“Why did you not bring him?” The Pharisees were exasperated that the officers had not arrested and delivered Jesus yet. How did the officers explain their failure? “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46).
By the time we get to John chapter seven, Jesus had made himself a serious religious and political issue in Palestine. Everywhere he went, he created controversy. Some people said he was demonized with paranoia (John 7:20). Some seriously wondered if he might be the Prophet Moses foretold (John 7:40; Deuteronomy 18:15–18), or even the Christ (John 7:31, 41). Others said the Christ hypothesis couldn’t be true, since obviously the Christ would come from Bethlehem, and Jesus was from Galilee (John 7:42) — and of course no prophet ever came from there (John 7:52).
One thing that helped fuel the rumors among the crowds was the fact that, in spite of all Jesus was saying, the Jewish leaders had not arrested him yet. Was this a signal that even they thought Jesus might be the Christ (John 7:26)?
When the chief priests and Pharisees caught wind of this, they decided to snuff out that rumor by arresting him, so they sent officers to do just that (John 7:32). The officers, however, returned empty-handed. When the Jewish leaders asked them why, the officers responded, “No one ever spoke like this man.”
The Enigma of History
The echo of that sentence has reverberated down through history. No one ever spoke like this man. The proof of its veracity is in the pudding of the historical result: the words of Jesus have shaped the course of world history more than any other human voice.
Observed as a historical phenomenon, it is the strangest thing. How did Jesus get to be the most famous man in history? Two thousand years later, no one’s words have been read more, studied more, quoted more, debated more, pondered more, written and lectured about more, translated into more languages, fueled more literacy efforts around the world, and shaped more diverse cultures than the words of Jesus of Nazareth.
“Over and over people keep trying to bury Jesus, and he keeps refusing to stay dead. He is still speaking.”
Over the centuries, many nonreligious theories have been proffered for the tenacious, massive, increasingly global influence of this wandering, first-century, Jewish rabbi with peasant roots and ordinary disciples. None do him justice. Political, institutional, economic, social, cultural, psychological explanations all prove reductionistic and overly simplistic. They don’t explain why people find Jesus so compelling.
When you look at all he said and taught, what did Jesus say that has been so historically profound? He said he was God.
He Claimed to Be God
Many have tried to argue that he didn’t claim this. The attempts are futile. The New Testament, the most reliable record we have of Jesus’s words, is unequivocal on this assertion. Any honest reading is unmistakable. And Jesus’s claim to divinity is the only reason he has been and remains such an incredible force in world history. Listen to just a few of his unparalleled statements.
The woman at the well said to Jesus, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus responded, “I who speak to you am he” (John 4:25–26). Jesus knew he was the prophesied Jewish Messiah.
When Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And what did Jesus say to that? “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:15–17). Jesus not only affirmed his Messiahship, but he affirmed the title “Son of God,” and Peter’s use of this term is clearly and uniquely divine.
If that’s not convincing, this ought to be. When being interrogated by the High Priest during the infamous midnight trial, when his answer would either lead toward or away from crucifixion, he was asked directly “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus responded, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:61–62). Everyone in that room knew exactly what Jesus was referring to: the divine Son of Man prophesied in Daniel 7:13–14, which is why they called it blasphemy.
And the apostle John quotes a string of audacious “I am” statements Jesus made:
- “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger.” (John 6:35)
- “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
- “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” (John 8:23–24)
- “I am the door of the sheep. . . . If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” (John 10:7, 9)
- “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.” (John 13:13)
- “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
Has anyone ever spoken like this man?
The Greatest Claim Ever Made
But perhaps the most powerful “I am” statement Jesus ever made, the one that captures the single greatest reason he has influenced the world like no other man, is this one:
I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this? (John 11:25–26)
“The words of Jesus have shaped the course of world history more than any other human voice.”
Who ever said such a thing? Why does anyone listen to such preposterous words? It’s not wish-fulfillment. Mass movements of people don’t follow a crazy man. There is only one reason such words ever gained historical traction: Jesus’s tomb was empty that first Easter Sunday morning. Too many people personally witnessed him alive (1 Corinthians 15:6), too many of them paid with their lives for claiming to have witnessed him alive, and too many people throughout history have encountered Jesus as a real, living presence and power, and found eternal life in his words (John 6:68).
Jesus claimed to be God. He prophesied that he would be killed and rise from the dead three days later. He was killed and his tomb was empty three days later. And hundreds of witnesses who had nothing material to gain (and everything to lose) by claiming his resurrection, claimed it was so.
Who Do You Say That He Is?
The brief snapshot we see in John 7 captures the controversial effect Jesus of Nazareth had on those who came in direct or indirect contact with him. And this is still the controversial effect he has on those who come in contact with him today. Some still think him demonic, some think him delusional, some think him distorted by his biographers and early followers, and some think him divine.
But one stubborn thing is, Jesus doesn’t go away. We keep talking about him, much to the ire of certain powers-that-be. Over and over people keep trying to bury Jesus, and he keeps refusing to stay dead. He is still speaking and his words keep making people alive.
Just a handful of disciples heard him say, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35). How audacious did such a statement sound the day it was spoken? How much more ridiculous did they seem as he hung on a cross just days later? Yet now, two thousand years later, we read these words in the light of the strange, unexpected, unrivaled impact Jesus has made on history. It must make each and every one of us wonder, forcing us to answer his question for ourselves: “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15).
Say what you like about Jesus, one thing is true: no one ever spoke like this man.