Christ’s Deity in the Synoptics

I have been reading a book lately about the history of Christian doctrine.  In this work, the author comments on the differences between the Gospel of John and the other three Gospel writers.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke are often called the Synoptic Gospels.  The world “synoptic” basically means “seeing together.”  You may have noticed that these three Gospels present a great deal of similar material in a roughly parallel format.  So these Gospel writers often share the same material but with their individual perspectives and approaches.  The Gospel of John, however, is dramatically different from the Synoptics.

One of the chief differences is that John’s Gospel is very explicit in presenting Christ as divine.  The deity of our Lord is most clear in John.  The author of the book I am reading emphasizes this.  Yet, he goes beyond this, and states that it is only in John that we see Christ’s deity.  According to him, the Synoptics present Jesus as merely a man, Messiah perhaps, but certainly not divine. 

Huh!

Really?  Is that true?  Well… NO!  The deity of Christ is, indeed, very explicit in John.  But it is also presented in Matthew, Mark and Luke.  The presentation may be a little more subtle, but it is still there.

Take the Gospel of Mark, for example.  If you conduct a cursory examination of Mark’s Gospel, the deity of our Lord might not be very evident.  But it is there.  I think probably part of the problem is that we read the New Testament through 21st century American eyes.  If we were first century Jews listening to Jesus of Nazareth speak, watching Him in action, seeing Him perform miracles—then we would understand things very differently.  So let’s take a fresh look at Mark’s Gospel, keeping in mind his assessment of who Christ truly is.

Mark 1:1 ~ Mark starts off with a bang.  He says that he is presenting the Gospel of “Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  The title “Son of God” is something we are so familiar with today that we really don’t give it a second thought.  But in the first century… well, it was a loaded term.  When Jesus is referred to as “the Son of God,” His deity is implied.

Mark 1:3 ~ Mark begins talking about John the Baptist, declaring that he is fulfilling the words of the prophet Isaiah about the one who would “prepare the way of the Lord.”  Now, who did John prepare the way for?  Jesus of Nazareth, of course.  He is the Lord referred to.  But compare Mark 1:3 with the original prophecy in Isaiah 40:3 where the prophet speaks of a messenger who will prepare the way for the coming of Yahweh (the LORD).  Thus, Jesus and Yahweh are identified as the same Person.

Mark 1:8 ~ John the Baptist predicts that Jesus is going to baptize people with the Holy Spirit.  Now think about this.  Who has the power, authority and right to baptize people with the very Spirit of God Himself? Only God could do this.

Mark 1:11 ~ As Jesus is baptized the Father affirms who He is by declaring, “This is My Beloved Son!”

Mark 1:22, 27 ~ Here we see Jesus teaching with great authority.  His words were described as a “new teaching—with authority.”  This is in sharp contrast to the traditional teaching of the rabbis.  They always referenced some other authority in their teaching.  They had to appeal to the Scriptures, or to some spiritual authority from the past.  They never taught based on their own authority.  Yet, here comes Jesus and He teaches with reference to no other authority.  Why?  Because He needed no other authority.  He was God in the flesh, and He spoke the words of God.  The only authority He ever referenced was God the Father Himself.

Mark 1:32-33 ~ Jesus heals many people, and delivers the demon-possessed.  How did He do this?  Not with rituals and ceremonies.  Not calling on some higher authority.  He simply did it Himself.  He demonstrated repeatedly that He possessed true authority over the physical and spiritual worlds.  Only God has that.

Mark 2:5 ~ Jesus speaks to the paralytic and says that his sins are forgiven.  So, what’s the big deal?  If you were to ask me for forgiveness for a sin you had committed against me, could I not forgive you?  Yes.  But I can only forgive personal sins committed against me as an individual.  Jesus forgave this man ALL his sins.  He forgave him completely.  Jesus critics were right when they said, “Who can forgive sin but God alone?” (Mark 2:7).  But their anger was misplaced, because they did not understand who they were dealing with.  Jesus could forgive sin because He was God, plain and simple.

Mark 2:27-28 ~ Do you remember this passage?  Jesus’s disciples are criticized for eating grain from the fields on the Sabbath.  Jesus responds in a most startling way.  First of all, He gives new teaching on the Sabbath:  “Man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for man.”  Now remember, the Sabbath was God’s idea.  He encoded prohibition against violating the Sabbath in the Ten Commandments.  For someone to give new teaching regarding the Sabbath was an arresting event.  Who but God could speak new things about the Sabbath.  Yet, Jesus goes even further.  He declares, “The Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath.”  You will recall that “Son of Man” was a common designation Jesus used to refer to Himself.  For Jesus to declare that He Himself was the “Lord” of the Sabbath is a shocking statement—unless He is God Himself.  Which He is.

Mark 2:28 ~ As we have noted Jesus often referred to Himself as the “Son of Man.”  This title is incredibly significant.  It harkens back to Daniel 7:13-14, where we see the Son of Man receive authority over all the world, and then receive worship and adoration.  The Son of Man is obviously a title of divinity.  By calling Himself by this title, Jesus was claiming deity.

We could go on through Mark, but I don’t think we need to.  The fact is this—a careful reading of the Synoptic Gospels will afford ample proof of the deity of Christ.  At the risk of belaboring the point, let me give you a few examples from Matthew and Luke.

  • It is Mathew who calls Jesus “Immanuel,” i.e., “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).
  • Jesus speaks of His own temptation (Matthew 4:7) and tells the Devil to “not tempt the Lord” referring to Deuteronomy 6:16 where Yahweh makes this statement.
  • In Matthew 10:1 Jesus gives others authority to heal and cast out demons. Who but God could do this?
  • In Matthew 11:27 Jesus refers to His special relationship with the Father, and notes that the Son knows the Father in the very same way that the Father knows the Son. Again, only Deity can have this kind of knowledge.
  • In Matthew 22: 44 Jesus notes that the Son of David (the Messiah) is referred to as “the Lord” in Psalm 110:1. This verse not only references the Son as the Lord, but shows us a divine conversation occurring between distinct members of the Godhead.
  • Matthew 26:64 is another reference to the Lord’s Deity as the Son of Man. This is even more dramatic and powerful than that above.
  • In Matthew 28:18 we see Jesus with all authority in heaven and earth.
  • Luke 1:32 & 35 has the angel Gabriel calling Jesus the “Son of the Most High” and the “Son of God.”
  • In Luke 1:43 Mary’s cousin Elizabeth calls her the mother of “my Lord.”
  • John the Baptist’s father, Zecharich prophesies that John will go “before the Lord and prepare his way” (Luke 1:76).
  • In the story of the demoniac of Gedara we see Jesus exercising complete authority over demons, even directing where they would go (Luke 8:26-33). Who but God has such authority in the spiritual realm?
  • Luke 19:44 has Jesus rebuking Jerusalem because they did accept Him and His ministry, thus they did not “recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

And we could go on…

This book I am reading is interesting, but the author is wrong on this very important point.  All Four Gospels bear witness to the Deity of Jesus Christ.  Indeed, from Genesis to Revelation we can find abundant evidence that Jesus is both Lord and God.  The entire weight of Scriptural evidence is clear on this.

Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon His throne.
Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own.
Awake, my soul, and sing of Him who died for thee,
And hail Him as thy matchless King through all eternity.

 Crown Him the Lord of lords, who over all doth reign,
Who once on earth, the incarnate Word, for ransomed sinners slain,
Now lives in realms of light, where saints with angels sing
Their songs before Him day and night, their God, Redeemer, King

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