“All religions are basically the same because they all have the same root idea of God.” A work friend of mine made this claim, arguing that there were no important differences between Christianity and other religions. Is that really the case though? My thoughts immediately went to the different views of Jesus within Christianity and Islam.
At first, it seems like Christians and Muslims have many common beliefs about Jesus. Both the Bible and Quran tell of a Jesus who was born of a virgin, performed various miracles, and was raised to heaven.
However, Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God. By contrast, Muslims believe that Jesus was merely a man and a prophet. They argue that Jesus, according to the gospels, never even claimed to be God.
Christianity and Islam cannot both be correct on this issue. Which is right? Who did Jesus actually claim to be?
What Jesus Believed about Himself
In the gospel of John, Jesus made several bold statements about himself that show he thought he was divine. Jesus claimed that he “gives life to whom he will.” In most cultures, including Jewish culture, God is seen as the giver of all life. When Jesus claimed to give life to whomever he pleased, he was making himself equal to God.
In this same passage, Jesus asserted that God “has given all judgment to the son” (referring to himself). Passing judgment on the human race was a prerogative of God alone. Once again, Jesus was equating himself with God.
Finally, as if these claims were not enough, Jesus declared that “all may honor the son, just as they honor the father.” Jesus unwaveringly asserted that “whoever does not honor the son does not honor the father,” once again equating himself with God.
What He Let Others Believe
These assertions are clear, but for those who are still undecided, we have a remarkable account given by John in which Jesus showed who he thought he was.
One of Jesus’s disciples, Thomas, was in doubt about Jesus’s resurrection. Thomas had heard the testimony of the other disciples, but he had yet to see Jesus for himself. When Jesus appeared to him, giving Thomas the proof he needed to believe, he cried out, “my Lord and my God!”
Thomas clearly thought Jesus was God, but Jesus’s response shows what he thought of himself. Jesus did not refute the claim, but gladly accepted it. Instead of correcting Thomas, he commended Thomas for recognizing his divine nature.
If Jesus did not believe he was God, he would not have let Thomas continue in false belief, worshipping him as God.
Jesus’s Most Controversial Statement
One of Jesus’s most direct claims to deity is found near the end of the gospel of Mark. After his arrest, Jesus was on trial before the council of Jewish religious leaders. The religious authorities were questioning him, trying to find a reason to put him to death.
One of the religious leaders questioned Jesus, asking him if he was “the Christ, the bon of the blessed.” Jesus responded, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” At this, the religious leaders had no further questions. The high priest rose and declared, “You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” “Guilty!” was the unanimous cry from the religious council.
Why did the religious leaders consider Jesus’s words blasphemy? To understand why, we need to turn to the Old Testament Scripture that he was referencing. The two passages that Jesus makes reference to are Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1 (italics added):
“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven, there came one like a son of man, and he came to the ancient of days and was presented before him.”
“The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”
In both of these passages, the person being referenced is one who would be worshipped for eternity while also sharing sovereign power alongside God.
In addition, throughout the Old Testament, it is always God who is portrayed as coming with the clouds as seen in Isaiah 19:1: “the Lord is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt.”
Similar imagery is used in Exodus 14:20, Numbers 10:34, and Psalm 68:4. Jesus was intentionally making an allusion to these passages to show the religious council that he believed he was God. His message was heard, loud and clear! The council immediately called for his execution, the penalty for blasphemy.
A Critical Difference
These examples from the gospels help us get inside the mind of Jesus, so that we can understand who he thought he was. With a clearer understanding of the Scriptural and cultural context of Jesus’s words, we as modern readers can recognize Jesus’s claims to deity.
In regard to the deity of Jesus, Christians and Muslims disagree. How then can both religions be “basically the same”? The next time you hear someone claim that all religions are basically equal, you can mention one critical difference: Christianity claims that Jesus was divine, while other religions claim he was a mere human.