Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Jesus as the Divine Son of God – A Markan Perspective Pt. 1

Sam Shamoun

Muslim apologists are fond of making the assertion that John is the only Gospel that depicts Jesus as the divine Son of God. They argue that the rest of the Gospels depict Christ as God’s Son in the sense of his being a righteous servant and prophet who was close to God and empowered by God’s Spirit to carry out God’s will.

They claim that John’s Gospel cannot be used to prove that Jesus is God’s Son in a divine sense since it was composed long after the other Gospels were written and is more theologically embellished. Therefore, John’s testimony is less reliable than the other Gospels (or so the argument goes).

In light of these assertions, we have decided to take a brief look at Mark’s Gospel in order to show that there is absolutely no substance to these assertions. The reason we haven chosen Mark’s Gospel is because it is widely believed that it is the first of the Gospels to be written and the least theologically developed.

If it can, therefore, be conclusively demonstrated that Mark presents Jesus as fully divine then this will put to rest the fallacious argument that the earlier Gospels do not depict Christ as the divine Son of God.

First Example

Mark begins his Gospel by affirming the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ:

“The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way’—‘a voice of one calling in the wilderness, Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”’ And so John the Baptist appeared IN THE WILDERNESS, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: ‘After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’ At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” Mark 1:1-11

Mark makes it clear that John’s coming to preach in the wilderness was a fulfillment of the following OT texts:

“‘I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord (ha adon) you are seeking will come to HIS temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says Yahweh of hosts.” Malachi 3:1

“A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for Yahweh; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of Yahweh will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken… You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God!See, the Lord Yahweh comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” Isaiah 40:3-5, 9-11

According to the above texts, an envoy would be sent to prepare the people for the coming of Yahweh God to his own temple. Mark tells us that that envoy was the John the Baptist.

In other words, the Baptist is the messenger whom the prophets said would go ahead of God in order to prepare the people for his coming to them.

However, Mark is quite clear that John came to prepare the way for Christ. This means that, according to Mark, Jesus is the Lord Yahweh whose coming was foretold by the prophetic writings!

Notice how this logically works out:

  1. The prophets Isaiah and Malachi announced that God would send an envoy/messenger to prepare the people for his coming to them.
  2. Mark says that John was that envoy/messenger.
  3. Mark also states that the Baptist came to prepare the way for Christ.
  4. This means that Jesus Christ is none other than the Lord God of the OT whose coming was prophesied by the Hebrew prophets of old!

Mark further says that the Baptist testified that he wasn’t good enough to stoop down to untie the straps of Jesus’ sandals, which was a functioned carried out by servants. What the Baptist was basically saying is that he wasn’t worthy enough to be Jesus’ slave!

John further proclaimed that Jesus would actually baptize people with/in the Holy Spirit, e.g. Christ will grant the Holy Spirit to all who believe in him, which is a work that only Yahweh carries out according to the OT writings!

The Hebrew Bible repeatedly teaches that it is Yahweh who pours out his Holy Spirit upon his servants in order to empower them to live a life of holiness and obedience, as well as to enable them to carry out his work on the earth:

“I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” Ezekiel 36:24-28 – cf. 37:12-14; 39:29

“Then you will know that I am in the midst of Israel, that I am Yahweh your God, and that there is no other; never again will my people be shamed. And afterward, I will pour out MY Spirit on all flesh. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out MY Spirit in those days. I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of Yahweh. And everyone who calls on the name of Yahweh will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as Yahweh has said, even among the survivors whom Yahweh calls.” Joel 2:27-32 – Psalm 104:29-30; Isaiah 30:8; 32:14-15; 34:16; 44:1-3; 59:19-21

Hence, in order for Jesus to be able to grant his followers the Holy Spirit he must be Yahweh God Incarnate.

Second Example

In this next example Jesus shows that he is vastly greater than all the prophets of God:

“Jesus then began to speak to them in parables: ‘A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed. He had one left to send, A SON, WHOM HE LOVED. He sent him last of all, saying, “They will respect my son.” But the tenants said to one another, “THIS IS THE HEIR. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.” So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. Haven’t you read this passage of Scripture: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes”?’ Then the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away.” Mark 12:1-12

In the parable, the owner represents God, the vineyard the people of Israel (cf. Isaiah 5:1-7), with the tenants representing the religious authorities and rulers. The OT identifies the servants that the owner kept sending as the prophets:

