I have met a lot of skeptics and cultists who assert that Jesus never claimed to be God. Rather, they say he referred to himself as the son of man. It is not just skeptics and cultists who are troubled by this issue. I have met just as many Christians who ask, “If Jesus is the Son of God, why did he so consistently refer to himself as the son of man?” The common follow-up question is how can I be certain that Jesus is really God and that the Trinity is a correct doctrine?

Whole books have been written answering these questions. My goal here is to provide three brief yet adequate answers that you can quickly share with people expressing these kinds of challenges, concerns, and doubts.

First, while Jesus in the gospels almost always referred to himself as the “son of man,” there is at least one occasion where he explicitly claims to be God. The gospel text is John 8:58, where Jesus declares to the Jewish religious leaders, “Before Abraham was born, I AM!” Here, Jesus assumes the name God had assigned to himself in Exodus 3:14, “I AM who I AM. This what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.” The Jewish religious leaders clearly understood that Jesus was claiming to be God, and it is evidenced by the fact that they attempted to stone him to death for his act of “blasphemy.”

Second, the Old Testament in Jeremiah 23:6 assigns the name YHWH (I AM) to the righteous Branch, the King, who will come from the lineage of David. Jesus in several places in the gospel claims to be this righteous Branch and King.

Third, Jesus is making a special theological point about his deity in calling himself the son of man in the gospels. This point becomes clear in examining the New Testament. For every New Testament passage referring to Jesus Christ that happened chronologically after the first day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1–41), Jesus is always referred to as the Son of God and never as the son of man. Conversely, in the gospels, Jesus consistently calls himself the son of man and never the Son of God.

The New Testament makes the same kind of demarcation for the human followers of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ followers before the first day of Pentecost are always called sons of men or children of men and never as sons of God. Jesus’s followers after the first day of Pentecost are always called sons of God and never as sons of men (for biblical references, see appendix c in Navigating Genesis).

The theological point here is this: it is not until Jesus of Nazareth dies on the cross to atone for the sins of all humanity, is raised bodily from the dead, and sends the Holy Spirit to permanently indwell and spiritually baptize his followers, does he complete his role as the Son of God, the second person of the triune God. Likewise, not until Jesus’ followers receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit do they become sons of God.

This theological point is affirmed by the observation that nowhere in the Old Testament is a human follower of God referred to as a son of God. Even Daniel, as “highly esteemed” (Daniel 10:11, 19) as he was for his righteousness before God was called “son of man” (Daniel 8:17). The one Old Testament exception is Hosea 1:10 where God promises that a time will come in the future when some of the Israelites will become “children of the living God.” This prophecy was fulfilled on the first day of Pentecost described in Acts 2.

Anyone desiring a more in-depth and thoroughly documented answer will find it in my book Navigating Genesis. It is in chapter 14 and appendix c.

Subjects: Apologetics, Jesus Christ

Check out more from Reasons to Believe @Reasons.org

About The Author

Dr. Hugh Ross

Reasons to Believe emerged from my passion to research, develop, and proclaim the most powerful new reasons to believe in Christ as Creator, Lord, and Savior and to use those new reasons to reach people for Christ. I also am eager to equip Christians to engage, rather than withdraw from or attack, educated non-Christians. One of the approaches I’ve developed, with the help of my RTB colleagues, is a biblical creation model that is testable, falsifiable, and predictive. I enjoy constructively integrating all 66 books of the Bible with all the science disciplines as a way to discover and apply deeper truths. 1 Peter 3:15–16 sets my ministry goal, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience." Hugh Ross launched his career at age seven when he went to the library to find out why stars are hot. Physics and astronomy captured his curiosity and never let go. At age seventeen he became the youngest person ever to serve as director of observations for Vancouver's Royal Astronomical Society. With the help of a provincial scholarship and a National Research Council (NRC) of Canada fellowship, he completed his undergraduate degree in physics (University of British Columbia) and graduate degrees in astronomy (University of Toronto). The NRC also sent him to the United States for postdoctoral studies. At Caltech he researched quasi-stellar objects, or "quasars," some of the most distant and ancient objects in the universe. Not all of Hugh's discoveries involved astrophysics. Prompted by curiosity, he studied the world’s religions and "holy books" and found only one book that proved scientifically and historically accurate: the Bible. Hugh started at religious "ground zero" and through scientific and historical reality-testing became convinced that the Bible is truly the Word of God! When he went on to describe for others his journey to faith in Jesus Christ, he was surprised to discover how many people believed or disbelieved without checking the evidence. Hugh's unshakable confidence that God's revelations in Scripture and nature do not, will not, and cannot contradict became his unique message. Wholeheartedly encouraged by family and friends, communicating that message as broadly and clearly as possible became his mission. Thus, in 1986, he founded science-faith think tank Reasons to Believe (RTB). He and his colleagues at RTB keep tabs on the frontiers of research to share with scientists and nonscientists alike the thrilling news of what's being discovered and how it connects with biblical theology. In this realm, he has written many books, including: The Fingerprint of God, The Creator and the Cosmos, Beyond the Cosmos, A Matter of Days, Creation as Science, Why the Universe Is the Way It Is, and More Than a Theory. Between writing books and articles, recording podcasts, and taking interviews, Hugh travels the world challenging students and faculty, churches and professional groups, to consider what they believe and why. He presents a persuasive case for Christianity without applying pressure. Because he treats people's questions and comments with respect, he is in great demand as a speaker and as a talk-radio and television guest. Having grown up amid the splendor of Canada's mountains, wildlife, and waterways, Hugh loves the outdoors. Hiking, trail running, and photography are among his favorite recreational pursuits - in addition to stargazing. Hugh lives in Southern California with his wife, Kathy, and two sons.

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