By Keith Thompson
This article will be posing questions and arguments to the Muslim readers who believe that the New Testament teaches that Jesus is not God but merely a prophet. It is stated in the Quran that Jesus was merely a prophet. For example in S. 5:75 we read: “The Messiah the son of Mary is only a prophet…” (Palmer 5:75). However, the first-century texts that were written by eye-witnesses and ear-witnesses of Jesus give us a different Jesus – namely the real Jesus. Hence, this article will demonstrate that the Jesus of the first-century was no mere prophet. It will be shown that although Jesus was a prophet, He was not a mere prophet. He is God. It is my hope that this material will clear up what the New Testament teaches about Jesus for those Muslims whom the Father is drawing to Christ.
#1 If Jesus is merely a prophet then why does John 5:23 state that, “… everyone will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son is certainly not honoring the Father who sent him” (John 5:23 ESV)? Wouldn’t honoring Jesus just as, or in the same way we honor the Father be blasphemy if Jesus is merely a prophet? Would it be acceptable for a Muslim to honor Muhammad in the same way and to the same extent that they honor Allah? The primary definition of Greek word for “just as” (kathōs) is “… according as, just as, even as, in proportion as, in the degree that.”"(1) Thus, there is no question that this verse is commanding believers to honor, revere, or venerate Jesus to the same degree as we honor, revere and venerate the Father. Since the Father is to be honored as God and to the greatest extent, so is Jesus. Therefore, Jesus is not a mere prophet.
#2 If Jesus is merely a prophet then why in Revelation 5:8-14 does it say that in heaven every creature including angels and elders will worship Jesus saying He is worthy of praise, glory, honour and power forever and ever? If Jesus is a mere prophet and not God, doesn’t this derogate from worship that God alone deserves? If it is worship only due to God doesn’t this prove that the first-century texts are affirming that Jesus is more than just a prophet? Revelation 5:8-14 says:
"And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped" (Revelation 5:8-14 NIV).
#3 If Jesus is a mere prophet who’s life began at conception like the rest of mankind then why does the NT teach that Jesus pre-existed with the Father in unique Glory? Philippians 2:6-11 states:
"Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:6-11 KJV).
Note that Jesus pre-existed in the form of God (glory of God) and lowered himself becoming a man. This also shows Jesus has divine power since personally lowering himself and becoming a man would be something impossible lest you have the power and abilities of God. Similarly, in John 8:58 Jesus explains His pre-existence as God. "Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I Am!” (John 8:58 NLT) Notice, Jesus does not only say He was alive before Abraham was born but that He existed as God before Abraham was born since Jesus applied the “I Am” title to Himself which belongs to God.(2)
#4 If Jesus is a mere prophet why did He claim to have the power to raise Himself from the dead once killed? Is this something a prophet has ever claimed to be able to do? Doesn’t being able to raise yourself while dead demonstrate that Jesus was still conscious and possessing the divine power necessary to raise Himself bodily? Isn’t this something we would only expect God to be able to do if He became man? John 2:19-21 and 10:17 state:
"Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken" (John 2:19-22 ESV)."For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again" (John 10:17 ESV).
#5 If Jesus is a mere prophet only preaching his prophet-hood, why did His statements denote His equality with God and Him being God? In John 10:33 and 5:18 we read:
“For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18 NIV)."We are not stoning you for any of these," replied the Jews, "but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God" (John 10:33 NIV).
Clearly the people of Jesus’ day as well as Apostle John’s own commentary recognized that His language here was so explicit in affirming his Deity that they knew without question that he was claiming to be God. Is there any other case in the Bible or Quran where a prophet’s teaching caused the people listening to believe they were claiming to be God?
The reality is that the earliest accounts of Jesus coming out of the first-century A.D. show that the He was no mere prophet. Jesus did and said things no mere prophet could ever do or say. There are things reported about Him that could not be ascribed to any mere prophet and thus historically and theologically speaking – Jesus is more than just a prophet – Jesus is God. Lord willing this information will be useful to those Muslims being drawn to Christ who truly want to know what the first-century accounts say about Him.
Christ has risen, He is Lord.
1.) Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament, [Harper, 1887], p. 315
2.) “I Am” is a divine title that God gave himself in the Old Testament. For example in Exodus 3:14 God said to Moses, “"I AM WHO I AM." And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you'" (Exodus 3:14 ESV). The divine name “I Am,” when translated into the Greek version of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint was rendered “egō eimi.” This is the exact same Greek phrase Jesus uses in John 8:58 of himself showing He is the great “I Am” – God himself.