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Jesus Claimed the Divine Attributes for Himself

General Audience — September 9, 1987

The series of reflections on Jesus Christ is centered on the revealed reality of the God-Man. Jesus Christ is true God and true man. It is the reality which is logically expressed in the truth of the indivisible unity of the person of Christ. We cannot treat of this truth in a disjointed manner or, still less, by separating one aspect from the other. However, we must seek to indicate here, in the first place, what is shown by the divinity, and then that which is shown by the humanity of the one Christ. This is because of the analytical and progressive nature of human knowledge, and partly also because of the way in which this truth is proposed in the very source of revelation—above all, in Sacred Scripture.

Jesus Christ is true God. He is God the Son consubstantial with the Father (and with the Holy Spirit). The expression "I Am" which Jesus Christ used in regard to his own person, echoes the name by which God identified himself to Moses (cf. Ex 3:14). Since Christ applied to himself the same "I Am" (cf. Jn 13:19), it must be recalled that this name defines God not only as the Absolute (Existence in se of Being per se), but also as the one who entered into a covenant with Abraham and his descendants, and who by virtue of the covenant sent Moses to free Israel (the descendants of Abraham) from the bondage of Egypt. Hence the expression "I Am" refers also to God's saving power, denoting the God of the covenant who is with man (as with Israel) to save him. Indirectly it refers to Emmanuel (cf. Is 7:14), "God with us."

Christ's use of the phrase "I Am" (especially in John's Gospel) should be understood in the same way. Undoubtedly it indicates the divine pre-existence of the Word-Son (this was spoken of in the pervious reflection). But at the same time it recalls the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy concerning Emmanuel, "God with us." "I Am" therefore also signified "I am with you," both in John's Gospel and in the Synoptics (cf. Mt 28:20). "I came from the Father and have come into the world" (Jn 16:28) "to seek and save the lost" (Lk 19:10). The truth about salvation (soteriology) already contained in the Old Testament in the revelation of God's name is confirmed and fully expressed by God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ. Precisely in this sense "the Son of Man" is true God. The Son is one in being with the Father, and he has willed to be with us to save us.

We should have these preliminary considerations constantly in mind when we seek to obtain from the Gospel all that is revealed by the divinity of Christ. Here are some important Gospel passages in this connection. In the first place, we consider the Master's last conversation with the apostles on the eve of his passion, when he spoke of his "Father's house" to which he would go to prepare a place for them (cf. Jn 14:1-3). When Thomas asked him the way, Jesus replied, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." Jesus is the way because no one comes to the Father except through Jesus (cf. Jn 14:6). Indeed, he who sees him, sees the Father (cf. Jn 14:9). "Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me?" (Jn 14:10).

It is easy enough to realize that in this context, Christ's proclaiming of himself as "truth" and "life" is equivalent to claiming for himself the attributes proper to the divine Being—Being-Truth, Being-Life.

On the morrow Jesus would say to Pilate, "For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth" (Jn 18:37). Witness to the truth can be borne by man, but "to be the truth" is an exclusively divine attribute. When Jesus, as true man, bears witness to the truth, this witness has its source in the fact that he himself "is the truth" in the subsisting truth of God: "I am...the truth." Therefore he can also say that he is "the light of the world," so that whoever follows him "will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (cf. Jn 8:12).

Likewise, this applies also to the other saying of Jesus, "I am...the life" (Jn 14:6). Man, who is a creature, can have life; he can also give it, just as Christ gives his life for the salvation of the world (cf. Mk 10:45 and parallel passages). When Jesus spoke of giving his life, he spoke as true man. But he "is the life" because he is true God. He himself said so before raising Lazarus from the dead, when he said to Martha, the sister of the dead man, "I am the resurrection and the life" (Jn 11:25). In the resurrection he will confirm definitively that his life as Son of Man is not subject to death, because he is the Life, and therefore he is God. Being the Life, he can share it with others. "He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live" (Jn 11:25). In the Eucharist Christ can also become "the bread of life" (cf. Jn 6:35, 48), "the living bread which came down from heaven" (Jn 6:51). Even in this sense Christ compared himself to the vine who gives life to the branches grafted into him (cf. Jn 15:1), that is to say, all those who form part of his Mystical Body.

To these obvious expressions concerning the mystery of divinity hidden in the "Son of Man," we can add some others where the same concept is expressed in images pertaining to the Old Testament, especially to the prophets, which Jesus applied to himself. For instance, there is the image of the shepherd. The parable of the good shepherd is well known. In it Jesus speaks of himself and of his mission of salvation. "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (Jn 10:11). We read in the Book of Ezekiel: "For thus says the Lord God, behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out.... I myself will lead my sheep to pasture.... I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled and I will strengthen the weak.... I will feed them in justice" (cf. 11, 15-16). "You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God" (Ex 34:31). A similar image is found also in Jeremiah (cf. 23:3).

Speaking of himself as the good shepherd, Christ indicated his redemptive mission ("I lay down my life for the sheep"). At the same time, addressing his hearers who knew the prophecies of Ezekiel and Jeremiah, he indicated clearly enough his identity with him who in the Old Testament had spoken of himself as a solicitous shepherd, declaring: "I am your God" (Ez 34:31).

In the teaching of the prophets the God of the old covenant presented himself also as the bridegroom of Israel, his people. "For your maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer" (Is 54:5; cf. Hos 2:21-22). In his teaching Jesus frequently referred to this image (cf. Mk 2:19-20 and par.; Mt 25:1-12; Lk 12:36; also Jn 3:27-28). It will be subsequently developed by St. Paul who in his letters presents Christ as the bridegroom of his Church (cf. Eph 5:25-29).

All these expressions, and other similar ones used by Jesus in his teaching acquire their full meaning if we reread them in the context of what he did and said. They constitute the thematic units which, in this series of reflections, must be constantly linked to the ensemble of meditations on the Man-God.

Christ is true God and true man. "I Am" as the name of God indicates the divine essence whose properties or attributes are: the truth, the light, the life, and also that which is expressed by the images of the good shepherd and the bridegroom. He who said of himself, "I Am who I Am!" (Ez 3:14) presents himself also as the God of the covenant, as the Creator and likewise Redeemer, as Emmanuel—God who saves. All this is confirmed and realized in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.