On a recent visit to a mosque, a Muslim imam asked, “Where in your Bible does Jesus ever clearly say He is God?” I know there are many excellent ways to answer this question, but I’ve always found the following approach intriguing.
I like to tell Muslims that the “proof” that Jesus claimed to be divine is found in His favorite self-designation: Son of Man (Matt. 12:40; Mark 10:45; Luke 18:31; John 9:35, etc.). Muslims are unpersuaded by this answer. In fact, they look at me like, Is this guy for real? That example proves the opposite—that Jesus is a mere human being.
I understand their disbelief. “Son of Man” hardly sounds like a claim to deity. It appears to reference the fact that we are all born from mankind, a product of human parents. In that sense, I’m a son of man, you’re a son of man, and everyone on the planet is a son of man. That proves nothing, it’s thought.
Though the term “Son of Man” sounds like a claim to humanity, it has an unmistakable second meaning—a reference to divinity. Jesus had a plan to reveal His full identity, but not at the beginning of His ministry. He chose “Son of Man” as His favorite title because, on its surface, it seems rather innocuous. He’s human—no big deal.
Those who paid close attention to what Jesus said would recognize that “Son of Man” was a reference to an Old Testament title. In Daniel 7:13–14, the Son of Man is an exalted figure, who comes with “clouds of heaven,” has authority and power over all creation, eternally reigns over His kingdom, and is worshiped by every person on earth. That’s more than a mere mortal.
That’s why when Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man, those who knew the scriptures understood His claim to divinity. When the chief priests asked Him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus answered, “I am; and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 26:64). When the high priest heard this response, he tore his clothes and declared that Jesus had committed blasphemy. Jesus was subsequently executed because—according to His claims—He was making Himself equal with God (John 5:18).
Part of the reason I like this approach is that it invites conversation. It also allows you an opportunity to open the Scriptures to a Muslim and unpack some theology. Most Muslims, I’ve found, have never read Jesus. Though He’s believed to be a prophet in Islam, I rarely find a Muslim who’s read Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. In fact, even the imam I was talking to hadn’t read the Gospels.
By taking this approach, you can tell your Muslim friend more about the person they believe is merely a prophet. Plus, you can answer a common question Muslims have about our claim that Jesus is God. When Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man, He wasn’t only saying He had a human nature, He was telling us He’s divine.