“From the time your ancestors left Egypt until now, day after day, again and again I sent you my servants the prophets.” Jeremiah 7:25 – cf. 26:5; 35:15; 44:4

“This is what the Lord Yahweh says: You are the one I spoke of in former days by my servants the prophets of Israel. At that time they prophesied for years that I would bring you against them.” Ezekiel 38:17

“But did not my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, overtake your fathers? Then they repented and said, ‘As Yahweh of hosts purposed to do to us in accordance with our ways and our deeds, so He has dealt with us.’” Zechariah 1:6

Interestingly, instead of claiming to be a servant like the prophets, Jesus distinguishes himself from them by identifying himself as the Owner’s beloved Son and Heir! This in itself is sufficient to refute the assertion that the phrase “Son of God” simply means a righteous servant and/or prophet of God.

Furthermore, by making himself out to be the Heir Jesus was basically stating that everything that the Father owns belongs to him. Therefore, since the entire creation belongs to God it must also belong to Christ as well.

Moreover, since the prophets are the Father’s servants, and therefore belong to him, this means the prophets are also Christ’s servants since, as the Heir, he is their owner and Lord.

This is precisely what Jesus goes on to show a little later in the chapter:

“While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, ‘Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared: “The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.’” David himself calls him “Lord.” How then can he be his son?’ The large crowd listened to him with delight.” Mark 12:35-37

Jesus explains that he is much more than a son of David since David himself in the Holy Spirit confessed and worshiped Christ as his Lord.

Hence, since the Holy Bible testifies that David was a prophet:

“Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.” Acts 2:29-32

And since all the prophets are God’s servants who belong to Christ by virtue of his being God’s Heir, it only makes sense that David would worship Jesus as his Lord.

As it stands, the parable of the tenants affirms that the historical Jesus was more than a human prophet or servant of God. Christ’s words here explicitly show that he saw himself as God’s unique Son who, being the Heir of God, is the sovereign Lord over everything that his Father owns.

Third Example

We now come to our final example:

“And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, ‘Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?’ But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’ And Jesus said, ‘I AM, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.’ And the high priest tore his garments and said, ‘What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?’ And they all condemned him as deserving death.” Mark 14:60-64

“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. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should WORSHIP him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” Daniel 7:13-14

Jesus claims to be the Son of God in the same context where identifies himself as the Son of Man who sits enthroned at God’s right hand and comes with the clouds of heaven.

Not only is Jesus alluding to Psalm 110, a passage which he cited earlier to show how David himself worshiped Christ as his Lord (see above), he even appeals to the vision of the prophet Daniel:

“As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of days took his SEAT; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened… 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. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should worship him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14

The prophet sees a vision where thrones are set in place, and where the Ancient of Days is seated on one of them. It is apparent that the other throne is set for the Son of Man whom Daniel sees coming on the clouds of heaven before the Ancient of Days in order to receive an indestructible kingdom where all the nations worship him as their sovereign.

It is obvious that Jesus was identifying himself as this very Son of Man that Daniel saw.

That this Son of Man is fully divine can be seen from the fact that all the nations are to worship him in the same way that they are supposed to worship Yahweh:

“And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; HIS kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall WORSHIP and obey HIM.” Daniel 7:27 – cf. 3:12, 17-18, 28; 6:16, 20; Psalm 22:27-31, 66:4, 86:9, 96:9, 102:21-22; Isaiah 66:23; Zechariah 14:16-17

He even rides the clouds of heaven which, according to the Hebrew Bible, is God’s mode of transportation:

“An oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, Yahweh is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them.” Isaiah 19:1

“Yahweh is slow to anger and great in power, and Yahweh will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.” Nahum 1:3 – cf. Exodus 13:21-22; 14:19-20, 24; 33:7-11; 40:34-38; Numbers 10:34; Deuteronomy 33:26-27; Psalm 68:4, 33-34; 104:2-3

Even the Quran acknowledges this fact:

Are these people waiting, perchance, for God to reveal Himself unto them in the shadows of the clouds, together with the angels – although [by then] all will have been decided, and unto God all things will have been brought back? S. 2:210 Muhammad Asad

Hence, by claiming to be this very Son of Man, Jesus was basically telling his accusers that he is God in the flesh whom they, and all the nations, must worship as their eternal King.

In other words, Jesus was claiming to be the divine Son of God who is coequal with the Father in essence and glory!

In the next part of the rebuttal we will see what a renowned Jewish scholar has to say concerning Daniel’s Son of Man and its importance for a proper understanding of NT Christology.