that if we are attached to Him, we will create a lot of fruit. However, if we are not attached to Him, then we can do nothing. In other words, He is the source of life and energy for all of us. Jesus sees Himself as necessary in order for us to have life and purpose, and without Him, we won’t have life and purpose.
Jesus as the one path of salvation
Another way that Jesus referred to Himself involves the very popular sheep metaphor in John 10:1-21. Jesus’ next I am statement is that He said He is “the door of the sheep”. His point here was that the door for the sheep pen is the path that the shepherd takes in order to care for his sheep, and anyone who does not enter by the gate is a thief out to harm the sheep. He then continues His point in verse 9 when He says, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.” Here we see Jesus referring to Himself as the source of salvation. He then continues the metaphor by also calling Himself our next I am statement, “the good shepherd”. This is another place where He predicts His own death, by saying that part of being a good shepherd is that the shepherd will lay down his life for the sheep. He even predicts His own resurrection in verses 17-18 by saying that He has the authority to lay down His life, and to take it back up again, and that He received this authority from His Father (God).
By Jesus declaring Himself to be the source of salvation, He was actually saying something very important. This is because Scripture tells us that only God is the source of salvation (Psalm 68:19; Micah 7:7; Isaiah 12:2; Jonah 2:9; etc.). It would be one thing for a prophet or teacher to point towards God, glorifying Him as the source of salvation. But it’s an entirely different matter for a prophet to point towards Himself, to tell people to believe in Him, and that He is the source of salvation. Through doing this, Jesus is declaring Himself to be God, which is why people got so upset at His teachings. Additionally, we can see that Jesus’ disciples understood the point He was making here. One clear case of this is found in Acts 4:12, where Peter is speaking to the Sanhedrin, and says of Jesus, “Salvation is found in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Jesus had declared Himself to be the source of salvation, and that’s exactly how His closest followers understood Him. Considering God is the only source of salvation, it’s no wonder His disciples understood Him to be God.
Jesus also elaborated on this aspect of Him being the gate in Matthew 7:13-14. Here Jesus says that the gate is narrow that leads to life, and that there are few who find it. He contrasts this with the wide gate that leads to destruction. Here, Jesus is again referring to Himself as the gate to life, which is the path of salvation.
Jesus as the source of life and resurrection
Probably the most famous of the seven I am statements is when Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6) Once again, Jesus isn’t merely pointing to the way of salvation, He is saying He is the way to salvation. Just so there’s no confusion, He says that no one comes to God except through Him. This is closely linked to the idea that Jesus is the gate or path to salvation like in the previous point. After Jesus says this, He says that if you know Him, then that’s the same thing as knowing the Father, and that if you’ve seen Him, then that’s the same thing as seeing the Father. Then, as usual, Jesus pushes the point further and declares, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” (John 14:11) To clarify, we know that
God is the only source of salvation, but Jesus says He is the source of salvation, that to know Him is the same as to know the Father, and that He is in the Father and the Father is in Him.
This is quite clearly a direct declaration of His divinity. So, Jesus declared Himself to be the only way to the Father, because in some way the Father and Him are the same. He also declared Himself to be the path to salvation, even though God is the only way to be saved, because somehow they are the same.
On this topic of Jesus being the source of life and salvation, in our last I am statement Jesus also said He is “the resurrection and the life”. When His friend Lazarus had died, Jesus talked to Lazarus’ sister, Martha. Jesus told her He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, and Martha had doubts. Jesus then says to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” Her response is almost more important than Jesus’ statement; she said she believes Jesus to not only be the Messiah, but also to be the Son of God. Then, shortly after Jesus declared Himself to be the resurrection and the life, He raised Lazarus from death. We then see that the Early Church understood their salvation to be found in the resurrection of Jesus. The earliest Christians believed that Jesus is the source and reason we have salvation, and that it is because of Jesus’ resurrection. Paul wrote that, if Jesus isn’t raised from the dead, then we are still in our sins (1 Cor 15:17), which makes Jesus’ resurrection the crucial component to humanity having salvation. He then continued to write that, since Jesus is raised, He is the source of resurrection for all of His followers as well. This is how the Early Church understood what Jesus said about Him being the resurrection and the life. They thought of Jesus as not just pointing to salvation, and not just proclaiming the resurrection, but that Jesus was the actual source and reason for salvation and resurrection.
What do these metaphors mean?
In these metaphors, Jesus sets Himself up as the source of salvation. The important aspect here is that Jesus isn’t merely pointing us to salvation, or giving us teaching on salvation; He is declaring that He, Himself, as a person, is the source of how salvation is obtained. The fact that Jesus puts Himself in such high regard means one of two things are true; either Jesus was so incredibly arrogant that He placed Himself in the position of God, and was guilty of the blasphemy the Jews accused Him of, or, Jesus actually was and is God the Son, and taught that He is the path to salvation because He actually is. In other religions, the founder merely tells people the way to God, while in Christianity, the entire foundation of the religion has been built upon the idea that Jesus pointed to Himself, as God, as the source of life, the path to salvation, and the hope that we have for the future.
This article is a part of a series of arguments on the deity of Christ. Here is the full list of arguments: