Just recently a friend of mine who does not believe in the deity of Jesus expressed real concern at one of my comments. In a discussion we were having about where in the Bible does it say that Jesus is God, I pointed out the fact that several things Jesus had said were understood that way by His hearers.
“Jews,” I began “thought Jesus was making Himself equal to God, so much so, that they tried to kill Him for it on several occasions.” Before I could show him the Bible verses however, my friend waved a dismissive hand. In short, he found it saddening that I, as a Catechist could agree with the very people who put our Lord to death. For my friend’s part, he would never side with Jesus’ enemies, nor take anything they say too seriously when discussing doctrinal questions. In his mind, the opinions, statements and interpretations of such people were and are irrelevant.
I have to admit that my friend’s response was a little surprising. On one level, it was clever because it gave him the ability to ignore the most pressing evidence for Jesus’ divinity; the context in which Jesus spoke. But his response was also surprising because my friend is a smart man, and in trying to dodge the plain meaning of the context he had unwittingly created three more problems that he and I would have to work through.
Our first new problem is to discover at what point these enemies of Jesus actually become Jesus’ enemies according to the New Testament. Were they enemies before Jesus began His ministry, or just when He started teaching? And if it was when Jesus started teaching, then what did He say or teach that made certain groups decide to be His enemies?
Our second problem is Paul’s very casual assertion that Jesus has equality with God in Philippians 2:5-7. Certainly Paul was an enemy of Christ, who considered the death of Jesus’ followers to flow naturally from the Mosaic Law. But when Paul converted, one would have expected him to drop all of that Jesus is equal to God stuff, right? Instead, Paul continues to teach the unthinkable. Jesus is the exact imprint of God’s being (Heb. 1:3), and the fullness of God dwells in Him bodily (Col. 2:9) etc. Didn’t Paul know, that only Jesus’ enemies used this kind of language, and that they did so only to justify His murder?
This brings us to the third problem that my friend has created for himself. He was dismayed that I might actually agree with Jesus’ enemies. And I do. But here is what is so strange. While I agree with their accusations (i.e. Jesus is claiming equality with God), my friend actually agrees with their conclusions (i.e. Jesus is not God). And it was the conclusions of Christ’s enemies that led them to kill Jesus.