"You Must Beleive that I Am He"

by Kegan A. Chandler


Matthew 16:13-20 (NASB) -- 13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, [a]Elijah; but still others, [b]Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are [c]the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon [d]Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 I also say to you that you are [e]Peter, and upon this [f]rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth [g]shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth [h]shall have been loosed in heaven.” 20 Then He [i]warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was [j]the Christ.


All Christians are asked this question by Jesus: Who do you say that I am?

Like Jesus’ disciples reported, there are many people who have many different views about Jesus.  As C.S. Lewis, MacDowell, and other popular Trinitarians have rightly claimed, it is impossible to simply accept Jesus as a “good and moral teacher” because to do that one would have to accept that his teachings were good, including his teachings about himself and his claims to be extraordinary.  However, Lewis and MacDowell famously put forth this unfortunate argument to people when they are considering Jesus: He must be either God, a Liar, or a Lunatic.  They claim that these are our only options when trying to understand Jesus: He was either God, a liar who claimed he was God when he knew he was not, or a lunatic who thought he was God when he really wasn’t.  However, this is an extremely shallow and fallacious argument.  They are excluding the other possibility regarding Jesus’ identity, silencing Jesus and His Apostles!  Jesus is neither God, a liar, or a lunatic.  Rather, Jesus is exactly who he says he is: the Christ.

It is the sad reality that the majority of Christendom has been taught that they must believe that Jesus is God to be saved.  This mandate carries absolutely no Scriptural authority, but what it does carry is 500 years of Orthodox debate behind it.  It would not be until the formation of the Athanasian Creed circa 400-500AD that Christianity at large would begin to profess the belief in Jesus as God as the only way to salvation.  But did Jesus ever claim this?  What about his disciples?

I recently purchased a copy of the New Inductive Study Bible (Updated NASB) from Harvest House Publishers.  While a wonderful Bible and certainly the most literal of the mainstream translations, I found some curious statements in this edition’s preface to the Gospel of John.  Upon reading it, I realized just how deeply the Trinitarian teaching that one must believe Jesus is God to be saved had consumed Christianity:

“God in the flesh!  What would He be like?  What would He do?  [ . . . ] And how would people know He was God?  [ . . . ]  What about those who refused to believe He was God?”

As I read this I thought to myself, “Indeed, how would people know that Jesus was God?  Maybe Jesus should tell them!  It’s a shame that he never did.”  And what about those who refuse to believe in the Trinity even though Jesus never explained it to them?  The opinion of the Trinitarian remains to be seen.  Let us read on:

“God in the flesh.  The incarnation would be hard for some to believe, but their belief of unbelief would be a matter of life or death”

Apparently, your life depends on a belief in Jesus as God incarnate.  But if this is the essential truth, if holding this belief is the only way to salvation, why do neither Jesus nor his disciples talk about it?  If we believe that acceptance of the Trinity is absolutely necessary for escaping damnation, then we must also believe that though Jesus had countless opportunities to tell us how to be saved, he felt he had more important things to talk about.  Throughout the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we do not receive an explanation from Jesus that he is God, much less the impression that God is three distinct, co-equal, co-eternal persons.  Neither does he tell us about any of the necessary components of the Trinity; his dual natures, his two wills, etc. 

In Harvest Houses’ preface to John, we find this proposition in the section entitled Things to Think About”:

“ 1.  Do you believe that Jesus is God and live accordingly?  And what if you don’t?  (John 8:24) ”

They reference John 8:24 to show us what will happen to us if we don’t believe that Jesus is God.  So by all means, let us go there and find out!

“Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”  -- John 8:24 (NASB)

What does Jesus say here?  Be careful not to put word in his mouth.  Jesus says unless we believe that he is someone, we will die.  In this statement, he does not tell us who that someone is, therefore the burning question still remains:  Who is he?!  Jesus, in this particular verse, has not answered any questions about who he is, he has simply said that you must believe that he is.  In the very next verse, the people will even ask him: “Who are you?”  Clearly, nothing was explained in verse 24, because the people are still asking the question in verse 25!  But the Trinitarian proudly leaves this solitary verse on the table as if it were the ultimate doubt-crushing proof about Jesus’ divinity.  In keeping with the Trinitarian tradition, this verse has been wantonly extracted away from the rest of the passage which gives it life.  John 8:24 has been cut off from it’s life-support and left dangling in the open air like a deflated balloon; incredibly useless on it’s own and miserably abused to “support” whatever cause the extractor desires.

We cannot neglect the rest of the passage for therein lies the answer to the question of who we have to believe that Jesus is.  Harvest House has either disingenuously not referenced the following text or they have ignorantly missed it, like most Christians.  This is the unhappy effect that our modern translations (with their verse and chapter divisions) can achieve when coupled with a teacher willing enough to recklessly isolate statements to gain the upper hand in doctrinal debates.  Let us read John 8:24-28:

“Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.  So they were saying to Him, “Who are You?”  Jesus said to them, “What have I been saying to you from the beginning?  I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and the things which I heard from Him, these I speak to the world.”  They did not realize He had been speaking about the Father.  So Jesus said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.”-- John 8:24-28 (NASB)

Who is Jesus?  The Son of Man.  Son of Man is the title of the Messiah.  So what exactly does Jesus say we must believe about him in order to be saved?  Did he say we have to believe he is God in the flesh?  A Trinity of co-equal persons?  No.  We must believe that Jesus is the Messiah or we will die in our sins.  This is the truth!  Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God just as Peter confessed at Caesarea Philippi:

“He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."” – Matthew 16:15-16

This is exactly what the Bible says we must believe about Jesus.  This is what the disciples believe, because it is what was affirmed to them by Jesus.  This is what Jesus claims because it is the truth.  Why should we not, as Christians, cling to the claims of the Bible regarding how to be saved?

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him.”  -- 1 John 5:1

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.”
—1 John 4:15

“do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God '?” – John 10:36

“Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, "Truly this was the Son of God!"”—Matthew 27:54

“Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” – 1 John 5:5

None of these verses concerning Jesus’ claims about himself and about what people need to believe about him to be saved contains anything related to Jesus being God, or anything related to the Trinity.  Instead, they contain the simple message: in order to be saved you must believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

Belief in the Trinity as necessary for salvation is expressly absent from the teachings found in the chronicles of the Early Church.  Peter, when preaching to the thousands of Jews gathered on the Day of Pentecost, told them exactly what they needed to do to be saved.  This is the birthday of the Church—the beginning of the Jesus movement amongst the people of Israel.  One would think that if the Trinity were necessary to receive salvation, Peter would tell them about it.  Here is the Church’s inaugural sermon, void of the Trinity, which men believed and were saved:

"Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know-- this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.  "But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.  "For David says of Him, 'I SAW THE LORD ALWAYS IN MY PRESENCE; FOR HE IS AT MY RIGHT HAND, SO THAT I WILL NOT BE SHAKEN.  'THEREFORE MY HEART WAS GLAD AND MY TONGUE EXULTED; MOREOVER MY FLESH ALSO WILL LIVE IN HOPE; BECAUSE YOU WILL NOT ABANDON MY SOUL TO HADES, NOR ALLOW YOUR HOLY ONE TO UNDERGO DECAY.  'YOU HAVE MADE KNOWN TO ME THE WAYS OF LIFE; YOU WILL MAKE ME FULL OF GLADNESS WITH YOUR PRESENCE.'  "Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.  "And so, because he was a prophet and knew that GOD HAD SWORN TO HIM WITH AN OATH TO SEAT one OF HIS DESCENDANTS ON HIS THRONE, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that HE WAS NEITHER ABANDONED TO HADES, NOR DID His flesh SUFFER DECAY.  "This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.  "Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear.  "For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: 'THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, "SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I MAKE YOUR ENEMIES A FOOTSTOOL FOR YOUR FEET."'  "Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ-- this Jesus whom you crucified."  Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?"  Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  "For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself."  And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation!"  So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.  [ . . . ]  praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved

-- Acts 22-41, 47

This is the debut message of the Church of Jesus Christ.  This would have been the perfect opportunity for Peter to tell the people how to be saved through belief in the Trinity.  If we adhere to the profession of the Athanasian Creed, that if you don’t believe in the Trinity you are damned, then we also should say that no one in the Early Church was saved.  What’s worse, they apparently thought they were saved, but they really weren’t!  It says that three thousand people were saved on that day through the content of this message, and many more were saved daily… what a tragedy that Peter was such an inept Apostle that he failed to communicate the most essential truth of Christianity: that Jesus was God incarnate and that there was another person called the Holy Spirit that was God too.  Too bad for these poor Christians, their salvation was fraudulent and thank goodness for us that we had those philosophers in Alexandria to guide us to true salvation!  What a farce.